Each tree tells a story. Hurricane Matthew started a new story for us by bringing down a Live Oak on the property we were working on.
The character of the wood and the maritime location started me thinking that this wood needed to be celebrated in a something that looked like it came from the ocean.
Here you can see some of the character that we found when looking at the first cuts off the pieces of Live Oak. Each piece has it’s own character. Each piece has it’s own story. These Live Oak Branches are twisted and knurled by the sea air, the wind and the water sculpted them into beautiful forms while they were alive. Now that they are salvaged, it is time to breathe new life into them as a new maritime sculpture that can be enjoyed for many more years.
I was looking at a few decorating magazines the other day. One of these showed what appeared to be a window looking out over a marina. The shape of the window was two sails of a sailboat. Underneath was a hull made of wood of some sort. This got me to thinking about the Oak and how it might be used to make something similar that would celebrate the wood.
Here’s a picture of the original piece that provided the idea for my Wooden Sailboat Wall Hanging.
Selecting the Wood
I decided to use some of the Live Oak that I harvested in South Carolina. This wood came down in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew. I saved it in its raw form until early 2018 when I was finally able to get down there with my truck and the Alaskan Saw mill jig that I created.
I slabbed the remaining 2 branches from this tree and dragged the entire 450 board feet home to Tennessee on a trailer. When I arrived I treated the entire stack of wood with Tim-Bor to make sure that I didn’t bring any insects or larvae home in the wood. I did find some Wood Boring beetle holes in the sap wood of the trees and wanted to make sure there were no living individuals left.
Since the trees I used were actually branches from the Live Oak Tree (The base was too large for my tools to deal with) the grain just under the bark was all twisted and gnarly. Just what I was looking for. I had a 6 foot piece left after I created the legs for the Live Edge Wood Slab Coffee Table.
When I looked at the piece I had chosen it was still almost 6 inches thick in places and was too heavy to hang on a wall. I needed some thin stock for the outlines of the sail and the keel section of the hull. I decided to take another slab off the back of the piece to provide me with the extra bits of wood that I needed.
I attached the Alaskan Sawmill jig set for 1 inch depth and took another slice off the back. Then I cut 3 inch wide strips from the offcut until I had what I thought was sufficient stock for the sails. The remaining piece was reserved for the keel of the hull.
Shaping the Hull
Joining the Keel to the Hull
The first order of buisness to create the hull was to locate where on the rough round the edge slimmed down to one inch. I needed this to attach the piece for the keel. I used a piece of wood and taped a pencil to it with wedges under the pencil to raise the point to precisely 1 inch then sketched along the edge creating a line on the wood 1 inch thick. Using a reciprocating saw, I cut along this line to create a 1 inch edge that I could use to attach the keel piece. This line was not straight but followed the contour of the rough hull edge.
Since the line was a bit rough, I created a template of the general line then smoothed the curves with a thin batten stretched around some nails. This gave me a template that was roughly the same shape as the one I cut but more smooth. Then using this template as a guide, I routed the edge to a smooth contour.
Now I needed to match the curve that I cut with the edge of the thinner piece reserved for the keel. I used the technique outlined in the following video clip to match the curve and create a good mating surface for the two different boards.
The cut was complicated by the fact that only one side of the large board was flat and I needed this to be on top to give the router a surface to work from. The bottom of the large piece needed to be stabilized so that it sat flat on my worksurface and then the thinner piece had to be supported at the right height to match the large piece. I stacked boards under the thin piece and propped up the underside of the large piece with supports and wedges hot glued to my 3/4 inch plywood tabletop until I had it level and secure to work on the edges.
I don’t have a biscuit joiner so I couldn’t use one of these to reinforce the joint but I do have a slot cutting router bit. I created another small template that has a half round cut. I used this with the slot cutting bit to line up a few slots in the two pieces. These were just the right size to accept biscuits.
I used West System Epoxy to glue the buiscuits and the boards together. Due to the irregular shape of the main section of the hull the only clamping system that I could find to work was ratcheting tie downs. These did a wonderful job pulling everything together to hold while the Epoxy set.
Here’s a picture of the completed cut and glueup with the clamps in place.
Shaping the Hull
Next the hull needed to be shaped into something that resembled a boat. My bandsaw will only handle up to 4 inch thick stock so that tool was out of the question to use for trimming the boat. I had a similar problem with my sabre saw, just not enough length to the blade to make a full cut through this stock.
I finally settled on a Dewalt Reciprocating saw with a coarse woodcutting blade. I sketched a line on the piece to give it some nice curves and went to town with the Reciprocating saw. I gave myself a significant margin for error as I cut to keep from removing too much stock.
When I had all of the edges roughed out, I pulled out my Arbortech and ground the edges to a nice shape close to the line then refined the line with an angle grinder with a 36 grit flap sander disc mounted in it. Dusty work but in the end I had a nicely shaped edge.
I used the Arbortech again to smooth the joint between the main piece and the keel piece working it down until I had some nice fair curves without removing too much of the original character of the main hull.
I followed up with the 36 grit sander then switched over to an oscillating sander working up through the grits from 60 grit to 150 grit. I wanted a smooth surface that would take a nice finish but wanted to leave the original character of the outside of the log.
Here’s the result of the sanding. It is starting to look like a boat.
Creating the Sails
Design of the Sails
The length of the hull is 54 inches overall. To balance the sails with the hull I decided that the tall mainsail needed to be of a similar height. I divided the hull into 3rds and balanced everything until it felt right with the 54 inch height. The base of the main sail ended up at 27 inches and the base of the foresail at 15 inches. The foresail was shortened to 45 inches tall.
The angles for the Mainsail worked out to 26.6 degrees at the peak and 63.4 degrees at the base. The Foresail angles worked out to 18.4 degrees and 71.6 degrees. I laid these out in Sketchup and worked out how I was going to mate these together with a strong joint that kept everything flat and was sufficient to hold everything together.
I settled on the old standard Mortise and Tennon joint. It provides a good glue surface to hold things together and since I was working with some fairly thin stock (7/16″) I didn’t think that dowels would provide adequate strength.
I cut a tennon on each end of the base piece angling the back edge to match the required angle and cut another tennon into the long back edge of the sail. Mortises were cut into the adjoining pieces. I wanted these to be precise so I laid all the angles out with a scribe and hand cut them with a Japanese Dozuki Saw. I then used a chisel to finish the cuts to the scribed lines. This process only took a few extra minutes but in the long run with all of the complex angles, setting up the Radial Arm saw would have taken much longer and probably would not have been as precise. Sometimes hand work is the better choice for joinery.
Here is an image of the joints held temporarily in place with clamps to make sure everything was lining up well and testing the fit before glue-up.
To complete the glue up I needed a way to clamp the pieces together while the glue set. Since I don’t have a good workbench, I just relied on some cauls screwed down to the 3/4 inch plywood that I’m using for a work surface. I laid the short boards (soft pine to keep from scratching the edges) and inserted some wedges to apply pressure at the joints. I used Titebond II to complete the glue-up..
Completing the Sails
The field of the sails needed something that looked like sail cloth. I settled on a leather like cream colored material. I cut some luan plywood one inch from the edges of the sail frames and wrapped the leather around the backing. I used staples to hold it in place. A small bead of glue secured the edges. The backing was then glued and stapled to the back of the frames.
The mast was easy, Just a quick roundover on two sides with the router and it creates a nice shadow line between the sails. I cut it to stick up 4 inches over the top of the mainsail.
The Finishing Touches
With everything complete, it was time to add some finish. I wanted to give the grain a chance to show through to the finished piece. I thought that the bottom of the hull needed a bit more definition so the first finish I applied was a dark pecan stain. I outlined a nice curve from the front of the keel to the back with painter’s tape and added two coats of stain to the bottom 6 inches of the hull.
When the stain was dry, after removing the tape, I coated the hull and sails with 4-7 coats of Tung oil. The outside of the tree absorbed all of the oil and had to be reapplied several times while the more finished heart wood of the keel section did not absorb nearly as much of the oil. Eventually I was able to obtain a nice glossy finish on the entire hull section. The sails and keel were glossy after only 4 coats. The hull took 6 or 7 coats to reach the same gloss.
Hanging the Sailboat
With the hull and sails as separate pieces, they couldn’t be mounted on a wall using standard wires and eyelets. I opted for a system called a French Cleat. This system is two interlocking boards. One board mounts to the wall and the other sets over the first. Gravity keeps the wall hanging in place. A 45 degree angle cut into the top and bottom of each board interlock to pull the wall hanging toward the wall.
I mounted two of these interlocking boards on the back of the sail and another on the back of the hull. The boards are designed to span at least two sets of 16 inch on center wall studs with room to adjust them back and forth to place them horizontally on the wall.
The Finished Wooden Sailboat Wall Hanging
Here is what the finished piece looks like. I have a small dilemma though. I don’t have a wall large enough to hang this piece. I’m sure we will be able to find one eventually. Perhaps it will look nice hanging in a gallery somewhere that has 14 foot walls (The overall height of the piece is about 72 inches).
In this image you can see the bow detail. The grain of the outside of this log showed some distress cracks and a bit of the soft sap wood. The overall grain seems to flow as if it is moving through the water.
At the bottom edge, you can see the stain highlight applied to enhance the definition of the keel and amplifying the grain.
Here you can see the convoluted nature of the wood and how the grain patterns follow the twisted nature of these branches.
You can also see how the clear heartwood of the Oak interacts with the wormy sapwood (The Darker Wood). I was trying to make the play of the lighter and darker wood tones work well to accent the height of the sails and create a feeling of movement in the sails themselves.
It always amazes me what kind of effects you can get from the interplay of the grain with a wooden item. I think that overall this piece works well to create the feeling that I was hoping for.
I’d love to hear what you think of this work. Feel free to comment in the area below.
Wow, I did not realize how much goes into creating these projects! You seem really talented.
I have an off topic question but I really hope you have an answer. Have you ever made wooden crutches?
I use crutches on a daily basis and I used to have someone who custom built them for me. He used rose wood to create civil war style crutches made to my measurements. The top was leather so they were really comfortable.
Anyway, he went out of business and I am on the hunt for someone to create another pair for me. I have a spare pair that I could send as a model, if this is something that you can do.
Let me know.
I appreciate that you like my work.
As for crutches, I have never done anything of that kind. I’m sure that I have the skills to do something like this if you are serious about the need.
Feel free to contact me privately and we can see what I can do.
What a lovely piece of art you have created off wood that was near enough scrap after the hurricane – extremely impressive and original.
I have tried my hand at woodworking on many an occasion but I’m afraid I just don’t have the knack – I think it’s all down to patience. When you mention matching up from the interplay of the grain – what exactly do you mean by this? Does it mean the two different grains of separate wood lining up to create a pattern?
Thanks for commenting Chris,
Woodworking isn’t a knack it is an experience thing. I have a reverence for wood in all forms, I just have to make it into pretty things. It gets me excited to see a project come together. And yes, patience is a valuable component to get things accomplished.
As for what do I mean by the interplay of the grain, the grain flows through a piece. It creates a feeling of movement as it twists and turns through the parts. If you look at the front support of the mainsail, you can see how the sapwood (the darker wood) flows up the straight piece of wood creating the feeling that the sail is flapping in the wind.
I must say that I enjoyed reading this article. I like any type of boats and your work is amazing. I think that it is very nice to have a hanging sailboat in the house as it can really make a house to look better. I would like to make two of them, one for kitchen and one for the living room.
Thanks for your comment Daniel,
You are a big fan of Sailboats if you want them in multiple places in your house. I would think that perhaps some scaled-down versions might work best for you.
Thank you for this amazing post, I love wood works and art, I always try to make something fine and meaningful from trees.i love the oak wood art piece you made and I wished there are such oaks around me. Thanks for displaying this nice works,it really inspires me to do better.
Thanks for your comment Clement,
These are some pretty special Oak trees. I am always amazed at how dense the wood is. These pieces are the heaviest wood that I have ever worked. The grain is twisted and changes direction often so it is very difficult to work with hand tools.
There are many species of wood that are equally as beautiful. Each tree has its own character. The challenge is to work with what you have and bring out the inner beauty.
WOW! it’s an awesome job! I think that you did a great job both in handicraft and in creativity! To build a boat like the one you did does not require just a good amount of craft, but it needs someone who can see the potential in the raw material. Seeing a piece of wood and seeing a boat like that requires a well-trained eye! Then a well-trained hand to realize it! Very good!
Thanks for your comment Miche,
I have been working with various types of wood for better than 30 years. This amount of time spent looking at the grain and finding the potential in each piece definitely comes with experience.
Oh my goodness, you are so talented, the details are amazing I loved the idea of the window and how you brought it out on you wall sailboat.
It goes to show that wood can give us many beautiful things including art, I have always been fascinated by people who are able to curve trees into works of art, wish I had the gift myself but unfortunately I don’t.
Great work and great article.
Thanks for your comment Rose,
I love the discussions that I have with my partner. She has ideas that come to her. I take those bits of ideas and try to mold them into reality. I’m thrilled with her vision and she is thrilled with my interpretations. We have different ways of seeing things. We each have our own set of talents.
If you can enjoy my work, that makes me happy. You can focus on your own set of talents and be the best that you can be
Woodworking is not something that I have ever had the patience to master, so it does my heart glad to see something created from simple stock (YOU FELLED THE TREE). Sailboats are something I have always had a fascination with so when you took the tree and chose the shape of a blue water sloop, you had my attention. I can’t imagine being able to predict the grain and it’s acceptance of the stain to promote the rise in the waves along the waterline.
Your present quandary of where to hang something this large might be satisfied by a local museum or gallery where you could display it for sale.
Thank you for sharing your woodworking passion, Rod
Thanks for commenting Rod,
We will be displaying this piece in a local furniture store that will be offering it for sale on consignment. With luck, another person that is passionate about sailing will find a place for it to display.
Craig, First of all, your finished product -Wooden Sailboat Wall Hanging – is absolutely beautiful. My family were all woodworkers–my dad, my grand dad and Great Grandad. They were not so much artists as they were builders. Great Grand built barns- in Ohio. He also built houses. My grand father built and repaired furniture. My father built two of the houses I grew up in. As he grew older, he made furniture and in his old age, he made toys and wall hangings.
Your descriptions of the detail and the process, even down to the exact tools you used, were excellent. There is no doubt that you love working with wood. The raw wood speaks to you and you follow through- you sort of let the soul of the wood out, for all to see. Your article traced every step from a piece of old, raw wood to a lovely finished work of art. It is an engaging article that kept me eagerly reading to the end. Thank you. A really good read.
I’m glad you enjoyed it Barbara,
Feel free to share it with your family. I’m sure they will appreciate the process and the final result as much as you seem to have.
Hi! It’s inspiring to see the wood in their raw form and afterwards see the final product. As you have said, it’s like breathing new life into them.
I appreciate the details you give while crafting this sailboat. I am pleased you have given the measures and angles. I also liked the idea of the leather like material to resemble the sail cloth. Thank you very much!
Thanks for your comment Henry,
Each piece will have different dimensions. I use a process where I estimate what should be ideal then, when it comes time to do the actual cutting, I have a basis for my final cuts. They always seem to need to be refined but I know generally how things are going to work from the planning process.