In boatbuilding, the verb ‘true’ means to bring an object into precise shape, position, or alignment. Synonyms of the adjective ‘true’ include ‘faithful’, ‘accurate’, ‘verifiable’, and ‘correct.’
At Tumblehome, we call our restoration process a True Process, because our goal is to return the boat into precisely the thing it once was, when new. It’s not a representation, echo, or facsimile; it is the true thing, itself.
Why this goal? So the experience of being aboard that boat is the same as it was ever meant to be.
Our first step in a restoration is to return the hull into her proper shape. The nuances of the form of the hull, and how the boat is trimmed, are the features that define how the boat feels when afloat and moving. Not to recapture these details, or to get the weight wrong, will cause the boat to lose its distinctive character.
If we’re lucky enough to have a lines plan, photos, and clear documentation of the boat, then the process of returning her to form can be straightforward. However, it is not often so simple, especially with early boats. If we don’t have raw data, then we need to take our cues from the boat and from whatever history we know.
For Reuben Smith, boatbuilding is a skill learned from doing, reading, watching, teaching, and doing more. Rooted in deep experience, the crew at the Tumblehome Boatshop take their craft very seriously.
Wooden boat builders and restorers are students of history, as well as students of craft. We need to be aware of the historical trajectory of the boats we work on in order to grasp the nuances of the boat—the things that make them uniquely terrific and worth hanging on to.
Historical Context and Considerations
Understanding the historical context of a boat and its use is important to us and it shapes how we approach the restoration or construction of the boat. We often hear the term ‘traditional boatbuilding.’ However, the tradition of boatbuilding is change and adaptation. Understanding what the designers and builders of the boat were trying to achieve when the boat they were working on was a very new thing, rather than an artifact of a bygone era, is critical to making the right choices in a restoration.
Restoring and Engineering the Shape of the Boat
The first imperative in a restoration is the shape of the boat. Every boat has been carefully designed to perform in a certain way, and with a historical boat, the behavior and feel of the boat when in the water is probably even more important than how she looks.
At Tumblehome Boatshop, we strive to restore the shape of the boat, and then lock in that restored shape with the structural restoration.
Preserving and Determining Construction Methods and Materials
The next imperative is the maintenance of the engineering—the materials, and how the boat was put together. While a wooden boat may appear as a piece of art, the construction is carefully engineered. Often, this engineering is calculated by the designer, but also it is often based on the experience of the builder about what works best.
Part of the work of the restoration is searching for appropriate materials—in lumber, fasteners, paint, and bedding, and then applying them with the same sensibility as the original builder. It requires carefully checking over the parts of the boat as they are being replaced, and often researching the building methods of the original builder.
Understanding How the Finished Boat Will Spend Its Days
The final imperative is the contemporary life of the boat—the goals of the restoration as well as the needs of the boat and her owner. Whether a boat lives in the water on a mooring or at a dock for the entire season, or whether she’s hauled out regularly and generally lives on a trailer can have a strong influence on if we want to restore a boat using traditional methods, or borrow from modern materials and methods. Also, we may find that an aspect of a wonderful old boat proved not to be engineered perfectly, and we may alter the construction of certain aspects to make the boat easier to own today.
Properly restoring and building a classic wooden boat takes substantial experience and a mental commitment that Reuben Smith’s Tumblehome Boatshop has.