The worth of wood….

Timber has always been a valuable resource to humans, it provides us a strong material that’s relatively easy to work.  Various timbers have different strengths, properties, smells and even a tone of the audible type.  We can harvest large strong timbers, fine wicker for baskets, pliable timbers for forming curves and bends,and anything we can’t use for construction can keep us warm on our fires.  And all this, literally grows on trees.

As my life work has been centred around wooden boat building I am particularly familiar with certain types of timber.  These timbers are used for varying jobs for which they are individually suited to.  Two timbers are particularly well suited to wooden yachts, they both have a very oily nature which give them excellent durability in the marine environment.  The value of these timbers has been understandably taken advantage of, and as a result are becoming increasingly endangered.  Teak is primarily from South East Asian rainforest though he demand for the timber spreads much further around the globe.  Like all rainforests there is a struggle between income from harvesting, and conservation of habitat.

Tourmaline is a Yacht I have been working on for some time now, built in the 30’s and out of the water for 15 years she was in poor state when I was asked to look at getting her seaworthy again.  Fortunately she was well built originally from good materials, almost exclusively Pitch Pine and Teak.

Teak has incredible properties of durability, it can look dreadful when poorly cared for but new life is not far beneath the surface if you know how to find it.  This is the beauty of Teak, it has more than one life.  The pictures show how planking can be reconditioned and re-finished (not yet finally finished in this pic).  This is one possible argument for using such a timber; the useful life of the timber can way outlast another timber used in the same manner, use one good tree, or two or three not so good ones……

Well made joinery can be knocked apart, reconditioned and re-built if made from good timber.

If something exists already and can be restored, that is a good thing, what excites me though is that in the process of reconditioning the object, a richness is brought forth that no new work made from fresh timber can have.  I have seen this with the Dinghy re-builds that I have done over the years, it is only after a couple of seasons that all that new timber starts to really look settled.  Timber is always richer when re-conditioned, it has damage and defects that as long as they are superficial add to a boat looking like it has age which a boat from the 30’s should have.  It can be shiny on top yes, but through that shine it is good to see history.

So what about new work?  This yacht needed a fair amount of new joinery too.  I could appease my conscience by re-cycling timber, I believe this is called up-cycling.  All of the old pitch pine structure for the cockpit was past saving  as joinery but some of the timber could be salvaged, I turned this into tongue and groove for the new work.  As this was old timber being re used albeit for a different use, it would still have the same depth and richness as the directly reconditioned pieces.

I had managed to buy some re-claimed Teak that was salvaged by a science teacher years ago as his labs were being refitted.  The builders were headed to the bonfire with the timber after having replaced the bench tops with Iroko, a far inferior timber, and our teacher managed to save what he could.  This is what makes me sad, if we are to use these magnificent timbers we should at least respect them for what they are and treat them as precious, this is arguably a good justification for Teak being such a very high price.  All the builder would really have needed was a few sanding sheets to find the good wood not far below.  Luckily for me and Tourmaline though our teacher saw the value of the teak and kept it long enough for me to buy and use.


The Teak stretched just enough to cover the cockpit floor which will be left oiled, and the bench tops with lifting leaves which are varnished.  Again the timber is rich and imperfect, I like to think that if she looks like a well cared for old boat rather than an old boat with a lot of new work then I have done my job well.  There is a lifting hole in the floor boards necessary for getting the boards out, this was originally where a gas tap was placed through the bench top, I like that.

I have chosen a life work that requires the use of a material that although it grows on trees demands respectful use if it is to be sustainable in any way.  I can’t claim to be always able to find a re-cycling way to find such timbers but do so when I can, I pride myself in being able to rescue woodwork if it is at all possible, and find that in restoring old boats customers on the whole appreciate this approach even though the process is often no shorter than making anew.  This cockpit, once benches in a school lab will last a long time, especially if well cared for, and, has the potential for multiple lives after, such is the quality of this magnificent timber.




Categories: Boats and Yachts

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