5 Professional Boatbuilding Shortcuts that Don’t Sacrifice Quality

Anticipation is the enemy of many boat builders. From novices to experienced pros, the excitement of finally sailing the vessel they’ve been building for weeks or months can get the best of them. This can lead to making mistakes that might impede their success.

But there are ways to cut some time from your construction schedule without hampering the end results. As a matter of fact, I have 5 shortcuts that will let you finish your project earlier than you thought, without causing any heartache.

Shortcut #1 – Minimal Space for Maximum Efficiency

Bigger is not always better. This holds true when it comes to boatbuilding workshops. While the tendency is to create a workplace that is large and sprawling, just the opposite can be what you actually need.

Unless you plan on building boats on a regular basis, you can follow in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before you and create a small workshop. A garage or shed, a tent, some PVC pipe with tarps draped over it… all are standards when it comes to boat work areas. All you really need is enough space for the finished boat, plus a few feet around the perimeter for walking, working and moving about.

Shortcut #2 – Plastic Makes the Best Fillets

Sure, there is a special tool for making fillets, but it requires some getting used to. In addition, you’ll need some patience while you’re mastering the art of fillet making. One of my favorite shortcuts involves using plain old plastic spoons to make fillets.

Use the back of the spoon to make the curved shape of your fillet. Plastic spoons are sturdy enough to handle the thick epoxy, durable enough to stand up to the resin without dissolving and make cleanup easier than you could imagine.

Shortcut #3 – Disposable Lofting Is Smart

Once you start transferring the dimensions from your boat plans to the plywood, you’ll want to make sure you stay neat, clean and organized. Getting measurements mixed up or forgetting whether you’ve already transferred some measurements can lead to disaster.

Buying downloadable boat plans is the way to go. Once one set gets cluttered with notes and markings, simply throw it away and print a clean set. Nothing could be easier.

Shortcut #4 – Know What Could Go Wrong, So You Can Do It Right

When building a boat, you should always be looking ahead. Read instructions (such as those for the epoxy you’ll use), go through processes (like fillet making) mentally or actually try it on scrap wood. These save you time in the long run because they allow you to encounter the hazards that might happen before you actually begin attempting the steps on your boat.

Shortcut #5 – Check Your Temperature

Many problems with epoxy are due to having an incorrect temperature in your workspace. You’ll want your workshop to maintain a constant temperature between 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) and 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). This way, most epoxy products will work as they should.

If need be, plan the phases of your boatbuilding project so your use of epoxy will fall during seasons that have temperature ranges compatible with the product you’re using.

By implementing these 5 shortcuts, you’ll find you can shave a bit of time off of the total project. That means you can set sail sooner with full confidence that you’ve built a top-quality vessel.

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Master Boat Builder and Naval Architect

10 Secret wood joining tips

When talking stitch and glue boat building wood joining are often done with fiberglass and epoxy. This wood joining method is really excellent and flexible for many types of wood joining jobs like joining hull panels, frames etc.

However for some jobs we prefer other more traditional and old fashion types of wood joints. This is specially the case when working on yachts and small boats superstructure and interior.

The post is about the different wood connections and how to make them.

Let us start with methods for joining wood boards edge to edge. The most simple is to glue the boards together. This requires the edges to be newly machined and level. However when you have obtained this the joining method is really useful and when using the right glue also strong and durable.

Another common way to joint two boards is using tongue and groove. This method does not require as much care and in most lumber stores you can buy the boards ready made for assembly.

One variant of the tongue and groove joint often used in boat building is where the two edges both have grooves and they are then assembled using a loose tongue. This method is especially useful when the boards don’t have straight edges like dunnage made of plywood sheets.

Beside joining boards edge to edge you often want to join wood corner to corner like in picture frames etc. When talking this kind of wood joints there are also several different kinds of joints to use.

First and most simple is the miter. Even though this joint is widely used in many applications it is a joint not really interesting in boat building. The joint is weak and does not have any structural integrity, so beside the picture frame for the owners picture on board it is not used.

Now if joining two wood pieces corner to corner is necessary there are some other techniques you can use. First there is a method you can call split joint. Here you half the two pieces before joining.

Another method is to make a slot joint where one piece has a tap and the other has a slot. An important issue here is to make the joint with the right proportions so it get as strong as possible. The proportions should be 3-4-3 as shown on the figure below.

An interesting and useful variant of the tap and slot joint is one where the slot is replaced with a hole. This joint is a real decorative and strong connection. It is important to make room for the glue when making this kind of joints.

Beside joining boards like in picture frames you can also joint the boards like in a box. This is often used when making superstructure like cabin sides or cockpit sides. An important issue when joining the wood boards this way is to protect the end surfaces from weathering.

As you can see from the illustration not all end surfaces are protected. If you want that and believe me in the long run you want, you will need another method for joining the camin or cockpit sides.

The above illustrated method for joining the wood boards is really great when you want a durable, nice and strong joint. Here you also have the advantage of being able to make nice round corners without loosing strength in the connection.

One last connection in relation with the joints here is one that I can’t recommend using outside. This connection is mostly used when making drawers and it does not protect the end surfaces. Therefore it is a joining method only suitable for interior use. The method is widely used in industrial products because it is easy to make on machines and easy to use on uniform items.

This was a short list of some of the wood joining method used in boat building. Most of the methods have roots within carpentry and are as such developed during generations but some are developed especially for boat building and ensure nice and long lasting wood joints proven in generations.

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Master Boat Builder and Naval Architect

15′ Daytrip canoe maiden voyage and stability test

I got an email the other day, honestly I get a lot of email every day, but this one was special 🙂

It was from Rolando Perez who has build the 15′ Daytrip canoe from the free plans available. Rolando was impressed by the performance and it exceeded his expectations.

Rolando did a video of his maiden voyage with the canoe. Check it out here:

And here:

Rolando also did a stability test and made a video of the test. That’s really interesting to see how much the canoe can take before capsizing. Enjoy 🙂

Read more about the 15′ Daytrip canoe and buy the boat plans here:

Boat plans for the 15′ Daytrip canoe

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Master Boat Builder and Naval Architect

17′ Picnic barge being built

I have written about Marcel and his Picnic Barge before. Marcel from Holland is now close to being finished with the 17′ Picnic barge. Marcel has done a great job with the boat and we are all looking forward to the launching.

Check out the great pictures here:

Read more about the 17′ Picnic barge and buy the boat plans here:

Boat plans for the 17′ Picnic barge

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Master Boat Builder and Naval Architect

5 Common Mistakes that Can Ruin Your Boatbuilding Project

The decision to build your own boat is a big one. Even if the craft you’re constructing is small, the project itself can be quite an undertaking. Excited as you may be, when you set out to build a boat, the chances of making mistakes that can ruin your vessel are much greater than with someone who has some experience under their belt.

Learning from others’ mistakes is an excellent way to prepare yourself and ensure that your endeavor goes smoothly. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of common mistakes that have been known to ruin the boatbuilding projects of novices. Read carefully and you might just save yourself a lot of frustration.

Mistake #1 – Buying Lower-Quality Boat Plans

As a pattern is to sewing, so boat plans are to boatbuilding. In essence, they are the boat. If you choose boat plans that were not expertly created or that have less-than-clear instructions, you’re pretty much doomed from the start.

In addition to plans that are drawn by an expert with naval experience, you’ll want to purchase ones that include step-by-step instructions. If you’re a novice, you will particularly want additional boatbuilding information to accompany your instructions.

Three-dimensional (3-D) computer models are an enormous help because they allow you to rotate, view cut sections, pan, zoom and more. But most importantly is having direct contact with the designer her/himself. If you get stuck, you’ll have a way to receive expert guidance.

Mistake #2 – Planning Ahead

Many boatbuilding projects are abandoned by beginners who have made mistakes early on and had no idea how to correct them. If they had given due diligence to prior planning, they would have known what to look for to avoid the mishap to begin with.

Don’t neglect the planning phase of your project. Taking a moment to mentally walk through everything you will need to do from beginning to end can save you a great deal of time.

Mistake #3 – Not Adequately Equipping Your Workspace

Once you’ve finished mentally reviewing the project, you’ll want to turn your attention to creating and equipping your workspace. Without enough space, the proper tools, the right materials and the correct climate, you’re likely to struggle to complete your undertaking.

Mistake #4 – Neglecting to Use Epoxy as Directed

Epoxy can be temperamental to deal with. If it gets too hot or too cold, it simply won’t function as it should. You’ll be left with joints and seams that don’t adhere to one another, resulting in leaks later on.

Fully read the instruction manual that comes with the epoxy you’ve chosen. Mixing it properly and using it as the manufacturer suggests can be the difference between a boat that floats and one that quickly becomes waterlogged.

Mistake #5 – Underestimating the Cost

As you’re shopping for boat plans, collecting information and planning, don’t forget to calculate the cost involved in building your own boat. The final price will depend on several factors, but, on average, a canoe will likely run about $300 US. A rowboat, perhaps $450 US. A 19-foot pram could cost around $800 US, while a tugboat might run $15,000 US.

Understanding what causes others to fail will give you a head start on success. Rather than jumping straight into boatbuilding, take your time. If you learn from the 5 mistakes listed above, your project will be an enjoyable one that results in a craft you’ll be proud to sail.

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Master Boat Builder and Naval Architect

14’ Motor dinghy being build in Australia

Paul Nelson from Australia is building a 14’ Motor dinghy. Paul is doing a modified version with no interior structures like steering console or seats. Paul likes the interior simple.

Check out some of Paul’s pictures here:

Since Paul is building his boat in Australia he has to fit a builders plate with information about the boat.

I have helped Paul with the different pieces of information that has to be present on the builders plate. If you are a builder from Australia I will of course also be able to help you with the information for your boat.

Read more about the 14’ Motor dinghy and buy the boat plans here:

Boat plans for the 14’ Motor dinghy

Happy boat building,

Morten Olesen, Master Boat Builder and Naval Architect