Building a Little Row Boat





Introduction: Building a Little Row Boat

This was my first attempt at building a boat. It's done in the stitch and glue style. I read pretty extensively on the subject and tried the techniques on some scrap plywood before doing this. I'm not going to get into the stitch and glue method specifics, but if you have a question about it ask and i'll tell you as much as i can. I'm not going to try to list all the stuff you need...just some. More will come out as i go.

1. Tools (saws, drill, etc.)
2. Time
3. Money
4. Basic woodworking skills

I didn't have an official plan to go by. I knew about how wide and how long i wanted to make the thing. I wanted to be able to get all the main pieces of wood out of standard 4x8 sheets of plywood.

I learned quite a bit doing this and will try to add as many tips and such as i go. The first is that mostly everyone will suggest using marine grade plywood etc. but i did not. This boat is not built for posterity. It was built for the challenge of doing it and to do a little bit of lake fishing. If it lasts 2 years i will be more than happy. I have used it and it is functional. Not all that pretty, but i bought cheaper materials. If you want it to look nice then at the least buy sanded ply.

If you're concerned about costs then here is tip one. Do not employ the stitch and glue method. Its basically a way to avoid having to be a good wood worker. You can have rough sloppy cuts and still make a go of it. The idea is that you're using epoxy fiberglass to weld a bunch of plywood together. For my second boat I am using lumber to join the sheets together and i will probably save myself several hundred $'s. Epoxy is EXPENSIVE and i probably saved myself a lot by practicing the method. And for gods sake use epoxy. Polyester resin will do the job, and its much cheaper, but its really finnicky to mix and the fumes are extremely toxic.

System Three Epoxies has a "book" called "The Epoxy Book" which i highly reccomend. Give it a look.

Lastly while I was not working off a strict plan, you should at least have an idea of what you want. I went to local lake and rented a row boat. The sides, back and front were about 16" high and about 4' wide so i decided to use those dimensions. And the sides and back were to be cut from a single sheet so it could only be 8' long max. So now to make a box 8' x 4' x 16" with some tweaking to make it boat like! Lets go...

Step 1: The Butt End

I'm not sure what the technical term for this piece is called. Nor do i care! I could build a lot of things without knowing exactly what they're called. You only need to know those types of things if you plan on debating an expert. They like to make you feel dumb for not knowing they're lingo. Usually they are just threatened by someone who can do what they do without formal mastery. I cut this from 5/8" plywood I had around. Its rough finish and it shows on the final product. Its the full 4' width of the plywood. The ends are tapered inward. Not by any specific amount, I just went by eye to what i thought would be nice. The future bottom seam is not flat, its peaked. Only slightly though. If you pitch it too steeply then while sheeting the bottom you will need to cut curved edges into the plywood. One of the benefits of stitch and glue it you can fill huge gaps. I've gone up to almost a half inch. Any how, onwards and upwards.

P.S. Thats the living room of my 1 bedroom apartment. Not the best place to build a boat but its what i got.

Step 2: Sides

The sides are 8' long and cut to match the width of the edges of the butt end. They are of 3/8" ply. 1/4" would have worked and would have been easier to bend.

Step 3: Center Brace

I cut a second piece of 5/8" ply to match the butt end. It's to hold the shape in the center. I didn't want a big wall in the middle of the boat, so keeping the outer dimensions i cut out the middle leaving a 3" strip that matches the outer edges of the butt end. Then using blocks made from the cuttoffs of a 2x6 i attached the cut out piece back on to the 3" strip. Now it's rigid to hold the shape, and the middle can be unscrewed and removed later to open the cabin up.

All attaching of anything in this instructable is done with standard drywall screws. I made a heap of 2x6 blocks to hold it all together in various places. You can see 4 of them holding the butt end to the sides. These will be removed eventually. The sides were screwed directly to the center brace. It will not be removed later.

Step 4: Front Bit

Forgot to mention, the front end of the side pieces were cut at an angle to make a "bow". Anyways the front piece is 5/8" ply. The length was cut match the angled sections of the sides. To guess-timate the width i grabbed the ends of the side pieces and pulled them inward until i thought they might start breaking and then backed off a couple inches and measured the width. Turned out to be 24". This was where the trickiest wood working parts cam into it. To hold the front to the sides i needed braces cut to something other than 90 degrees. I ripped a 2x4 along its length with a skil saw set to 12.5 degrees and it matched pretty well. Also where the bottom will meet the front was tricky. I could have (and probably should have) given the front piece the same peak as the back and center brace, but i didn't so i had to build a custom brace. I screwed a scrap of ply to the front piece so it was sticking out through where the bottom would be going and ran a string from the center brace to the front piece and got a line on how to cut. attached a few of the 2x6 blocks and there you go. Might not make sense but like i said you'll have an easier go if you trace the profile of the butt end to the front piece. I also added more braces to screw the bottom pieces into.

Step 5: Bottoms Up!

This might seem like the hack method at this point, but really this where the stitch and glue method shows its value. I ripped a sheet of 3/8" ply in half and screwed them to the bottom. I put the factory edges towards the inside. You can see about a quarter inch gap in the middle. Epoxy putty will gladly fill this gap. I could have fine tuned the mating edges with end to end tapers to close this gap, or if i had added the profile of the butt end to the front piece it would have been a little nicer. Live and learn, and take advantage of the benefits of your build method. Gaps up to a hlaf inch are excusable. Try for nice seams but don't worry if its not perfect.

Anyhow, i then flipped the thing over and ran a marker along the inside where the bottom pieces meet the sides, back and front. Then i removed them and cut along my marked lines. sloppy, or clever? hmmmmmm...

Step 6: We've Got a Hull?

So after cutting along my lines this is what we have. Ready for the actual stitch and glue bit now.

Step 7: Stitch and Glue 1 - Tacking

So to avoid fumes i cleared up some space in my bedroom and moved the boat in there. This way i can close the door and hang out in the living room. It's kind of a lengthy process so i also slept on the couch for a few weeks. If i were more diligent i could have probably done all the epoxy work in a few days, but i'm pretty lazy so i slept on the couch for a few weeks.

Anyhow...clear up some space in the room of your choice. Put down some polyethelene sheeting. Epoxy does not cure to polyethelene.

Usually with the stitch and glue method you do the inside first. I did it a little different. My way worked. Just saying.

I started with what i will call "tacking". Cause its kind of like tack welding metal in spots to hold it together. If you haven't read about stitch and glue its gonna get confusing for you. Sorry.

Duct tape along all the inner seams where there are no braces. I marked along the outer seams where there are no braces with pencil. Wet out the seams with epoxy. Wait about 45 mins, and the epoxy should be sticky but still "wet". Mix up a batch of epoxy putty. I bought an epoxy putty mix rather than mucking about trying to thicken it myself. you can save some money apparently if you thicken your own paste, i didn't want to add another element of chance so i just bought the putty mix. Once the initial epoxy is sticky mix up some putty and apply it to the wetted out areas. I gave it a flat fillet rather than a rounded one, and planned on going over these tacks with a proper fillet afterwords. I tried to make a little drawing of what i did. The fillet is not rounded.

Once this has cured fully you can remove all your braces and it should hold its shape. Then you duct tape all the rest of the inner seams.

Step 8: Stitch and Glue 2 - Outer Seams

Like i said i let the tacking cure fully. I gave it 48 hours to be certain. Now we can finish the outer seams.

I cut all the fiberglass tape strips i would need to length before hand and place them about the boat so that i would know where they go. These fiber glassing sessions can get long and should always be done all at once.

Try not to epoxy fresh layers over cured ones. Fresh epoxy doesn't bond well to cured epoxy. if you do this it is reccomended that you sand the cured epoxy to give a rough surface for a fresh layer to adhere to.

Luckily the paste from the tacking has a relatively rough surface which held really well to the finishing layers. The tacking that was done was fully cured and subsequent layers have a risk of not adhering well.

Anyhow. Double check that all your inner seams have been taped, and that you have all your fiberglass tape strips ready to go. Wet out the outer seams and make sure to put a thin layer over the tacking. For me, by the time i had worked my way around from one end of the boat to the other the area i had started with was sticky. Mix up putty, and lay a rounded fillet along all the seams and over your tacked areas.

In the previous step i had a drawing of what a good finished seam should look like and thats basically how it should look. Lay the fiberglass tape along all the seams. The putty should still be wet so you can kind of use the tape to shape the fillets.

Now lay a final layer of epoxy to the tape. Try to work out the air bubbles. This should be thought of as finishing work. Do whatever you can to make the seams nice. Cured epoxy is the the most irritating thing in the world to sand and shape. The fiberglass tape should basically be see through. If you have any spots that are still white then you haven't wetted out the tape enough.

Now let it cure. I ended up waiting about a week, mostly i didn't have time to put in. But generally 24-48 hours is more than enough.

Step 9: Stitch and Glue 3 - Inner Seams

Ok. So flip the boat! Remove the duct tape. You can now see what i meant about the center brace being a strip. The cut out piece was really helpful while tacking and finishing the outside but is no longer needed. In fact it probably could have been removed all together at this point and i would have had an easier job of epoxying the inner seams.

So this is a lot like the last step. Pre-cut all your fiberglass tape. Lay down a layer of epoxy along the seams. Let it get sticky. Lay down a pretty fillet of the epoxy putty. Lay the fiberglass tape along the seams. Again this is basically finishing work, and you can use the tape a little to shape the fillet. Lay a layer of epoxy over the tape making sure it wets out fully. (should be clear)

Let it cure!

Step 10: What Not to Do?

So i added a strip of wood to the bottom along the length in the hopes of making it go straighter in the water. Next time i would have put this in before any of the epoxy work or left it off completely. To make it i cut a strip of 1x4 in half lengthwise and screwed the two bits on. I then epoxied them and filled the gap with putty, and put a little fillet on the outer edges. I think it looks like crap. Partly because i was using the last of my putty so i didn't have enough to do it as well as i thought. also i knew at this point that it would not turn out exactly as i wanted so i got a little lazy about the whole thing. I think it did help it to move better in the water. Also i would have sealed the hull at this point. I decided to add seats and some other stuff before sealing. oh well. lets proceed.

Step 11: Seats

Not wanting to boat alone i added seatS! I put the rowing seat just towards the butt end side of the center brace and a passenger seat right up at the front. The middle one works all right but even a small person sitting right up at the front dips the bow into the water quite a ways. A better plan would be to put a passenger seat right up against the butt end and the rowing seat a little forward of the center brace. Also a cover over the bow section wouldn't hurt. Learn by my mistake. Also I made it so that the front seat was removable and the rowing seat was permanent, thinking i'd be able to remove the front seat and recline there to read or drink or something. this too makes the bow dip dangerously into the water.

Step 12: Oar Locks

I bought my oars and the pin dealies they attach to but for some reason thought i'd make my own oarlocks. They work but some commercial ones might be better.

Step 13: Sanding

Sanding was a bitch! cured epoxy is really hard. I moved the boat onto my balcony onto a stand i made for it to rest on its side. I used a power sander at first but the clouds of dust prompted a visit from my building manager. Apparently my neighbours did not appreciate clouds of dust wafting over their drying laundry or something. whiners! so i had to finish sanding by hand. lengthy and difficult so i kind of cut corners here. 90% of the ugliness of the boat can attributed to this. The finished product looks like its got duct tape holding it together beneath the paint. if there is one step you should do to its entirety its this one. unless you like an amateur lookin job. in that case do what i did and sand down the pointy bits and call it done.

Step 14: Sealing and Painting

Like i've said at this point i was starting to cut corners so normally sealing it means painting the entire thing in epoxy. I only did the outer hull with epoxy. 2 coats. All done on the balcony.

I painted 2 coats over the whole thing. Would have been easier without the rowing seat there.

Anyhow...i used marine paint. Battleship grey. Adds to the duct tape effect on the seams. I added some bits to the corners where the side pieces join the back and front peices with holes in them so i could have somewhere to tie a rope to it.

Step 15: Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labour

So throw the boat in your truck. Go to the lake. Row about marveling at your creation. I learned a great deal and am currently working on a bigger, better, badder boat!

It ain't big or pretty but it was built in a 1 bedroom apartment. And for a first try it's bad-ass!



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    Hey thanks for the great instructions! Me and my brothers made this for my dads birthday and it brought him to tears. We worked super hard and pounded it out in 2 weeks. Im interested to see the other boats youve made, could you post pictures somewhere? Thanks!

    To al_packer my point was more that you shouldn't avoid getting into something like this just because you don't know what every part is called.

             I think you did quite well for working inside an apartment. Perhaps some Silkaflex putty would be easier than stitch and glue. Also exterior house paint is far less expensive and as you are not keeping the boat in the water it may save you quite a bit of money over the epoxy paints.

    Yes to the paint. Unless you are storing it in the water exterior house paint will suffice at a tenth the price. As for sicaflex I've never used it but it is rumored to leach bituminous substances in its wake. Also I'm pretty sure it's a sealant only. It may not provide any strength to the joints.

    Sikaflex 292 is a high-strength adhesive sealant, possibly tougher than 3M 5200. When we had to remove aluminum frame windows that had been installed with 5200 on a fiberglass pilothouse the 5200 was stronger than the fiberglass. I'm using some Loctite PL Premium Construction Adhesive on my latest project. I expect to know how well it holds up in about 10 or so years.

    Actually, no, nautical terminology is what it is, not to discourage or frustrate the novice, but to make communication perfectly clear in building and in operating your boat. A good site for explanation of many terms is And, yes, there is the credibility factor: which term would make you more credible when talking about your project--"top thingy" or "sheer clamp"?

    While I'm on my soap box, let me expand the discussion a little. There's an old saying that "a man can never have too many tools". Well, language is the tool kit of the intellect. The more words you know and can use, the more complex the ideas you can create. If you don't have the proper verbal tool set in finance, for example, you're dead meat when you come up against a stock broker or fund salesman. Without the proper verbal tool kit in home construction and real estate you're totally handicapped in trying to buy or sell a house.

    So, in conclusion, I urge you to take the time to pick up the basics of nautical terminology. If you're like most people, once you build your first boat you are soon going to want to build something bigger and better. Have fun learning and building.

    So how long did it take you?

    In the grAnd scheme of things? Not very long.

    about 3 months. there were a couple of delays. with complete devotion and unlimited funds you could pull it off in a couple weeks.