by Jeff Gilbert

Wooden Masts

Most of the sailcraft I dream up have masts around the 6 to 8 meter mark, a size one can build at home, and step even in a bit of breeze. While 2nd hand alloy sections abound you can't beat a nice wooden mast and there’s a lot of comfort in looking up at a wooden spar flexing comfortably in the way that only trees are designed to do.

"Watercraft", a fine mag, showed a photo of a proa belting downwind - rig=one evergreen tree branch leaves and all. I wonder if it's stepped in a pot? Presumably the upwind rig= branch abandoned, and paddles flashing in the sun. Actually not that great. I’ve been caught out in my canoe paddling 2 miles against a 20-knot wind; it took two of us kneeling hard at it and hugging the shore for shelter. Holding onto willows for a breather. Cant do that at sea.

I digress. Masts are usually 1/90th of their height wide so 4 inches dressed to 3.5 gives 26.25 feet, exactly 8 meters. My point being that one can get an excellent mast from selected dressed 4 x 2 s, of Douglas fir or other timber that is light and straight grained as possible with hopefully zero knots, but a few small ones wont kill the project. Position them for one of your stays or halyards, a grain-reinforced hole. The humble four-by-two is often cheaper than other sizes.

There is a blow-by-blow build in "Wooden Boat" magazine #143, "How to Make a 24' Wooden Spar for under 30 bucks" -article probably obtainable via the web. The method immediately cuts three dressed 4 x 2s to 1 & 3/16" thick. I'd ask the mill to do it or trying to buy 1.5 dressed.
Wooden Boat #91 has a fine article called "Building a Hollow Mast” by Arch Davis.

Another article with build photos may be found in Mar/Apr 2004 "Watercraft" issue #44. A home builder cuts up four 4 x 2s to make an 8 sided spar from 22.5 degree cuts. This rounds to an excellent mast, but with a lot of waste as seems usual.

Triangle sections 90-45-45 degrees of 4 x 2.83 x 2.83 inches can be cut from two 2 x 4s and the 6 resultant pieces reassembled (sans any waste but kerfs) to a solid stick a bit under 4 x 4. Need a good saw bench. Knocking the tips off the triangle sections makes it hollow.

One can also build an almost waste-free hollow mast ex 4x1 and 2x1 without the saw bench but the result is a square section with 2-inch flats and rounded corners. Not every one would like the look of one, and they won't suit mast hoops or parrel beads so well, though good for slapping fittings on.

It is a fact that sound useful masts are successfully and economically made by amateurs. Rigging with Spectra the whole sail-powering process can be simplified, and made both corrosion-free and economic. Spectra is almost stretch free and can be tied off without weakening, something not true of Kevlar line, which is massively strong, but if radiused tightly and subject to movement is said to abrade internally, literally gutting itself. Spectra offers a real alternative to expensive swaged fittings and can be quickly maintained & used effectively in an emergency. For the cruising helmsman the advantages are obvious.

Note also that carbon reinforced ply chainplates can be integrated with the boat and don’t leave great rust streaks after 6 months.

Making and stepping your own mast takes your boat building to a new and complete level, you become master of your rig. It will give a better feeling for the strength and reliability of your rig, & how she stands up to a blow. Understanding is peace of mind, and knowing the rig inside out can remove the nagging doubts that can see everyone on board having fun with the exception of the poor muggins Boat Owner.