Help me plan to build a boat
November 20, 2009 12:29 AM   Subscribe

Help me think about and plan boat building.

For many years I've been troubled by the odd and inexplicable ambition to build, launch, and sail my own wooden trailable yacht. A smallish one, one that could be lifted out of the water by a few people and stored in a backyard, yet big enough to carry one or two people and dinner and sleeping bags.

I'd like to do it for the satisfaction of building almost as much as for the concrete object.

I have joined a Club on Sydney Harbour a bus ride away from where I live and I am taking beginner's sailing classes. They're excellent, and I think I'm learning—but I'm almost entirely ignorant about how one would go about budgeting for, planning out, buying materials for, constructing, testing and sailing one's own boat.

My wood- and metalworking experience is that of faffing about with my high school's clapped out drills in year 9 of high school (although I did get high marks in it). I am a 29 year old white-collar university-educated bureaucrat, though for various reasons my job security is at best marginal. I live in a rented two bedroom flat without even a verandah let alone a garage or shed for constructing things. I have in the past taken on very long-term projects and completed them, but they've been mainly intellectual not concrete in nature, and I'm stumped as to where even to start. I'm happy to read lots of books. I just don't know what they are.

I'm in no hurry, and the timeframe I have in mind is "before I die". Help this cut-price Noah: what would be the first step towards boatbuilding?
posted by Fiasco da Gama to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There is heaps of boat building stuff online- my Dad is a prospective boat builder.

here is a brain dump of keywords for you to google. :)

John Welsford (Kiwi dude, designs boats.) (also has a yahoo group)
Sweet Pea (small cabined boat design)
Duckworks (another boat building site, has forums)
Navigator (no cabin, trailer sailer)
posted by titanium_geek at 12:46 AM on November 20, 2009

I've been struck by the same thing as have a couple of my friends. (Mind you my friends and I are/were in the building trades). In the course of my wandering about with this idea I bought these books which I found deeply soothing:

Building Small Boats

Building Classic Small Craft


That last link goes to the Woodenboat Store which is based in Connecticut in the US, but is still a good resource.

I would think with a bit of poking around you could find a boat-building class - in the US there are a few on either coast. Australia I couldn't say.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:58 AM on November 20, 2009

Start small. Don't go full out from the get-go and try to build your dream boat (simple though that dream may be). HH Payson sells a number of plans for small boats designed by Phil Bolger and a couple books that give fairly detailed construction instructions. You can build a nice little sub-8ft sailboat for a few hundred dollars and then move on to the bigger project of your yacht when you are ready (also, an 8ft boat will be much easier to build in your flat, if you want to build at home). Duckworks also sells plans and has some useful information. The Bolger designs are great for a first boat though, because they have been built many times before, so you won't run into too many surprises and you'll be able to find a lot of information online from other builders online. The books cover tools, materials, and pretty much everything you need to know, though some of the information can be a bit dated.

So, your first step is to order Payson's books from the library, pick a design for a small boat and then order the appropriate plans and book. Then get yourself some tools, some plywood, and get building. And if you really want to, you can camp out in one of these sub-8ft boats.
posted by ssg at 1:08 AM on November 20, 2009

Ask around at your sailing club - particularly amongst older members - to see if you can establish contacts with people who have also built their own boats. In my corner of Scotland people traditionally enjoyed building boats but had little money to throw around; the majority of racing dinghies in many clubs were those that people had build themselves until comparatively recently. Some examples on this page. Many are still around and attempts are being made to revive the art. By sharing the building job around a whole sailing club the construction task could be made a bit less daunting and costs could be reduced. By giving everybody the same design people would get a vessel which was tried and tested - and which could be raced as part of a fleet.
posted by rongorongo at 1:18 AM on November 20, 2009 and are the two other boatbuilding-related pages i've saved to
posted by rmd1023 at 3:51 AM on November 20, 2009

oh, and, too.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:53 AM on November 20, 2009

Some cities have woodworking co-ops you can join and have access to tools that would be very expensive for one person to buy.
posted by Daddy-O at 4:55 AM on November 20, 2009

Seconding Harold "Dynamite" Payson for a good place to start. Simple, very useful boats out of plywood, some of which are very beautiful ( is, at least, the Gloucester Light Dory). Definitely start small. Even with something crude. Payson's boats are all designed by the late Phil Bolger, who made a boat called "Brick" which looks about the same but would be a great first project.

Also you should definitely be subscribing to Woodenboat magazine. Definitely definitely. And if you keep an eye out, you can often find someone who's offloading an entire collection or some part thereof of the magazines back issues, which are so excellent you can't even imagine it. One of the best publications about anything, ever. Seriously.
posted by sully75 at 5:07 AM on November 20, 2009

Selway Fisher Design are based in the UK but he's got happy builders all over the globe, including me. He's great at answering questions via email and there's loads of information on his site.

The plans and instructions are excellent - better than Bolger/Payson equivalents. You can start simple and not need many tools (and cheap ones will do).

Start with one of his canoes. One of these will let you learn the basics of working with ply.

Then you can move to boats and work up and up and up.
posted by dowcrag at 5:11 AM on November 20, 2009

I am smitten with a similar bug - furniture making. Books never helped and my early attempts on my own resulted in crooked and mashed up pieces that only my kids could love. My big breakthrough came when I attended a furniture making school and learned the fundamentals of working with wood. Grain, types of wood, how to sharpen tools, getting things square and flat, how to determine a 'cut list' of wood I'd need for a project, drafting and lofting a piece of work, shop safety, power tools, hand tools, and so forth. Getting a bit of sawdust under my fingernails and in my pockets was an epiphany and I've never looked back. I now have a shop of my own and a waiting list of people and projects. I'd look for a wooden boat building school either in your country or elsewhere, such as this one.
posted by birdwatcher at 5:30 AM on November 20, 2009

This isn't an answer, but man, I hear you. You will love this book about one lunatic's sail across the Atlantic in a homemade 13.5' dinghy. Robert Manry lived across the street from my mom when she was a kid and was quite the eccentric.

Oh, and plans for the Tinkerbelle are available! Check out
posted by paanta at 7:42 AM on November 20, 2009

Here's a program in Adelaide and another one in Tasmania.
posted by mareli at 7:42 AM on November 20, 2009

First, a reality check: it will take longer and cost more to build a boat than to buy a used one. When you finish, your homebuilt boat will probably be worth less than what you spent on the materials, if you can sell it at all. If what you really want is a boat to sail in, shop for a used fiberglass boat.

However, if what you want to do is BUILD a boat, then dive in. You can do it; it's not that hard, though it will take some persistence. You'll make mistakes along the way, but remember: it's not a f#@k up if you can fix it.

As mentioned above, John Welsford is a fantastic boat designer with several designs that fit your criteria. He's also tremendously accessible to amateur boatbuilders. He's also written a book on amateur boatbuilding, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. You couldn't go wrong with one of his boats.

You might also look up Jim Michalak, who did some work with Phil Bolger and has similarly simple and unconventional designs. He's also written a book on amateur boatbuilding and has designs that would fit your criteria. Michalak is also accessible to boatbuilders (and prospective boatbuilders) via email. His designs are also simpler to build than Welsford's.

Finally, Gavin Atkin has a book called Ultrasimple Boatbuilding that has instructions for several construction methods and plans for a few small boats. It also has descriptions of plans by a variety of deisgners, including Michalak and Welsford.

As mentioned above, Duckworks is a good resource for boatbuilding inspiration and advice.

As far as costs and budgeting, the first thing to realize is that if you build a sailboat, about half the work and half the expense will be consumed by the sailing rig, and about half by the boat hull.

I built a small sailboat a few years ago. I built it in my driveway, and it took me about a year, working a little bit on the weekends. By my calculations, I spent about US$1500 on the project. (My wife's estimate, on the other hand, is about double that).
posted by fogovonslack at 8:22 AM on November 20, 2009

Please look at dix design
posted by jannw at 9:02 AM on November 20, 2009

Plans for simple plywood boats (a post I made a couple years ago) has a link to Hannu's Boatyard with free plans for very simple boats, and the thread has links to other places.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:20 PM on November 21, 2009

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