Maiden Voyage of Our Homemade Plywood Boat

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This boat, for its size (8′ X 3′) is kind of heavy.  It’s made of plywood and fiberglass, and it was designed to fit on top of our Honda CR-V.

Our little diy boat is a car topper

Well, I can get this on top of the car by myself, but it works a lot better when Matthew or my girlfriend helps me.

Lucas poses with our homemade plywood fishing boat

My youngest son, Lucas, poses with our boat

We let the paint dry in the summer air for a day or two, and then Matthew and I decided we would take it on its maiden voyage to a nearby lake in the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Oregon.

Matthew poses with our wooden boat

This boat is meant for protected waterways, which means hardly any waves or wake, and no a lot of heavy current, so this little lake (some might call it a big pond) would be a fairly safe place in case it sprung a leak. I also made sure we both had PFDs (or, personal flotation devices) in the form of life vests.

We brought our fishing poles, too, but I hadn’t built our homemade boat anchor yet, so we weren’t going to be able to anchor off.

2 sheet plywood boat

We carried the boat down to the water, and people couldn’t stop staring and smiling.  They could tell something was different about this coffin-sized object, but they were surprised and supportive when we told them it was the maiden voyage of our father-son boat-building project.

Plywood homemade boat doesn't leak

We placed it in the lake, and anxiously looked inside to see if any spouts of water were welling up.  Nothing. So far, so good.

I let Matthew get in first.  No water, and the boat seemed remarkably stable for such a small craft. I pushed him out a bit, and then I hauled my 250+ pounds into the boat.  It floated!  No leaks nothing.  We paddled out into the middle of the lake, my eyes on every nook and cranny of the inside of the boat.  It sat a bit low n the water with our roughly 400 pounds inside, but nothing dangerous or uncomfortable.

Matthe loves the boat

So, I breathed a sigh of relief and we reveled in the fact that we had built a boat that we could catch fish and explore place other folks on shore couldn’t.  It tracked fairly straight for our little department store paddles, but it won’t win any races.

Next thing we needed was a homemade anchor.  (I will be adding a post on how to make one of these soon)


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Figerglassing Our Homemade Plywood Boat

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I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but, up until this project, I had never done any fiberglass work, and now I feel that I’ve added one more “piece of the puzzle” to my love of prototyping.

My son, Matthew, and I learned how to fiberglass via youtube instructional videos, a few websites explaining it, and just plain ol’ following the directions on the resin container.

I went to DAP Plastics and bought about 3.5 yards of fiberglass cloth (cloth, not strands or just loose fiber–kinda like particle board for fiberglass) and fairly cheap polyester resin.  Epoxy is said to be much better in quality, but it is also nearly twice the price, so I opted out and chalked this up to a learning experience.

Firsts Things First: Sand Baby, Sand!

Well, before we started, I tried to plan ahead.  First, we Bondo-ed all of the cracks, holes, and seams on the outer hull of the ship, I mean, little tiny boat.  Teaching Matthew to work fast and trowel that smelly junk on was fun and a trial at times, but he seemed to finally get the hang of it.

We added Bondo to the cracks and seams.Here is a bow-view of the hull with the keel and runners to protect it from underwater rocks and trees.

Fiberglass:  Plan Ahead

Because I only bought a little more than 3 yards of cloth, I knew we wouldn’t be able to fiberglass the entire inside and outside of the boat, so I opted to do the bottom and the sides (and the bow and stern) of it.  We rolled it out and put it into place.  Having read ahead, I knew that it would be foolhardy to roll it all out and try to get it all covered effectively in resin in the pot-life of the resin.


[BTW, polyester resin is mixed as a two-part chemical reaction.  Once it “becomes” polyester resin via mixing, the time starts to tick, and you’ve got to move your ass and get it done before it sets–you’ll know when it sets because it will stat to turn from a liquid to a Jello-like consistency, and then it’s all over.  Right after that it turns hard and it’s done.]

Fiberglass:  Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes!

We added fiberglass cloth and polyester resin to the boat

I’m really not too much of a big idiot, but I sometimes make mistakes.  The great thing about it nowadays, is that I don’t take it nearly so hard, and I always expect a few mistakes for each new project I take on.  Well, this time, I made a HUGE mistake.  The directions for mixing the polyester resin called for a certain amount of catalyst to be added to so many ounces of the resin and, since I must have lost a bunch of brain cells sniffing Bondo earlier, I didn’t understand it completely.  So, Matthew and I began spreading out our resin mixture (with not enough catalyst added) onto the fiberglass cloth spread out over the bottom of the boat.

About 45 minutes into it, I figured it should be gelling (or setting), but nothing was happening–it was as wet (and blue) as when I poured it.  So, after reading that it supposed to turn clear (with a blackish tint) when enough catalyst is added, I realized that I had made a terrible mistake, and possibly wasted a bunch of expensive materials.

But, we had put in too much work for me to scrap it, so I figured I would go back out, mix a little bit of resin with a large amount of catalyst and then quickly add that to the stuff already on the boat and maybe it would all kind of mix wet-on-wet, like one of my watercolor paintings.  Obviously, this is something I would never do again, but I had to salvage it, right?

Well, I tried it and guess what?  It worked. The catalyst immediately turned the stuff on the boat a blackish clear, instead of a blue, and the smell changed a little bit.  Within about 15 minutes, it started to harden, and I could check it by the material left in the mixing pot/cup–that is usually a way to check the set of a chemically-reactant material–hence the term “pot-life.”

We added more fiberglass to homemade boat

So, the next section of fiberglass worked a LOT better once I mixed it correctly with the catalyst.

Here’s a little tip when applying fiberglass:  We found that the squeegees they sell work a HECKUVA lot better than paint brushes for moving the resin around on the cloth.  You’ve gt to work it into the cloth–the fiberglass will turn from white fibers (like cheesecloth) to clear and see through,  You can even see the wood grain through it.

Once it is dry and hard, you can add more layers of cloth and resin.  Cool thing about polyester resin is that, while it is “green” (or, fresh and not fully cured), you can add layers of more cloth and resin without having to sand each layer.  Despite this, Matthew and I sanded the hard and rough spots, and added a second layer in spots that looked like they might get more action in the water from rocks and gravel, etc, like the keel and the corners of the boat.

Once we let it sit over night, we added a couple coats of exterior white house paint to add one more protective “skin” to the boat.

> The Maiden Voyage of our Homemade Plywood and Fiberglass Boat



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2 Sheet Plywood Boat Building Photos

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Here are some photos of the construction of our homemade wooden boat that we built from 2 sheets of plywood and fiberglass.  At the end of the photos, you can see where we Bondo-ed the hull and sanded the crap out of it.  This served two purposes:  it helped to seal it and make it more watertight, and it prepared the surface for the fiberglass and polyester resin that we applied after it.

> Next, Fiberglassing the Wooden Boat

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Building the Homemade Wooden Boat

< Back to Part One of How to Build a Homemade Wooden Boat

This boat will basically get you out in the water, but it’s not gonna win any races–well, it might beat a person in a sinking kayak.  The main point of this boat, by the way, was for me to take my sons further out into the lake to fish.  Shore fishing is  hard to get to some of the places where the fish are, so boats help you get to them.

Build a small flat-bottom boat (54)The Materials

First things first, I made the bottom out of 5/8″ plywood.  Going back, I would have probably done the bottom in 1/2″ and the sides in 3/8″ and save some weight.  Lifting this boat over the top of my small SUV requires two people, unless I’m feeling exceptional levels of Popeye-strong.

The bottom of the boat needed to be under 3 foot, so I wouldn’t have a lot of overlap on the roof rack of the CR-V, and I didn’t want it to go past 8′ in length, so I kept it at 8 even.


I shaved about 15 degrees from both sides of the front, going back about 2 feet (see design on first page).  This would give it a slightly pointier front and, hopefully, help it cut through the water a bit better.  I left the back at 90 degrees on both sides.

wooden boat diagram

wooden boat diagram (click to enlarge)

I added a 1×3 pine cleat all the way around the bottom, offset to 1/2″ for the sides to align with the edge of the bottom to make a clean seam.  I attached the cleat with 1 1/4″ exterior wood screws and foaming gorilla glue.

This is the first time I’ve used the foaming stuff, but the guys on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife video said this is good for making watertight seams and to use it everywhere you attached wood to wood.  So, I did–and this glue needs a little extra supervision.  You first wipe both pieces to be joined with a very damp rag, add the glue in a wavy, unbroken line, and join the pieces tightly–either with screws or by clamping.  As it reacts with the moisture, it will foam out of the seams, and you should wipe it up quickly before it fully sets.  It works very well, but I wouldn’t use it on all woodworking projects.

Build a small flat-bottom boat (50)

Sides of boat are on!

Have your son help you build a plywood boat

Matthew adds the transom

Next, we added the sides.  I wanted them to be about little over a foot high.  I cut them with an 11 degree miter so they would join the front or bow of the boat would have a little flair.  I screwed them all together (into the cleats) with wood screws and gorilla glue, for added water-tightedness.

On the back of the boat, or the stern, I cut off about 3 degrees on both sides of the transom from bottom to top.  That would make the sides flair out a bit.  Not sure why, just know that most boat do this, and I’m guessing it has something to do with how it sits in the water.

After I showed him how to measure, and use the chop saw, I let Matthew do the seats by himself.  He did a very good job, and I think it gave him a boost in self-confidence.

It is starting to look vaguely boat-like (although my dad stated that it looks like a double-person coffin, but what does HE know!)

I’m going to add some more photos here of the progression of the build:


> Click Here for more Boat Building Photos





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