Last Friday I had the privilege to attend a day class at the fabulous and newly relocated New Zealand Traditional Boatbuilding School (NZTBS). The subject of this class was the replacement of steam-bent ribs (frames) in traditional kauri clinker boats.
Talented boatbuilder and tutor Paul Tingy ran us through theory of bracing up an old distorted hull, stripping out damaged ribs, steam bending white oak, riveting with copper boat nails and roves.
Then we all had a go at the essential processes of rib replacement on a derelict old ’40s Percy Voss-built ship’s dinghy (possessed by the school for such eductional purposes).
An indulgent time was had by all, messing about with a hot steambox pumping out the smell of oak tannins. The worn smooth feel of hand- lathed dollies and rove-punches weighed awkwardly in our novice hands, and the loud tick-tick of ball peen hammers drowned our clumsy efforts to communicate among ourselves as we attempted teamwork. Riveting away at the old wooden hull certainly required coordination: someone on the outside alternately hammering nails into the boat and then holding a dolly over the nail to stop it wiggling out again; while someone else on the inside was tapping rove washers onto the spikes with a rove punch, then snipping off and mushrooming over the copper nail stump with a ball peen.
No doubt some of us even imagined ourselves back in the early 20th C, in a gloomy boatshed surrounded by workers in flat caps and dusty aprons splashed with tar and red lead..
This is an essential skill to share in our community, to keep alive the many surviving traditional clinker-planked dinghies in NZ.
Maybe I will try this steam-bending caper on some custom furniture projects!
I recommend NZTBS for anyone interested in wood, wooden boats or their maintenance. Check their upcoming classes: