It all started with
my desire to build a boat. Here's why. You might also
be wondering why I'm maintaining this website.
Actually, I've built a couple of 'tack and tape' small boats from the Phil
Bolger / Harold Payson collection, but wanted to try something a bit more
ambitious. My ideal boat simply had to be a gaff rigged catboat, very
traditional looking, with outside dimensions of no greater than 15' x 6'6"
(the limits of what I figured I could build and fit in my garage).
Since I'm a rank amateur wood butcher, and NOT an accomplished craftsman, it
was clear that whatever boat I was going to build would have to be
reasonably simple... and, being something of a New England skinflint, I also
wanted it to be relatively cheap.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find any plans that met my specific desires... so
I decided to get brave, and try an idea of my own. Starting with a
'tack and tape' plywood design, I thought that I could convert to a round
bottom by drawing an ellipse for each frame that matched the breadth and
height of the original design.
So, I used my PC to create a set of 1/8 scale templates of my idea, and
built a model (by gluing the templates to some foam core board, and cutting
out the frames with an Xacto knife) that proved that the idea would work!
So, I developed my plan. The Ellipticat would be constructed with 3/4" x 4"
frames sawn directly from plywood, strip-planked with cedar, and heavily
glassed outside and inside. The boat would feature a partial deck with a
traditional curved coaming, and a mast and spars laminated from fir. The
boat would use a deep weighted centerboard and kick-up transom hung rudder,
for simplicity of construction.
To keep things relatively cheap, I also decided to use common lumber from
the local Home Depot or Lowe's. I have enough small boatbuilding experience
to know that common lumber, when properly encapsulated in epoxy and
fiberglass, is fine for small boatbuilding. This decision was easy, when I
compared the price of a 4 x 8 sheet of 3/4" okume plywood ($160 or so) with
the $30 cost of a sheet of 6 ply AC exterior ply from the home center. Sure,
the okume is gorgeous stuff, with perfect faces and no voids... but at 5
times the price, just not worth it, especially for an experimental boat.
From experience, I
know that there are a myriad of materials at the local home centers that
work well for small boat building. For example, clear Douglass fir porch flooring,
with a 1" x 4" cross section, is available in long lengths and is reasonably
cheap. It is also very strong and nearly perfect in terms of clarity (no
knots, etc.) I'll use it for the keel plank, the inwales, deckbeams, and the
spars (laminated, of course). For higher quality wood, there's a local fine
hardwoods dealer (Downs & Reader) who can supply white oak, ash, mahogany,
It's going to look a little like this, when it's done... I
My pitiful workshop. It's just a garage,
11' x 22', shared with the usual homeowner accoutrements like garbage cans,
rakes, etc. Obviously, my boatbuilding is constrained to small boats! The
only stationary tools are an inexpensive 10" table saw and a drill press.
I've got the usual hand power tools: a jigsaw, circular saw, various drills,
electric planer, several orbital sanders, etc.
Forget lofting, battens, etc. Drawing an
ellipse is super-easy, all you need is two nails, a string, and a pencil. The
'string' I used was braided fishing line, which has very little stretch.
catboats as art
This one is by Winslow Homer, famous artist who often drew
and painted traditional boats