All aboard!

Wood Tech students prepare for boat launch


Katy O'Connell

Two wooden boats made by wood tech classes have been put on display in the rotunda. They will be tested at Chauncy Lake on May 10, 2022.

Ellie O’Connor

After over a month of planning and construction, Wood Tech students anticipate the maiden voyage of their DIY boats.

Applied Arts and Technology teacher Ralph Arabian introduced the ‘one sheet boat project’ to ARHS Wood Tech classes this year. Using an eight-by-10-foot piece of plywood, groups were assigned to build full-sized boats that utilized engineering and woodworking skills. About 50 of these students will attend a field trip during the school day on May 10 to Chauncy Lake in Westborough, where they will launch the boats to test the effectiveness of their designs. 

“[The students] built boats from scratch out of one sheet of plywood and could come up with any design they wanted,” Arabian said. “You’ll see one boat that’s a square, so [launch day] is going to be interesting.”

Arabian hopes for the event to be both memorable and educational for students, as it has been at the previous schools that Arabian taught at. 

“This [project] is something kids talk about years afterwards,” Arabian said. “I’ve gotten emails from former students saying, ‘Hey, remember that boat project? You’re crazy.’ But it’s one thing that really stands out in their mind.”

With a total of 14 boats, there are plenty of activities planned for the field trip. Classes can look forward to pizza and playing games, which include tug-of-war and capture the flag, among others.

“There’s one activity called ‘sink the ship,’ where we put as many kids in the boat as we can to see how much water [the boat] will hold,” Arabian said. “Then we’ll ask the kids how much they weigh, so we’ll see if their buoyancy displacement numbers were correct. It’ll just be a fun thing all around.”

I’m looking forward to going out and testing to see if my boat will float, and just getting to have a fun day, ”

— Sophomore Autumn Stewart

Despite the fun-filled activities, Arabian believes that safety should always be kept in mind, especially when the boats are being tested for the first time.

“We usually have the fire department and an ambulance [at the field trip] just in case a kid gets hurt,” Arabian said. “The biggest thing is safety with this. It’s fun, but safety is always first and priority.”

In order to take safety into account, Arabian encouraged students to consider various factors, like group members’ weights, when they designed and built the boats. And after weeks of preparation, students are ready for the field trip where they will finally get to launch their boats.

“I’m looking forward to going out and testing to see if my boat will float, and just getting to have a fun day,” sophomore Autumn Stewart said.

However, along the engineering design process, Wood Tech classes did encounter certain challenges, including when the usual ⅛-inch thick plywood was unavailable. Arabian had to order a thicker wood, which caused issues during construction.

“We weren’t strong enough to bend [the plywood] with our hands, so like anything else, we had to improvise with clamps and all sorts of new methods,” Arabian said. “They held together, and we figured it out like anything else, problem-solving as an engineer would.”

Not only does Arabian intend for students to learn about the technical knowledge, including woodworking and engineering, but also for students to take away real-life skills such as teamwork. Stewart felt this type of collaboration was beneficial for the building process.

“[Teamwork] was certainly important because we had to be able to help each other use the tools,” Stewart said.

The cooperation between students wasn’t just limited to the Wood Tech students though, as members of the National Art Honor Society were invited to help paint the boats to add an artistic element to the project.

“Many kids don’t even know how to pick up a paintbrush,” Arabian said. “They could build a beautiful boat, but they don’t know how to pick a paintbrush, me being one of them, so we asked people who knew how to paint. I contacted the art teacher and said, ‘Do you have any kids that want more [community] service hours?’”

Now that the final touches have been added, classes sit tight for the field trip on Tuesday. 

“We’re just waiting for launch day, keeping our toes and fingers crossed,” Arabian said.