I'm in 'A Meeting'

A novice boat builder shares his challenging yet extremely satisfying experiences while building his first fishing boat!


Cost    Materials / Tools    Scarfing    Assembly    Coving       Fiberglassing    Painting    Accessories    Underway!



Without a doubt this has been a unique experience for me.  The last 15 of my 28 years in the military have primarily been white-collar desk work however, I have always enjoyed do-it-yourself tasks around the house and have no problem getting right down into the grease, grime, and dirt while working on cars/trucks, under sinks, under the house (you get the picture!)...

My decision to build a boat was one of economics... I didn't want to shell out $1,500 or more for an aluminum fishing boat... and that doesn't even include a motor!  Yes, I could have bought a used aluminum boat for less money (probably with a motor) however, I wasn't entirely ready to inherit someone else's potential problem! So, I set out looking online for boat building plans and ran across Uncle John's website.

I'm including lots of pictures that I took while building my boat.  The majority of them are posted as thumbnails (click on a thumbnail to see the actual size picture in a new browser window).  I'm putting all of the pictures I took on the website, even though some are a bit repetitive... the reason is that I took some from different angles... and what I discovered while researching the websites of other boat builders (to get ideas and gain understanding of various building procedures) is that it would have been beneficial to have a few more shots of a process from different angles.

Because I have included lot's of pictures, I have included a navigation bar (bookmarks) at the top of this website so you can get to around the various sections easily.

OK! Here we go!

Cost                                                                                                                                                                                                    Top of Page

The total cost for building the actual boat was about $400.  That includes the plans ($25), the wood ($50 to $70), the fiberglass and epoxy resin kit (about $250), the oars and oarlocks ($70), and miscellaneous other materials (sanding disks, screws, glue, acetone, latex gloves, etc - about $50).

If you have shop tools already, then the money you spend above is about it.  I however, only had basic hand tools for working around the house and on cars.  I needed (wanted an excuse) to purchase a table saw, jig saw, random orbital sander and a few other small woodworking tools to make the job easier... needless to say, my Christmas and Birthday gifts came early ;-).

This boat was constructed in the winter and spring of 2007 so all tool and material purchase prices are a reflection of  that time period.

Tools and Materials (not all inclusive)

Fiberglassing/Epoxy Coating Materials
- RAKA Epoxy Kit: I labeled the mixing bowls "resin" and "hardener"; Zip-tied plastic bags over the pumps after each session to keep them from drying out/gumming up.
- Vinyl gloves didn't tear as easily as latex gloves; Baby powder for keeping the vinyl gloves from sticking together while using epoxy; Tongue depressor (popsicle) sticks for mixing; lot's of painters rags.
- Acetone for cleanup; The 'All-Purpose Fiberglass Resin' is what I bought to save money (bad idea that I'll explain later)

Wood Working Tools
- Random Orbital Sander: The most important tool for this project (especially during scarfing)... lots of sanding for this project!
- Stanley Surform plane type file (the tool with the yellow grip): Takes lots of wood off fast when scarfing (explained later) and taking off trim.
- Table saw: Ripping (cutting) plywood sheets, cutting the angles (miter cuts) for the bow and stern and cutting long strips of wood for rails/runners.
- Clamps for joining sections of wood together with glue and/or wood screws.
- Sanding wheel (drill attachment): Great for sanding around coved fiberglassed areas (the rails/runners and seams) - i.e. hard to reach areas.
- Jig Saw (Not pictured): For cutting the side sections of the boat (the curved bow area).

Working Area for Assembling the Boat
Rather than using a few saw horses as suggested, I happened to have a metal frame that came with the utility truck I purchased a few years back.  It's the type of frame used on the back of trucks to attach ladders and other large surface area items.  I put a few 4"x4" timbers across the frame then put a 3/4" thick sheet of plywood on top of it to create a table.

At some point before you start gluing and fiberglassing, be sure to lay down some plastic sheets under the work area or you will get lots of epoxy and glue on your floor (like I did)... If you forget and end up with spillage on your floor, hardware stores make a great 4" wide scraping tool with a long handle on it ;-)

Scarfing (Joining) Sideboards and Bottom Plywood                                                                                                                 Top of Page

When purchasing the wood for the boat, the largest sections of plywood I could get were 4' x 8' sheets.  The length of the boat is greater than 8 feet (up to 15 feet... mine was 12 feet) so you have to join two sections together to get the desired length.  The plans use scarfing to accomplish this task.  Scarfing involves stacking the plywood sheets for the boat sides and bottom together and creating a beveled (tapered) edge on one end of each sheet.... then one of the sheets is turned over so the beveled ends fit together.  The joint created by the beveled ends is glued creating a very strong seam that holds the sheets together - so you can have a boat that's longer than 8' (because you've now created a 4' x 16' plywood sheet!).  Although Uncle John's Jon-boat plans provide a good amount of information on scarfing (you definitely want to use the ratios and measurements in the Jon-boat plans) the concept of scarfing was a totally foreign idea to me so rather than try to explain it, I'll just point you to BoatBuilder.org - the  website I used to get an understanding of how of scarfing is accomplished and view lot's of great pictures of the scarfing procedure (this site makes it very clear!):

The site is explaining the scarfing procedure for another type of boat (ie. different dimensions) however, the process is the same.

Note: Make sure that you read the information on scarfing contained in the Uncle John's Jon-boat plans FIRST to get the concept (and measurements) down.  Then, if you need more info and some good pictures of the scarfing process, go to the BoatBuilder.org site above.

Another Note: I used the Stanley Surform plane type file to get the beveled (tapered) edge started, then switched to the random orbital sander with 60 grit paper and a setting that took off lot's of wood fast!

Assembling the Sides to the Bow and Stern

The angled cuts for the bow and stern sections are challenging.  I corresponded with Uncle John a few times during this phase to make sure I was doing it right.

I used the (blue) cargo straps to hold the sides and seat sections in place for gluing.  The straps helped to maintain the shape of the boat - the sides flare out in a "V" shape) .  Even though the seat sections really help to create the shape, when it's time to attach the bottom to the sides with glue and screws, spend some extra time making sure the sides and bottom are symmetrical... after I attached the bottom on my boat, I discovered that the bow area was a bit crooked when looking at the boat  while it was upside down (oops!).



Putting on the side rails

Attaching the bottom to the sides

Take the time here (before attaching the bottom with screws and glue) to make sure the sides and bow are straight and symmetrical.  If you look closely at the bow shot below (5th picture from the left) you can see that the bow area is not symmetrical.

In the last two pictures above you will notice a slight overlap on the bottom piece that needs to be trimmed flush with the sides. I used my Stanley Surform plane type file to take off the majority of overlap and followed up with random orbital sanding (60 to 80 grit paper is fine) to smooth all edges and corners (shown below).  Notice also that I have begun smoothing out the angles of my side rails in preparation for "Coving."

Coving (with Poor Man's Play Dough...)                                                                                                                                     Top of Page

The boat plans mention the term "create a cove" when it was time to fiberglass seams.  I didn’t know what cove and cover the rails/runners meant, so I emailed Uncle John.  Here is the reply I received back:

Fiberglass cloth doesn't like to make hard turns. So, you give it a curve to follow. The cove is made with a mixture of resin and a filler. There are many commercial fillers, and I know of one guy that uses flour. He browned it in a skillet to match the wood color so he could use a clear finish.  


As they say, a picture is worth 1000 words.

Uncle John

Uncle John's General Store

I first attempted to use a mixture of resin and filler (filler being a bag of sawdust I purchased from RAKA… needless to say it was a bit pricey for sawdust – my personal opinion ;-).  This type of filler was not only time consuming (mixing), it didn’t go very far, was somewhat difficult to work with and, after realizing the amount of coving I would have to do (top and bottom of each rail/runner and the inside of the boat wherever there were seams… i.e. everywhere that two pieces of plywood met), I determined the amount of resin and filler would be too costly for my blood!

Having an eye for economy, I zeroed in on the statement: “I know of one guy that uses flour” and set out to experiment with coving using flour.  The answer was creating ‘poor man’s play dough’… Here’s how:

1 cup salt
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (makes the dough pliable)
1 cup water

Mix dry ingredients in the bowl first, add the oil, then the water.  Mix in the bowl (your gonna get your hands gooey) then turn the mixture out onto table and start kneading the dough.  You may need to add a very small bit of water (tablespoon or so) as you knead the dough for 3 to 5 minutes.  When your done, you should have a small dough ball about the size of a cantaloupe.  I recommend making two or three batches of dough and putting them in one of those plastic Folgers coffee containers (or some other airtight container) so you have enough dough to do a significant amount of coving.  I probably made about 4 containers of dough (about 20 batches) to cover all of the rails/runners (you have two on each side and four on the bottom of the boat) and all of the inside seams of the boat… it should be getting clear as to why I used poor man’s play dough instead of resin/filler or some other commercial filler!

Coving the seams, side rails and bottom runners (easiest and fastest way)

 This method seems cumbersome but after a few sections of smoothing out the dough, you will get the hang of it.

Note: In the pictures above (the 1st and 4th from the left) you can see the seam/joint created by scarfing the plywood sheets together (in this case, the bottom off the boat).

Fiberglassing the seams, rails and runners                                                                                                                            Top of Page
Huge lesson learned: Don’t bother with the polyester (all purpose) resin kits that you find in auto and hardware stores… they are cheaper and may be fine for small auto/boat repairs but not for the purposes of this project!  The mixing of the all purpose resin kit hardener (by drops out of a very tiny squeeze bottle) with the resin and acetone make it very difficult to obtain the exact measurements.  It's much easier to mix epoxy resin and hardener (2:1 ratio of resin to hardener is MUCH easier)… this is my most humble (but accurate) opinion of course ;-).  I ended up having to redo a significant amount of my side rail seams because the polyester resin bubbled up and in many places, did not harden.  Epoxy resin is easier to mix/spread and it creates a VERY hard seam! 

Uncle John recommended RAKA Inc. for epoxy fiberglassing kits and I highly recommend them as well.  I received prompt and courteous service and they knew exactly how much epoxy resin, hardener, fiberglass cloth and other mixing items I would need based on the information I provided (and they do quite a bit of business with people building Uncle John Boats ;-).  They also provide a good amount of information on their website; the RAKA Epoxy Users Manual is VERY INFORMATIVE and RAKA Inc. will also answer any email questions you may have. 

 IMPORTANT: The information contained in the RAKA Epoxy Users Manual and the fiberglassing advice given in Uncle John’s boat plans are more than enough information to get you through epoxy coating and fiberglassing.  I am providing my experiences while accomplishing this phase of boat construction and some lessons learned.  If this is your first time using epoxy resin/hardener for fiberglassing (like it was for me) the process may seem intimidating.  Take the time to read up on the procedures so it’s less intimidating and you don’t waste any of the materials.

I used the RAKA Inc. Epoxy Resin Kit that contains 2 gallons of #127 epoxy resin and 1 gallon of #608 medium hardener (the medium hardener allowed me some time to apply the resin over a large surface and smooth out any drops/runs before the resin got too hard (i.e. medium resin is good for the novice ;-).  At the time, the cost was approximately $250 which included the resin and hardener, enough fiberglass cloth to cover the entire outside of the boat, mixing bowls, a few spreaders, and the pumps for the resin and hardener containers.  As stated above, you can get epoxy materials for less money however; you get what you pay for!!  The mixing instructions for the RAKA kit were conveniently located on each of the gallon containers.

My lessons learned while following the procedure for fiberglassing
The Uncle John Jon-boat plans and the RAKA Epoxy Users Manual provide the basic procedures for fiberglassing… Here are my lessons learned:

§         A session of fiberglassing is the application and drying of an area, usually a bottom session and side sessions.

Fiberglassed Seams...

...and Fiberglassed Rails (I started sanding in preparation for applying a few coats of epoxy to the entire outside surface of the boat)...

Many of the pictures display the effects of coving (fiberglass sheets that lay over smoothed out angles so there's no kinking or wrinkling in the fiberglass)

My procedure for applying additional coats of resin the bottom and sides (large areas) after you have applied the fiber glass layer

If you’re applying multiple coats of resin (whether it be the first fiber glass layer or the additional coats of resin), be sure not to wait any longer than 3 days between coats… if you do go past 3 days (I did because I mainly worked on the boat for 4 to 8 hours each weekend), the epoxy is fully cured and you will need to sand the hardened resin (orbital sander preferred – on a low setting with medium grit paper) to rough up the surface and allow the next coat to properly adhere... or as the RAKA Epoxy Users Manual states, “The sanding of course, is always necessary to get a mechanical bond on fully cured epoxy.” 

I attached the bottom runners after fiberglassing the entire bottom to avoid having to lay large sheets of fiberglass over coved runners.  After I installed and coved the bottom runners, I fiberglassed each coved area... which gave me a bit more fiberglass stability on the bottom! (not a necessity, just a preference)

Sanded everything down before applying primer and paint...

Time to paint!                                                                                                                                                                                Top of Page
Primer application...
For all painting, I used a brush for corners, seams, and hard to get areas and a roller pad for the large and easy to get at areas.

Outside final color...
I used exterior high-gloss enamel paint (black outside - with red trim on the rails - and red inside) from the hardware store.

... and inside final color

I added cleats (black cross beams) on the inside bottom (deck) of the boat to stiffen the bottom (overall boat strength) and to provide safer footing.

The last picture shows a black area in between the cleats.  I purchased a pouch of non-skid (gritty material) that can be added to paint to create a rough surface.  I applied non-skid paint to the cleats and the black area in between... for additional safer footing.

Additional accessories:                                                                                                                                                             Top of Page

Oar Locks and Oars. I purchased the oar locks ($10) from a local boating store and found a good deal on e-Bay ($60) for the oars (78" long)....

Storage compartment.  Good for storing life vests, portable navigation lights, first aid kit, etc....

Handles and deck cleats.  On the front and back of the boat for handling and attaching mooring line...
Don't forget anchors! I poured concrete into the plastic Folger's coffee containers I used earlier (to store the poor man's play dough), set a pad eye in the middle before the concrete dried, and attached mooring line to each pad eye.

and of course... the Trailer.  I discovered this one in an elderly lady's back yard, bought it for $20, cleaned it up a bit and gave it a paint job.

TIME TO GO FISHING!!!                                                                                                                                                                 Top of Page

This was without a doubt one of the most rewarding projects I have ever taken on!

Final Lesson Learned.
After getting underway in my new boat, the only thing I would do differently on my next boat is make it wider.  The bottom of this boat is 33 inches which is a bit narrow.  Next time I will make the boat closer to 48 inches for added stability in the water.

Thanks for taking the time to check out this site.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at hal.empson@cox.net