J. J. Smith's
New York Working Boat Reproduction


The following is from a report sent us by J. J. Smith

"About fifteen years ago I came across the 1871 Waters' catalog [Editor's note: This is a substantial catalog & handbook of about 400 pages and interesting reading. I know of copies at The Rensselaer County Historical Society (Troy, NY) and the Library of Congress. There are reports of copies at Mystic, Harvard, and Yale. There may be others around if you look for them. I have yet to locate one for sale.] I was taken by the illustrations of the New York Working Boat. I was impressed by the fact that the designer chose to eliminate iron outriggers, choosing instead to take advantage of the ability of paper to mold into a complex curve. The oarlocks were kept outboard by curved inwales which ran from bow to oarlock and stern to oarlock. These were tied together by a bent beam which ran thwartship tying the midship ends of the inwales to the top of the keel. Structurally these held the oarlocks up and away from the vessel while the paper skin resisted the racking forces of rowing."

Illustration of NY Working Boat

"This was one of the more beautiful vessels I had ever seen and I set out to build one. The catalog illustrations included two perspective views and one set of unscaled sections. Using these, the stated vessel dimensions, and good boat design practice I completed scaled drawings. For the mold I used 1" board lumber over a ladder form of 2" x 10" lumber to establish my mold stations. The mold shape was filled strip plank style with clear fir, probably the technique Waters used. This was faired and sealed with shellac."

"With the help of a Philadelphia paper salesman I got an introduction to a paper engineer. With his help I located a source of paper with similar characteristics to the jute fiber paper that Waters & Co. used for their shells. The paper I used was a jute fiber paper with minimal filler and a smooth finish. It closely resembled the paper that file folders are made of but it was a bit heavier and harder to tear. The roll I purchased was 72" wide and weighed about 150 pounds.

"Lay-up involved first draping one sheet of paper over the mold. Four of us then sponged boiling water over the paper, gently coaxing it into the mold contours. This was necessary as most modern papers are treated to resist moisture. If done gently, the paper laid fair in about an hour. After forming, each sheet was clamped and left to set for two days, then released and allowed to dry (about one week.) Each sheet was shaped separately, then removed and carefully stored. Bow and stern were trimmed but left open; the sheer was rough trimmed but left to stand proud about an inch."

"The molded paper courses were then individually glued and clamped. I had decided to laminate 4 layers of paper with Weldwood Resorcinol glue. I considered Plastic Resin Glue, but found it too soft for my needs. The problem with resorcinol was the need for high clamp pressure to create an adequate bond. This I accomplished with the use of high density foam pads forced against the mold by 35 ratchet-type strap clamps. Lay-up took about two weeks as I worked slowly to avoid distorting the hull skin through uneven drying. "

"After molding, a 'T' section keel, stem, and transom were glued and fastened with brass tacks. A simple mold was made to shape a 3/8" x 2" steam bent white ash rigger beam. This and ash inwales were then glued and riveted onto place and the sheer finally trimmed. Fitting out took about a year as time allowed."

"The vessel rowed well, was very stable but did not track well in a chop. Likewise the wind acted on the rigger/wings giving it an unsettling motion when rowing cross wind. I used this boat as one of my personal fleet for two or three years. Eventually it got stored outside for several years, and finally five years ago I reduced it to fire wood, (fire paper?). Recently I discovered a chunk of it at the bottom of my wood pile. It still is amazingly sound and stiff after ten plus years exposure."

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© J. J. Smith 2011