A sturdy, well-crafted wooden boathouse can be a wonderful addition to almost any waterside property -- they provide much-needed protection from the elements for your watercraft, and even if you never set foot on a boat they can substantially increase the resale value of your property. However, to build the best wooden boathouses you need to get your hands on the best raw materials, and choosing a timber that can cope with constant exposure to both water and weather will make all the difference between a maritime masterpiece and a dilapidated shack. Here are some of the best timbers available for boathouse building, along with their strengths and weaknesses.
The cypress family of trees encompasses a number of different species, but what is commonly referred to as cypress is actually baldcypress, which is not a true cypress but a closely related species. Despite some confusing naming conventions, cypress has long been a favourite of maritime woodworkers and builders, and for good reason. Cypress wood has excellent resistance to rot and fungal growth commonly caused by exposure to moisture. This natural resistance can be supplemented relatively easily with rot-resistant paints, stains and preservatives, as cypress wood tends to absorb them well. Cypress is also durable when it comes to withstanding impact damage such as falling branches (or badly piloted boats).
All these qualities, however, only apply to good-quality cypress, which can take a little work to find. When purchasing cypress from a timber merchant, make sure that you are not buying wood from young trees, as young wood has significantly less resistance to rot and tends to bow and warp more easily. Cypress can also be prohibitively expensive if you're looking for well-finished, knot-free panels for siding -- construction-grade cypress, while a little uglier, is much cheaper.
Considered by many wood experts to be one of the very best woods for maritime use, greenheart combines tremendous rot resistance with incredible physical durability. This unusual South American timber, with its distinctive olive green colours and prominent grain, can be used to create a beautiful boathouse that will stand up to pretty much anything nature can throw at it. Greenheart is also very resistant to attacks from wood-boring insects such as the powderpost beetle.
Unfortunately, greenheart is so incredibly tough that it can be a nightmare to work with without high-end woodworking tools and a fair amount of skill. Tearouts, blunt blades and glue failures are all relatively common, although greenheart does respond surprisingly well to steam-bending. Finding greenheart timber, particularly in large panels suitable for larger projects, can also be a challenge, and you might have to search a little harder and pay a little extra to find a wood importer with suitable supplies.
A native Australian wood with remarkable strength, jarrah is an excellent choice for boathouse builders with an environmental bent, as it does not require importing and is grown on carefully managed plantations. Jarrah's rich, reddish-pink wood is attractive and unusual, and unlike many colourful woods it tends to darken with exposure to sunlight, rather than fade and turn grey. Jarrah's resistance to decay rivals that of greenwood, as does its hardness and strength.
If you do decide to build your boathouse out of jarrah (either partially or fully), however, you may want to call in professional help, or hire some heavy-duty lifting equipment as its sheer density makes even moderately-sized panels and beams incredibly heavy. This sheer weight also limits the locations in which a jarrah boathouse can be placed, as a boathouse built on moist, marshy banks will need substantial (and expensive) foundations to avoid subsiding and sinking under its own weight. Jarrah can also be quite difficult to find, despite being a native wood, and will need treatment to avoid predation from wood-boring insects.