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By Pete Leenhouts – Port Ludlow, Washington - USA


The Monk Skiff Skiffs are flat-bottomed small boats, usually not much more than sixteen feet long. Such boats appeared as soon as it became possible to obtain cheap, long, wide boards from sawmills since their sides were often just one wide board. Skiffs were originally made to be rowed or sailed. They eventually evolved into boats that could carry an outboard motor in the early years of the 20th century. Few designers bothered with them, for they were ubiquitous in any port or along any body of water.

In the hands of a capable and artistic designer, however, the common skiff can become a real thing of functional beauty. The Seattle-based designer Edwin Monk was just such an individual.

Monk-designed skiffs are beautiful boats.

The design for this little boat appears in Monk's first book, Small Boat Building, which was published in 1934. Monk's purpose was to "present to the amateur boatbuilder a wide variety of small-boat designs and a clear explanation of small-boat construction in general", and in this he succeeded admirably. While Monk's book has been reprinted (most recently by Dover Press), we must admit we are partial to our original, time-worn copy which resides in the School's library just as often as it can be found out on the shop floor.

Upon close examination, you'll see that Monk's little boat is quite unobtrusively sophisticated. "The lowly skiff", Monk writes in the chapter entitled Two Skiffs, "might well be called the universal boat. Its simple and inexpensive construction are its strong points. The two shown are from a proven model, easy to 'pull' (row), and a good rough water craft, as skiffs go.

A 12-foot Monk skiff in the boatshop.

We like Monk's skiff. It is a traditional Pacific Northwest design from a designer with very deep roots in our beautiful corner of the world. It features a gently curved stem, a raked transom, and flared sides that sweep "just so" from bow to stern. These are beautiful, shapely little boats that take up little room, carry a surprising amount of weight, and, as Monk suggested, are easy to row as well as stable and dry. They're made to be used.

We like this design so much that we consider the 12-foot skiff one of our stock designs, and build the boats in our Beginning Boatbuilding classes taught between October and December each year. These are the very first boats our students build. After we loft these boats with our students, we like to build these boats with mahogany or sapele stems and transoms and plank them with red cedar or port orford cedar planking. A dory-lap between the side planks is simple and strong, and gives our students an opportunity to make that fundamental joint on a boat. Floorboards are usually red cedar, as are the thwarts (seats).

We include a set of correctly proportioned spruce oars with each boat, made as well by the students in the Beginning Boatbuilding class.

Spruce oars, correctly proportioned and leathered, come with the Monk Skiff. They are light and a joy to use.
Building a Monk Skiff at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.

We've also made a few slight modifications to the way Monk suggested building the boat. We did so because most of the boats we build to this design will live on trailers, not in the water as they did in times past.

We use epoxy where needed to demonstrate the use of this versatile material to our students. We screw the frames to the sides instead of using galvanized nails, we half-lap the frames at the joint between the bottom of the frame and the floor of the boat, and we use hardwood or marine plywood frame braces instead of galvanized metal clips. We also like to rivet the planking, though we've clench-nailed it as Monk suggested as well. While we usually plank the bottom fore and aft and then caulk it, we've cross-planked and caulked our boats in the past, and, infrequently, have used marine plywood for the bottom.

Interior of a riveted Monk Skiff built at the Boat School.

An exterior paint or oil finish and an oiled interior, finishes meant to sustain use over time and be easy to renew, completes a boat that is simply eye-catching.

No matter which way this boat is built, and there are several ways to do it, the Monk Skiff is a good-looking, functional boat that helps us to teach our students basic boatbuilding skills as well as standards and methods of work.

The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is accredited by the US-based Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) to grant:

  • Diplomas in 9-month Traditional Small Craft, Traditional Large Craft, or Contemporary Wooden Boatbuilding;
  • Associate Degrees of Occupational Studies in 12-month Traditional Small Craft, Traditional Large Craft, or Contemporary Wooden Boatbuilding.

More on The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding

The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding is located on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. ( Locally known as "The Boat School", the School will begin its 31st year of classes in October, 2011, for the next year, with over 40 full-time students from across the US and several foreign countries. Students this past year ranged from recent high school graduates to a retired surgeon and in age from 19 to 75. About thirty percent of the School's students are usually retired people, and fifteen percent are women.

The School was founded in 1981 and carries on the vision of its founder, Puget Sound area Master Shipwright Bob Prothero, to teach and preserve the skills and crafts associated with wooden boatbuilding.

The School strives to impart sound, practical knowledge in traditional maritime skills, using wooden boats as the training medium.

The School's waterfront heritage campus includes five boat shops in addition to the School's administrative offices and an extensive library. Northwest Sails, which is associated with the School, maintains a large sail loft over the administrative offices and teaches a comprehensive Sailmaking and Rigging class annually from January through March. The School also has a large welding shop and a blacksmithing shop, and partners with the community boatbuilding program in a dedicated on-campus shop.

The waterfront shops of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding are visible in the lower left of this aerial photograph taken in January 2011, while the new Jeff Hammond Shop, the Large Craft Shop and the welding shops are visible in the upper left of the picture, half-way up the bluff overlooking the south end of Port Townsend Bay.

Nearly two thousand students have graduated from the School's vocational programs, and thousands more have attended summer and community workshops across the years. Many Boat School graduates work across the Pacific Northwest and the country where their craftsmanship, creativity and artistic talents enhance their communities. Boat School alumni can be found from the Netherlands to South Korea.

Programs include accredited 9 month diplomas and 12 month Associate Degrees of Occupational Studies in Traditional Small Craft, Traditional Large Craft, and Contemporary Wooden Boatbuilding. The School also offers a 3 month Certificate program in Comprehensive Sailmaking and Rigging. Evening classes offered during the year range from piloting and navigation skills to marine engine familiarization and repair classes. Short week-long classes are also offered during the summer as space in the shops allow. We plan to have our summer 2012 schedule out before Christmas, 2011.

A typical day at the Boat School runs from 8am to 5pm. Students spend 8am - 10am in the classroom and from 10am - 5pm in the shops with an hour off for lunch.

During the first semester, all students take the Basic Skills course. Students gain familiarity and hand tool expertise through a series of progressive exercise projects which include a series of joints, a dovetailed toolbox, a wooden plane, and a half model. Classes and practical skills in drafting and lofting culminate in student-built wooden skiffs by the Holidays.

From January through mid-June annually, students build at least two and occasionally three progressively more complicated boats in each of the major classes. The School builds boats both on commission and on a speculative basis that support the learning objectives of our students. Cumulatively, during the 2011 academic year, students at the School built 17 boats ranging from an eight foot dinghy to a H. C. Hanson-designed 26-foot diesel tug, not to mention beginning a Bob Perry-designed 62-foot strip-planked day sailor to be completed in 2012.

The Sailmaking and Rigging students built an entire suite of gaff-rig sails and rigged a 1943 UK-built Motor Fishing Vessel for which students in the Large Craft class made the 70-foot main mast.

There has yet to be one year the same as another, though a common thread running through our thirty years is the enthusiasm of the students and the amazing craftsmanship taught at the School by our instructors.

Full time Repair and Restoration and well as Interior Yacht Construction classes round out the academic year during the summer, and run from early July through the third week in September. Students all attend the Wooden Boat Festival in mid-September in Port Townsend, and graduate with an Associates Degree shortly thereafter.

We welcome visitors to our shops year round. We are located in the little town of Port Hadlock WA, on the east side of Washington's beautiful Olympic Peninsula, at the foot of Port Townsend Bay, and about 40 miles or so northwest of Seattle. You can visit us online, too, at and join us on Facebook at


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