Commodore’s Boats Preserves History to Bend Wood

Rumely vintage tractor

Recycling – Can it be wrong when it feels so right?

Before going green was a trend and recycling was all the rage, Commodore’s Boats recognized that sometimes old technology simply is just better. Ok… we can claim that we are the original recyclers or brag that we went green before going green was sexy but the reality is we found old technology sometimes just works better so why reinvent the wheel. Its also a fair assessment to say that the owners of Commodore’s Boats are always looking to save money so we can keep our shop costs and overhead down and this allows us to remain competitive, pass the savings onto our customers all the while being able to provide quality craftsmanship.

Commodore’s Boats utilizes old steam tractor technology to bend wood

Jim's sawmill
Jim eyeballs a piece of old growth prior to cutting

Commodore’s Boats are specialists in traditional wooden boat construction, repairs and restoration. Clearly part of the process involves lumber and wood. Commodore’s Boats has developed strong  vendor relationships with many log and lumber manufacturers and wholesalers throughout British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. We also have a saw mill on premise and Jim is a log and lumber specialist.

What steps does Commodore’s Boats take to make a curved frame or plank from a straight piece of  wood?

In order to maintain the integrity of the wooden plank, Commodore’s steams the wood prior to bending and does not laminate or kerf cut the wood in order to bend it as others have been known to do.

What tools, implements and machines does Commodore’s require for this?

Frame: Frame (sometimes refereed to as ribs) have to be bent from straight strips of wood. Bending is made possible by first heating the strip in a steam tunnel or steam box.

After sufficient heating time the required curvature can be made in the strip by bending it on a bending jig. The required curvature is determined by measuring using a curvature jig.

Steam box: The steam box as shown in the gallery is a  square longitudinal box.


Water tank and Heat source: This is where the story gets interesting. Commodore’s Boats has recycled a 1880’s era Rumely Company Steam tractor and brought it to the shipyard. Why reinvent the wheel? Actually we took the wheels right off the tractor and brought the heat source and water tank to the shipyard and returned it to to every day use. The heat source being timber driven. The water is converted to steam  in the tank by heating. The steam is than transferred to the steam box which allows the wood to become pliable and bend.

Preserving History

Th e following gallery shows a recycled Rumely steam tractor as it sits today. This 1800’s vintage tractor has been returned to every day use at Commodore’s Boats in order to make our hand cut lumber pliable enough to bend and shape without losing any of the integrity of the lumber.

Curvature jig: Bending to the required shape can be started once the wood has been heated sufficiently. An initial tool for this is a bending or curvature jig.

The people in the workshop have developed their own device for this, which can be adjusted to any shape by means of sliding laths.


Wood selection; Wood that is to be steamed must meet two main requirements:

1)     the moisture content must be between 20 and 30%
2)     the workpiece is flawless, without knots/burrs and has straight ends

It is also important that the strip or plank has the same thickness along its length.

Place the strips of wood into the steam box.

Fill the water tank with water; the tank must be filled sufficiently to allow the steam process to be maintained for a sufficient length of time. A general rule of thumb is that to make a 2.5 cm thick strip of wood very pliable it will have to be steamed for approximately one hour. A 5 cm thick strip of wood should be steamed for approximately 2 hours.

Steam is produced once the water reaches boiling point. The steam is than transferred from the vintage steam tractor to the steam box via a tube or hose. It is from this moment that the time (1 hour for 2.5 centimeter thick strips) can be recorded.


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