Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bottoms up!

I recently got the bottom cut and fit on the Pirogue. It was quite a fun process to see the woodworking wrap up on this project. I traced the sides down to the bottom and cut it wide. Then after getting it attached I sanded everything tight and got ready for epoxy and fiberglass.

First I added the gunwales along the top

rear view with gunwales

Then added outside chines along the bottom. Those didn't glue up quite as well but did eventually sand smooth

The bottom cutout required a butt joint

My wife fell asleep back there

Initial dry fit

Bottom is attached!

All glued up and ready to sand
In my last post, the sides went up, but they didn't really attach to the stern very cleanly, so I'll have to sand that down later. I took a 1x8 white pine board and cut it up into 3/4" wide strips with angles to make the chines and gunwales next. They had to be attached first so I could get a final size for the bottom.

Tracing the bottom ended up being a two person job, I had to get one of the kids to trace it while I held down the curved bottom of the boat to the plywood. Hey, finally getting the kids involved! I traced the line a bit wide, then cut it even wider than that. Centered a 1x4 strap along the butt joint, glued and nailed it tight.

Attaching the bottom was straightforward. Glue and screws into the chine boards. I had to rack the frame a bit to make it fit the bottom exactly, hoping that won't cause any trouble in the finished product. After the final sanding on the bottom, it's time to finally bust out the epoxy! I'm only going to use fiberglass tape on the seams.

Epoxy & fiberglass marks the first part of the process that I'm really not familiar with. Curious to see how this sticky mess is going to turn out!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Let there be sides!

Now that I've got the strongback built, it becomes the work surface for all of the plywood. Having a plan that only requires two sheets of 1/4" plywood means I can lay out the entire boat in one shot. This design is the easiest boat in the book to build, so easy that a father/son team could build it in a weekend. Well, let's see how far I can get.

ok this already has the sides cutout. I got a bit excited.
So both pieces of plywood lay out on the strongback, and I marked each foot then drew out the sides according to the plans. The sides had to be exact mirror images of each other, so I measured and cut one side, then flipped it over and cut the other side. I marked the bulkheads on the first side, but forgot on the other.

All 4 pieces of the sides leaning against the shed
Then I cut out the plywood for the bulkheads and backed them with the 1x3 pine. Also cutout the transom and backed it by pine, and made the center temporary form out of 1x4 pine. Then it's time to butt joint the sides and attach them to the bulkheads.

butt joints coming together for the sides

This glueup took a while

Attached the sides to the bulkheads and transom
 So the front is not attached there. I still have to build the stern piece and attach it. After the sides were joined I attached them to the bulkheads. You can also see in the bottom pic how I framed out the back of the bulkheads with the 1x3 pine. Again the plans had all of the dimensions for these pieces. The rise on the sides went from about 8 3/8" up to about 11" so it's not exactly a complex arc. But this? This looks like a boat now. An actual boat. I'm getting excited now.

Next I have to cut the 1x8 pine board up into 3/4" angle pieces to make the chine boards and gunwales, then I can cut the bottom out of the plywood. The deck plates also get scribed as well as the hatches from the scrap plywood. After that it's all sanding and finishing. Progress!!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Don't call it a comeback!

Actually I wanted to call this one "don't call it a strongback", but it is called a strongback! A strongback is a stabilizing component for boatbuilding. It looks like a ladder but serves as a platform for the plywood or a form to attach the stations to.

First, I had to get supplies. After some careful planning, I decided to rent the truck at Lowe's and get all of the supplies that I could for the known projects. At $21 to rent the truck, I can get that as often as I want to without exceeding the cost of buying a truck, but I still wanted to be efficient with my rental dollars. Here's the haul:

in my shop, plywood and lumber
I ended up being short by two 2x4's. I got the following list of supplies:

  • 1 3/4" plywood for the strongback
  • 1 5/8" plywood for the strongback
  • 2 5/8" plywood for the canoe forms
  • 2 1/4" plywood for the pirogue
  • 5 (should have been 7) 2x4's for the strongback
  • 1 1x8 pine
  • 1 1x3 pine
  • 2 1x4 pine all for the pirogue
Building a strongback

To put together a strongback, start by cutting the 2x4's into 18" sections. The most solid designs start out with laminating plywood strips. Pick the overall length of your strongback, and cut the plywood 5 1/2" wide. I wanted 2 layers, a 5/8" thick and 3/4" thick setup screwed together to get to 20' long. This meant I needed 5 strips of each thickness (with one cut in half) and 14 of the 18" 2x4 pieces. Making the strips 5 1/2" long leaves enough height to add stabilizers on top. Place the 2x4's spaced exactly 18" apart, then flip the whole thing over and put more 2x4's spaced 20" apart. 18" and 20" are the most common spacings for the canoe stations.

Cutup plywood and 2x4's

First side of the strongback, 18" apart


I nailed through the thinner piece of plywood with framing nails, then used 1 1/4" exterior screws to attach the outside plywood strips. I cut one strip of each thickness in half, so each side had two 8' sections and one 4' section. By the time everything overlapped it became extremely stable, even with only one side of the 2x4's in place. Now flip it upside down.

added the stabilizers


added more 2x4's spaced 20" apart on the top side

I wear a bunch of red shirts. these pics are about a week apart.
This thing is a real workhorse. A good solid strongback provides a platform for all of the other boat building activities. Most people are not going to build a canoe longer than 20', so I figured that would be long enough for me. I can layout a couple of sheets of plywood on there for the pirogue, and it will hold the stations for the canoe. It's a reusable component that will serve me well for many boats to come.

Up next, it's time to start making the Piragua!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ok, make the second choice

Sometimes you can really get in your own way with too much planning. I picked up another book to start off, Building a Strip Canoe by Gil Gilpatrick. This was a thoroughly engaging read, really enjoyed it.


I think after I finish the Piragua, I think I'll work up a canoe next. It's a classic woodworking project, and this book includes plans for 9 different canoes. The value of the book comes in explaining the technique to build them.

Start by building a strongback, then attach the stations, then form the hull over the stations. Glass and finish the outside, then flip it and remove the stations. Glass and finish the inside, add the woodwork, seats, yoke, gunwales, and finish it. Pretty straightforward, right? You need to read the book for more details. It's really fantastic.

I think I'm actually going to start with the strongback. It's going to be an easy, long way to create a work space for the plywood & forms for the Piragua. Last weekend we ended up shortening our family vacation by a day, so I took the opportunity to rent a truck from lowe's and pick up all of the plywood & lumber I'd need to build the strongback, piragua, and stations for a canoe.


Time to start making sawdust!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Make the first choice

Picking your first boat to build is not an easy choice. I decided to start from the very beginning with the easiest plywood boat I could possibly find and doing research before that even started.


Boatbuilding for Beginners and Beyond is a really thorough place to start. I thoroughly enjoyed learning the starting technique for building instant boats. Jim goes through the basics of boat construction techniques and explains how to build the Mayfly, a 14' sailboat. The book also includes the plans for several other boats.

Think I'm going to start with the Piragua, a double rowboat. Plans are included in the book. It takes two sheets of 1/4" exterior grade plywood plus some extra stuff that's already on order. I get to try epoxy and fiberglass tape for the first time, but I'm not going to glass the entire bottom of the boat. This one seems small and easy to pull together and is supposed to be a great first boat to build.

I would actually like to build the Mayfly as well someday, and learn how to sail. But this is seems like the right place to start.

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Welcome to step one!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

First Attempt

Hi, I'm John and I've never built a wooden boat before but I've always wanted to try. In college, roughly 20 years ago, I started developing some basic woodworking skills around furniture building and cabinetry. Eventually after I got married and bought a house I started doing more home repair and construction there. Building decks and storage buildings, screened in porches, all kinds of fun.

In the meantime, my other hobbies came and went. We had two kids, I started a business, I sold the business, then I and they started to age. After the kids were born and the business was gone, I was very overweight and had been a pack a day smoker for 15 years. I went full health nut, dropping 70 lbs and the cigs, completing 24 marathons including 3 full ironman triathlons and a bunch of trail ultramarathons (longest was 75 miles in 21:30) and I'm doing the "full marathon in all 50 states" challenge as well. My training has had a 9 year run on my other blog if you want to check it out.

I still want to finish the 50 state challenge (11 down with 3 more planned for this year) but right now I can't run at all. My last marathon was 5 months ago. It ended with some pain in my right foot that was brought on by inflammation and overuse. This pain had been around for a few weeks before that marathon as well, so I knew I would have to deal with it later. Rest and reducing how much I ran didn't help, I could not run and be in pain, or run and still be no worse off so I got the minimal miles in to still keep my sanity.

See, my personality dictates that I have some kind of overwhelming "thing" that I can pour 110% of my time and effort into. I love to learn and grow, so there has to be something that I can learn in my life at all times. When I played golf I wanted to play every day and spent hours reading and adjusting my stroke. When I got into triathlon I learned about nutrition, training techniques, recovery importance. I didn't just want to do one triathlon or one marathon. When I did one marathon I wanted to do 100. When I got into trail running I wanted to do 100 mile ultramarathons.

It's my zen time. My meditation, how I deal with stress. My time to solve problems and make decisions. The kids know if I go 2 days without a workout I get very snappy and unpleasant to be around. I can still swim but thanks to a stressful (but overall fun) job I don't get in the water as often as I should. If I really can't run anymore, or can't run at the frequency (now that I'm in my 40's) that I need to finish 6+ marathons every year, I need to find a new hobby.

Boatbuilding has a lot of appeal. It's not just interesting woodworking in a classic format, but the intricacy of the designs that I can really throw myself into. I've always wanted to learn how to sail as well. So maybe I'll build a boat and sail off in it. I've got the space, the resources, and the time for it. I just hope my family has the patience.

Cheers to my next adventure!