The Mystical Skill of Lofting

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When you first get started in boat building a lot of things will be utterly foreign to you. Some methods and processes for building a boat that has seemingly no origin other than “this is the way it has always been done.” There are also “organic processes” in which you’re using the shape of one object to determine the shape of another. To me the best part of boat building is that a majority of what we strive for is “fairness,” in other words, is it pleasing to the eye. For many of us, our first introduction to fairing a boat came when we started lofting our Beetle Cats.

Joel and Bill with the assistance from a group of students got the boats for restoration this year into the shop via forklift with a sling.

Once we got our boats into the shop, we prepped them for measuring. We used water levels and built measuring jigs using pine so that we could pull accurate measurements from the boats.

To me, the strangest part of lofting was pulling measurements using no numbers, only the randomly generated lines on your pointing sticks. Here Joel is demonstrating the measuring technique.

The only standard units come in when laying down our full-size grids on our lofting boards. We used one measuring device due to the difference in manufacturer tolerances for all our measurements, and we make it a point to measure a few times as possible as to not introduce more error into our grids.

Tick-sticks are used for repeating measurements that are already on the floor reducing error from measuring and re-measuring.

Joel and Hans spent a ton of time teaching us the mystical skill of lofting. Lofting isn’t something you’ll be able to learn from a book quickly, if at all. You may be able to pick up the basics, but there’s an art to looking at the numerous lines on the floor and being able to interpret what they mean. Joel is great at explaining the information in a way that it’s easily understood and repeated.

Hans has a knack for looking at a batten and being able to tell if the line is fair and what points need to shift for the line to become fair. He is also great at giving you the background and the science of whatever it is you’re currently working on. If you ever want to know more about a subject you’re learning he’s the man to ask.

Occasionally, you need to put more than one batten on the floor to determine if the shape the batten is taking is due to “operator error” or if it’s indeed the way the boat is shaped. Here two battens are laid down to depict the waterlines of our boat while we try to figure out if the hollow we see near station one is there in the boat.

Everything we’re doing in the lofting stage will have uses later when we do scale drawings in the drafting room. We generate a table of offsets that can be used to reproduce the boat again without having to re-measure. All in all, lofting was our first foray into actual boat building, and we’re all looking forward to getting our hands dirty in tearing into these boats in the coming weeks. When it comes to lofting the best advice that I have is purchase a good pair of knee pads as you’ll be spending a lot of time on the floor looking at lines trying to figure out what they are.