Our forests and traditional resource base
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) is located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, in the midshore region. Our forests are dominated by mixed pine-oak forest in a large topographic or “physiographic” region called the Atlantic coastal plain. Maryland lies in the north of this region, meaning that our native species are often at the northern limit of their range. Within this region we have Atlantic white cedar and bald cypress swamps, expanses of pine forest dominated by loblolly, salt marsh regions with smaller scrubpines and wax myrtles, and brackish tidal flats.
The pine oak forest includes short leaf and long leaf yellow pine, the latter of the two with a population 3% that of its former range. The very resinous long leaf yellow pine was the creme de la creme of coniferous boat building woods during the earlier centuries and was tremendously over harvested. Long leaf yellow pine is considerably more rot resistant than the other pines in this region and boards from virgin forest were known to be 3.5’ wide. These forests are now primarily loblolly pine, a wood commonly used in boat building on the eastern shore for anything from mast building to log bottom construction use. These forests are also home to red maple, sassafras, sugar maple, white and green ash, white oak, post oak, and southern red oak. White oak (Quercus alba) is a commonly cultivated wood which can be used for nearly anything aside from spars and masts and was used historically in shipbuilding, house construction and furniture making. White oak is relatively rot resistant and water resistant because of its cell structure. Red oak has been used in work boat construction but does not possess the same qualities of workability or rot resistance as white oak. Atlantic white cedar is another prime wood for boat builders as its tight buttery grain is a joy to work. It is considerably harder than red cedar although softer than the coveted west coast port orford ceder. Cedars are generally more rot resistant than pines. Atlantic white cedar is a wonderful wood to use for planking. Bald cypress, a species often associated with more southern states, covers the largest swath of land on the eastern shore in the most contiguous forest of Delmarva known as the Great Cypress Swamp. Bald cypress has been frequently used for planking, decking, and mast building. Cypress is very water and rot resistant. The last native species of note used in boat construction is white and green ash, both used for wooden fair-leads, blocks, and other rigging components. Ash is strong, dense, and straight grained.
Commonly cultivated on the Eastern Shore, but non native trees of note include black locust and osage orange. Both species are very dense, workable, pest and rot resistant. Osage has been used particularly for grown knees and futtucks. Black locust for smaller vessel backbone joinery pieces as well as for treenails in traditional construction.
What we’re using, how we’re using it, where it comes from, and why:
White oak: As mentioned above, white oak is a solid and very traditional choice wood for ship construction. Nearby we still have very large trees which are sustainably harvested. Our white oak comes from West Virginia and Ohio. We will use white oak for topsides planking, upper futtucks, clamp and shelf, mast partners, lodging knees, and for the breast hook. It should also be noted that the historical Dove would most likely have been built almost entirely from English oak, a material very similar to our local white oak, making this choice historically accurate as well.
Southern live oak: We are very proud to include this species as a dominant feature in the construction of the new Dove as it is truly as good as it gets from a ship builders perspective. Dense but not brittle, rot resistant, pest resistant, with extraordinary grown timber being available to us from Steve Cross in southern Georgia. If you are unfamiliar with Steve, you may be more familiar with a few of the large scale ship building projects he has supplied including San Salvador, Ernestina Morrisy, Mah Jong, Tally Ho, and HMS Surprise. Southern live oak was the ship building wood of choice for the US Navy during its centuries of wooden sailing ship construction. Constitution’s nick name, “Old Iron Sides” is a testament to its durability. We will use our Quercus virginiana for the stempost, gripes, apron, aft deadwood, lower futtucks, floors, main whale, and deck furniture.
White Ash: our white ash will be used for block construction, dead eyes, and other rigging components. Its use and workability is noted above. Ash was a very commonly used wood in English vessel construction during the 17th century all the way through to the 20th century as noted by prominent English maritime historian Edgar J. March. We owe our thanks to Capt. Rick Carrion for allowing us to harvest from his property in Cecil County just a drive up the road from our campus.
Black Locust: Why would you use anything else for treenails if you have locust available? its incredibly rot resistant and far more pest resistant than honey locust, and is locally available. Another shout out to Capt. Rick, as this was another species harvested from his large rural property north of us.
Atlantic White Cedar: another phenomenal local material, its light weight and rot resistance lends itself well to its use as bulwark material. Bulwarks are particularly prone to rot because of their vulnerability to standing fresh water.
Angelique: We are building to last and must ensure that our vessel does not fall victim to worm damage, a primary concern in the bay’s rivers such as that of where the new Maryland Dove will live at Historic St. May’s City. While we admire the existing Maryland Dove built by the great shipwright Jim Richardson, we’d like the new Dove to last longer. Jim built using nearly exclusively locally available wood and material, something which inspires our construction as well; however, hardwood timber in our scantling size with long uninterupted straight grain is exceedingly difficult to source locally. We have chosen to use Angelique from Suriname in south america for our below water planking and bilge stringers. Angelique is very resistant to worm damage and has become a boat builders go to wood for planking stock in projects such as our own. All of our Angelique is sustainably harvested and meets the highest demand of environmental stewardship in the exotic hardwood lumber industry.
Cortez: Cortez is a type of Ipe or Ironwood harvested in Suriname. It is heavier than water at around 70lbs per cubic foot. Its extraordinarily straight uninterrupted grain and superior qualities of durability lend its use to keel construction in ship building. Our Cortez will be used for the Keel, false keel, wormshoe, inner and outer sternposts, keelson, deadwood.
Part of the joy of woodworking is in recognizing that wood is not a homogenous material and that it not only varies species to species but piece by piece. Learning how to “see” wood is really a skill unto itself within the trade of boatbuilding. Come down and take a look at our stock of material for this project and ask us how we’re using it and why. As always, if you have access to material that you feel may be usable in the build and would like to donate, please get in contact with us!
Till next time.