New Ribs In Old Carvel Boat

by Jon Sym

Hi All,

My 23ft gaff rigged cutter of about 3 tonnes fully laden needs all new ribs.

So I tried to steam new ones into shape which didn't work so now I am epoxying them round a mold.

All the books says to use american white oak but as I lather on the epoxy I am thinking why use oak, why not redwood or a softwood, is the rib wood or epoxy or about 50/50? and american oak is not cheap.

Then I read about making them without any epoxy, cut them into lats, screw through the planking and seal with plenty of paint which would be infinitely easier.

Any thoughts?

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Ribs in an old carvel boat
by: Roger Doran

Ask yourself why the ribs rotted out?

It may be that as is customary sapwood of oak was used as it bends more easily than heart wood but it has shown that it has its vulnerabilities.

If you wish to you could replace the rotten ribs with white oak ribs cut from sapwood, same as original, if you do decide on this route go to a sawmill (not a timber merchants) and get freshly felled wood which you will need to keep wet till you are ready to start work.

Working steamed ribs is a three person job and you will need plenty of copper nails and roves which are not cheap.

An alternative would be to get the new ribs cut out of a sheet of High Density Poly Ethylene say 20mm thick by 30mm wide.

This material bends easily and does not break so no steaming is required.

It is still a two person job but you can take your time.

by: Jon

Thanks for this Mike I will give it a go I think.

by: Michael

Hi Jon,
Good quality Oak is the traditionally recommended timber for ribs, however, it isn’t so easy to get that quality of timber these days, unfortunately.

Laminating frames sounds to be the simplest option but again there is a caveat.

The frames in the center will probably sit correctly but as you move towards the ends they will, increasingly, require bevelling on the plank side, in order for them to sit flat against the planks and sit upright.

Steaming allows the wood to bend to the vertical curve and twist to the horizontal.

I used Rock Elm to laminate some ribs, glued with resorcinol and glued up in situ (around molds would have been less fraught).

It might be worth considering Louis Sauzedde’s trick for steam-bending frames using plastic bags rather than a traditional steam box, see the video below.

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