Preserving A Long History of Wooden Boatbuilding Using Festool

Sunday, January 4, 2009 | Reader Comments | How-To | Reviews

Wooden Boatbuilding with Festool


Established in 1981, Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding ("the Boat School") is a small non-profit school which preserves and teaches the traditional wooden boat construction techniques and methods of master shipwright, Robert Prothero. Bob, as he was known to those close to him, and his brother Frank were born into the thriving boatbuilding industry that centered on Lake Union in Seattle, Washington. They worked through the most innovative decades of wooden boat building; from the 1920's-through, it's decline in the 1960's. As this industry faded, Bob became concerned that the skills and building methods would be lost. He began to teach his craft, eventually becoming the founding Chief Instructor at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.

Today the school attracts students from around the world and all walks of life: a Dutch engineer, a retired U.S. Navy skipper, a pediatrician, a Hollywood set designer, sculptor, surfers, sailors, and young men and women looking to learn a trade. Some come to earn an Associates degree; others come to learn a hobby. Although they come from all different backgrounds, they have one thing in common: the wooden boat bug has bitten them all. Many come to the school with little or no woodworking or boating experience but at the years end are confident and competent. Graduates have started their own businesses, worked on the restoration of many of the country's historic vessels, worked at maritime museums and worked their way north to work on the Alaskan fishing fleet. To truly gauge the success of the program one has to go no further than the renowned boat yard of Port Townsend, the wooden boat capital of the American West Coast, where most of the shops employ or are owned by craftsmen who were introduced to their trade at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.

Two graduates of the first classes at the school, Jim Ferris and Charlie Moore, went on to found a company which became a virtual candy store for woodworkers. Their warehouses are full of top quality woods, plywood and tools. They became local distributors in the Seattle area for Festool in 2002. At this time, Festool was new to the region and were not found in the boat yard. They felt that the School would be a great place to introduce Festool to the area and to showcase the quality and durability of the tools. The school's working environment is as tough as can be found. The tools perform all the heavy tasks they would be used for in a professional boatyard. In professional shops, they may be shared by half a dozen skilled individuals, and in a school they pass through many hands, often the hands of novices. What has been impressive, besides their performance, is the durability of the tools.

Boatbuilding with FestoolThe Festool dust extraction system, when used with Festool sanders, has made the shops a healthier and cleaner environment. The Festool cordless drills have performed remarkably well, easily drilling ½" holes through Purple Heart timbers. They see nearly constant use and the batteries have lasted through FIVE years without replacement. Festool is now a mainstay in Port Townsend’s boat yard. The mobility of the Festool TS saws and routing systems make shop-quality work easier while on board. And, since each tool is used with the dust extraction system, the yachts stay cleaner.

In 2004, The Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building moved from the Port Townsend industrial park which had been its home for nearly twenty years to a waterfront campus in Port Hadlock at the head of Port Townsend Bay. The school is fortunate to be located in a community that is home to so many skilled craftsmen and artisans. Likewise, the school has been lucky to have discovered the incredible precision, durability and dust extraction capabilities of Festool. The faculty and students of the school have a passion for fine workmanship which is obviously shared by Festool.

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