Wood for Boats

The earliest boats go back 8,000 years ago, starting with dugout canoes. Those early dugout canoes ignited a desire to harness the power of the water and the wind, and mankind has built on that technology. Egyptians added sails, which paved the way for historical ships such as the NinaPinta, and Santa Maria, which in turn led to today’s luxury yachts, sport fishing boats and runabouts for pleasure cruising.

The structure of wooden boats has evolved over time, however, most of the basic components have only slightly changed. Since the dugout was essentially carved out of a log, advancements were made in creating a hull that mimics the human body with “ribs” and planking (skin).   Finish and trim improvements have drastically improved boat quality and durability as well as aesthetics.

Let’s take a look at the structure of modern wooden boats.


The boats’ ribs, named for the obvious way they resemble an animal’s ribs, were crafted from the crotch/splits of trees as they have inherent strength and are one solid piece. Today, these are typically made of strong but lightweight woods such as Juniper, Meranti or Douglas Fir. Plywood is also used to strengthen these rib parts, and help hold together the ribs until planking is put into place. In the past, when using solid lumber, ribs of the boat were steamed in order to bend them to the correct angle required to add maximum strength. The planking is then attached to the ribs.


The planking consists of boards that make up the outside of the boat’s hull. One type of hull planking is carvel, where the boards are fastened edge-to-edge, adding strength and creating a smooth surface. Another type of planking is lapstrake planking, which is when the planks are overlapped. This method is also called “clinker” construction.  You may see this type of planking on a small lake boat. In ancient days, fasteners were relied on to attach the planking during the boat’s construction, but modern waterproof glues are so superior that both carvel and clinker construction rely almost completely on glue for fastening. For many years Meranti (also known as Philippine Mahogany) was used by most wooden boat builders, including renowned boat builders like Rybovich, Chris Craft, Pacemaker, and others. Meranti planking is still used today, as well as Marine Grade Plywood which works in the same manner, but requires a little less time as it is typically ripped into larger pieces.


Most wooden-hulled boats are finished in fiberglass after planking, which adds strength as well as sealing the hull for water tightness along the seams and joints. In addition, the fiberglass reduces moisture absorption which adds unnecessary weight to a boat. The smooth fiberglass surface also reduces resistance and drag on the watercraft, increasing speed and fuel economy.


The trim includes all of the interior and exterior wood work: door trim, window trim, decking, floors, cover boards, transom, cabinets, etc. As this greatly influences the aesthetics of the boat, a high-end wood like Teak is typically chosen for these components.

No matter your style, or type boat you desire, almost every boat contains wooden components, from solid ribs, planking, Marine Grade Plywood, finish and trim. Not all wood and/or wood suppliers are the same. Make sure you check for quality, reliability and dependability of the material and the source, in order to ensure that you and your boat get the best.