Lowell’s Boat Shop apprenticeship program brings old craft to new hands


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

LBS is a nonprofit working museum and home to a thriving youth and adult learning program.

“The apprenticeship program is consistent with our mission statement,” said Graham McKay, Managing Director of LBS/Master Boat Builder, “to preserve and perpetuate the art and craft of wooden boat building and to promote the history of Lowell’s Boat Shop and its surroundings. ‘”

Youth enrolled in the After School Apprentice Program work alongside experienced Boat Shop staff to learn the art and skills of traditional boat building as practiced at Lowell’s Boat Shop since 1793. The program teaches the fundamentals of woodworking, such as tool use, shop safety, and carpentry. such as the history and evolution of boat design as generations of the Lowell family worked to meet the needs of Gloucester’s fishing fleet, and later boaters looking for pleasure craft.

Apprentices learn about form and function as they apply to boat design, the properties of different wood species, and the stages of building a boat from start to finish. This intensive program is designed to introduce apprentices to wooden boat building through hands-on experience, and gives them a sense of pride in the work.

“This year, we’re excited to also have a strong junior learning program,” said LBS Director of Education Dorothy Antczak, “a beginner-level introduction to the boat shop for kids who are too young people to participate in the apprenticeship program, but who 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 lead two workshops at Lowell’s Boat Shop this fall.”

Douglas Brooks is a boat builder, 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 all over 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 tool honing workshop at LBS on Friday, Saturday and Sunday November 19, 20 and 21, and a one-day tool sharpening course on Saturday December 11.

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

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

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

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

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 stages of smoothing a 16 to 20 foot boat. Using an offset table, the students will work on fairing the lines, widening the transom and smoothing the bow, rabbet. Techniques for developing molds from loft cross-sections will be discussed and stem rabbet cutting from loft will be demonstrated.

“In this course, I will also discuss half-model making, which is the precursor to smoothing,” Brooks said. “For some students, making half models 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, a three-foot ruler (if they have one), and pencils.

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

“I believe the ability to create razor-sharp tools is an absolute prerequisite for any type of woodworking,” Brooks said. “Too often, hobbyists and even professional woodworkers overlook this.

“I’m going to show students very simple and inexpensive ways to develop their own sharpening kit. Anyone interested in woodworking and the use of hand tools will find this a valuable first step.

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