Friday, August 24, 2018


      If you look at 'how to' videos on Youtube, and also boatbuilding videos, you're going to come across marine architect George Buehler's work.  

Sadly, Mr. Buehler passed away a few months ago. I spoke with him several times. He took the time to share some techniques with me for boatbuilding fixes after I complemented him on one of his beautiful designs. He was an interesting man, certainly, and one of the coolest things about him was that part of his design lines were made for amateur boatbuilders to make rugged boats out of easily available materials. He was really into helping people get into backyard boatbuilding, and his designs showed that- friendly design like large-radius curves and chines instead of wineglass profiles, things like that, so one could build a boat without spending 6 figures on wood alone. His designs are heavily influenced by Pacific Northwest-style hulls- narrow, high-deadrise hulls,  a vastly different animal from what I'm used to, as an East-Coaster with the big beam and Downeast lines as my comfort zone.  

 Now, if you want to build a wooden or fiberglass-over-wood boat, hardwoods of perfect quality and precision sawing are mostly what is required. You can't get massive white oak for timbers at Home Depot. Hell, you mostly can't get it at any store, and will probably have to go directly to a sawmill and get to know the tree before the cuts you need are sawn out of it, in order to get the right quality and grain orientation, which is also a very important thing. 

    With Buehler's home builder-targeted design, many of the custom cuts can be swapped out with lesser quality wood from big-box stores, laminated and glued to make larger pieces before being bolted together. 

 Modern materials science can be blended with old-school carpenter knowledge to make sandwich-core construction- using the combined strengths of materials to offset the weaknesses of individual components. This is why you can make a nice little skiff out of 2x4's, plywood, some screws and fiberglass for about 20% of the cost of a planked wooden skiff made of long-lasting materials. 

 Longevity is an issue- fir and pine boards and deck screws won't last 100 years like a properly built wooden boat will.  But they don't have to. You can make a boat to last 20-25 years using less-than-ideal materials, if it's built properly and built heavy. So Buehler did exactly that. His boats are built heavy. Where a plank-on-frame hull is sufficient in wood, a double-layered fiberglassed plywood-on-plywood-on-plank-on-frameusing weaker woods and a good knowledge of materials design and marine architecture can be more than strong enough. 

 So, in the Sea Dreamer Project, Scott, a  cop (and part-time woodworker) who never built a boat before is building a big and heavy cabin cruiser of sufficient size and quality for international travel. He's building it in his backyard. On a budget.  This is not a professional mariner. Guy's in upper-state New York, about as far from the ocean as I've ever been in my life, in fact. 

 I'm enjoying the videos that are being put out on youtube. You should check them out. In the early days of construction, when motivation is discussed, the 'if not now, when?' aspect plays heavily, as does the role of materials selection. For an amateur, being able to (mostly) shop at local, familiar stores helps a lot with comfort and actually getting projects started, and the role of compromise, in materials, design, choices, etc, exists in any marine setting. If I were to set out and build an oak and cedar masterpiece, is that any more practical than a lumberyard-sourced boat? Depends on what it's being used for, of course. We compromise in all things. I wish for all bronze fastenings for my boat, but end up with some copper, brass and stainless steel. I want quarter-sawn white oak, but end up with flat-sawn here and there. I want solid oak beams and natural-grown knees.  I get fir laminated with resourcinal glue binding it, which is just as strong, but ugly as shit, but who cares, as it's being painted anyhow.As you watch these videos, Scott discusses where and why he chooses materials, and how he or the designer must overbuild or otherwise compensate for his compromises. 

    It's impressive, to see something large and complex come together, and to see people risk the loss of time and treasure to pursue such big challenges. 


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