Nick Smith’s 16ft launch Louise project reaches seven planks a side

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Motor launch Louise at seven planks
Hampshire-based and Devon-trained boatbuilder Nick Smith has sent us some more photos of his current project, Louise, which he’s currently planking with khaya mahogany. She’s  a 16ft loa, 6ft beam and will draw about 14in.
Here’s what he says:
Louise has seven planks per side now, so thats just over halfway planked up; she’ll have 12 per side when finished. The shape is forming now, and looking fair and well proportioned.

The photo showing me holding a pen illustrates the spiling process  – or ”spoilin”  as they say on the Isle of Wight. A template of thin ply or softwood is clamped to the last fitted plank, by means of  wooden clamps known as gripes, and what you see me doing is running a biro or sharp pencil along the top edge of the plank, thus copying the edge shape to the template (or ‘draw-by’ as we used to call them in South Devon.

The  widths for the new plank need to be transferred from the stem, moulds and transom to the template, giving five points that can be joined up with a flexible batten and drawn along, giving the new plank top edge shape. Because the planks on a clinker boat overlap by a margin (3/4in on this boat) the bottom edge just marked must have that 3/4 inch added to give the full width.

This process is difficult to explain in words but is satisfyingly simple when demonstrated, and is an example of what I call ‘workshop geometry’ .
With all information transferred the draw-by is taken off the boat and ‘spiled off’ onto the treewood awaiting cutting and machining.



Thanks Nick! It’s great to see how the process is supposed to work.
Click here for posts mentioning Nick’s previous project, Lisa. If you don’t already know him, Nick comes from Devon and specialises in new builds in clinker and carvel for sail, motor and rowing power from 8ft to 28ft with a special emphasis on West Country style and design, and also takes on repairs and refits from 25ft to 50ft. He can be contacted by email at and by phone on phone on 07786 693370.
For some photos of Nick’s boats at last year’s Beale Park Thames Boat Show, click here. Nick tells me he’s be at the show again this summer, so if you’re interested it might be wise to put the dates 5th-7th June in your diary…

6 thoughts on “Nick Smith’s 16ft launch Louise project reaches seven planks a side”

  1. It looks like the garboards are fastened with screws to the stem/keel, as one would expect, but the other planks seem to be just nailed to the stem with the copper nails used to form the rivets along the laps. Or did Smith use (much) longer nails and rivet all the way through the stem?


    1. Nick had rather a lot to say about this question. So here's my slightly edited version:

      'Just nailed ? Nailing is the age old and still the best method.

      'Some use annular ring nails (bronze gripfast), but these are impossible to remove if the nail is bent when driving it, or if in the future you need to replace a plank. Others use screws but they look ugly if countersunk flush where they hold properly, but if you sink them deep enough to plug with a wooden dowel then they are so deep in the hood end that they holding inefficiently and could possibly pull completely through the plank.

      'So I use copper nails as I did from day one, and it hasn't been bettered.

      'I use thick old varnish for the very end of the plank where it shows outside to the eye, and further back a smear of polysulphide sealant, for watertightness and extra holding power.

      'Also, the plank is nailed into the APRON, not the stem.'

      I should add that Nick's been building traditional boats professionally for a very long time, starting with an apprenticeship with a traditional boatbuilder in Salcombe when he was a lad. If he says nails are the best thing to use, he won't be talking out of his backside…

  2. You learn something every day, which for me is the point. So today I learned that nails provide adequate holding in the hood ends of planks and look nicer than screws, or slightly countersunk screws filled over with putty, and the difference between an inner stem and a stem apron. But along those lines, surely Mr. Smith uses bungs over countersunk screw heads and not dowels: enormous difference in function there.

    Cheers, Brian

  3. And I should have added in the first post, wonderful work and a beautiful boat. Can't wait to see photos of finishing her out and the launch.

    1. Boat nomenclature is frequently inconsistent and full of regional differences – think of all the meanings of the word 'punt', for example. In this case, it seems that in boatbuilding 'dowel' need not mean the long length of circular section we know from the DIY stores.

      Here's what Nick had to say:

      'The name I first used for this wooden piece to cover a screw head was ''dowell'' made using a ''dowell cutter'', and since then I have heard them referred to as ''pellets'', ''plugs'', ''bungs'' and ''dowels''.

      'They all mean exactly the same thing and as I have worked in boatbuilding and restoring in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Norfolk, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, I've found that certain variations in nomenclature must be embraced.

      'In DIY parlance, a dowel is indeed a short cicrcular in section length of wood, but if you cut across the grain with a saw, what you see will be end grain, which won't match up with the side grain of the plank. So a plug cutter is used to cut into the side grain of an offcut of the same plank material, and one then glues the plug in the hole with the grain aligned, sometimes almost invisibly.

      'There is an essential difference here. As a 16 year old in the boat yard I made the mistake of I arguing that a dowel was a long length and quite different from mwhat we were cutting and using, but the bastard I was apprenticed to enlightened me politely, as always, that I was wrong.

      'As he had been using dowels since before B&Q existed, maybe he was right.

      'These days I mostly say ''plug'' and ''plug cutter''.'

  4. It is interesting though to say dowel in place of plug or bung, or bit which I have not heard before, in that in a boat yard one also presumably did use dowels at least occasionally to pin mortise and tenon joints, for instance.

    Disagreeing with one's master over what to call a plug is one thing, but pity the poor apprentice who bungs together a companionway door after being told to use dowels. "Bloody idiot, I told you to use dowels, not dowels. Now we're going to have to bung it in the scrap heap and start over."

    But dowel is no doubt a good old Anglo-Saxon word: in German today the word is "duebel" (too close to be an accident, especially considering the French word is "cheville") , but bung is "pfropfen". I remember the first time I heard the word dowel, when I was about 4, up in the attic of our post-and-beam house when I asked a carpenter friend who was looking around why I couldn't see any nails anywhere in the beams. I really learned all about them when I cut hundred or so with froe and a drawknife for a post-and-beam addition to a log cabin that I helped a friend of the family build. I was probably only 13-14 at the time so I didn't do all that much, but it did teach me the true meaning of do-it-yourself, that and how to use a broad axe without cutting off any important bits.

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