Wooden shipbuilding in Maine in the nineteenth century required little capital expense for a physical plant. It needed only space to build and store materials, the right slope to the shore for the inclined waysWays
A wooden ramp used to slide a ship into the water. to launch the ship, and enough deep water at high tideTide
The alternate rising and falling of the surface of the ocean and large bodies of water such as bays and gulfs that are connected with the ocean.
Read more to float the vessel. After the introduction of steam power many shipyards had a building for sawing in addition to one for loftingLoft laying off; laying down
A large building for drawing full-sized patterns and laying out wooden pieces for a vessel. As a verb, to loft is to draw the lines of the vessel on the floor of the mold loft. the vessel’s lines, but these were not absolutely necessary for small yards. Some shipyards had a steam shed for steaming planks to make them bend more easily, and some yards had an on-site blacksmithBlacksmith
A craftsman who creates items by heating, cutting, and shaping iron or steel..
The 1880 census of manufactures showed that the average wood shipyard had $6,200 of capital investment.
On the other hand, steel shipyards in 1880 had an average of almost $470,000 expended to build all of the facilities necessary to work with steel. It wasn’t until the mid-1880s that Bath Iron WorksBath Iron Works
Established in 1884 by Thomas Hyde in Bath, Maine to consolidate his various maritime companies.
Read more was founded. On Penobscot Bay, investors chose not to build in iron. Thus, the wood shipyards kept on doing what they knew how to do best, for as long as possible.
Woods for Shipbuilding
Shipbuilders chose woods based on availability and characteristics, matching species to the needs of the vessel. KeelKeel
The chief timber or piece extending along the length of the bottom of a vessel from which rise the frames, stem, and sternposts., beamsBeam
The transverse measurement of a vessel at its widest part.
Read more, and framesFrame ribs
Frames are the skeleton structure of a vessel, also called ribs. They run perpendicular to the keel., or ribs, of the ship are best made with white oakWhite oak
The white oak tree is found from Maine to Minnesota and south to Florida, but is most common in Middle Atlantic states.
Read more. White oak is hard, strong, relatively inflexible, and rot resistant. More common red oakRed oak
Northern red oak is native to the eastern and midwestern United States and Canada.
Read more isn’t as good for shipbuilding because it is not as rot resistant as white oak. The preferred wood for plankingPlanking
Lengths of wood fastened to the outside of a vessel's frames forming the outside skin, and attached to the beams to form the deck. was longleaf yellow pineYellow pine
A strong durable pine native to the southern United States.
Read more, shipped north from Georgia or South Carolina. Yellow pine is harder than Maine’s white pineWhite pine
A fast-growing pine tree with white wood and smooth gray bark. Often used for ships' masts in the past., and it has long fibers that bend with the shape of the hull, while keeping its strength. LocustLocust Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia
A tree that produces a strong hard wood used in ship building primarily for trunnels or tree nails. Rot resistant, it is not native to Maine but has been introduced. treenailsTreenail trunnel
Commonly pronounced "trunnel" or "trunnels"; wooden spikes or pins, often made of locust wood., or trunnels, fastened planks to the frames and the frame pieces to each other.
Locust is a hard wood that withstands pounding with a malletMallet
A tool like a hammer, but with a wooden head., yet it can be easily cut into round pegs. Wooden ships have knees: pieces that follow a 90° angle naturally. Most kneesKnee
Naturally right-angled pieces of wood that fit at the intersection of timbers to strengthen the joint.
Read more are made of hackmatackHackmatack tamarack, American larch
A tough and durable wood used in boat building for knees or crooks. It is suitable for stems, keels, and breast-hooks of small boats. It is also called tamarack or American larch., also called tamarackHackmatack tamarack, American larch
A tough and durable wood used in boat building for knees or crooks. It is suitable for stems, keels, and breast-hooks of small boats. It is also called tamarack or American larch. or larchHackmatack tamarack, American larch
A tough and durable wood used in boat building for knees or crooks. It is suitable for stems, keels, and breast-hooks of small boats. It is also called tamarack or American larch.. The largest are cut from the trunk and root of the tree. White pine, originally used for masts, is also good for decking and for interior woodwork, or joineryJoiner joinery
A carpenter who finishes interior woodwork. Joinery is the interior woodwork.. Nineteenth century mast and sparSpar
A round timber or metal pole used for masts, yards, booms, etc. woods include Sitka spruceSpruce
An evergreen, coniferous tree related to the pine. and Douglas firFir
An evergreen, coniferous tree related to pine., both from the west coast. These woods have the advantage of being bendable without breaking, an important characteristic of masts and other spars.
Shipbuilding Work and Tools
Shipbuilders operated much like general contractors. The master carpenter subcontracted work to different trades or skill groups, including ship's carpentersShip carpenter ship's carpenter
A petty officer, responsible to the chief officer, whose duties include the opening and battening down of hatches and cargo ports, and maintaining wooden masts, spars, and decks. A ship's carpenter can also work in a shipyard, building vessels., sawyersSawyer
A person who saws wood as an occupation., dubbersDubber
Workman who dubs, or smoothes, the framing of a vessel before planking and the planking after being attached to the frames., fastenersFastener
The marine term for any device used to fasten pieces of wood together. They can be screws, bolts, rivets, trunnels and drifts., caulkersCaulk caulking,corking
To drive oakum or cotton into the seams of a vessel's deck or sides, to make it watertight. After the oakum is driven in with a caulking iron or mallet, the seam is "payed" or coated with hot pitch or other compound to prevent the oakum from rotting., shipsmithsShipsmith
A person who makes a vessel's iron work., ship joinersJoiner joinery
A carpenter who finishes interior woodwork. Joinery is the interior woodwork., riggersRigging
The term for all ropes, wires, or chains used in ships and smaller vessels to support the masts and yards (standing rigging) and for hoisting, lowering, or trimming sails to the wind (running rigging.) Running rigging lines move through blocks and are not wormed, parceled, or served., and painters. A blacksmithBlacksmith
A craftsman who creates items by heating, cutting, and shaping iron or steel. was sometimes part of the shipyard operation or the builder might contract work out to an independent blacksmith.
Shipbuilders used a variety of hand tools for sawing, cutting, drilling, and planingPlane
A tool for smoothing or shaping a wooden surface or (verb) to smooth or shape wood. wood. These tools included saws, axes, adzesAdze
A long-handled cutting tool, with a blade at right angles to the shaft. Originally a shipbuilding tool., drawknivesDrawknife
Woodworker's tool consisting of a blade with a handle at each end for use in shaving off surfaces. The drawknife is drawn or pulled towards the woodworker to make the cut., augersAuger
A tool used to bore holes in wood. These holes were usually meant to receive trunnels., and planes. Fastening the ship required maulsMaul
A heavy hammer for driving stakes, or wedges. and other hammers to drive fastenings. Caulking, which filled the seams between planks, required caulking ironsCaulking iron
Used to drive caulking material into the gaps between the vessel's planking. and a malletMallet
A tool like a hammer, but with a wooden head.. Not until late in the nineteenth century did powered saws and other tools become common in larger shipyards.
Workers typically earned $1.50 to $2.50 per ten-hour day. Shipbuilding was seasonal, especially in smaller communities: most work went on between fall and spring. By the end of the nineteenth century, reduced demand for ships and consolidation of wooden shipyards meant that shipbuilders might find work only 8 or 9 months of the year.