Tag Archives: boat building academy

Woodworking skills at the BBA – Pete Bromwich’s experience

My long-time friend Pete Bromwich recently attended a 12-week woodworking skills course at the Boat Building Academy at Lyme Regis. Naturally, I was curious, and asked him to pen a shot report about it… And here’s what he had to say. Many thanks for taking the time to write Pete!

‘I wanted to improve my woodworking skills but could not afford the time to do the 38-week boat building course at the BBA. So after a chat with Will, the tutor on the 12-week woodworking skills course and BBA principal Yvonne, I decided the 12 week skills course was for me.

‘On my course there were five other student so we all had a good amount of tutor time if we needed it, but also time to practice what we had been taught without someone constantly looking over our shoulders. Teaching is between 8.30am and 5.30pm, but most students put in a few extra hours in the evening and weekends.

‘As the 12 weeks comes to a close this tends to come to a climax of late nights and early starts to get the project finished.

‘Like all good things in life, you get out of it what you put in. Being a resident at the centre certainly helped me concentrate on my woodwork skills. The housekeeper, Wendy, cooked a mid-morning snack and lunch for students at a very reasonable price – a heap of good, wholesome food that made cooking in the evening unnecessary. So the only thing to really worry about was the woodwork.

‘The first few weeks were spent building our basic woodworking hand skills, working towards a City and Guilds level 1 in construction. This is basically the same course as the people doing the year boat building course.

‘We were issued with a tool kit and spend the first few days familiarising ourselves with the tools and learning to sharpen and use them properly and get to grips tutor Will’s rules of woodwork:

– sharpen your tools

– square up the wood and use face marks

– mark out accurately

– cut to the line confidently

‘The first fully assessed piece was a builders square. Yes.

‘The plans required a 2mm inset on the cross piece, so you could not rely on planning it square when you had glued it in place…

‘The other fully assessed piece was four different mortice and tenon joints. We also made a lap joint and a housing joint that needed to be completed for the City and Guilds, but this was not marked.

‘All the joints had to be completed using hand tools only, starting with wood that needing squaring and dimensioning. Marks were gained or lost for being within 0.5mm or 2mm on dimensions and 0.5 or 2 degrees on square.

‘As well as practical woodworking skills we also had at least one session per day on theory or a practical demonstration on topics such as  like different wood types, steam bending, using the router table or different finishes.

‘This was to build our knowledge for the level 3 part of the course. We also had instruction on health and safety and technical drawing, using paper and pencil – with no Autocad or computers allowed!

‘All of the tasks we were being asked to do were demonstrated and Will, out tutor and Steve our technician were on hand to ask questions or seek clarification from.

‘We then moved on to make a dovetail-jointed box and and to fit the hinges and locks. The lid and bottom was made from plywood laminated with cherry veneer using a vacuum bag. This was the last of the level 1 tasks.

‘We then moved on to the level 3 part of the course, which is centred on furniture design and construction. We still had instruction and demonstrations of the new techniques but were expected to remember the things we had been taught and to evaluate the plans we had been given for the pieces.

‘We made a small table from beech, and at last, we did not have to do everything by hand: we used a table router for the legs and a morticer for the mortice and tenon joints.

‘We were encouraged to look at tools and think about what additional tools we would want in our tool kit. Not necessarily going out and buying everything new from Axminster (just down the road!), but looking at second-hand tools or tools we already owned and how we could improve them by sharpenin, replacing blade irons, cleaning them up and generally tuning them.

‘We also got to use some of the large planers and saws while preparing our wood for our projects, and also to practice using some of the smaller workshop power tools safely and efficiently.

‘We were also working on what our final project designs and having done all the theory on wood selection and faults in woods we went to Yandles, near Yeovil, to select our wood for our projects.

‘This was a great day of making decisions, compromising here and there, and perhaps changing our minds – perhaps because the steamed pear looked fabulous for the legs of the table etc…

‘All of the spaces in the workshop started filling with stacks of wood acclimatising and getting ready for the big project build.

‘We then did our last assessed piece, a small cabinet in cherry. All of the trim was made using a router, and the doors were made using the morticer.

‘Just as we finished off making the cabinet and were preparing to start on our final projects, we had to sit our C&G exams, which included on furniture design and construction, health and safety, a written technical drawing exam and an assessed drawing.

‘The exams are certainly not mandatory, and originally rather than sit them I just wanted to do the practical aspects of the course – but having made all the assessment pieces, I decided to do the written exams as a way of consolidating my knowledge.

‘We then had the last few weeks to make our projects. I chose to make a hammered dulcimer, a musical instrument I had played previously, and wanted to start playing again. Among my fellow students, Sam made a table, Corrine made a ukulele, Bella made a tool box, Alec made a cabinet and Simon made a chest. See them here, and see what students on earlier courses have made in the online archive.

‘The dulcimer was made of Robbins Super Elite marine plywood. I chose this as I wanted to try out making a dulcimer purely from plywood, and hopefully with the best I could afford, hence the Super Elite. The bridges were made from cherry.

‘I also built one using birdseye maple for the sides and a spruce soundboard, but the picture above are of the plywood one.

‘This was the first time a woodworking skills course student had elected to build a musical instrument, and I had to satisfy Will I knew what I was getting into as while he could help with the woodworking aspects of the build, he could not contribute much in relation to the design or advise on what tone woods to use.

‘Also, he had never seen or heard a dulcimer before!

‘I began by making four sets of hammers with different tips to create different sounds. I used the vacuum bag to laminate the plywood frames I made for the dulcimer. I then cleaned up the frames before putting on the base and soundboard.

‘This video shows the finished product, and how it sounds.

‘I would thoroughly recommend the course to anyone who wanted to improve or develop their woodworking skills, the course is about working with wood in general rather than geared to boat building, but the skills you pick up will certainly help on any future boat building or boat repair work.

‘The BBA also runs run short courses on specific boat building topics, that I will certainly attend some of these over the next few years. Also, I’ve found they are a great bunch of people and are always willing to give help and advice to ex-students.’

BBA students launch a strip-planked Andrew Wolstenholme Mallard dinghy

Boat Building Academy student Tim Harrison launched this 12ft Andrew Wolstenholme Mallard dinghy at the annual early summer student launch. The photos are by Becky Brown, Paul Dyer and Jenny Steer.

I gather the Mallard was originally designed for the Boatman magazine.

Tim, an experienced sailor and ex-merchant seaman, wanted to use a modern construction method and chose to strip plank the dinghy in western red cedar, sheathed inside and out with glass fibre and epoxy. She has a laminated khaya stem, sapele hog and keel, and mahogany transom. She is painted inside and out with bright finished thwarts and trim.

The boat was lofted, as are all boats built, as part of the course, and the moulds were CNC cut by the Architectural Association at Hooke Park using CAD files supplied by Andrew.

Tim chose a cat-rig for ease of use, to free up hull space and for its pretty appearance. The boat has a pivoting centreboard.

The dinghy’s sail was made by the class as part of a four-day sail-making short course at the Academy taught by Jeremy White of Elvstrøm Sails.

Students work on all of the builds, but BBA staff say Peter Holyoake particularly enjoyed his time working on the Mallard.  Peter came to the BBA from the Isle of Wight, where he worked for a major logistics company for 25 years as a programme manager.

However, after reading an article about the academy in Coast magazine he had what he calls a ‘lightbulb’ moment and decided it was time for a change.

The course inspired him to learn some other skills – at Lyme Regis he took time out to train as a barista at a local independent coffee house, and learnt how to prepare fish and shellfish at a fishmongers near the Cobb – Lyme’s historic harbour wall.

If anyone ever fancies a mackerel cappuccino, Peter says he’s your man… [I’ll pass on that, Ed]

Tim chose to name his Mallard dinghy ‘Tucana’ – Tupi for ‘Toucan’. Tim’s daughter is an amateur artist concentrating on birds, and the Victorian bird illustrator John Gould was born in Lyme Regis.

A traditional sign writer painted the name on the boat, together with a bright image of a toucan on the dinghy’s transom.

Tim plans to enjoy Tucana with family and friends in East Anglia and the West Country, and Peter plans to start a new career in the marine industry.

See the Mallard’s build diary here.

BBA student launch, June 2015

The Boat Building Academy’s class of September 2014 launched eight boats in bright but blustery weather at Lyme Regis last month.

I’ve put up lots of photos because I feel they convey the busy atmosphere of the event!

Around three hundred people gathered at the slipway to see the student-built or student-renewed boats were launched for the first time.

Following a few words from academy director Tim Gedge, and former Lyme Regis mayor Sally Holman, each of the boats set off on their maiden voyages, cheered on their way by the crowd.

The boats the students launched were:

  • 10ft restored traditional clinker dinghy, believed to have originally been built by Naval apprentices
  • 12ft strip planked Andrew Wolstenholme Mallard dinghy
  • 13ft glued clinker Iain Oughtred Acorn Skiff
  • 14ft traditional clinker faering designed by builder Max Stembridge’s naval architect father
  • 15ft 2in cold moulded Iain Oughtred Whilly Tern
  • 18ft strip planked Guillemot Night Heron kayak
  • 20ft carvel Seabird Half-Rater (the claimed to be the oldest one-design class boat still sailing, this was the 107th to be built)
  • 22ft clinker built small Viking ship Nordlands 

The Nordlands boat crew managed to keep hold of their Viking hats as they rowed across the harbour and experienced sailors aboard the Seabird Half-Rater and Mallard dinghy enjoyed an exciting sail across the bay.

Once the boats had been enjoyed, the students returned to the workshops on Monmouth Beach where they received their Level 3 City & Guilds certificates.

Principal,Yvonne Green, congratulated the class on their achievements and wished them well as they start their new lives as boat builders.

Dave Young from PodFilms caught footage of the launch from the safety boat (kindly provided by Rob Perry Marine). The Academy is delighted with the new film showing workshop and launch shots, which can be viewed on the homepage of their website.

Photographic build diaries of each boat can be viewed here.

  • PS – My pal Pete Bromwich attended the BBA’s 12 week course in woodworking skills recently, during which he made a hammered dulcimer.  Here are some photos of the project.