WORKUM – Shipyards get steel sheets already cut and shaped. Why is this not the case for wooden boat segments? Lifelong wooden boat maker Roelof van der Werff says he has found a workaround for that.
Van der Werff looks back on a career of almost half a century at shipyards in the Netherlands and Denmark. His greatest passion: Using wood sustainably in boat building.
“Developments in wooden boat building,” he says, “stopped when other materials emerged. That made working with wood more labor-intensive, more expensive. But it’s a renewable resource and sustainability is big these days.”
A few years back, he caused a stir with his Werffboat-21, a tender made from modified Radiata pine which is very suitable for heat-treating. Radiata Pine is a sustainable Accoya-branded wood based on hard and soft woods that resists mildew and rot.
In retirement, working sustainably and efficiently remains a holy grail for Van der Werff, 71.
Steel segments are cut, shaped and shipped to builders, he says. He adds the same can be done with such wooden segments as curved sheets, laminated bulkheads and milled out frames and offered as a package. “That is more efficient, so the price will drop,” he adds.
How do you get wood into a 3D-curved shape? Wood bends only in one direction.
Van der Werff turned to Curve Works, a Dutch maker of curved composite panels using an automated, adaptive mold, heat and pressure. This achieves curvature and convexity, not just in synthetic materials and but also in Accoya, a wood type modified by the non-toxic treatment of fast-growing softwood timber.
Van der Werff has also trialed slat construction. “I have made Accoya slats of 15 x 3 mm and glued them onto a fiberglass mat. You could roll the slats up and they could also be bent into a 3D shape.”
He actively explores markets. Composite construction, he says, contains “80% renewable raw material and 20% finite raw material. We’ll replace the fiberglass mat with a flax mat. And we are using a bio epoxy and other bio-products.”
Timber construction is not just for recreational boating, says Van der Werff. He sees a future for wood in commercial shipping, navies and the fishing sector. “Minesweepers were once built in wood. You can also build fishing vessels in wood,” says Van der Werff.