Can I really build one of your boats?
I am sure that you can, if you put your
mind to it. Certainly, there are simpler boats to build. However,
the Sand Dollar, Laughing Gull, and Grace’s Tender are very
suitable projects for the first-time builder. The Penobscots and
the bigger boats are more challenging, but even these have been
built by complete novices.
Bear a couple of things in mind as you choose your project. One, don’t assume that clunky-looking means easy to build. There is no reason that a boat with nice lines is going to be more challenging to build. Simple construction comes from a designer’s familiarity with his materials, and his ability to use them to their best advantage.
Secondly, look at what the plans package contains. Are there detailed construction drawings, showing the boat at successive stages of construction? Full size details of crucial joints? Are there full size patterns, and what are they printed on? Paper patterns are notoriously inaccurate and frustrating to use. What about instructions? Is there a detailed building manual? What about back-up? Can you get help from someone who knows the boat, when you need it?
That’s all very well, but what if I have never done any woodworking at all?
I believe that more important than prior experience, is having faith in your ability to stick with a project, solve problems as you go along, and carry it through to a successful conclusion. If you keep at it, you will get there. The learning curve may be steep at first, but as you progress you will gain confidence, and what may have seemed daunting at first, will soon be quite straightforward. I can tell you that many builders are rather intimidated by what they have taken on to start with (and may need quite a lot of guidance), but they soon realize that they can indeed do this, and when they are done, they are immensely proud of what they have achieved.
How long will it take?
Now you’re asking! This is the hardest question to answer – there can be a huge difference from one builder to another in how much time they need to build a particular design. I don’t usually give estimates in hours – it’s just not realistic. I prefer to say that you will need maybe three months of spare time work to build a Sand Dollar, for example. I always recommend however, that rather than setting a launching date, which can lead to frustration and rushed, unsatisfactory work, you take your time, and enjoy the project. I understand, of course, that you want to know that you will finish, and that there may be constraints on your time, but if you can take a more relaxed approach to the job, you will get that much more enjoyment from it, and satisfaction when you do finish.
Fair enough, buy your boats seem to take longer to build than those of some other designers? Why?
I think that you should beware of designers who promise that you can finish a boat in a weekend or two. Such claims can be wildly exaggerated, and even if you can finish the woodwork, there is still all the sanding and painting to do, which is pretty much the same for any boat. In general, the end result will be a reflection of the time and effort that went into the project. There are a lot of “quick and dirty” boats moldering in backyards, unused and uncared for. If you don’t take pride in your work, you won’t take pride in the end result.
Maybe, but isn’t stitch and glue a quick way to build a boat? Why don’t you design for it?
It’s true, stitch and glue can be
faster than more traditional methods. It’s also true that
you can use it to build a nice-looking boat. However, there can
be a lot of very tedious sanding at the end, if you want a decent
There are a couple of other points that I would make. One is that to make the best use of marine plywood, you have to be able to bend and twist it. You can do this better when there is a solid lumber framework that gives you the ability to use clamps and screws to pull the plywood into shape. You can easily apply a lot more force than with wire ties.
Another is the quality of the building experience itself. For me, drilling holes, twisting wires, and slopping goop is not satisfying work. Making nice joints in wood with saw, plane and chisel is very satisfying.
Many builders of my designs have previously built in stitch and glue. The experience is certainly helpful, if you want to take on a Penobscot, for example. However, I prefer to leave the method to others, who have it well covered.
Your plans seem to be rather expensive. How do you justify the cost?
You can find cheaper plans than mine. Again, look at what you get for your money (See Can I really build one of your boats?, above). As with most things, you get what you pay for. You will be making a commitment of time and money to your boat, and the design and plans are the most important investment in getting it right. Cheap plans may be a very bad bargain.
What is the best way to contact you for a quick response?
I still prefer the phone. If I can talk to you, and ask a few questions of my own, I can usually give a better answer than by e-mail. If you happen to get my answering machine, please leave a message. I am usually not far away, and will respond promptly. I generally check my e-mail twice daily, and respond immediately. I answer all questions myself, so either way you’ll be getting the real McCoy.
I will be working on my boat mostly at weekends. Can I call you then, if I have a question?
What is the best way to contact you for a quick response?
I still prefer the phone. If I can talk to you, and ask a few questions of my own, I can usually give a better answer than by e-mail. If you happen to get my answering machine, please leave a message. I am usually not far away, and will respond promptly. I generally check my e-mail twice daily, and respond immediately.
I’ve heard that epoxy resin prevents wood from breathing. It this true?
Contrary to what you may read, wood does
not breathe. It does absorb and release water vapor in response
to changes in humidity, or when a boat is launched and hauled. This
causes the wood to expand and contract, and is a normal part of
the life of a traditionally built wooden boat. A plank on frame
boat that has been on the hard for a while typically leaks when
launched, and needs time to “take up” as the planking
swells to close the seams and stop the leaks.
This does not apply to a plywood, glued lapstrake, or cold-molded boat. Plywood or cold molded hulls do not move appreciably, so that it becomes desirable to limit moisture cycling. Epoxy resin does this very effectively. This means that joints are not stressed by wood trying to move. Seams remain watertight, and the boat never leaks.
Don’t wooden boats take a lot of maintenance?
Wooden boats tend to get a bad rap on
this score. If neglected, it can take a lot of work to bring a wooden
boat back into good shape. A modern wooden boat, sealed with epoxy
resin before painting or varnishing, needs much less work than one
of traditional plank on frame construction. The epoxy keeps the
wood dry, for much better adhesion of finishes. Water does not penetrate
leaking joints, to cause further damage. A small glued lapstake
boat, sealed with epoxy, and kept under cover when not in use, requires
very little maintenance.
One caveat, however. No wooden boat likes neglect. The key is to repair damage to paintwork or varnish, and particularly to the epoxy film, before deterioration begins. Then it is quick and easy. If you leave it, however, the job may be much harder.
Where will I find good boatbuilding lumber?
The spread of big box lumberyards has
made it harder to find suitable lumber. However, you can still find
it, if you look. Small lumberyards, that are willing to let you
sort through a pile of lumber, are the best bet. They will also
give you better advice, even if they don’t have experience
Fortunately, you don’t have to use traditional boatbuilding lumbers for most of my designs. Particularly in a small boat that is sealed with epoxy, and kept out of the water most of the time when not in use, the durability – rot resistance – of the wood is really not an issue. Decay in wood is caused by fungi that need a very high moisture content, which the wood in such a boat will never reach. Another reason for using epoxy resin.
Most of suppliers of marine plywood also carry boatbuilding lumber.
Can I use exterior grade plywood?
I don’t recommend it. Generally, the quality is poor. Exterior plywood may use the same glue a marine plywood, but in other respects it falls short. The things you need to look for, besides a waterproof glue, are the following:
No core voids. Look at the edges of the sheet. If there are gaps in the interior veneers, the plywood is deficient.
Adequate number of veneers. Quarter inch plywood should have 5 veneers, for example.
Thickness of face veneers. The face veneers are usually thinner than the core veneers, because the sheets are sanded after layup. However, the face veneers should still be thick enough to allow sanding of minor scratches and dings.
No defects in face veneers. There should be no knots or other defects, such as checking, small cracks parallel to the grain, that are caused when the veneer is peeled from the log. Again, you will be investing a significant amount of time and money in your boat. It may become a family heirloom! Saving a few dollars on cheap plywood can be a bad bargain.
What about fir marine plywood?
Again, I don’t recommend it. The quality is not much better than exterior grade.
Can I put an outboard motor on one of your small boats?
You can. You don’t need a lot of power to push one of these boats along, but any one of my small boat designs will take an outboard.
How do you ship your plans?
I use priority mail for both domestic and international shipping for plans and DVDs. This is very reliable and economical. Plans come rolled in a mailing tube – they are not folded. For study packages I use first class mail for domestic shipping, priority mail for international shipping. The drawings in the study packages are folded.
How long after placing my order before I will get the plans?
I ship on the morning following receipt of the order. You should allow 2 – 3 days for shipping within the US. International shipping generally takes about a week to ten days.
What about kits?
These take a bit longer. I usually ask for a couple of weeks to have a kit ready for shipping, although sometimes I have one available for immediate shipping. The plans and DVD are always ready to go, so you can be looking them over, getting materials ready and building your jig, if necessary, while you wait.