“Introductory Boat Building” or “Buoy, oh Buoy!”

IMG_1385You may or may not believe this, but I ALSO enjoy Kayaking. Maybe as evidenced by the 10′ Pelican sit-in that I have hanging from my wall in the garage. That’s actually my second boat, I had an 8′ before that, and traded up. Myself and Sarah also own a 2-person inflatable unit but that’s hardly worth discussing. That said, I love the water. I work on the water for half the year, I love everything about maritime culture and honestly get land-sick. My heart is on the water, near the water, floating or just breathing the salt air. Honestly, it’s love. It seems only natural, since I have a big ol’ shop to abuse the shit out of it and build myself a boat. I’ve even had people come to me with requests? “Can you build me a canoe?” I then reply, “Sure! Want that strip-built, stitch-and-glue, clinker or something else?”

These are three major forms of woodworking boat-building techniques that I’ll be discussing today. I am, of course, a professional in nothing, I am in fact a compulsive generalist. I MUST try all things at least once, to see if I like the fit. Don’t suppose you’ve noticed that yet? Of course not! Now! Onto it!

1. Stitch-and-Glue

Quite possibly the easiest for beginners, especially since there are a multitude of kits available for purchase (for as much as a grand for an adult single-person boat, ick) and requires the very least amount of skill. For this method, you cut or buy bundles of materials from plywood, each of which will eventually fit together to build the form of a rugged and reliable boat with sharp edges and relatively few curves. Each panel is flat at the start, with holes drilled all along every edge of every irregularly shaped panel. These panels are then bound together, frequently with copper wire because it’s so malleable and easy to work with, or zap-straps as shown, until the whole boat takes shape. You then break away a small area, a few inches across, and apply fibreglass to the gaps. Once the whole thing is stuck together, you can gradually remove the straps/ties/wire and envelope the entire thing in fibreglass sheets, and epoxy the entire thing together. A great way to do the job, though it can be a little tricky for alignment. That’s why you can use dowels to help, like our second image. The dowel helps keep the panels in alignment until the glue sets.

(remember that every image I post is either a photograph that I have taken or contains a link to the original source page.
No thieves here at Widdershins!)

Stitch and glue is a great way to build simple shapes rapidly, and can get pretty intensive when people are professional enough and skilled enough to cut their own prototype shapes and make them work. I’m not quite as well endowed in the hydraulic arts to understand the calculus required to figure out those shapes, but I do enjoy using existing open-source plans!

2. Strip Built

I’ve been booting around the recreational boat-building communities for a LONG time, and the best I’ve EVER seen have been Guillemot Kayaks. This man is a wizard! He even occasionally posts videos of him doing his work, which is where I got the inspiration to do my own. Yes, he makes it look easy. Yes, his boats sell for $3000.00 – $4000.00 and more. Yes he’s been at this longer than I knew it was possible. Doesn’t mean I can’t hurt myself trying, right? (See my safety blog post, don’t hurt yourself trying this).

The idea is really, really simple. You take a STRONG beam, like a spine, and you cut cross-sections at regular distances apart. Those you’d have to get from plans, or guess. Though, I’d use plans. You can make them out of whatever you like, but MDF is usually the go-to material. You slide them into place and use spacers to keep them stable, and now you have a skeleton upon which you can build your boat. Here is where things get a little hairy; everyone does this next series of steps differently. The boards must all run from Stem to Stern, obviously, but do you want to staple them, hot-glue or clamp them into place? Do you want to run them up one side with a seam down the keel, or overlap them like fingers of a box-joint all the way down the bottom, doing starboard side then port, starboard and port, making a lovely zig-zag along the keel. Individuality ALWAYS counts, especially when making works of art like this. For starters, I’d suggest you take it easy and don’t go crazy with it. I can’t promise that I won’t bite off more than I can chew, you know, or SINK the project before it even gets wet, but we’ll see how that goes. My mistakes make for better articles anyway.

I happen to LOVE these. Guillemot Kayaks has used a couple of layers of fibreglass cloth with liquid resin over the outside, and black, heavy ballistic nylon on the inside with more liquid resin. Holy hell, these things can weigh less than a kilo (~2.2lbs) per linear foot, even after such bulletproof protection, since they’re only about 1/8th (~6mm) thick, or even thinner sometimes. The wood, really, is only there to look pretty and hold the fibreglass in place. The glass itself is transparent and the dual-layering technique makes it super-heard. There is a hardwood nose stub in front, and the shape of the bow adds a great deal of strength for collisions. These things won’t fall apart, and where they are hollow and so light already, they naturally sit VERY high in the water, allowing you to carry pretty intense loads when you go long-distances. I want to build a tandem with three cargo compartments in mine, for sea-going work. It’ll be between 24′ and 28′ (~7.3m – 8.5m) long, but meant for ocean-going. Will have a slightly more pronounced keel, and designed for two people and cargo, or one person and a LOT of cargo. There are many wonderful islands in this part of Newfoundland that I intend to visit with Sarah.

3. Clinker/Carvel

The final method, which is a little more of a classical style, is known as Clinker (also known as lapstrake), and Carvel is a similar method to Clinker when contrasted with the first two methods, but the two are distinctly different culturally. Clinker is a viking longboat construction involving overlapping boards attached to heavy beams, whereas Carvel is edge-butted boards similar to larger masted boats because of it’s inherent strength.

I’m not as well versed in either of these two methods, but I am intrigued by them. Not for any reasons HBO would be interested in, but because the Vikings settled my home over 500 years before it was discovered by other Europeans. These salty lads spent WEEKS in a boat similar to the one pictured left, using a tent to harvest rainwater, sailing to Iceland, then Greenland, then possibly labrador and then heading south to L’Anse_aux_Meadows. Seriously! This place is about a 90 minute drive from where I’m living. THAT’S INTENSE! I would love to get a handle on that history by building one of these boats and donating it to the Parks Canada heritage site. I think that’d be surreal.

Alternatively, I could learn the method used by MY ancestors, the fishers and farmers of Newfoundland as settled by the English, French, Scottish, Irish, Spanish, Portuguese, Germans and others. Yeah, most of us are mutts.

The image here was a familiar sight to my ancestors, a fisherman with two Halibut in his boat, either of those could be close to 100lb (~45kg) that this man had to bear into his boat by what is called a hand-line. (This fish is worth about for about $5.50/lb to fishermen these days). I’d LOVE to build a dory and sell/gift/raffle/donate it afterwards, just for the experience. They are rugged little boats, found all over the world, but the “Lark Harbour Dory” is a wider variant, and is distinctly and proudly Newfoundlander in origin. I’m a sucker for history, and I feel that creating it is a huge part of builds our appreciation for what is good and worthy in life, and how hard our ancestors had to claw into the dirt to scrape a living for our forefathers. No one in the first world can understand what it was like in a pioneering world 500 years ago. All we have are stories, and what epic tales I’ve heard.

I’m not a professional, merely a verbose enthusiast. I have a gift for taking vast tracts of information, studying the gaps I discover and regurgitating it in a marginally reasonable fashion. I am explaining what I’ve read, and what seems rational to me in my not inconsiderable woodworking experience. I can explain each step, what challenges are faced, but I have not, NOT done this myself, but I will; and you better count on there being an article written about it.



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