One of the most critical steps that go into boat building is choosing the right lumber for the job. Doing this can get quite frustrating and confusing, given the myriad of choices out there and the factors that go into this crucial decision.
The first factor that you should definitely consider is the quality of wood, and one good indicator of that is clarity or the lumber’s lack of knots.
What Are Knots?
Also known as “checks” in the U.S. or “shakes” in the U.K., knots are visible imperfections on wood that literally look like dark knots made against the wood grain. A knot is a result of abnormal growth of the branch to the base of the tree trunk.
It’s actually pretty natural for wood to have knots, especially for older trees. After all, another cause of a wood knot is the death of older tree branches that, instead of falling off, the tree simply continued to grow around that area.
While knots are usually preferred by artists for their visual appeal, they are definitely not recommended for projects that require a lot of structural integrity. It is also not for projects that require a lot of bending, like boat building. You can probably get away with knots that are as small as a pencil eraser. However, any bigger than that may cause issues along the way.
Other Lumber Qualities to Consider
You also want the wood grain to be as straight as possible. You don’t want it running off the board or twisting in some way.
Speaking of twists, you need to consider the warp of the wood, as well, which is caused by changes in humidity. Minimal warping can be easily controlled; you can simply manipulate them during the bending process. Severe warping, on the other hand, can be an absolute pain.
Finally, you want lumber with the right level of hardness. You want it to be soft enough to accept a nail without issues, but not too soft that it can just accept a screw without splitting apart.
Best Timbers for Boat Building
Anyway, now that we already know how to distinguish quality timber, it’s time to talk about the best timber varieties for boat building.
Ash is one of the most popularly used thanks to its rot resistance. It also has excellent strength and bending characteristics. The only downside is that ash will discolor with exposure.
There are three types of cedar that are particularly exceptional to use in boat building. Yellow cedar is the hardest, but it’s also the best in weathering and rot resistance.
Red cedar is reliable when it comes to stability, and it glues well. It’s rot-resistant, too, but the main quality that makes it a boat builder’s favorite is its rich color. It would definitely lend some visual interest and personality to your finished piece. For those who prefer wood with really straight grains, though, Lebanese cedar is the choice for you.
For beginner’s looking for an easy wood variety to work with, sweet chestnut is what we’d recommend. It can be quite textured, though, which is something to keep in mind if you prefer really smooth finishes.
There are definitely other wood varieties to choose from, aside from the ones we have mentioned above. However, our absolute favorite timber to work with has got to be mahogany.
Why Mahogany Is the Best Wood for Boat Building
It’s hard to be impartial when it comes to our love for mahogany. Here are the reasons why it stands out from the rest:
First of all, genuine mahogany stands firm against the elements. A lot of wood varieties can prove quite resistant to water damage, making them great for real estate construction projects. Still, they might not be as resistant to saltwater, constant sun exposure, and strong winds the way mahogany is.
Another issue that your boat can encounter after so much wear and tear is shrinkage. Fortunately, that’s another factor that genuine mahogany is resistant to, ensuring that your boat lasts decades of adventures.
Mahogany is also very easy to work with. It’s receptive to both handheld and power tools, and sanding and staining it works like a charm. It’s simply an ideal material perfect for both beginners and experienced boat builders.
Finally, genuine mahogany is a beauty. It exudes a look of timeless elegance and refinement. There’s always a sense of pride to be seen in a mahogany deck on the waterways. The only advice that we can give you is to make sure that your mahogany was sustainably sourced to help ecological causes.
To Sum Up
There are different wood varieties that you can consider for boat construction, as well as factors present in your chosen timber to determine its quality and resistance to the hazards of sailing. Genuine mahogany is our personal preference, but ash, cedar, and chestnut work great, too. Feel free to consult local artisans and lumberyards to learn more about your choices.