Large boats take longer to build than small ones—a lot longer. Before taking the plunge it pays to be realistic about resources of time, energy and money. As a general rule it is inadvisable to tackle projects much over 30 feet single-handed, unless the builder is either very experienced or prepared to hire help. Life is too short, your marriage too precious.
Fortunately, most of the designs presented here fall below that ceiling and there is certainly no need to feel deprived. A small boat will do as much—in many ways more—than a big boat. Furthermore, there is a completeness and intensity of experience found in small boat-building that is rarely felt with the larger projects where simple relief at getting through is often the lingering emotion.
My experience is that traditional techniques—carvel and clinker on bent frames—offer far greater enjoyment at the building stage than any of the glued methods. In addition, building time is likely to be less.
The skill level is higher than other forms of construction, but much of that skill is technique and know-how rather than additional manual dexterity. We are fortunate to live in a time when the secrets of the boatbuilder’s trade are revealed in countless books and magazine articles for those willing to research them.
Glued construction allows us to build structures that are lighter and stiffer than their conventional counterparts. It has the added advantage of more readily available materials and less critical fits. However, it also means working with toxic material while wearing latex gloves, and frequently a respirator. It means tool handles, tea mugs and telephones caked in epoxy, shavings that should not be burnt in the shop stove, and inevitably, a reluctance to involve your children. This will detract from the experience. If I were building for pleasure, I would go traditional every time.
Wherever possible I encourage the use of local materials. There are very few places, on this continent at least, where one cannot scare up enough wood to build a small boat. Knowing where the wood comes from and being involved in the conversion and seasoning adds a dimension to your project, and will connect you directly to boatbuilders in your area past and present. It might also encourage responsible timber management practices—one can hope.
If you can, avoid tropical hardwood. I have sufficient on my conscience already. If it is unavoidable, look for wood from sustainable sources. The same applies to plywood.
Every professional knows that building the boat is the easy part; correctly estimating man-hours and material cost is the real challenge. While the home builder is not held to account in the same way, it is still very important to have some measure of the scale of the job before you start. The building hours quoted with each design are either actual hours taken from the time sheets in the case of boats we have built here, or are estimates I would use for costing in our shop. Some builders may be faster; those with less experience will require longer.
This is a tricky one to nail down, but by giving a skill rating to each plan, the intention is to give some idea of the relative difficulty of the designs as building projects. You will note that the skill levels given are independent of boat size. Some of the most exacting projects are the small clinker dinghies.
Basic level designs require basic woodworking skills—the ability to sharpen tools and make things fit—but little or no experience with boat building is necessary. While the plans provide all the information required, they do not necessarily detail procedure. It is assumed that you have access to reference books on the subject. Basic designs will require lofting the drawings to obtain full-size patterns, building a level base, and setting up molds accurately.
Intermediate level plans require some additional techniques of bending and fairing, some spiling, etc. Most boats of glued construction fall into this category.
High level plans require the full range of boatbuilding skills: laying out plank rabbets, steam bending frames, lining out planking, and so forth. As mentioned above, these are less skills of manual dexterity than knowledge of procedures, so don’t be put off. If you have good woodworking ability and are prepared to do the background reading, they are within your reach and will prove among the most rewarding.
Along with plan purchase comes backup advice as needed. If you have questions after going over the drawings, or run into snags as you go along, I will do my best to answer them. Telephone or e-mail are the best means for doing this.
Finally, if you don’t find what you are looking for here, let us know. There is more material in the files, new designs in the pipeline, and I am always looking for new ideas to explore.