KINGSTON -- A breeze off the Jones River wafts through the open door, swirling the dust and curled wood shavings covering the cement floor. The smell of wood -- some weathered with age, some freshly cut -- hangs thick in the warm air.
Smiling, his forehead beaded with sweat, Reuben Smith pops up from the belly of a 24-foot Fenwick Williams canoe yawl.
Somewhere amid the sawhorses, schematic drawings, handmade benches, tools and boxes of nails, a telephone rings.
"Your boat will be done by next Memorial Day!" Smith shouts toward the sound.
He laughs, but there is a kernel of truth to what he said. The owner of the Tumblehome Boatshop knows that the traditional restoration and building of boats is a long, slow, careful process.
Smith grew up in the Adirondacks. His father and uncle, whom Smith started working for at 15, were boat builders.
Smith, who now lives in Plympton, Smith began teaching classes in boat building at the Hull Lifesaving Museum in 1997.
Working out of an old diesel box truck, he would travel from town to town, plying his trade.
Smith said there are still a few little shops like his up and down the coast, as well as a handful of expert craftsmen to supply them with the tools and fittings they need. Together, they form a unique collective that is carrying on centuries-old traditions.
"All of us find identity through tradition. We're bookish," Smith said. "Artisans today have to be part scholar, part grunt. You have to go to libraries, museums So much about the techniques we use used to be common knowledge."
There are power tools all around his shop, but Smith depends mainly on the original tools of the trade. He plucks a heavy black chisel from a workbench and carefully runs the blade along a raw plank. A wisp of wood falls to the floor.
The surface is as smooth as porcelain.
"This is my little buddy," Smith said of the chisel. "You can't find this anymore I found it at an antique store for $50 -- a bargain."
Sometimes he creates the tools he needs, relying on knowledge gained during hours of research, and on his own ingenuity.
In creating the frame for the hull of the 24-foot canoe yawl, Smith bolted together a wooden chain to make a form flexible enough to fit in the hull but rigid enough to hold a shape.
"It's like a 14th-century tool," he said, "but it works."
And it's "surprisingly fast" to boot. At least in this line of work.
"It got so I could do one in six hours," Smith said. "I'd estimated eight to 10, so six is good."
By KAREN GOULART
The Patriot Ledger
Video by Molly Trust
For The Patriot Ledger