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Frequently Asked Boatbuilding Questions Answered by a Master Boat Builder

By Morten Olesen 2012, All Rights Reserved

When you begin building your own boat, the questions seem to come at every turn. If this is your first attempt at boatbuilding, you probably have a longer list than most. It's always helpful to have the ear of a professional to guide your steps and keep you on track.

Take a minute to look through this Q&A session with Master Boat Builder Morten Olesen. It's sure to shed a little light on some of those questionable areas.

"How do I stitch and glue plywood?"

Morten: The stitch-and-glue building method is quite popular with hobbyists and amateurs. The reason is that the method is easy to use and it makes the construction process fast.

When you build a plywood boat, the hull side and bottom meet at the chine. At this chine seam small holes are drilled and the side and bottom are stitched together with either metal wire or cable ties.

After the stitching, the chine seam is glued with epoxy thickened with wood floor or another suitable filler. After the gluing, it's normal to apply some fiberglass tape over the seam to reinforce the joint between the side and bottom.

"What is strip plank?"

Morten: Strip plank is a building method normally used for canoes and kayaks. When building with strip planks you glue together long slender wooden strips over a skeletal frame or template that has the desired hull shape.

Once all the strips are assembled the hull is faired and covered outside and inside with fiberglass fabric and epoxy resin.

"What kind of plywood do I need to build my boat from?"

There are 3 kinds of plywood: interior, exterior and marine. There are also many grades of plywood which can be found at your local lumberyard. I normally recommend - as a minimum - using exterior plywood. However marine plywood is normally much nicer and is preferred when you want to construct a boat that will be varnished.

Never use interior plywood on a boat. The difference between exterior and marine plywood is the quality and soundness. Both are made using waterproof glues. The primary concern is the inclusion of interior and surface voids. These can make your plywood more fragile and prone to breakage.

In the bow, the bottom and any places where the stitch-and-glue method (described above) is used, you'll want to work with marine plywood. Most other areas of the boat could be built from exterior-grades.

"Lumber is really expensive. What type do you recommend for the frame of my boat?"

One good choice is fir. You'll want it dense enough to hold a screw tight. Look for fir that has a clear grain and as few splints or knotholes as possible. If fir is too expensive for your budget, look to treated pine.

The same lumber used for decking material would be suitable for framing a boat. Just as with the fir, look for pieces with as few knotholes as possible. Pine isn't pretty, but if it's for the frame (which won't be seen) or is going to be painted, appearance won't matter nearly as much as structural integrity.

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Morten Olesen, Naval Architect/Owner - Hyldvej 1A - DK-4540 Farevejle - Denmark

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