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Bending the 6Metre

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.

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