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NEWS BLOG

by the way, did you know...

Welcome to our blog where we strive to inform you about all things hardwood lumber, plywood. and woodworking. As distributors of hardwood lumber, plywood and equipment, we will give you a 'behind the scenes' view of the lumber industry.

 

Much of the content here is inspired by questions from our customers so feel free to drop us a line and ask a question. If we don't already have an article about it on our site, we may just write one in the future to address it.

NEWS DEDICATED TO
ALL THINGS IN WOODWORKING

 
Reprinted from The Brass Bell, Issue 1, 2022 with the permission of the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club.

 

Fostering Heirs to the Wooden Boat Building Legacy

 

Written By Sherry Johnson Guzy, Director of Marketing Communications, LL Johnson Lumber Mfg Co & Johnson’s Workbench.


In the dark twilight of early morning, a streetlight creates shadows across the lumber yard parking lot, slightly illuminating a truck driver standing next to Number 38; a 2002 STERLING straight truck with a Mercedes six-cylinder turbo diesel engine, is sitting at the dock fully loaded. African Mahogany, Dark Red Meranti, Sapele, Teak, Hard Maple, Quarter Sawn White Oak, 24 tons of hardwood lumber and plywood in all -- waiting to be transported, moreover transformed into a new life of usefulness.

 

Roger, a long-time employee with salt and pepper hair (with extra salt at his temples), has just tightened down the last strap. The infusion of magenta, orange, and gold filling the Eastern horizon begins to filter into his awareness. Realizing it's time to hit the road, he climbs up into the cardinal-red cab. The turning of the key brings the engine growling to life, and he holds down the clutch, shifts left, then forward, releasing the clutch and accelerating slowly out onto the road in first gear. Roger begins the dance – clutch, shift, clutch, accelerating into second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth gear. Heading out of town, Number 38 begs to be given its reins, like a racehorse on an early morning run.

 

“Here at LL Johnson Lumber, we have a substantial customer base in the education industry, and we take every opportunity to partner with them in promoting tomorrow's skilled trades today,” states Mark Johnson, Chairman of the Board. He continues, “A growing number of Middle Schools, High Schools, and Universities are bringing back woodshop programs.” In the United States, several secondary schools specialize in wooden boat building and restoration. And on this August day, Roger and Number 38 will be making a delivery to one of them.

 

According to Jay Coogan, a leader in the education industry, "Students have made the commitment to learning, and eventually mastering...to creating a life of substantial accomplishments and a feeling of pride in what they have done." They are struck hard by the desire to make things, not just anything, but useful things fashioned from the materials of nature as a way to engage with the physical world. It has been aptly said that your hands are the instrument of your mind. Students find the boat-building school setting a sanctuary providing refuge as they learn—where failures become successes often by redressing errors that might not be acceptable in the professional world. At the end of the program, they have earned a seat at the table, having conversations about wooden boat construction in a way they have never been able to before.

 

Each day students in the shops discover something new. They are quick to share with other classmates, and their enthusiasm is contagious. Everyone comes from diverse backgrounds – veterans, career changers, individuals fresh from high school, and so many more bring their unique contributions -- all with just one thing held in common -- all are following their passion.

 

Many beginning students today are not familiar with the proper means of selecting lumber for marine use, unlike our nautical ancestors, who were intimately acquainted with the properties of Oak, Mahogany, Cedar, and Teak, who memorized the color and character of wood grain, the unique warmth of wood in the sunlight, how to fashion a teak gunwale, carefully shaping it to smoothly fit the grasping hand like a glove.

 

At the beginning of the school year in early fall, novices learn right away how little they know about the primary resource for building boats. Wood is a versatile and resilient building material, organic, willing to be transformed, worked, coaxed into, showcasing its array of colors, textures, and grain patterns in exquisitely perfected watercraft.

 

Gaining insight into the distinction between the different species of marine lumber is essential. For the skeletal structure of a boat, students learn it is best to use lumber as green as possible or slightly air-dried for bending into keels and chines. Keel and frames are traditionally made of hardwoods such as white oak. The grain in White Oak runs straighter and tighter with long fiber tyloses, outer growths on wood cells that impede moisture movement in lumber. Quarter-sawn white oak is the better choice for bending since it displays grain lines tightly parallel on the broad face and holds together to a greater degree under bending stress. The best regions in the world for oak timber are in northeastern United States– where colder climates nurture tight growth rings.

 

For the outer hull, decking, gunwales, millwork, and cabinetry, kiln-dried lumber resilient to moisture is a requisite. Lumber like African mahogany, Ash, Cherry, Walnut, Maple are choice species for these applications. Vertical grained or holly striped golden-brown Teak has long been favored for its strength and durability.

 

Boatbuilding involves intense, continuous physical and mental effort. And to be a professional boatbuilder, students must learn to love to plank. For a smooth-hulled boat rough boards must be shaped precisely so that no gaps appear where two adjacent planks are joined or where the planks meet components of the backbone. Planks must be milled on their surfaces, beveled on their edges, backed out on the inside, steamed, bent, twisted—and coaxed to fit the keel, the underlying frames and to attach to the stem at the front and the transom aft. Mastering the art of planking is the very heart of boatbuilding, and fitting the perfect plank requires extreme fortitude.

 

Students learn during their first few months that in woodworking, grain direction is critical. Straight grain lines will sustain strength in places where stability is needed, especially where bending and twisting are required. Thus, the careful sorting of sapwood for planks, decks, and flooring becomes essential.

 

Some of the most beautiful yet challenging features of plain-sawn lumber are the aptly named cathedrals. There are three types of cathedrals in wood grain, One-Directional, Island or "Football" shaped, and Non-Descript. While the One-directional cathedrals are most sought after, stunning projects have been shown to utilize all parts of them from one log.

 

These features are desired for artistic purposes, but they can be challenging to work with as the grain can abruptly reverse. Cathedrals should be utilized to influence the shaping of wood. Learning to plane into cathedral spires on the outside and to run with feature on the inside is one of many woodworking challenges, and techniques students are exposed to in class.

 

From a pile of rough lumber and plywood to each fitting of African Mahogany to quarter-sawn White Oak to Alaskan Yellow Cedar to Sapele and Teak, students develop meticulous woodworking skills each day, growing more confident in their prowess as boatbuilders.

 

At their completion of the program, students have finished sea-worthy boats to show for their tireless efforts. Frames have been reinforced. Planks forming the hulls have been molded, shaped, and planed. Minor imperfections patched, countersunk fasteners puttied over, decks smoothly surfaced, and finally layers of varnish coaxed into a flawless glass-like finish.

 

It is launch day. With excited anticipation, and bottles of champaign for the christenings, students have transported their crafts to the slipway at the water's edge.

 

The first boat squeals as it slips off the trailer into the dark blue water of the bay, and cheers of family and friends ring out. The sails tighten on the restored Beetle cat, a 12' cat rigged sailboat, as it effortlessly glides through the water away from the shore.

 

As the wind plays with the sails, the boat glides faster to the sound of waves against its sides as the skiff cuts through the water. Finally, the sailboat comes about as it reaches the mouth of the bay. It's time to head back.

 

The sails are slipped smoothly off the track at the shore's edge, folded and tucked away for safe keep. The mast is carefully lowered. The Beetlecat is trailered to be put away, ready for another day. It is official. The graduates are now heirs to the wooden boat building legacy.

 

It is the end of the year, the end of the day. In the stillness of the shop, the instructor reflects on the evidence of a season of activity. Slowly, he turns to take in the remnants of scrap wood among the tracks of swept sawdust.

 

The room is now lit by a golden beam of late afternoon sunlight poking through a window ending in a dark abstract artwork on the floor. Within the evening sunbeam, sparkling particles of sawdust swirl, dancing in the gentle air current. Gradually, quiet background sounds begin to infiltrate his consciousness.

 

The sound of a soft breeze sweeping through the ductwork playing with a damper. The hissing from the air system as it seeps down through the fissures in the fittings. Faint little grumblings and groans escaping from invisible places. Turning slowly, taking in the panoramic view, storing memories, the instructor crosses the threshold of the outer door into the crisp night air for the last time of the season.

 

 

Long before your wooden boat cuts gracefully through the waters, imported marine lumber has already had an extraordinary journey from the middle of dense tropical forests to sailing the sometimes-harsh seas.

 

According to BIFA.com (British International Freight Association), there are more than 6,000 ships carrying containers worldwide at any point in time.

 

Ports are sophisticated today with specialized equipment, such as gantry cranes and reach stackers for cargo handling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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