Building boats: RiversWest Small Craft Center and the small boat revolution

There’s a lot of planing and shaping and gluing that goes on every day down at the RiversWest Small Craft Center. For 17-year-old Oona Lawson, building a rowing scull is part of her senior project for Pacific Crest Community School. (KATU)

Depending on who you talk to, wooden boats are a glorious manifestation of skill combined with sustainability.

Or an obsession that can challenge the heartiest of mariners.

At the RiversWest Small Craft Center, you'll hear both sides.

But all agree that building your own small wooden boat is fun.

And cool.

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There’s a lot of planing and shaping and gluing that goes on every day down at the RiversWest Small Craft Center.

For 17-year-old Oona Lawson, building a rowing scull is part of her senior project for Pacific Crest Community School.

She rows crew, and so did her sister and her father.

“I was like, 'Well, I’m never going to build a boat in my life anyways, so might as well do it now,'” Lawson said. “A senior who graduated this past year at my school also built a boat here.”

Lawson has until the end of the year to complete the 23-foot single racing scull.

Her parents and members at RiversWest are helping her. The nonprofit group’s president, Mark Ramsby has a wood shop at home, but the tools at the shop are bigger and better.

He's built several boats.

“I built a boat for the first time in my 60s, and I was hooked,” he said. “We’re all about building and using sustainable small craft. And by sustainable, what we mean is we row them, paddle them, sail them, small motors.”

The group's signature event -- The Boat Build -- happens every summer and attracts a wide variety of participants.

Ramsby says for the most part, the builders use a kit to build their small rowboat.

But help is never far away.

“Our whole goal in this is to guide the process,” Ramsby said. “If we see somebody is going to make a big mistake, then you stop them, otherwise you don’t step in.”

And it brings families together, he says.

Membership in the RiversWest Small Craft center costs $45 a year.

And each year, sponsors pay a $450 fee to build four small rowboats for people who can't afford it.

The RiversWest workshop has an open house for visitors every first and third Saturday of the month.

It'll be open Saturday, Aug. 17 at 9 a.m.

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