Preservation with 3D Models

In 2014, The Center for Wooden Boats led a year-long experiment funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to develop a new method for using digital photogrammetry for the long term monitoring of the shape of large objects and to test the possibilities of using this inexpensive software as a tool to aid in documenting large objects.

One of CWB’s role in the maritime heritage of the Pacific Northwest is to preserve historically significant boats in and out of use. Over the 30-plus years in existence, CWB has been received hundreds of wooden boats from a very supportive community. CWB has retained many of those that represent designs unique to this region or serve purposes on the water through the education of traditional skills. The current collection is made up of 170 small-craft.

Of the 170 small-craft in the collection, there are a subset of rare and unique NW boats that CWB cares for. There are inherent challenges to preserving small-craft that will never see the water again. They were meant to be stored and used in the water. Their organic composition inherently causes them to naturally change shape and degrade over time, and this makes them difficult to physically support. One of these boats is so degraded and rotten that there were plant roots that were growing through the deck! Yet, the importance and need to preserve at least the design of some of these boats often supersedes the ideal of perfect condition.

3D modeling is an excellent tool to have in our kit to mitigate these challenges. These models are capable of capturing the essence of the boat’s shape at the moment in time that these photos are taken. The models can be used to compare future models of the same boat to monitor the change in the shape of the hull. Or they can be dissected and measured to provide information to create lines plans and construction drawings that will preserve their designs and enable builders construct replicas.

A guide for other institutions and those interested in how this technology works has been created by CWB with significant contributions from a variety of project partners. The work has been summed up in a series of studies and published in a wiki called Building 3D Models with Digital Photographs.