Sweden’s Last Wooden Boat Builders

Today there are around 12 people working with traditional wooden boats in Stockholm. With demand declining, they might be the last of their kind.

Entering the door you instantly feel the workshop vibe. You hear machinery in the background, see stacks of planks and other materials, and smell the odour of woodwork . A tall, bearded man in an orange sweater and black work trousers welcomes us. That man is Mattias Malmros, a Swedish boat builder and renovator. For two decades Mattias has been working with Swedish wooden boats. And for the last ten years, he’s been doing it with his friends in their workshop at Nya Djurgårdsvarvet in Stockholm. Båthandtverkarna, as they’re called do mostly renovation of old wooden boats. From time to time they make a few new ones from scratch as well.

Declining Demand

A century ago, this trade was thriving with demand. The Swedes were passionate about the craftsmanship, and the Baltic Sea was filled with wooden boats in all their splendour. But in the 1960s the availability of plastics advanced the boat building industry into a whole new direction, leaving the proud craft of wooden boat building behind. Plastics were way cheaper, easier to mass-produce and maintain. Therefore the requests for new wooden boats quickly diminished. And today the demand is at an all-time low. Most of the work being done today is the renovation of older boats from the mid-20th century.

“There isn’t quite enough demand to do this full-time, so we also do other crafts on the side, like making windows and other wooden products.”


Spare Time Well Spent

Most of Mattias’ time in the workshop goes to renovations and other projects for customers, and you may think that after a long day at work Mattias is tired of all the woodworking. If you think so you’re mistaken. On the second floor of the workshop, Mattias is using his spare time on his passion project; his own wooden racing sail boat. For four years he has spent his evenings, nights and weekends on the second floor, working tirelessly on this stunning design.

Devoted to traditional craftsmanship, the boat’s outer structure consists only of mahogany, in stark contrast to modern plastic boats. Mattias and his work partner already have a 9,5-metre sail boat of the same class and design from 1925, but in sports sailing size matters. The smaller boat is too light to reach the speed a boat in its class should be able to. The only solution was to make a new one. It takes time, but when the new boat is done, it’ll be worth both the work and the wait.

Whilst the profession of wooden boat building may be facing challenges, the passion for the craft lives on.

“I say that the boat will be done by next summer, but that I’ve said for
the last couple years, and I’ll probably say that for a few more.”

Interested in more stories about Scandinavian naval tradition? We’ll look into Swedish, Norwegian and Danish naval experiences in later blog posts!
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