There is a great pride that comes from taking on a project hands-on and getting a great result. When it comes to most sailing enthusiasts, having built a boat by hand brings on a greater pride than just walking into a dealers premise and buying a ready-made boat.
Definitely there is a lot of pride when someone buys a shiny new boat, but there is somewhat more meaning when you build it with your own hands.
This guide will take you through some of the steps that you need to follow when you are building a wooden boat.
What kind of wood do you use to build a boat
The ideal wood is one that will is resistant to rot and will not allow marine animals to get inside and destroy the structure.
Wood is easily available and is therefore the preferred material when it comes to building a boat.
The buoyancy of wood also means that it will ride higher in the water, than a similar boat made of denser materials.
The abrasion resistance of the wood will vary according how dense and hard the wood is, so typically, hardwoods are used to make the exterior of the boat, while softwoods are used for the interiors.
Woods such ad Teak, Cedar and Tuatara are commonly used for their hardness and also the fact that they have natural chemicals that ward off marine animals. Oak is another hardwood that is commonly used to make hulls and keels which are always exposed to the water.
You should not use Pine to build the exterior of a boat since it will rot very fast.
Pine is best used for interiors since it has a nice color, finishes well, and is light, thereby reducing the overall weight of the boat. Other woods used for interiors are Cedar and Larch.
When building a boat using Plywood, a lot of care should be undertaken in the construction process to make sure that it's waterproofed properly.
Even the best plywood has gaps and spaces between the layers that will trap moisture and accelerate the rotting process – this is why a lot should be done to make sure that it is completely waterproof at every level of construction.
Most amateur boat builders prefer Plywood,since it is easy to bend into the shapes that they want. It is also considerably cheaper than natural woods.
Marine plywood is the best option in this case, and a lot of waterproof glue and laminates should be used to ensure no moisture gets in between the layers.
All types of plywood should be coated with boiled linseed oil or epoxy resin. In both cases, a heavy coat of paint will help in maintaining the structure of the plywood for a long time.
Varnish should not be used to coat the exterior of a boat. Varnish has high water content and will simply accelerate the rooting process. Boiled linseed oil should be used in the interior of the boat since it has a high resistance to moisture when compared to varnish.
Other wood types that have become popular today are Azobe, Iroko, Mahogany, Okoume Keruing and Merbau.
Typically, all tropical woods should be certified by FSC.
When using Teak or Iroko, use chemical oil stripping agents to remove the high oil content as it can easily make the joints to come apart.
These are the common woods that are used in the building of boats.
Table of Contents
- Building A Wooden Boat Video
- Step By Step Instructions
- Boat Plans
- Construction Method (Plywood etc.)
Now here is a video to get you started on this exciting project. The written step by step instructions are below the video.
How to Build a Small Wooden Boat
When building a small wooden boat to simply take some time on the water, there are several steps that you should follow. As you will see in this guide, the steps are not too complex, if you are good with your hands.
Step 1 – Collect all materials and tools
Take some time to think about the design of your boat. If you are an amateur, then go to a boat builder who will give you a list of materials to buy. Some of them include:
· Planks of timber
· Hardwood flooring
· Marine Ply
· Urethane glue
· Rubber gloves, Epoxy Resin
· Epoxy Putty
· Fiberglass tape and matte
· Acrylic paint
· Cardboard for creating templates
· Cordless power tools
· Hand plane
· Belt sander
· Cork sand paper block
· Sand paper
· Breathing protection
· And so much more
Step 2 – Plan the boat
You need to make a lot of sketches and look at the designs of other boats similar to the one that you want to create. Remember that you are simply sketching the design and should not really draw everything to scale, unless you are a stickler for details.
Once you are done, you can now create a cardboard mock up of your design, in mm or cm, and then add more detail to your sketches as required.
Alternatively, you can buy boat plans online. Here is a place where you can buy 518 different step by step boat plans. (all included in one purchase)
There's also 40 videos of boat building training so even those that aren't handymen can get started. Here's some of boats you'll be able to build:
Step 3 – Create the center rib and transom
Start off by gluing the hardwood floorboards together to create your transom. Once glued together, craw out the shape and then cut it out.
Now sandwich the transom in between two flat pieces of wood or metal and then clamp it tight to make sure that the transom is flat.Use some kitchen wrap to make sure that the two pieces of wood do not get glued to the transom.
After that, sand the pieces of wood that will be used for the center rib, glues them and clamp them before you crew them together.
Once the glue is dry, cut out the keel, chines and inwales.
Step 4 – Create the shape or frame
Use some clamps and angle brackets to create a frame using the inwales and chines. Next, add a thwart and a keep temporarily across the center rib. Spend a lot of time getting the shape of the boat right, as it will be the basis of the finished boat.
Once you have the complete shape right, you may go ahead and screw and glue the inwales and chines into the transom, stem and center rib.
Step 5 – Add the finer details of the frame
Once you have created the basic shape, it is time for you to add the finer details of the frame. Carefully measure where the other side ribs should be added, and then design, build and shape each of them. Once you have done so, fit them to the marked positions and make sure that the boat maintains its symmetry.
For the ribs across the bottom of the boat,use the cardboard to make a mock-up, which you will use to cut out the actual wooden ribs.
Once you have finished with both side and bottom ribs, then you can proceed to add the keel
Step 6 – Add the Seat Rails, Keel Strip, Sand and Patch
Add the keel strip, and then put in the rails where you will attach your seats. It is at this stage where you should be very careful and go over every inch of the frame. Fill every small space with epoxy putty and also screw rebate. This is the last stage when it comes to designing the frame, since the next one is adding planks of wood/plywood to the whole boat.
Step 7 – Add the wood planks and seats
This is one of the most exciting stages when building a wooden boat. Do not start by cutting pieces of plywood – not just yet.
Get your cardboard, attached it to the sides and then cut it according to the frame design. Once you are satisfied,you may now take the cardboard cutouts and use them to cut the plywood.
Now go to the frame and add glue to the outside of the frame. Now add the planks to the sides of the boat and then claps the plywood after every 200 to 300 mm (20 to 30 cm). With the plywood still clamped, carefully measure out where you will make hole for the screws. Now you may screw the sides of the plywood to the boat, and make sure you seal any spaces.
After you have added the plywood for the exterior of the boat, go and add planks for the seats and secure them to the middle of the boat. Add a plank of wood and attach it to the keel to stop the seats from flexing and bending.
Step 8 – Add epoxy, sand and paint your boat
It is now time to add epoxy putty to any space that you may see and then sand it flat. Add patches to every little area and sand it flat too.
Turn the boat upside down and add a layer of fiberglass and then trim it to blend will with the sides of the boat.
Add epoxy resin on the entire exterior of the boat using rollers and brushes.
Give the epoxy a day or two to cure fully.
Flip the boat over and only use epoxy resin without the fiberglass.
Once you are done, get your sanding equipment,add protective gear for your eyes and breathing, and then sand, sand, and sand some more. The boat should have a very clean and smooth surface before you paint it.
When you are happy with the sanding,proceed with painting your boat, and give it a lively name, before you take itto the water for the first time.
Wooden Boat Construction Methods
There are five basic types of wooden boat building methods or techniques.
· Stitch and Tape
· Ply on Frame
· Strip Planking (Carvel)
· Cold Molding
Stitch and Tape
This is the simplest and fastest technique when it comes to building a boat. The construction employs the use of plywood which is then “Stitched” together using epoxy resin or glue and some other complex cuts to form the hull of the boat.
You do not need specialized tools when using this method, also called the “Tack and Tape” or “Stitch and Tape”. It is a technique that was very popular in the 60’s and had even television channels specifically targeted at amateur boat builders or hobbyists.
Duct tape, copper wire and cable ties are popularly used to stitch the plywood together. If the boat is being built for marine waters, then copper wires are the best since they do not corrode easily.
Once the boat has been stitched together, a thick layer of epoxy or fiberglass is used to keep water away from the “stitched” areas.
This is another popular method, which begins with the creation of a wooden frame commonly known as “Ribs”. The next step is to build frame members which are joined to the ribs through slots.
The individual frame members are
· The Keelson – This is a frame that runs down the center of the boat.
· The Sheer Clams – These run at the top of each side of the boat
· The Chine Log - These are two more frames, which run along the bottom and curve up to join the sides of the hull.The joint is called a chine, hence the name chine log.
These are then glued, bolted or screwed together and powerful polyurethane glue is used to bold the joints. When done properly, the resulting boat will be very strong in structure, thanks to these frames.
Strip Planking s a quick method of building a wooden bat since there is not much joining to be done. The method is also called the Carvel method.
Narrow strips of wood and placed on forms, and due to their narrow nature, they can easily be bent to form the shape of the boat.
Once the shape of the boat is attained, the strips are then fastened together using strong epoxy adhesives – no fasters are needed in this technique.
This is a method suitable for experienced boat builders and not amateurs. This is because there are several methods of strip planking and should therefore be left to those who know how to go about it. The method is popularly used to create small vessels such as canoes.
This is a technique that goes back to the Vikings and uses planks of wood which overlap across the edges. These overlapping joint is called a “Land”.
During the Viking era, wooden planks andiron plates were used to create the structure of the boat.
Today, other materials such a strong adhesives have replaced the iron plates in this technique. The joint overlaps thanks to its beveled nature.
Clinker, also called Lapstreak, creates a boat that is generally lighter and easy to sail. There is less water being displaced along the sides of the hull, which increases the efficiency when the boat is moving.
The use of this technique is also for the experts and not amateurs. If you want to build a wooden boat using this technique, then it is best that you work under the supervision of an expert boat builder.
This is a method that uses two or more layers of wood to create the hull. This is a composite method and the wood is known as veneers. The veneers have different orientation, resulting in a powerful hull,similar to one made of fiberglass, but is much lighter in weight.
The orientation is 45 degrees from the center line of the veneer and is also referred to as the double-diagonal method.
Cold molding may simply use the layers of veneers,or has a basic strip planking layers, followed by the veneers.
Cold molding is used to create all types of boats, from small boats to large wooden super yachts. To build a boat, the builder uses different woods to put more density in areas of high stress and makes the low-stress areas such as the bow and stern out of lighter veneers.
When using light woods such as cedar for cold molding, a builder can use fiberglass on both sides of the wood to make it more reliable when there is an impact.
Cold molding can be used to create hulls of different shapes and this gives the builder more flexibility on how the boat will look like.
How to Waterproof a Wooden Boat
When water enters the internal structure of wood, it makes it weak, warps it and accelerates the rotting process. If you want your wooden boat to last for a long time, then you need to make sure that it's properly waterproofed.
There are many waterproofing products, for fresh water, marine water and some can be used for both. Ideally you should have a sealing kit that can work in both environments.
Marine environments are very harsh, so you should use a strong sealant that will handle the water, humidity and UV radiation from the sun.
Prepare the wood for applying waterproof materials
Make sure that there are no loose layers of wood shavings or others finish by properly sanding the wood on the boat. Start off with a rough sandpaper to remove the loose parts and then use a fine one to give the wood a fine smooth finish.
Apply the sealing compound
Using a brush, apply the sealing compound,ensuring that the wood has a good layer of coating. Some kits come in parts and others come already mixed, so make sure you follow the instructions precisely.Make sure the coats dry completely before you apply a second or third coat of the sealant.
Let the wood cure
Give the wood plenty of time to cure. Some of the sealing compounds have a short curing period, but it is always safe to give a lot of time, to ensure that the boat is safe when you first put it into the water.
TAKE-NOTE: Although you have waterproofed your boat, its important that you periodically remove the boat from the water and inspect the wood to make sure that there are no moisture-laden surfaces. A good rule is to take the boat out of the water when you are storing it for a long period.This way, it is not exposed to water and moisture for a long time.
How long does it take to build a wooden boat?
Well, typically it should take from 6 months to one year to construct a wooden boat. This is a general estimation fora boat that does not have a complex design. However, if the boat has complex systems and a complicated design, then it may take more than a year to complete the boat, but the wait will be worth it.
The process of putting the materials together and waiting for the epoxy and shape to set in is what makes the process take a long time.
You want a boat that will last and not fall apart on its maiden journey, so you should take time when constructing it.
Building a boat can be exciting and really become a passion project. The key is to plan out everything before so you don't get half way through a build only to realize you've messed up and wasted time.
You can find boat plans online or you can simply use the 518 boat plans available above and build as many different boats as you wish. Keep in mind that this will take some time if you are completely new to building a boat.
But hitting the water for the first time can be really exciting once you've completed the build. You'll also notice you saved a lot of money over buying a boat.
Most importantly. have fun and take your time, especially if it's your first build! And send us on pictures when you are done. We'd love to share them with our community.