View Full Version : Handy Billy construction

Dan Wilder
02-27-2001, 12:08 PM
I received the latest issue of WB yesterday, and I'm greatly enamoured of the Handy Billy Launch on the cover. My question is this: would it be possible and/or desirable to plank this design in sheet plywood? Say in two thin layers with epoxy in between? Would this or any other method be quicker that that prescribed by the article? My last project, a 14' Marblehead dory skiff, incubated in my basement for no less than five years, so ease of construction will be paramount this time around. Thanks in advance.


02-27-2001, 01:36 PM
I'd imagine you could rip the ply into planks. But that isn't quite what Harry Bryan designed is it? Looking at Harry's boats and remembering his off-the-grid, lo-tech bias, I'd suppose thet ply would be contrary to the spirit and look of the thing that you admired in the first place.
If you want a plywood boat, why not look for a design intended for plywood?

G. Schollmeier
02-27-2001, 01:38 PM
This hull shape would not be developable from large sheets. You could cold mold it but I think that would be more work than the method described in the article. Gary

Keith Wilson
02-27-2001, 09:46 PM
Yeah, isn't that a great-looking boat? The outboard in the soundproof well is enough to make a sailor appreciate powerboats. I've also been thinking about building one with plywood. I don't have a good local source of cedar planking stock, nor a planer, and I can get good plywood fairly easily, Also, I think a glued boat would handle trailering better than batten-seam construction, although a little Sticky Wonder Of Chemistry on the battens might help a lot. I always worry about stress concentrations around mechanical fasteners while on the road, but maybe it's less of a problem than I think.

The topsides of Handy Billy (above the chine) seem like they could be made from sheet plywood, but the bottom, particularly the forefoot, probably can't. A couple of possibilities:
- Plywood lapstrake, say 9mm or 3/8" thick, or maybe thicker on the bottom and thinner on the topsides? The glued laps form built in full-length stringers, so you wouldn't miss the battens. I think I'd make the topsides lapstrake too, even though it isn't necessary, because it would look so nice.
- Some type of laminated construction for the bottom, either cold molded from veneer, or double-planked with plywood (epoxy between), maybe two layers of 5mm or 6mm ply with Xynole sheathing?. You don't need diagonal layers with plywood. I'd have to work out the weight; it wouldn't do to make her too much heavier.

I know this isn't exactly the boat that either William Hand or Harry Bryan designed, but that's never stopped us before, has it? I think it would be a very nice boat anyway. If anyone knows of a similar boat designed for plywood lapstrake construction, please tell me about it.

I don't know about construction time. I think glued lapstrake would be quickest for me because I'm used to it, and because it requires relatively little sanding to get a decent finish. I can't compare it to batten-seam construction, never having built a boat that way. Maybe some of the more experienced folk here, professionals even, could venture a guess.

02-28-2001, 07:46 AM
I've got to agree,
It's a great looking boat. And I can't see how the bottom could be "sheeted" as it is not developed for such. I (and I put myself in this situatation as part of my bi-monthly daydreaming of building all of the small craft in each issue) would probably look for a plywood hull of similar shape and then incorporate as many of the features from the cover picture as I can, mainly the beautiful deck and the controls. Especially what I believe is the stearing lever on the far right.

Take Care.


Brad Faus
02-28-2001, 08:40 AM
It is a great boat. The stick shifts harken me back to the days of my Schwinn Sting Ray.
Also like the thumb cleat/mooring bitt piece.
Looks 10 times better than the Bronze Yacht Style cleat used on the one in article. Who was in charge of picking the paint color of the thwarts and floorboards? Am I the only one out there who thinks that doesn't fit with the rest of the "package"?

02-28-2001, 10:13 AM
I too am keen on this boat but I don't see any ready source of white oak long enough to serve as either battens or the keel (as specified). Sure, scarphing might work (though white oak and epoxy are, according to legend, not compatable) on the battens but the keel? So really, is fir probably the best choice? Did anyone else notice that the number of planks on the bottom was increased by one per side because the builder couldn't find wide enough stock? What's the idea of specifying cedar when the planks look in some cases to be over a foot and a half wide? You don't see may white cedar trees that wide anymore.

Dan Wilder
02-28-2001, 12:05 PM
Hmm...we have some yeahs and some nays...
The reason I ask about plywood sheeting is that on the dory skiff, the spiling and beveling of the planks was a very time consuming excercise. I figured I could get around most of this by going with ply. It seemed possible because the Handy Billy is somewhat flat over a great deal of her surface. In an old issue of WB, somebody made a rounded chine racing sailboat by planking the flat areas and sort of cold molding the curves with thin plywood. This seemed like strong, tight construction. For this launch, I'd retain the longitudinal stringers, and scarf the plywood joints for strength. I'm not too concerned with extra weight. Would I be saving myself any time or trouble? I'm not at all concerned with being traditional, as 4 stroke outboards hardly fall into that category. Thanks again for your advice. (I'm realizing with every post that I know less than I thought, but the education is greatly appreciated.)

G. Schollmeier
02-28-2001, 12:09 PM
I guess a guy could strip the bottom, and ply the top. With the right core and layup it would be just as strong. This would take more glass and resin than I like to play with. And might even cost more than having ordered the right wood.Gary

02-28-2001, 03:25 PM

If you're referring to the Dudley Dix boat "Black Cat" (didi 38), you should keep in mind that boat was designed with what has been coined a "radius chine." As I understand it, that same radius that brought the bottom up to the topsides was carried out over the length of the boat. In essence, this eliminated the compound curvature that would be so problematic with the plywood. I think that we're comparing apples and oranges here.

Take Care.


Dan Wilder
02-28-2001, 04:12 PM
Ahh...Thank you Beowolf (sp?). That's what I was missing, "Plywood won't bend in both directions at once." I guess you can't have your cake and eat it too. The attractiveness of a hull is directly proportional to the difficulty of construction. Or is it? Does anyone know of a similar design that's both pretty and extremely simple to build? I know that's a tall order. The problem is this: my dad wants a completely utilitarian power boat: no maintenance, no construction effort, no excessive thinking involved. Is there a boat out there I might convince him to build instead of dropping way too much money for something made out of that material whose name must never be spoken? Thanks again for the continued assistance.


G. Schollmeier
02-28-2001, 06:06 PM
Might try a Tolman Skiff. All plywood. About the same size, a little more beam. It has a graduated V-bottom. But the keel runs flat. You could build a cover over the motor. Gary

Keith Wilson
02-28-2001, 06:20 PM
Well, here's the closest I've found. See this site: http://www.seaislandboatworks.com/Burritt%20runabout.htm

The boat is taped-seam plywood construction,and I believe the one shown is the first built. She might be prettier without the windshield, but seems quite nice as is. Plans aren't listed on the web site yet. I exchanged a few e-mails with B&B last year, but didn't follow up. B&B Yacht Design's site is here: http://www.bandbyachtdesigns.com/default.htm

Amother possibility, not bad-looking, but not remotely in the same aesthetic class as Handy Billy, is Phil Bolger's Diablo design. This is more a standard OB fising boat design, sort of a taped-seam semi-dory. Very easy to build, two sizes, no major vices. See: http://www.instantboats.com/powerboats.htm

03-01-2001, 01:36 PM
Dan, buy him an aluminum fishing skiff. No worries, no maintanance, no emotional involvement, no guilt. Easily recycled into beer cans.
Not every one wants or needs a wooden boat. This is still America. More or less.

03-01-2001, 03:45 PM
Tomm makes a strong argument here.

However if you're stuck on wood, check out ony of Sam Devlin's work. He does some great things with plywood and he has a real eye for that "salty," traditional look.

Take Care.


03-02-2001, 08:52 AM
Yah, maybe you can turn the Old Man. Stranger things have happened. However my experience with raising my parents is that it pretty much doesn't work. Don't be surprised if he abuses and neglects it. You may need to be the boat's caretaker as well as builder.

Dan Wilder
03-02-2001, 12:05 PM
Well, I suppose I should conceed...I guess I should count my stars that he doesn't want a cigarette boat or one of those God awful pontoon party barges. Thanks for the advice, all.


03-03-2001, 08:48 PM
OK, I had to register just to reply on this message trail about Handy Billy. It is a great looking boat, but I also am looking for a trailer-sailer that won't be in the water mutch so caulked-batten construction is probably not the best. Beowulf, I too drool over each issue and dream about building every single boat that will fit in my shop. And whoever suggested an aluminum skiff is easy recycled into cans: I have been diligently draining cans for many years thinking they would be recycled into aluminum skiffs. Which one of us is right? This is like the circle of life.

Back to boats, the Simmons Sea skiff comes to mind as a similar boat to the handy billy, but built in plywood lapstrake. I searched this site and found the following site to suggest:


This and the Cape Fear museum site will help out on that topic.

03-03-2001, 09:38 PM
Cape Fear Museum site for Simmons Sea Skiffs is:


G. Schollmeier
03-03-2001, 10:30 PM
All of the above mentioned boats, (except Handy Billy) have a straight keel. I would think they also would be very different on the water. Opinions?

03-03-2001, 11:33 PM
Irony in it's truest form. For as I read your post, Badgerbill, I too am prepping a small aluminum cylinder for it's next voyage back to the recycling center. Looks like another $0.10 in the boat fund.

Take Care.


03-04-2001, 08:31 AM
Originally posted by G. Schollmeier:
All of the above mentioned boats, (except Handy Billy) have a straight keel. I would think they also would be very different on the water. Opinions?

What struck my eye in WoodenBoat about this design was the "Low Speed" plane idea. They compared it to a "planing sailing dingy".

You might not want it for water-sking but the thought of a hull shape that does not have to drag a flat transom along at low speed, while still retaining some planing ability at moderate speed "(8-to 15 Knot)" is very attractive.

With a small GradyWhite and 90hp Yamaha, saw that more than 50% of the time was at low speed. Never liked the sound/smell or vibration of a two-cycle at low speed, so added an 8hp Honda to the transom.

GradyWhite is now very pleasant (and efficient) at 3-to 5 knot with the Honda and great at 17+ knot on the Yamaha. No amount of power would make it enjoyable at 6- to 16 knot.

Big wasteful hole in the water, can't see where your going, stuff slides back along the deck....

Why aren't there more of these types of "early
V-bottomed launches designed by William Hand"? http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/confused.gif


Way off topic for 'Building/Repair', will try to launch in 'Design...

Tom Lathrop
03-05-2001, 04:21 PM
Perhaps we should look at where Hand was coming from in designing the type of bottom that Handy Billy is based on. In 1900, planing hulls were unknown and boats were designed to go as fast as possible with the limited amount of power they had available. Therefore the boats had easy shapes very near to the fast sailboats of the period except that they had very high aspect ratio (narrow beam). So what Hand did was to add some lifting surface to the bottom in the form of flatter and wider sections and hard chines that allowed the hull to lift enough to actually achieve planing speeds. These hulls are indeed easier driven and much more efficient in the speed range where most modern planing hulls bog down. However, they are very limited in top speed. They can become downright dangerous when too much power is applied and can founder with serious consequences to both boat and passengers.

The sections of Handy Billy show higher deadrise than planing sailboats that I am familiar with. Compared to, say, a Windmill, this is a very deep chested boat with a lot of twist and deadrise nearly all the way aft. With the high deadrise and chines that are out of the water, this will be a fairly tender boat.

The most glaring fault of most planing powerboats today in terms of ability to operate efficiently in the 6 to 16 knot range is that they are mostly overweight. Low bottom loading in lbs per square foot of planing surface is the secret to making a boat perform well with low power in this range. My own 24ft powerboat has absolutely straight buttocks lines in the aft planing sections and easily planes down below 10kts. I am not knocking Doug Hylanís design but his explanation implies that monohedron hulls can not duplicate his results in the lower speed range and this ainít necessarily so. There is a lot more to this hull shape thing and the various trade offs that can be made than the one he gives.

The Handy Billy is a handsome boat though. I would like to see some data on weight, power and also some pictures of the boat running at different speeds before I buy into its ability to run in the high teens on low power. Also, the terms loping ride and slither onto a plane are not very definitive. They could be very good or very bad, I donít know.

As to whether the boat could be planked with sheet plywood, it is not clear that it could or not. A small half model could be built and tested with cardboard panels to see if it is possible or the offsets could be fed into a computer program and tested for developability. Certainly the sides can be made of plywood and a less extreme bottom shape might be used also.

I am familiar with Graham Byrnesís similar launch and know that it makes 15kts easily on 15HP and is more easily constructed with stitch and glue plywood. With more power it would go much faster than Handy Billy and be safe doing it. There would be some part of the lower displacement to planing transition speed range where the Handy Billy would probably run easier

Alan D. Hyde
03-06-2001, 10:05 AM
As mentioned already, Simmons Sea Skiffs are an excellent design, which combines low weight, good seaworthiness, and speed without requiring excessive horsepower.

Dave Carnell's web page cited above is well worth a visit, as are the Cape Fear Museum Sea Skiff pages.

Dave Carnell deserves our appreciation for recording the plans of this type and saving them for future generations of builders.


03-10-2001, 06:18 PM
If Keith Wilson (or anyone else) has more questions re: building the design from B & B Yacht Designs, contact me, the builder.

I'd be interested in which engines are being used with either model of the Handy Billy and what type of performance is being achieved.

[This message has been edited by JBurritt (edited 03-10-2001).]

05-27-2001, 05:04 AM
Sorry to jump into this topic so late, but when I bought my plans for Handy Billy (18') Harry Bryan included a hand written note saying that I might want to consider using double diagonal 1/4" or 6 mm plywood (4" wide) instead of the batten seam cedar planks. Enough said.

Tom Lathrop
05-27-2001, 08:11 AM
John, that is quite a shift from the other information that has been printed on the Handy Billy. Have you made any determination as to whether the boat bottom can be planked with sheet plywood rather than laminated?

05-27-2001, 06:59 PM
Tom, I don't see how the forward end of the bottom could possibly be done with a single sheet of 1/2" ply - too much twist. I believe the twist stiffness of a plank is proportional to the cube of the thickness, so a 1/2" plank is 8 times stiffer than a 1/4" one. I have not yet started my boat, but there is another forum topic about the Handy Billy started by Blue Wheeler, and I think he is using the double layer of 1/4" on the bottom. He is about ready to start planking. You might check with him to see how it is going.

Tom Lathrop
05-27-2001, 10:18 PM
John, You may well be correct that 1/2" ply will not take the twist in the forefoot. I know that a somewhat larger boat with similar twist in the forward bottom sections was sheathed with 1/2" ply though. Since the narrower beam of Handy Billy would cause more stress, it might cause the plywood to rupture. I see no reason why 3/8 ply would not be adequate scantling for this boat though and this thickness would probably take the twist OK. Just conjecture on my part but I would certainly try this if I were building this boat.

Of course, anyone who favors the batten seam construction is not going to like this solution but - different strokes.

05-28-2001, 01:50 AM
All good points, Tom. I'll certainly consider them when the time comes to make the planking decision. Thanks.

05-28-2001, 10:20 AM
Suggest you take a look at the Kilburn Adams Skiff America 20, two of these are on the water in the STL area.

06-02-2001, 07:16 AM

Can you please tell me something about the Adams Skiff America 20; I've never heard of the boat.

Tom Lathrop
06-02-2001, 01:55 PM


The Skiff America is a dory and is not similar to Handy Billy. Where Handy Billy is designed to give a smooth and comfortable ride in rough water, Adams skiff will likely jar your fillings out in these conditions. Skiff America is best in sheltered water and is a minimal cruising boat while Handy Billy is a day boat and has no pretentions to overnight cruising. Of course, some modifications could be undertaken to make it, especially the 21ft model, into a very decent cruiser.

Also look at :

www.ECoastLife.com (http://www.ECoastLife.com)

for a similar boat, built by Don Hodges, to Kilburns's skiff.

06-03-2001, 01:38 PM
What does everyone think of building Handy Billy out of 5/8" x 5/8" strips, glassed inside and out?

The boat will live on a trailer and I have little experience building (first was an 18-1/2' wood strip canoe) I know no one locally who has more experience so I am on my own.

Are the strips too thick? Is the increased weight an issue? Can some of the framework be eliminated? What other questions should I be asking?

I would appreciate any and all comments.


06-03-2001, 03:50 PM
"...out of 5/8" x 5/8" strips...."

To many strips, to much saw dust. 5/8 x 1-1/2" maybe. That's what Iain Oughred specified for Prairie Islander.


G. Schollmeier
06-03-2001, 07:45 PM
Norm has it right. I would go at least 1 1/2" on the strips. The question should be what type of fiber and how to lay it up. The wood is only core.

Tom Lathrop
06-03-2001, 08:24 PM
Since the hull panels on Handy Billy are intended for fairly wide planks, the width of strips will be dictated by factors other than the hull shape. Get Gudgeon's book and any others you can find and study what they recommend. Since this is your first boat, it may be asking too much to make such a change to the designers plans without professional help (or at least, well informed help).

Fabric sheathed 5/8 thick strips seems excessive for a relatively slow 18ft motorboat to me. In any case, monocoque construction should require much less framing ,if any, than the batten seam planking used by Bryan. The strip thickness relative to the sheathing layup needs to be determined by a qualified designer unless you are content to just overbuild and suffer possible loss in performance.

09-25-2001, 09:07 AM
I have just completed the hull in 1/2in ply and glassed it over with 6oz cloth. It looks great so far if you have questions e-mail me. bwheeler@rockyhill.org


09-25-2001, 09:38 AM
You wouldn't have any pictures that you care to share with the group, would you?

[This message has been edited by CaseyJones (edited 09-25-2001).]

09-25-2001, 02:34 PM
If you can explain how to do it I will post a few. I have a scanner and some pnotos.

Billy Bones
09-25-2001, 02:52 PM
I'd be very interested in seeing those too!

Did the bottom plywood lay on the frames flat or was there a slight bow to shim? The hull looks almost developable to me.


Nicholas Carey
09-25-2001, 03:16 PM
Originally posted by Tom Lathrop:
John, that is quite a shift from the other information that has been printed on the Handy Billy. Have you made any determination as to whether the boat bottom can be planked with sheet plywood rather than laminated?

Right, but he's talking about double-diagonal construction using 1/4" or 6mm ply strips 4 inches wide. That's more akin to coldmolding or conventional double-diagonal planking than to what we think of as 'plywood' construction.

You're turning 1/4"x4'x8' sheets into 1/4"x4"x8" planks and building her with that.

jeff pierce
09-26-2001, 12:45 AM
Originally posted by Blue:
If you can explain how to do it I will post a few. I have a scanner and some pnotos.

A number of options are available. Check the thread "Adding photos". Photopoint seems to be the favorite around here. If you want to cheat, e-mail the photos to me at jeffpierce@email.msn.com and I will set up a temporary album on my Yahoo account and link it here. Even better, someone with a paid photopoint account could do the same and post the pictures direct to this thread.