View Full Version : Beginners building books

Cap'n Drydock
11-06-2003, 12:30 PM
I apologize ahead of time in case you see this
question ad nauseum....

I am familiar with wooden boats, but have never
built one. Would like to try something small and
work my way up to something in the 20 to 24 foot
range. Eventually gas powered. Something that I
can use to teach my sons about boating.

What is a good beginners guide book to boat
building? Something that will walk me thru the
basics and allow me to get started.
I figure my first attempt will probably be some
kind of skiff, then start to move up from there.

I'd love to take a boatbuilding course, but
family commitments won't allow that.

I used to live on a 36 foot wooden Pacemaker, so
I am familiar with wooden boats ( and repair ).

Thanks for any suggestions/advice

Cap'n Drydock

Pete Dorr
11-06-2003, 12:46 PM
Depends on what if you want to build plank on frame or plywood.

Sam Devlin's book
Ian Oughtred's book

Plank on Frame:
Greg Rossel's book
John Gardner's books
Building the Heidi skiff by I forget

Obviously I'm not getting the exact names but all of the above are good books.

Jim H
11-06-2003, 12:49 PM
This one

and this one.


I have both and you may need the book on lofting as many plans require it.


Bruce Hooke
11-06-2003, 03:01 PM
I've got Building Small Boats by Greg Rössel checked out from my library right now and I have never seen a better overall book on building small craft than this book, so that's the book I would recommend starting with, at least assuming you are planning on reasonably traditional construction methods.

Once you choose what exact type of boat you want to build then there are other more focused books that are also very worthwhile. For example, if you want to build a dory then John Gardiner's The Dory Book is invalueable.

Dan Cavins
11-06-2003, 07:35 PM
Hey Cap'n. Maybe a bit of a different take here, less on the technical side. A big one for me is "Buehler's Backyard Boatbuilding". For me it was more an additude thing. He asks if you are building a shrine or a boat? If you are a traditionalist it may not be for you. No foofoo here, just build a damn boat. And though my boat is not really what he is writing about I still find myself refering to it, and again, appreciating the mindset. Don't know where your at but that book got me boatbuilding. Dan.

11-06-2003, 09:37 PM
Nothing better than going to a library or a bookstore just to see whats out there - then you can actually look/read/feel the whole getup.

I too would second Rossel and Buehler - two approaches, each informative.

Buehler himself recommends:
Boatbuilding - Howard Chapelle
How to build a Wooden Boat - Bud C. McIntosh
Boatbuilding in your own backyard - Sam Rabl

While you are at the library/bookstore also check out some books with and/or about plans - let the imagination roam!

Good Luck and enjoy the experience.

Cap'n Drydock
11-07-2003, 07:11 AM
Thanks to all for taking the time to respond.
I am really looking to just build a boat. The
method will be whatever gives me the best
combination of good boat qualities, and that can
be done in a reasonable time frame.
I'm also a Dad looking to get into something that
might interest his sons, someday.


Cap'n Drydock
11-07-2003, 07:24 AM
Thanks to all for taking the time to respond.
I am really looking to just build a boat. The
method will be whatever gives me the best
combination of good boat qualities, and that can
be done in a reasonable time frame.
I'm also a Dad looking to get into something that
might interest his sons, someday.


11-07-2003, 08:36 AM
I third the motion on Rossel's book. If you have the latest WB magazine issue #175 he's the smiley fellow posing with the rabbet plane on the WoodenBoat Store catalogue insert that comes with the issue. Also if you want to work with a plywood paneled boat, not planked, try Glen Witt's Boat Building with Plywood.

11-07-2003, 08:52 AM
PS - Cap'n, as you can see from the responses you really are going to have to decide on what method you want to build in as the various techniques can have almost nothing to do with one another. The quickest, easiest way is probably a plywood panelled boat. But if you want to build up to something bigger those flat sided plywood boats start to look awfully boxy and less attractive than a boat with some complex curves to it. A planked boat in plywood planks might be a good place to start. You will have an elegant hull shape, experience gained for planking a bigger boat one day, and the plywood planks will be easier to work with. There are plans for a number of small ply planked boats that offer full size patterns for the planks as well.

11-07-2003, 09:20 AM
Tom Hill's book (I think it's called Ultralight Boatbuilding) is excellent. Even if you don't use his method (glued ply lapstrake), the writing and illustrations make so many of the processes of building a boat (specifically a flat-bottomed skiff) crystal clear. It really helped me to understand lofting and showed me better than any other book how to fit a skeg, a breasthook, a thwart, rails, etc.

Bruce Hooke
11-07-2003, 09:23 AM
Cap'n - What you may want to consider first is the division between plywood & epoxy boatbuilding and traditional boatbuilding, because that will help you refine your choices. Either one can produce a nice looking and functional boat, and each one has advantages and disadvantages.

Plywood and epoxy can include: hard chine, stitch & glue, glued lapstrake, cold moulded, and similar methods. "Traditional" can include carvel, lapstrake, and similar variations. Two hybrids are the older style of plywood over wood frame construction that is not as dependant on epoxy, and strip-planking where thin strips are nailed on top of the next.

Following are some random thoughts on the relative merits of epoxy & ply vs. traditional. Note that these are large generalizations so exceptions to all of them almost certainly exist.

- Plywood and epoxy boats are likely to be quicker to build than traditionally constructed boats, especially for the less experienced.

- It is easier to recover from mistakes with plywood and epoxy than it is with traditional methods. The gap filling properties of epoxy can quickly fix a host of mistakes!

- Finding the materials for traditional construction can involve hunting down specialized dealers and sawmills, on the other hand, marine plywood keeps getting more expensive.

- Plywood and epoxy boats typically take less work to maintain. Also, plywood and epoxy boats generally take more kindly to being stored on dry land except when they are being used, however there are ways around this (traditional lapstrake does pretty well).

- Building plywood and epoxy boats requires working with two materials that I think are less than completely pleasant to work with: plywood and epoxy. Epoxy is great stuff in terms of what it can do, but for pleasant working conditions it will never even come close to cedar and oak. Good plywood is not bad to work with, but it still isn't as nice as solid wood.

- Finally, there is the matter of aesthetics. Traditionally built boats have a look to them that can never be completely replicated by ply and epoxy (althougth a well-built glued-lap boat can come awefully close). On the other hand, if you have more "modern" tastes it is quite possible to create a very sharp looking ply & epoxy boat.

The other issue to consider is what type of boat you want to build. One option to consider, if your ultimate goal is to build a 20-25' boat would be a small boat that would be suitable as a tender (dinghy) for the larger boat. Unless you just like the process of building boats it doesn't make a lot of sense to build a boat that you don't have a use for. If the small boat is supposed to be practice for the bigger one then it also, of course, makes sense to use a construction method for the small one that is reasonably similar to what you hope to use on the bigger one.

Bruce Hooke
11-07-2003, 10:26 AM
Of course, a good place to start on figuring out where you stand on some of the questions in my previous post is to read a few books, so pick the ones that look interesting and dig in!

What you might want to do is hit up your local library. Given where you live, they probably have a pretty good collection of boat books, including many of the ones mentioned above. Ultimately you may well want to buy a few of them to keep in your shop, but the library is a good way to get a feel for which ones would be most useful and interesting.

Cap'n Drydock
11-07-2003, 11:58 AM
I started looking at the book recommendations
as soon as they started coming in. My local
library has an on-line reference, and a search
turned up ZERO on any of my choices!
My next step will be to peruse the larger book
stores, preferably with a coffee shop, and take
a look at them before distributing my christmas
wish list!
Since you guys are making me think this out, then
I think that I will start with a simple plywood
project, just to get my hands dirty.
I would then like to move up to something that
will expand my skill, like a lapstrake dory, and
finally on to a 20 to 25 footer.
My anxiety comes when I think about the subject
of Lofting! Everything I find on it starts out
with "This is the part of boat building that
everyone fears."
I suspect that for a small boat, this is not a
major issue, but as the size increases, so does
the importance of lofting.


11-07-2003, 02:06 PM
Best bookstore to get most if not all of these books is right here at Woodenboat's bookstore. They'll have them at your door in a week or so.

11-07-2003, 02:09 PM
Don't worry too much about lofting. Its really not much more than taking a series of measurements from convenient baselines and then connecting the dots.

Jim H
11-07-2003, 02:34 PM
If you decide to work with epoxy, please read all of the safety data.

11-07-2003, 02:38 PM
Originally posted by JimD:
Don't worry too much about lofting. Its really not much more than taking a series of measurements from convenient baselines and then connecting the dots.If that's the case, how do they fill whole books on the subject? :confused:

Bruce Hooke
11-07-2003, 03:15 PM
Originally posted by Cap'n Drydock:
I suspect that for a small boat, this is not a
major issue, but as the size increases, so does
the importance of lofting.

Thanks.In a word, YES. Many simple plywood boats require no lofting. If they do require lofting it is usually going to be very straight-forward. What makes lofting complex is when you move out of the hard-chine realm and into fully rounded shapes with the complications of carvel planking meeting the backbone, not to mention curved transoms! So, don't worry about lofting -- you have plenty of time to get familiar with it on easy projects.

Bruce Hooke
11-07-2003, 03:18 PM
Are Massachusetts librarys interconnected? I can go on the website for the Providence Public Library and if they don't have the book I want but another town does I can find out about it right on the website and put in a request for the book. Once the book gets to my local library they will call me to tell me it is in.

Jim H
11-07-2003, 03:43 PM
I added a couple of threads about lofting in the FAQ WB FAQ Building and Repair, ver. 2.0 (http://media5.hypernet.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=008298)

11-07-2003, 04:18 PM
Originally posted by Donn:
</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by JimD:
Don't worry too much about lofting. Its really not much more than taking a series of measurements from convenient baselines and then connecting the dots.If that's the case, how do they fill whole books on the subject? :confused: </font>[/QUOTE]The devil's in the details, eh? smile.gif

Frank E. Price
11-08-2003, 02:45 PM
They write all those lofting books because they sell. Buehler's explanation is sufficient, as are all the other lofting chapters in the other boatbuilding books. It is of course one of those things that can be made much more complicated than is necessary to build a small boat. But some designers, Bolger in particular, draw plans for plywood boats giving the dimensions for each panel, obviating the need to do any lofting. Laying out the panels, however, is much like lofting. Either way, it is not at all a big deal.


11-08-2003, 02:54 PM
Depending on your definition of lofting, many, if not most, plywood boat plans require a basic ability to mark lengths off of a baseline and use a batten to draw a fair curve for the hull panels, moulds and bulkheads.

That's not full-on traditional lofting of course, but it's in the same ballpark.

Best of luck with your project! smile.gif

[ 11-08-2003, 03:54 PM: Message edited by: Meerkat ]

Jim H
11-08-2003, 02:56 PM
Originally posted by JimD:
Don't worry too much about lofting. Its really not much more than taking a series of measurements from convenient baselines and then connecting the dots.Cap'n, I think you should want to learn to loft, especially on a simple design. Even though I have a lot of wood butchering experience, it's a another world when you move into boatbuilding. In fact I recieved an e-mail yesterday about it...

Sure a simple ply or even planked skiff does not need lofting in the sense
that a Table of Offsets needs to be generated and drawn full size but, you
still need some idea of Length, Breadth, Depth plus Scantlings. Experience
can gloss over most of that but for a 'green pea' ALWAYS err on the side of
caution in your instructions to 'em.

To be so blase as to just sluff lofting off as a simple matter of
connecting dots shows a lack of interest or concern for your fellow amateur
boatbuilder and exposes your own ignorance and lack of boatbuilding

This by no means is meant to be a defense of the ***mysteries of Lofting***
cause there are no mysteries! Just the usual practices and tricks of the
trade as in most skills.When I laid-out the floors for the 18 ft Simmon's Sea Skiff, I learned about accuracy (http://media5.hypernet.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=000806). Nothing like doing the same floor 5 times to get it right. Besides, I rather enjoyed lofting the first time I did it. There's something satisfying in drawing the hull to full size, catching your mistakes and seeing detail that you've missed looking at the plans. Look at it this way, you will be that much more familiar with the plans afterwards. Heck, if I can do it, anyone can... :D

Bruce Taylor
11-08-2003, 03:11 PM
If that's the case, how do they fill whole books on the subject?It's one thing to loft a plywood flattie, quite another to loft a 40' yacht w/ a curved & raked transom and a keel rabbet too big n' heavy to cut in situ. There's lofting, and then there's lofting.

edited to add: Just noticed that Bruce Hooke said about the same thing. I should read before I post, eh? Especially when posting after Hooke, with whom I almost always agree.

[ 11-08-2003, 04:17 PM: Message edited by: Bruce Taylor ]

11-14-2003, 07:07 PM
hello capt.drydock,that pacemaker of yours brings back memories, i had many a good time on it at dawn marina in salisbury mass. good luck on your next adventure. capt.endless summer

Ken Hutchins
11-14-2003, 07:16 PM
Another book is Pardy's "Details of Classic Boat Construction" It is mostly about a larger boat, but is extremely well written and a lot of info applies to all sizes and types of boats.

Sakari Aaltonen
11-15-2003, 01:31 AM
The best boatbuilding book I have read is Dave Greenwell's SMALL BOAT BUILDING.

Greg Rössel's BUILDING SMALL BOATS, mentioned by many others, confuses me.

11-16-2003, 11:36 AM
Most libraries can access books from other libraries through what's called "intra-library loan"; you have to fill out a form, and it's passed "uphill" (local library --> city library looks in its own stacks and other locals --> county looks in its own stacks and other city libraries --> state ... --> library of congress?) and someone has it and sends it to your library where you can check it out for a week or two. It can take months, though.

11-17-2003, 10:53 PM
Originally posted by Jim Hillman:
[QUOTE]In fact I recieved an e-mail yesterday about it...

...To be so blase as to just sluff lofting off as a simple matter of
connecting dots shows a lack of interest or concern for your fellow amateur
boatbuilder and exposes your own ignorance and lack of boatbuilding
Thanks for the bilgewater, Jim. :rolleyes:

11-18-2003, 12:15 AM
I think the book that I learned most about traditional boat construction from was Chappelle's 'American Small Sailing Craft', simply because it contains so many variations and sets of plans and detail drawings to help figure it out. Most other books are limited to fewer construction methods and are promoting the author's preferred approach. Chappelle just documented and explained lots of regional variations.

For modern construction methods I've found the booklets from various boatbuilding schools to be the most helpful, although the Goo Brothers' book is indispensible imo.

11-18-2003, 04:11 PM
A variation on Cap'n Drydock's thread without hijacking it too badly:

I curently own:
All of John Gardner's books
Iain Oughtred's book
Tom Hill's book

I am thinking about adding the Greg Rossel and Bud McIntosh books.

Sound like a good plan?

[ 11-18-2003, 05:14 PM: Message edited by: Venchka ]

11-18-2003, 08:21 PM
I am building a traditional boat from John Gardiner's book. Everything that others have said is true. From the perspective of someone who chose the traditional route (in Massachusetts), I'll confess that there were times when I wished I'd gone epoxy and ply. I found a couple of sawmills in southeastern MA (in Sharon and East Freetown) that were willing to work with me and was able to make slow, steady progress. The end result is closer to the shrine mentioned above, given the labor that has gone into her.
I would absolutey get Greg Rossel's book!!. Regardless of what construction method you use, the last couple chapters on finish work are worth every cent that I paid. I wish I'd bought the book earlier. He gives clear, explicit instructions that you pretty much can't screw up and they would have saved me many mistakes earlier in the building process. Things like: how to you build the breasthook, thwarts (seats), how do you mount an oarlock, fill all the screw holes, yada yada... Things that Chapelle, Stewart, and others gloss over or don't cover at all. for what it's worth.

wicked happy building in bilricah, dude! :D


[ 11-18-2003, 09:23 PM: Message edited by: guillemot ]

Jim H
12-02-2003, 06:34 PM
Here's another book on lofting

written by Barry Thomas (http://www.paracay.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=P&Product_Code=MSP041&Category_Code=BBD)

04-22-2007, 01:03 AM
John Leather's 'Clinker Boatbuilding' is a good reference for anyone wanting to build a clinker/lapstrake boat. Probably out of print though.

Walter Simmons 2 books on lapstrake also have some interesting bits.

Dave Fleming
04-22-2007, 01:25 AM
Notice the endorsement.



04-22-2007, 09:35 AM
Yes, there are lots of boatbuilding books, and many are good, but Jim Michalak wrote exactly the book you are looking for! It's called "Boatbuilding for Beginners (and Beyond)."

http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/P/1891369296.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_V45555157_AA240_.jpg (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/images/1891369296/sr=8-1/qid=1177250430/ref=dp_image_0/002-2192011-4548805?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books&qid=1177250430&sr=8-1)
You say you want to build a skiff? Well, this book makes it dead simple, quick and easy, and even provides you with plans for several. Plus, there's a wealth of information on everything from sailmaking, to outboard engine repair to trailer building. Currently available from $13.15 on Amazon

Have a look at his website: http://homepages.apci.net/~michalak/

And here's a listing of his many varied designs for the homebuilder: http://www.duckworksbbs.com/plans/jim/michalak.htm

And, in the same vein, you might want to look at H.H. "Dynamite" Payson's books that feature Phil Bolger designed small boats.
"Instant Boats" and "Build the New Instant Boats."

http://www.instantboats.com/images/ib60.jpg http://www.instantboats.com/images/btnib60.jpg
Here's his website: http://instantboats.com/

My two cents' worth? Don't get distracted by all the lofting talk, or pictures of gorgeous lapstrake canoes, etc. Just learn the basics and build a boat that you can get out in and mess about. It doesn't have to be complicated, or become a massive investment of time or money. You can build a simple skiff, sailboat, dink, pulling boat, canoe, etc very quickly and easily. Having done so, you'll find out if you love the process or hate it, and you'll end up with a boat that can look good, and work better!
By all means, check out those other books people are pushing - they're great! - but frankly, most have very little to do with simplicity or beginning boatbuilders.
I daresay I'll catch flack for saying that, but come on, guys! Lofting? Strongbacks? Lining off planks? Give him a break!! All of that is totally unneccessary for what he says he's looking for.

Good luck, and have fun! Dave

Steve Miller
04-24-2007, 08:34 AM
For plywood on frame the book by Glen L Witt is a great reference. "Boat Building With Plywood"


04-24-2007, 11:35 AM
If you are interested in plywood construction, look at John Welsford's Backyard Boat Building.

tim in providence
07-09-2008, 12:22 PM
hey cap'n - i'm new to the boat building experience myself. i started out last year with building two stitch and glue kayaks from "the new kayak shop" by chris kulczycki and have graduated to building a swampscott dory from "the dory book" by john gardiner. i have also acquired "building small boats" by greg rossel, which has a lot of great technical information. what others have said is true, the woodenboat store has all these books. good luck