One of the tricks of boat design and construction is to balance traditional techniques and an “eye,” with modern technology and systems. There’s no perfect balance, but there are some certain advantages of modern design and manufacturing systems.
12 years ago I built my first dory, roughly based on a Jerry Briggs dory that I grew up rowing. I shrunk it, borrowed ideas from other builders, lofted it by hand, and was shocked when it went together. It even looked beautiful and still rows well today.
Years later, I’ve adapted, tweaked, and digitized the original design using a program called Rhino. Rhino is CAD program, short for “computer aided design,” that was originally set up for naval architecture. Since then it’s been widely adopted by architecture and other design fields. The key is that Rhino allows for lofting and analysis of “developable” surfaces- things you can build out of plywood.
In reality, this means that the boat is built once (or many times) on the computer, and then again in the real world. To get from CAD to physical components I use a CAM (computer aided manufacturing) program, which tells a CNC (computer numerical control) router what to cut. It involves a lot of steps, but at the end of the day, it opens a lot of doors. In my mind, the challenge is to keep the art of a beautiful design, and couple it with tools that make the boat more accessible to a wider array of people.
A good example if the cutaway view possible for explaining how to build. Want to know how the bulkheads line up over the building jig? I can show that. It also allows for the development of new designs with a lower level of commitment and risk- using curvature analysis we can see both the amount of twist or “torture” in a piece of plywood, as well as maximum and minimum curvature.
At the end of the day, CAD and CAM are just more tools in the toolbox, but they are ones that I find increasingly important. They are no substitute for time spent cutting up wood, messing with composites, or floating and rowing rivers. A design is only as good as the tests through which it has been put. By combining real world experience with computer programs that allow me to analyze that last 1/4″ of rocker, I hope that I can get some great boats out into the world.