Ply-Able?

This summer I have been working on my father in law’s twelve foot skiff. It’s a nice little pond / lake boat that has been in my wife’s family for fifty years or so. It was originally used as a dinghy for her grandfather’s 34′ Webber’s Cove Downeaster. (Man, I wish this was still in the family)

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S L I M

While it has a fiberglass shell, there is a mix of plywood, oak and mahogany for structure; transom, knees, breast hook, and the rub rail. The transom is a mix of ply and mahogany with the exterior shell of fiberglass. The plywood makes up the bottom 1″x 12″ for the width of the boat, with the center being built out with a 1″thick x 12″wide x 15″long piece of mahogany to support a motor. Two elongated cyma-rectas, cut into the upper part of the transom, bring the 21″ height to 15″ for the motor mount.

Most of this was rotted out…

Once I started digging at the soft wood it became evident that water seeped in through cracks in the fiberglass and, not having a way back out, roted the wood from the inside out. As you can see in the first picture, I removed a significant amount of rot on the transom, the vertical piece of mahogany, most of the plywood and some of the upper portion of the transom needed to be replaced.

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I typically don’t like plywood. But in cases of structural necessity the right kind of plywood is perfect, think LVL (laminated veneer lumber). Most commercially manufactured plywoods have inferior wood selection and a lot of hollows under the outside veneers. I just don’t like it. Yet I need to replace some in this boat, what’ll I do?

I’ll make it!

Make plywood?..

Never tried that before, had never thought of it before talking with cabinetmaker John Cameron at a Lie Nielsen hand tool event at Phil Lowe’s school last year.  John’s plywood was made up of pine for the core and exotic veneers. He said he makes his own because of said imperfections and also for flatness or curvature.

I have a 2″x14″ (23.3 BF)that’s about ten feet long in quarter sawn white oak. Well most of it, it’s the center cut with the pith running through the middle of plank. I bought it for pennies at a local mill, because I saw the beauty in it. Thanks Dean.

You might ask why I would even consider using a premium ($7-$10 a board foot) piece of lumber in a place where it’s being covered up with fiberglass and epoxy then painted not to be seen again. Well that’s easy, it’s on hand, white oak is very decay resistant, it was (too) cheap and my wood hoarding has now spilled into my in-laws garage (sorry Love, it’s just two pieces).  

So here we go.

First rough out a piece slightly over sized and plane it flat and square an edge.

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Then rip out a few pieces a strong 1/4″ thickness then plane flat and joint the edges that mate up.

Mix up the Epoxy and slather it all over the place. Clamp up and wait.

Once cured up take it out of the clamps and knock off the cauls. Cut off the high spots with a chisel and sand it flat. And fit it into place.

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That was easy!

Now to fill in the rest with dimensional white oak. GRK makes some amazing screws, here I used their 5″ finish screw to add a bit more strength.

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Glue up the extra piece for the motor mount and cover with fiberglass mesh and epoxy.

I also rebuilt about half of the rub rail and put in new knees and a new breast hook. It’s all epoxied together and screwed with stainless steel screws.

Now, my father in law is a very patient man. I started this project in the spring and he just pulled the boat home mid September. I’m not sure if he would’ve gotten back this year had I not relinquished the painting to him. I tend to be very OCD when it comes to my work and this boat would have looked like a Ferrari without wheels had it been left for me.

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