Building a Small Wooden Boat

So you feel you’re ready to build your own small boat. With some standard hand tools and average ingenuity you can do it. You can start out with a simple jon boat or right on up to a cool sailboat, it’s easy with fully detailed plans. But be careful, once you start this rewarding hobby, it’s easy to get hooked.

What to you need to get started? Beyond the average hand tools you need some quality plans and of course, the time and money for the materials. If you want take the easy path, try a typical jon boat. This simple plywood boat can give you a quick, successful project to impress family and friends and get you on the lake right away.

What Material Should I Use?

From the earliest times, wood has been the boat builders friend. Many grades and types are offered, it’s cheap, and it floats. You could use metals or fiberglass however for the home built boat, wood is the most common choice.

If you’re new to boat building stay away from the expensive specialty woods, at least until you feel your projects are worth laying out some big bucks. Once you master some of the unique joinery then go for some of the “fancy wood” but at first keep it simple.

What Type Should I Start With?

Many boat designs can be best built with plywood. Both hulls and decks, the largest sections of your boat, work easier with ply-panels. Even if you choose one of the more traditional hull designs you can still save time with plywood frames.

Master boat builders of the past used many types of “skins” for the hull. The “chine” type resulted in a more or less smooth hull as boards are placed flush over the frames, joined tightly with oiled string packed into any remaining gaps and then painted over.

The “Viking” hull is where the planks are lapped over the preceding board, not flush but with a bevel planned into each plank for a tight fit. Iron nails or copper rivets fix each plank together at the lap.

Canoe builders sometimes use narrow strips of wood bent around the frames and glued to each other. This process can easily be used on any boat project with sharp curves. Once the glue has set the surface can be sanded to smooth flowing curves. Thin wood veneers can also be used this way, building up to the proper thickness.