The Malay Boat Building Technique

The Malays use a wood called Chengal to craft their boats in a scarce technique which is singular in boat building: They build without plans, hull first, frames to be inserted afterwards. The planks are fire bent and joined edge on edge (carvel) using "basok" (wooden dowels) made from Penaga-ironwood (Musea ferrea), creating a boat as if it were made in one casting.


Bending a plank

There is no caulking hammered into a groove between the planks: Before the new plank is fitted, a strip of "kulit gelam" (Malay: paperbarks skin) of a Maleleuka species is placed over the dowels.

This 1 – 2 mm gasket of a natural material has remarkable sealing properties, swelling upon contact with water and keeping the boats dry for years to come.


Joining a plank, the garboard strake


Putting the paperbark

This is an ancient, archaic building technique, the origins of which might date back to the Proto-Malay migrations that colonised South East Asia and the Pacific islands thousands of years ago.

Today, one can still observe this method of boat building in some places of Indonesia and in the Terengganu area of peninsular Malaysia.


Fitting the frames