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Thread: Boats for Kids to Build: Inexpensive Division

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Redmond, Washington


    Boats for kids to build.

    Created December 11, 2002.
    Last updated December 11, 2002.
    Created and maintained by Rick Tyler.

    I wanted a boat-building project for a Boy Scout Troop, so I posted a message to and, and received a lot of helpful suggestions. In addition, I found a thread on the WoodenBoat Web forum on the same topic. Other valuable information came from the technical support Web site of My thanks to all those who contributed to this project. If you have any other ideas, or, especially, if you have an experience with any of the designs mentioned here, please let me know. I plan to keep this up-to-date. Most of the text here is lifted verbatim from forums or the Usenet. I have lightly edited some of them.

    I was looking around for an easy-to-build small boat project for some boys in the 11-17 year-old range. I was thinking of a simple kayak or canoe/pirogue, hopefully in the 20-30 hour construction time range. We would probably try a mass-build of twenty boats, so it needed to be simple. Here are some criteria I suggested:

    * It just has to float and paddle(row?) on flat water. Whitewater ability not required.

    * The simpler the tools, the better. Likewise, the simpler the construction methods, the better.

    * It has to be cheap. US $50 is good, $100 is probably OK, $200 is the absolute top end.

    * Parts that require stationary tools (table saw, band saw) can be precut, but if they could be made from dimensional home center lumber, that would be best. Assume the boats will be built in a parking lot or back yard by boys and adult volunteers of varying experience levels.

    * I expect that plywood is the best combination of cost and ease-of-construction, although some skin-on-frame designs might work.

    Here are the results:


    1. Bateau: The second-most suggested boat (first was different versions of the simple canvas-covered kayak) was the Cheap Canoe from Jacques Mertens at It is a 14-foot pirogue made from two sheets of quarter-inch plywood, held together by stitch-and-glue construction. A couple of people wrote to say that they built the same plan using chine logs and an adhesive (3M 5200, PL Premium Polyurethane, or Leech Adhesives’ F26 were all named). Mertens himself recommended the chine log and glue alternative as faster than fiberglass and epoxy, although not as durable. Mertens also offers the Nice Canoe, which is a similar pirogue that is two feet longer, but uses two-and-a-quarter sheets of plywood, and costs $10 per boat for plans. If you buy your epoxy and fiberglass from Mertens he will throw in the plans for free. (Rick Tyler)

    2. 6-Hour Canoe: You could do a lot worse than the 6-Hour Canoe (plans in Wooden Boat #125, IIRC). I built one several years ago, and the kids who use it have a lot of fun with it. The construction was easy, though it took me about 6 months instead of 6 hours! If I was going to build a bunch of them with a group of kids I'd make a template for the sides, so the curves would only have to be drawn once (you could even use a router with a trim bit to cut the sides to shape), and cut all the stems and sternposts in one session at the bandsaw or table saw. See a picture at, or look it up in the WoodenBoat index at (John Kohnen) NOTE: This boat was mentioned by many people.

    3. Skin-on-frame Canoe: I like the skin-on-frame boats at They are ultra-light, but their skins are kind of fragile (but can be temporarily repaired with duct tape!). Building the frames might be a challenge for boys. (Drew Dalgleish)

    4. Plywood pirogue: Has anyone mentioned Fritz Funk's Wacky Lassie (on Fritz's boatbuilding pages at He built several with a class of 8-12 yr-olds. (Gary J. MacDonald) (My only concern about this nice little pirogue is that Fritz says that he designed it for kids from 60-90 pounds. A lot of teen-agers, of course, weigh more than that. RT)

    5. Piragua: I don't know if anyone mentioned Jim Michalak's Piragua, another simple canoe-like craft. The plans are included in his new boatbuilding book too. The book might be a good investment for you, even if you've built boats before: and (John Kohnen)


    1. Simple folding kayak: I built 9 boats with my 16 year old scouts a couple of years ago. We used a folding kayak design. Plans are available on the net. I now have several copies in various file formats. An easy to obtain set of plans and directions can be found at The first few boats took about 15 hours, but once we got the hang of it we cranked that last couple in under 8 hours. Cost was around $40. It uses standard 1/4" plywood and canvas. Actually, I think you could save money and have a better boat if you used Dacron rather than canvas, but you will need to read the plans to know what I am talking about. These aren't high performance boats by any means, but they are very stable and a lot of fun to play around in. (Steve Sears)

    2. Cub Scout folding kayak: There is a very easy to build set of kayak plans that were originally published by a Cub Scout pack about 30 years ago. It may have been printed in Boy's Life Magazine. Many groups still build them. It's not a white water boat since it has no skirt but does well in class 1+ rivers and lakes. I built one when I was 13 with no supervision, just read the plans. It uses a 4x10 sheet of quarter-inch plywood. Here's one version with step-by-step instructions: My version had cockpit more centered and rounded corners in the cockpit. (Terry Barton)

    3. Simple canvas kayak: A couple of people suggested the simple wood-frame canvas-covered kayak design from Roy Underhill’s book “The Woodwright’s Eclectic Workbook.” I haven’t found these on the Web anywhere, but I found the book in my local library. It is a very simple design, but clearly only suited for flat water. John Nelson of built these with his Scout troop and reports that his Assistant Scoutmaster will punch him in the nose if he ever suggests anything like that again. Don Dando also wrote me about a kayak design that is very much like the one in Underhill’s book. You can find Don’s description of these plans at the bottom of this document. Underhill says it was a popular sort of kid’s boat early in the last century.

    4. Plywood kayak: Got the perfect boat for you - check out the VOLKSKAYAKS, especially the KINDERKAYAK, at Heaviest tool used is a jigsaw. Construction time from the joined panel stage is about 40 hours. Haven't paddled a KINDER myself - too big (me), but the standard VK is a dandy sea kayak. (Richard F. Hayes) (Other plywood Kayak kit suppliers include Chesapeake Light Craft and Pygmy Boats. All of these look like nice boats, but are wildly out of our price range for this project. RT)


    1. Pram dinghy: Look at they have free plans for their D-4, which is an 8 ft pram that is easy to build, inexpensive and handles great. You can see mine at (Jim Kern)

    2. Double-paddle Dory: Look at Ira Einsteen's dory at or It is a little different than the typical double ender. It could be built in a day or two, and is a practical boat built with stitch-and-glue plywood that will get used. (Scotty, the “Backyard Renegade”)

    3. Bolger boats: I suggest looking at Bolger and Dynamite Payson for some help here. Visit: Look at TEAL a Row-Sail, 12' X 3'6" plywood boat. Look at Big Tortoise, or Brick, 8'x 3'2" -- made from two sheets of ply, two curves on the whole boat, nailed and glued together. Looks ugly -- never been a report of a stolen Brick yet. (Author lost in the shuffle. Sorry. RT)

    4. Mouse boats: Gavin Atkins' "Mouse" boats made from a single sheet of plywood have been built by groups of kids. There is a link to the plans, and an article on a kid project at There was a recent article on some kids building another kind of boat, a small flat bottom skiff, on the same website. A search on "kids" at Duckworks,, might pull up another kid project I seem to recall. (William Watt)

    5. One Sheet Skiff: Herb McLeod's one sheet skiff (OSS) on his website at (William Watt)

    6. Folding dinghy: Check out a folding dinghy. The cuts may be a little more complex than you were looking for, but an additional advantage is that it can be stored compactly between uses. My buddy says to lash two of these together with closet pole and make a sailing cat. We'll see. (Bruce C.)

    ************************************************** ********

    Don Dando’s recipe for a simple kayak:

    When I was that age, I bought a kayak kit that consisted of (IIRC):

    4 1-by-1 stringers (I'm thinking about 10 feet long?) that were bolted together at the two ends to something like a 2" by 3" chunk of 1 by...

    A handful of 1x1 spreaders - probably one at the front and back of the cockpit opening (say, 18 inches long?), one or two in each side (perhaps about 12 inches), probably two on the bottom to match the ones on the top

    A 1 by something to sit on. There must have been another bit of 1x1 stuck in there somewhere to put you feet on when you sat down.

    Canvas to cover it. One piece for bottom sides (it ends up with some folds along the side to use up the excess from the 3 dimensional shape), one for the front deck, one for the rear.

    It was rectangular in cross section. Canvas was tacked on and painted (with house paint) to make it waterproof.

    It worked. I don't have any pictures or dimensions - I last saw them 35 years ago...

    The only problem that I recall was that the 1x1 stringers had a tendency to break when you spread them apart in the middle - you would probably want to use clear lumber and cut a couple extras. If you have a table saw, you could cut the front/back blocks that the stringers bolt to at a bit of an angle out of a chunk of 2x4 to make it easier to assemble.

    Once assembled, they were around for a long time. Eventually the paint and canvas wore on the corners and they started to leak some.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2001


    20-30 hrs construction time is REALLY optimistic, for any boat type for any skill level. It takes that long for three coats of paint/glue to dry and recoat. Not to put a damper on enthusiasm but please be realistic - try it at home first and then add an appropriate 'X' factor for dealing with many minds/hands, then an additional 'X' factor for dealing with adolescent boys.

    Good luck.

    [ 12-12-2002, 09:16 PM: Message edited by: Braam Berrub ]
    "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken." (stolen from TomF )

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Redmond, Washington


    Thanks for your input, Braam. I was thinking of 20-30 hours of actual hands-on time for the boys. It would be a multiple-session event, so hopefully paint drying could take place without the short-attention-span boys in attendance. Your point is well-taken, though, even if we don't count the time assembling materials and making master templates.

    - Rick

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2002



    I've built two of Graham Byrnes' Moccasins.

    They're stitch and glue and if you don't count the time the epoxy is cureing, such as overnight, they could be built in the time frame you indicated.

    I built mine of okume, I think it was about $30 a sheet, but I'm not sure. Two sheets of 4mm or 1/8 inch are required. I used ash for the wales and mahoghany for the thwarts and bresthooks. The little boats are wonderful! They are really pretty and perform far better than I expected.

    My gut feeling would to invest a little more time and money and build something the kid can be proud of for many years.

    That said, I think a perfectally acceptable canoe could be built with door skins, (REALLY cheap!) and clear fir for the wales and thwarts. Of course you'll have to seal everything well, but I'd not hesitate to get in it.

    These one man canoes weigh 27 pounds. They're easy to build but don't look like a box, in fact, most people are surprised to find they're plywood because it doesn't seem plywood should be able to bend like that!

    Also, Graham has designed a double paddle that must be the absolute cheapest, lightest, most efficient that I've seen. I think you'd have to pay well over $100 for a paddle as light at one of the cool outfitters.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2000
    Barrie, Ontario, Canada


    I built a sharpie canoe last summer in three sessions.

    The first was milling the chine logs, stems, outwales and scarfing the plywood into 2 4x16 sheets.

    The second was laying out the offsets on the sides, cutting them out, making a midships frame and screwing these together.

    The third was nailing in and glueing the outwale, the chine logs and installing a simple thwart. Later that day I slathered the boat with a mix of Thompson's, linseed oil and Japan Drier, and it was ready to launch.

    It went in the water and was paddled just like that on the outing for Forum members I hosted last summer.

    Later of course, I taped the outside of the chines and painted it, but this wasn't necessary for the initial launch.

    If you do the required prep (milling of the pieces) ahead of time, these boats go together really fast. And there's nothing wrong with them, either, for their simple purpose.

    My first little jaunt with it:

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Duncan, Vancouver Island


    The best boats for kids to build are the ones that parents and Scout leaders are prepared to finish themselves if (when) the kids lose interest [img]smile.gif[/img]
    There is no rational, logical, or physical description of how free will could exist. It therefore makes no sense to praise or condemn anyone on the grounds they are a free willed self that made one choice but could have chosen something else. There is no evidence that such a situation is possible in our Universe. Demonstrate otherwise and I will be thrilled.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2002



    I think that with proper prep, the Moccasins could be built in just a few sessions.

    It's a great idea to make patterns and then cut out the plywood with a router. The thwarts and bresthooks are easiest on a bandsaw and the wales can be ripped in a tablesaw. Then a little dressing up with a router and all the parts are ready.

    On day 1 most of the little holes for the stitching can be drilled and the main pieces epoxied into one large wobbly "butterfly".

    On day 2 the wales, thwarts, and bresthooks can be fitted. Actually, a really clever person could finish construction on a long 'Day 2'. The wales can be clamped in place with 1 inch rings of 4 inch PVC cut through in one place. I like to use spring clamps first because they can be applied with one hand then I go back and replace them with the PVC rings.

    Day 3 the stitching is done with plastic wire ties! The filleting and taping is done on the inside.

    On day 4 the ties are cut and left in place because the plastic won't affect the blade of your hand plane. The outside seams are taped.

    Day 5 sand.

    Day 6 sand.

    Day 7 sand. Paint.

    See? just a week, and most of the sessions are just a couple hours!

    Graham teaches boatbuilding at a Community College, so he should have some real insite about how long it will take.

    I truly think I could build one in a long weekend, but that's not my style.

    I usually start out slowly..then taper off.


  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2000
    Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, USA


    My limited experience w/ scouts and their parents is that skills, willingness to listen and follow direction vary wildly and seem to skew toward bozodom.
    Also parents (read fathers) tend to take over and the kid learns little. (Of course I would never do that )
    Only you know your kids. Aim high.
    No individual rain-drop thinks it\'s responsible for the flood.

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