Dory boat

Bruce Campbell adjusts an oar on a dory his class at The Folk School built this spring. The photo was taken Wednesday outside the Daily News-Miner building. The boatwright class at The Folk School  is in the process of building four or five Chaisson-style dories.

FAIRBANKS — A class of seven students at The Folk School recently finished work on a spruce-trimmed mahogany rowboat they built from scratch.

The completed dory-style boat was launched for the first time last week into the indoor waters of Hamme Pool after 150 hours of work and $600 in wood and epoxy.

Come breakup, the boat is destined for bigger waters. It’s built from an early 20th century design created for coastal waters off New England. By summer, there are plans for a small fleet of these dories in Fairbanks. Campbell and his students are building three additional boats from the same design.

A dory is a small boat made of overlapping boards. Campbell’s is an especially small dory at 10 feet long, weighing about 80 pounds and equipped with rails, seats and oarlocks. The design comes from a line of boats made by Swampscott, Massachusetts, boatbuilder George Chaisson, who began building this style of boat at least as early as 1916.

The Folk School is a nonprofit organization founded in 2011 that offers informal training in woodworking, outdoors skills and other classes as requested by students. Boatbuilding has recently become a popular part of the curriculum, Campbell said. His dory was one of three Folk School-built vessels that tested the water last week at Hamme Pool. Students also tested a stand-up paddleboard built by a class taught by Andy Reynolds and a simple canoe that a kids class built during a five-day class. The kids’ canoe was narrow and very tippy, which the kids seemed to enjoy, Campbell said.

The dory class follows from a series of (nonrequired) preparatory classes Campbell taught last year about building the tools needed to assemble the boat. Despite all the hours that went into building this dory, Campbell described it as a relatively simple boat to build.

“The class introduces students to the techniques involved. None are especially difficult, and once one gets one hands-on experience, just about anyone can build a boat,” he said in an email describing the project.

Campbell, 63, is a retired geologist and vice president of The Folk School. He’s been interested in boat building since he assembled a wood-frame canvas canoe in 1968 when he was a Boy Scout in Indiana.

Campbell chose the 10-foot Chaisson dory for the class because it is the smallest of the boat designs in the 1987 boatbuilding handbook “The Dory Book.” The small rowboat can fit one passenger or two passengers tightly. Campbell described the vessel as “eye-charmingly cute.” The boat can fit on the top of a car and was also picked because during construction it fit into The Folk School’s small workshop off Murphy Dome Road.

This type of boat would have originally been used as a yacht tender, a rowboat used to ferry a small sailboat out to the ocean. Campbell plans to use it around Interior Alaska rivers and lakes, starting with a trip to the Delta Clearwater later this month.


Construction technique

Students started their project with incomplete renderings of the early 20th century boat they were building. The class begin with a group of diagrams and dimensions from the “The Dory Book.” They turned a table of boat dimensions into the curves of a real-life boat through the traditional marine and aviation practice of lofting. The students plotted the dimensions on the backs of old political signs and then used a thin piece of wood called a batten to draw the exact shape of their boat components. A computer-

aided design program could be used instead of pencil and paper, but lofting works and Campbell isn’t familiar with a program that would work for his boatbuilding project.

Students building the other boats will have it easier. They’ve been able to use the designs from the first boats as well as a wooden frame the boat was built around.

The hull of the boat is made of five carefully measured plywood boards, each 6 millimeters thick and placed in overlapping segments on each side of the boat. Unlike the original Swampscott dories, Campbell’s students do not use any screws to attach the boards; instead they glue the boards with West System epoxy.

Contemporary epoxies and early 20th century woodworking techniques complement each other well. The Folk School workshop isn’t alone in its use of glue and wood for boatbuilding, Campbell said by email.

“Yukon 800 master boat (river race) craftsmen employ epoxy-wood techniques for their amazingly fast craft too,” he said.

Campbell is thinking about epoxying a hard plastic liner to protect the bottom of his wooden hull from rocky river bottoms. He’s intrigued by the plastic boats recently introduced by Fairbanks septic company Lifewater Engineering. 


Build your own

The Folk School plans to hold one more boatwright class using the Swampscott dory design starting May 21.

To be an apprentice in the class and learn the basic boatbuilding skills costs $220 ($200 for Folk School members) and involves attending four classes, held every other Saturday. 

Up to two people in the class can register as boatwrights, which means they’ll own the boats at the end of the class. Registering as a boatwright costs $275 ($250 for Folk School members) and requires the person to purchase all materials for the boat. Materials cost about $600, Campbell said. 

Boatwrights must also commit to working on the boat between class sessions so it’s ready for the next step.

People interested in seeing the boat built are also invited to see the current class in progress this weekend. 

The class will be at Superior Hardwoods, 600 Old Steese Highway North, from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Contact outdoors editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: