Replacing Topsides Planks

First topsides strake clamped in place after fitting
First topsides strake clamped in place after fitting

I wanted to replace the first topsides plank on this boat for a couple of reasons.  The boat was wrecked by a previous owner, resulting in partial replacement of the 1st topsides plank on the port side.  I had to take this first plank off the boat to replace the chine anyway.  So it was a good opportunity to go back with new wood.  I didn’t want to replace one side and not the other.  While I was at it, I had long enough planks to do it without a splice–one long beautiful plank instead of a fore and aft with a butt splice–how nice!

The method I use for fitting planks employs the use of a router with a guide riding along the plank edge I’m fitting to.  It was first published in WoodenBoat magazine years ago.  I didn’t invent it.  But it’s a great time-saver and with this method it’s always easier to replace old planks than it is to try to save them.  Plus, you’ve got new wood!

Hood end after fitting to the stem rabbet
Hood end after fitting to the stem rabbet

The first step is to fit the forward or “hood” end of the plank to the stem rabbet.  You do this by clamping it in place as close to the final position as possible, and scribe your line on it from the stem rabbet.  Then cut to the line with your saw and shave to a tight fit with your block plane.

Once that is done, I clamp the blank back on the boat with a 5/16″ gap between the plank edge I’m fitting to, and the new plank.  Then route this new edge, following the existing plank edge with your router.  This cuts a perfect match with the correct bevel.  It’s not quite as simple as these two sentences imply, but it’s much quicker than the old spile-cut-plane to the line-on and off the boat-technique.  Although if you’re inclined to slip with the router, this method is not very forgiving.  One wrong move and zip!  You’ve ruined a plank.

That's a nice fit
That’s a nice fit!  Seriously–you should zoom in on that line!

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