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Thread: Milling Grown Knees

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2020
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    7

    Default Milling Grown Knees

    Hello there,
    I am a forester, sawyer and carpenter, we are expanding our operation so I will (hopefully) no longer be spreading myself too thin and only milling timber for my own jobs.

    We have access to a good range of timber species, and being fascinated by wooden boats I am interested in the possibility of doing some specialist supply to boat builders/shipwrights.

    I just wanted to pick you brains on a little market research. I am not intending to be able to supply all maritime timber needs, but initially focus on some harder to find pieces that we will come across during forestry operations, like grown knees, breast hooks etc.

    I am based in the UK and I wondered if there is enough demand for this sort of thing to make it worthwhile.

    • Would buying air dried curved/forked stock be of interest to people here?
    • Are people only interested in very durable timber like oak, larch, chestnut etc or are timbers of interest like ash, elm or apple? (John Leather mentions apple crooks once being poular for knees)
    • What sort of thickness would be best to be most useful/universal?


    We also have a lot of nice douglas fir, but it is reasonably fast grown. Would this be of any use to boat builders or is only slow grown timber used?

    Any advice or opinions is greatly appreciated.

    Cheers
    Pete

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Location
    Shubenacadie NS
    Posts
    4,989

    Default Re: Milling Grown Knees

    Sounds to me like you should probably find a local boat builder and pick their brain. They'll know what woods are available there and desireable. Here in North America I'd say keep an eye out for Black Locust but I don't know how prevalent it is in the UK, if it's there at all. Ash is less desireable as it tends to rot. As for dimensions, again, you'll have to talk to the locals. Apple knees are often used in small boats. You won't find Apple knees in anything much bigger than a large rowing boat I don't think. If you're catering to that crowd, you'll find that 1 1/2-2" thick is suitable. If you're talking with someone building a 40 foot keelboat, he'll be looking for something more like 3-4 inches thick. 60 footers need 6 inch timbers. Ballpark figures of course. Are there any pros in your area who will be looking for a steady supply of material or would you be catering to the back yard DIY boatbuilder looking for Cadillac materials on a VW budget but is willing to work with you to get what he needs? In short, the answer to most of your questions is unfortunately, "it depends". If I had a guy like you local to me as a boatbuilder I'd be pretty keen to talk to him though. Look around locally, I'm sure you'll find someone who can help guide you. Slow growth is what is needed in boatbuilding.
    If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
    -Henry David Thoreau-

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Walney, near Cumbria UK
    Posts
    51,281

    Default Re: Milling Grown Knees

    Quote Originally Posted by Peat View Post
    Hello there,
    I am a forester, sawyer and carpenter, we are expanding our operation so I will (hopefully) no longer be spreading myself too thin and only milling timber for my own jobs.

    We have access to a good range of timber species, and being fascinated by wooden boats I am interested in the possibility of doing some specialist supply to boat builders/shipwrights.

    I just wanted to pick you brains on a little market research. I am not intending to be able to supply all maritime timber needs, but initially focus on some harder to find pieces that we will come across during forestry operations, like grown knees, breast hooks etc.

    I am based in the UK and I wondered if there is enough demand for this sort of thing to make it worthwhile.

    • Would buying air dried curved/forked stock be of interest to people here?
    • Are people only interested in very durable timber like oak, larch, chestnut etc or are timbers of interest like ash, elm or apple? (John Leather mentions apple crooks once being poular for knees)
    • What sort of thickness would be best to be most useful/universal?


    We also have a lot of nice douglas fir, but it is reasonably fast grown. Would this be of any use to boat builders or is only slow grown timber used?

    Any advice or opinions is greatly appreciated.

    Cheers
    Pete
    Contact the boat building schools, they will advise you on thickness, arm length , species etc. For example chestnut is durable but I have never heard of it used in boat building.
    http://www.nottage.org.uk/
    https://ibtcportsmouth.co.uk/
    https://www.ibtc.co.uk/
    https://www.boatbuildingacademy.com/
    https://www.falmouthmarineschool.ac.uk/boatbuilding/
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

    The power of the web: Anyone can post anything on the web
    The weakness of the web: Anyone can post anything on the web.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    UK. Cornwall, Suffolk.
    Posts
    7,046

    Default Re: Milling Grown Knees

    I was a tree surgeon for 30 years, and also a keen amateur boat builder. I started out supplying timber for boat building with community efforts whenever I found a standing dead oak or three, and got a crew of 5-8 people for a few days to help fell the trees, plank them and get them out of the woodland / valley etc. The timber was then dispersed amongst the community as they saw fit, tied down below the tide line, and later fitted. I think my saw has cut wood that is now in at least 2 dozen trad boats as part of their continuing refit.

    After a few years I started a page on my website to supply marine timber, in particular grown knees. The trick was to season it as sawn, not shaped, ie way too big. I rough cut 4 - 6 inches thick and stickered them like that. Once in a while someone would contact me for some pieces and I would have them send down ply templates for me to see if I had what they needed. If it fitted their needs, all well and good.

    The issues with doing this are that renovations may need 1 or 2 knees for a stem-knee or futtock, and these sales were few and far between. Like once or twice a year.

    The major new builds needed 16 frames, 8 lodging knees, stem knee, stern-knee, breasthook etc, all perfect, all exactly what they wanted, all exactly the moisture content, exactly the wood species etc. I was essentially a one man band, and this was not my primary market, and 80% of the time I could not supply exactly what they needed and lost the sale.

    So I would say that if you have a large seasoning barn, don't care about immediate turnover and can pay the long game, it may be a rainy day pension. You will need quite a bit of plant, 4 wheel drive machinery, big ass bandsaw, flat bed truck, personnel and plenty of breezy storage.

    Obviously, there are far more smaller boats than there are medium or large boats, so the market for smaller crooks is bigger, but brings in less money.

    I wish you the best of luck sincerely, but as a wiley old Cornish forester once said to me, 'T'ain't nuttin easy with trees!'.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2020
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    7

    Default Re: Milling Grown Knees

    Some great advice there, and lupussonic, I really appreciate you passing on your experience doing just that. Very helpul and thats a good point about the extremes of quantities required.

    You will need quite a bit of plant, 4 wheel drive machinery, big ass bandsaw, flat bed truck, personnel and plenty of breezy storage.
    I've got all of that so it should be no great hardship to put aside suitable pieces as they come. One of the challenges will be making sure that suitable forks, sweeps, unions etc are not snedded off, as obviously it usual to cross cut at kinks and trim off anything that is going to be awkward for extraction and transport... The fellers are working in some old oak coppice, which is generally not useful for much but firewood but that crooked, bendy wood could be useful for some boatbuilding.

    I've currenty got some stunning crotchy elm and wild service that could make beautiful (pricey) breasthooks.

    This is some wild service.


    For example chestnut is durable but I have never heard of it used in boat building.
    I saw a beautiful clinker dinghy planked with sweet chestnut being exhibited by the Lyme Regis boatbuilding academy. They said it was only ever used for small boats because of the grain twist in longer sections of stem. I believe that it is slightly lighter in weight than larch and it is more durable. But it is quite liable to split so I don't know whether the crotchy pieces would lend themselves to knees or not.

    Thanks very much Nick for the links. Getting in touch with the colleges would definately be a good avenue. Neilson's in Gloucester is my nearest boatyard and I know someone who works there so I'll pick his brains too.

    Cheers!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2019
    Location
    Paisley UK
    Posts
    140

    Default Re: Milling Grown Knees

    Quote Originally Posted by lupussonic View Post
    I was a tree surgeon for 30 years, and also a keen amateur boat builder. I started out supplying timber for boat building with community efforts whenever I found a standing dead oak or three, and got a crew of 5-8 people for a few days to help fell the trees, plank them and get them out of the woodland / valley etc. The timber was then dispersed amongst the community as they saw fit, tied down below the tide line, and later fitted. I think my saw has cut wood that is now in at least 2 dozen trad boats as part of their continuing refit.

    After a few years I started a page on my website to supply marine timber, in particular grown knees. The trick was to season it as sawn, not shaped, ie way too big. I rough cut 4 - 6 inches thick and stickered them like that. Once in a while someone would contact me for some pieces and I would have them send down ply templates for me to see if I had what they needed. If it fitted their needs, all well and good.

    The issues with doing this are that renovations may need 1 or 2 knees for a stem-knee or futtock, and these sales were few and far between. Like once or twice a year.

    The major new builds needed 16 frames, 8 lodging knees, stem knee, stern-knee, breasthook etc, all perfect, all exactly what they wanted, all exactly the moisture content, exactly the wood species etc. I was essentially a one man band, and this was not my primary market, and 80% of the time I could not supply exactly what they needed and lost the sale.

    So I would say that if you have a large seasoning barn, don't care about immediate turnover and can pay the long game, it may be a rainy day pension. You will need quite a bit of plant, 4 wheel drive machinery, big ass bandsaw, flat bed truck, personnel and plenty of breezy storage.

    Obviously, there are far more smaller boats than there are medium or large boats, so the market for smaller crooks is bigger, but brings in less money.

    I wish you the best of luck sincerely, but as a wiley old Cornish forester once said to me, 'T'ain't nuttin easy with trees!'.
    Interesting post Lupo and like anything that is troublesome,..............you could make more money cleaning windows lol!

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