Boatbuilders have been bending wood around corners since
the first dug-out canoe owner decided it was time for something a bit more up-market.
The easiest way to coerce wood to take the desired shape is good
ol’ fashion brute strength… just
‘spring’ the wood around and hope it doesn’t break. When it
does just that, it’s time to start thinking about heating the wood up to
facilitate the realignment of the woods cell structure into the desired curve.
In some parts of the
world burning the wood with an open flame does the trick while in others simply
boiling the wood has done the trick for hundreds of years.
When it came time to
bend the 112 oak timbers into the 1929 Fife 6-Metre “Nada” under
restoration here at Woodstock, we did what we always do… we ‘put
the kettle on’! Our kettle holds about 20 gallons of water over a fire
(fueled with the old oak timbers from the last re-framing job) and is connected
by a short length of steel pipe to an insulated “steambox”
in which the oak timbers lie.
The recipe for pliable
oak timbers to round just about any curve is simple:
Take a large amount of
water and bring it to a rolling boil.
Put as many timbers as
you can screw into the boat in an 1 ½ hour into
the steambox. Crank up the fire and cook 1 hour for
every inch of thickness.
When we think our
timbers have cooked enough we try one, running the timber as quickly as
possible from the steambox, to the boat, and into
it’s final resting place within the 2 minute window
that the timber is pliable. When everything is right the normally stiff white
oak will softly bend around the compound curves in the aft section of a
beautiful yacht like “Nada” with great ease. In two days all
Nada’s timbers were in, the new oak against the freshly painted interior
revealing the beautiful shape that her creator William Fife III had given her
78 years ago.