Steaming Planks


Fundamentally the hull shape of any vessel is naturally curvaceous and only limited by the chosen material’s properties to take  on these shapes. This limitation has been greatly reduced with glass-reinforced plastics (GPR) such as fibreglass. However,  traditional materials like wood can be encouraged into the extreme hull shapes demonstrated in many of the wooden vessels seen in the Cornish waters.

These traditional ‘encourage’ techniques have developed over time and in this case, steam is used to make the wood more  malleable, enabling the plank to take on the required twist and bend without breaking. This is key for first few planks of any  clinker dinghy, whilst further up the stem the change within the plank is less and so it is more than likely that it can be fitted dry.

The use of steam in traditional boat building happens across the build process, from planking, framing and laying decks. How steam is applied to the wood does differ and has changed over the years. The technique demonstrated in this skill is suitable for small planks on small vessels with the steam occurring on the vessel itself. However, a similar approach can be used on large vessels replacing the steam box / sleeve with a heavy plastic bag or tarpaulin.

Steaming frames can be seen in another section.

In the accompanying video clip, the planks being steamed in are the garboards for a Fowey 14’ river sailing dinghy and Marcus Lewis is demonstrating the process.

Video clip

  • Introduction to planking
  • Starboard garboard is prepared, then steamed and bent up into place
  • Port garboard steamed


The process is demonstrated in the accompanying video clip with a step-by-step guide. The conversation with the boat builder, in  this case Marcus Lewis, is unscripted and covers the technique from his experience.

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Tools Required

  • Plywood template
  • Clamps
  • Plank clamps
  • Chisel
  • Hammer
  • Steam box / sleeve
  • Wall paper stripe steamer
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Pencil

Materials Required

  • Canadian spruce
  • Plywood