Choosing Wood for Marine Applications

In an age of plastics and composites, wood has not surrendered its claim on the mariner. The color and texture of grain, the particular warmth of wood in the sun, the way a teak gunwale is shaped precisely to meet the grasping hand: these qualities of wood embody the romance of the sea. But unlike our nautical forebears, who were intimately acquainted with the properties of spruce and cedar and teak and jarrah, many mariners of today are not familiar with the proper means of selecting woods for marine use. In this two-part series, we’ll explore a straightforward procedure for choosing, installing, and finishing wood. In this issue, we’ll begin on the boat, with the challenge of wood selection.

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A Guide to Ethical Wood Use

We tend to think of the tension between pristine nature and human ambition as a contemporary struggle, but the urge to own and exploit forests is a fundamental human impulse. At every point in history, wherever humans have possessed sufficient technology or population to deplete natural abundance, we have done so. In much of Central America, Australia, Europe and Africa, territory that has been void of trees for centuries was once cleared by people to make fire and build homes. According to one theory, the Sahara is the result of a giant, ancient clearcut. Today’s forestry dilemmas are simply the latest round in what has been a protracted engagement.

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Essential Tools for the Modern Mariner

In the greatest sea epic of Western literature, the mariner Odysseus is held captive for seven years on an island by the enchantress Calypso. Eventually, in a debate among the gods, it is decided (grudgingly, for Odysseus has offended Poseidon) that the hero should be freed to return home. Zeus dispatches Hermes, the Wayfinder, to impart the verdict to Calypso, and after a fit of pique, she relents.

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