Lowell’s Boat Shop Apprentice Program puts old boats in new hands


Founded in 1793, Lowell’s Boat Shop (LBS) is America’s oldest operating boat store and is cited as the birthplace of the legendary fishing dory, but that’s not all.

LBS is a non-profit museum and home to a thriving learning program for youth and adults.

“The apprenticeship program is aligned with our mission statement,” said Graham McKay, executive director of LBS / master boatbuilder, “to preserve and perpetuate the art and craft of wooden boat building and promote the history of Lowell’s Boat Shop and its surroundings. ‘”

Youth enrolled in the after-school apprenticeship program work alongside experienced Boat Shop staff to learn the art and skills of traditional boatbuilding as practiced at Lowell’s Boat Shop since 1793. The program teaches fundamentals of woodworking such as the use of tools, workshop safety and carpentry, as well as the history and evolution of boat design as generations of the Lowell family have worked to meet the needs of Gloucester’s fishing fleet, and later boaters in search of pleasure craft.

Apprentices learn about form and function as it applies to boat design, the properties of different woods, and the stages of boat building from start to finish. This intensive program is designed to familiarize apprentices with the construction of a wooden boat through hands-on experience, and gives them a sense of pride in the work.

“This year we are thrilled to have a strong Junior Apprenticeship program as well,” said Dorothy Antczak, LBS Director of Education, “a beginner level introduction to Boat Shop for kids who are too young to participate. apprenticeship program, but want to learn the basics of using hand tools and various skills associated with traditional wooden boat building.

“The importance of the learning model is also exemplified by Douglas Brooks, who will be leading two workshops at Lowell’s Boat Shop this fall.

Douglas Brooks is a boatbuilder, writer, and researcher specializing in small boats built to traditional designs, and he has taught boat building in the United States and Japan. He has also studied traditional Japanese boat building since 1996, having apprenticed with seven boat builders from across Japan.

His work focuses on the appreciation and continued use of traditional wooden boats, as well as the preservation and sharing of the skills and knowledge needed to build wooden boats. These include American and English boat types, as well as small boats from Japan.

“He’s taught here before,” McKay said, “but it’s been a while since we’ve had adult programs because of Covid.”

Brooks will teach a three-day smoothing workshop at LBS on Friday, Saturday and Sunday November 19, 20 and 21, and a one-day tool sharpening course on Saturday December 11.

Smoothing is traditionally the first step in the process of building a boat. This involves drawing the lines of a boat in real size in order to verify the correctness of the dimensions and to provide construction models.

“The preening is invaluable to hobbyist boat builders and greatly expands the range of boats they could build,” McKay said. “Rather than relying on kits with full-size models, it becomes possible to build thousands of traditional boat models from books and museum collections. This same method is also useful for furniture makers, especially construction parts with curved elements.

“Smoothing is a very interesting practice applicable not only to boat building but a host of other things,” said Brooks, “furniture construction as well as construction issues, because the possibility of arranging geometry is a real time saver when it comes to building.

“It is a precursor to what is now done by computer. Today there are many full size patents generated by computers for hobby boat builders. The loft capacity gives people the chance to build anything. It was a traditional staple and aligns with Lowell’s Boat Shop’s mission of preserving the skills of boat building.

Lowell's Boat Shop in Amesbury offers an apprenticeship program that teaches centuries-old American shipbuilding.  Shown here, Douglas Brooks teaches a lofting course in Japan.

In the smoothing workshop, students will learn all the steps necessary to raise a boat from 16 to 20 feet. Using an offset table, students will work on streamlining the lines, widening the transom and lengthening the rod, the rabbet. Techniques for mold growth from swollen cross sections will be discussed and stem rebate cutting from the attic will be demonstrated.

“In this course, I’ll also be discussing half-model making, which is the precursor to lofting,” Brooks said. “For some students, making model halves is a great beginner woodworking project.”

No previous experience is necessary for the Lofting workshop. All necessary tools and materials will be provided, but students should bring a carpenter’s square, three-legged ruler (if available), and pencils.

No previous experience is necessary for the tool sharpening class either.

“I am convinced that the ability to create sharp tools like razors is an absolute prerequisite for any type of woodworking,” Brooks said. “Too often hobbyists and even professional carpenters overlook this.

“I will show the students very simple and economical ways to develop their own sharpening kit. Anyone with an interest in woodworking and the use of hand tools will find this first step invaluable.

“In this one-day course, we’ll look at a variety of methods for restoring and sharpening an edge on chisels, planes, combs, and adzes, among other tools,” Antczak said. “The instructor will also show how to maintain the water stones and how to flatten them.

“The main stones used will be water stones, but other methods and materials will also be discussed and demonstrated. Students are encouraged to bring any hand tools they wish to work on, and all students will have the opportunity to practice sharpening.

True to its mission statement, Lowell’s Boat Shop is dedicated to preserving and perpetuating the art and craft of wooden boat building. For more information on all of its educational and learning programs, call 978-834-0050 or visit http://lowellsboatshop.com.

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