Toy Boat Building at Northwest Folklife


One thing that is synonymous with The Center for Wooden Boats is toy boat building. Toy boats are about six inches long and made of Spruce, Pine or Fir 2×4’s. We cut them out one at a time on a band saw with a fifteen degree bevel and no two are the same. They are hand made in every sense of the term and usually by one of our employment skills graduates. We also cut the eight inch masts from quarter inch dowel stock, shape wood scraps and cork in various sizes for decoration, and cut fabric to size for our sails. All of these items put together creates the potential for a unique hands-on experience that thousands of youth are able to enjoy every year.

This year on Memorial Day I had to work. I had to get up in the morning, eat, shower, shave and be out the door by 8:30AM. All on a nationally observed holiday. The redeeming quality of this particular day was that I wasn’t headed into an office to sit inside and make phone calls or send emails; I was headed to the Northwest Folk Life festival at the Seattle Center to help hundreds of kids and sometimes even adults build toy boats.

Set-up was per usual but on a slightly larger scale. We brought fifteen hundred toy boats to the four day event and on this day, which was the last, we had only six hundred left. Eight pounds of finish nails were on standby and twenty yards of fabric had been cut up into triangles of different shapes and sizes. Eight benches were set up as work stations which put our capacity at around forty and finally we were ready. As soon as the bell rung at eleven o’clock those eight benches were full. Kids and parents flooded our tent to drill holes and pound nails in order to create a one of a kind gaff rigged schooner that they could take home and cherish forever.

Morning turned to afternoon and supplies began to dwindle. First the cork, then the bottle caps. Boats and nails were at dangerously low levels and I was cutting string to length every thirty minutes. Eight benches was no longer enough and we had twenty more boat builders pounding away in the aisle way.  An hour before closing time the benches were still full and we had to start denying any new boat builders.

At the end of the day we had helped over 400 youth create something they could take home and cherish that they built with their own two hands; hopefully instilling a sense of pride and ownership in their work that will continue to manifest itself in their personality as they get older. The age of repair work and hand tools is dying and instant gratification is becoming the norm. Youth are still interested in building things and experiential learning, they just need to be exposed to that outlet. Toy boat building is one option, but the potential is endless.

Find more Family Activities with CWB here.

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