Amateur Boat Building

Are We Still Inventing the Wheel?
by Jim Betts

Oakum, tar and the caulking iron are about gone, but for use in a few replications of historic ships. The square-rigger gave way to the fore-and-aft sail rigs. The heavy "ice-breaker" boat has been refined by new materials and methods and has become today's lighter, stronger, faster and easier and cheaper to build.

In the amateur-buildable area, some things came and went. Some things - notably plywood - came and stayed. There was the "sock boat," which was a kit of corrugated board used as a building form. These were put up on a jig and stringers were installed. Then you had a "sock" of stretchy fabric that you pulled over this. Then you fiberglassed it. Sounded good, but the sock was not rigid enough and so you got boat with a "starved-dog" look. (Where the ribs show.) Then there was the balloon boat. You blew it up and fiberglassed it. (A letter to them came back "Deceased." I wonder how.)

Do It Yourself - Because We've Done it

Then there was the kit boat guaranteed to go together because it has been together. The company built the boat and then took it apart and shipped the parts to you. Hell, why not just send the boat?

Then there was the paper boat. The idea was to use old newspapers and glue to laminate the boat. But it takes 48 sheets of newspaper to make a hull 1/4 in. thick. That's a lot of copies of the New York Times Sunday edition!

There is current experimentation using ordinary cloth (like bedsheets) to build a boat rather than more expensive fiberglass. (We'll report on this fairly soon.)

Blow Up Your Own Boat - Wear Ear Plugs!

An outfit in Germany proposed an "exploded boat." They would build a strong steel mold, line it with sheet aluminum and set off a few sticks of dynamite. The heat and pressure would blow the boat together. (Wait until OSHA hears about this one!)

A recent National Geographic story showed how - in some parts of the world - they makes boats of reeds bundled together. But reeds do absorb water in time, so you have to build a new boat about every month.

And there is rotomolding. You put plastic material into a heated metal mold and spin it around. The plastic melts and forms a boat. Actually, this works well and is a growing area, but for obvious reasons, such as mold costs, is limited to small boats.

Stitch-and-glue (sew-and-go, etc.) is a bit old now, but some improved techniques are being tried here and there. One interesting trend is the increasing number of designs to use the method, especially with fewer stitches. And there is more work being done on how this can apply to larger boats. More on this in future issues.

New Technology is Making Boat Building Easier

Old-style boats (call them "traditional") now benefit from new technology, lain Oughtred, a member and designer living in Scotland, does very nice lapstrake (clinker) boats, but he uses epoxy rather than the metal fasteners as in the past. (See story) Using this modern method, the amateur builder can have the best of both worlds, the beauty of traditional boats and the benefit of modern methods. Building is faster, cheaper, easier and overall better.

R&D is Needed at Pro and Amateur Levels

I have played with the idea of a houseboat built on plastic dock floats. Too expensive. And concrete sewer pipes. Too heavy. And PVC pipes. Too flexible. How about aluminum boats stuck together with Sikaflex or similar "super glues" rather than welded or riveted? (I'm working on this and if you don't hear from me you'll know it didn't work.)

What next? I'm sure there are better materials, better designs and better methods out there. We (and you) need to explore the possibilities. I am certain the members of IABBS can do it. The membership already includes experienced boat builders, engineers, scientists and new-product-development people. Think new and different! And do let me hear from you. You may not have the answer, but you may be able to better state the problem.

Jim Betts