Introduction: Make Your Own Quick and Easy Zip Tie & Ply Mini Boat - Maximum Fun for the Least Money!

Picture of Make Your Own Quick and Easy Zip Tie & Ply Mini Boat - Maximum Fun for the Least Money!

Intro, Braving the elements?

I'm entering this build for the 'brave the elements' contest as this project has enabled me to get out there and experience the elements in my local environment. I live in a town which is surrounded on three sides by water, in the middle of a river estuary. I am not a good swimmer as I was brought up miles from the sea in Manchester, which is why I always wear a full Atlantic life - jacket. I have always wanted a boat, but found them out of my budget, so when I found that I could download plans from the internet to make a boat with just two sheets of plywood. It was a no-brainer. The problem for me was, where would I make it? I realised that I could make it in the attic if I could get it down through the hatch.

I measured the hatch first to make sure I could get it down, which I did by hoisting it from the rafters. So I called my boat 'Attica'.

I have since been able to explore the local river estuary and go way out past the pier offshore, on fishing and photography trips. One trip up the river took five hours, but after a refreshment break, I could put my feet up and just steer without paddling all the way back to the sea. (see the photos).

The build.

It costs very little and can be made easily with very basic skills in very little time. You need very simple tools and everything can be found on ebay, Amazon, or your local DIY store. It can be made by anyone with reasonable manual skills in a matter of days.

The 'stitch and glue' or 'sewn' method of boat construction is a tried and tested technique that has been used for centuries. The Vikings were known to use copper wire and resin. The earliest example of a 'sewn' boat is the 40+ metres long Egyptian funerary boat which dates back from 2600 BC.

Nowadays, we can use zip ties and polyurethane glue and paint it with polymer paint (household emulsion!), You can make a better, stronger boat using epoxy resin and a fibreglass skin, but that is much harder to do and more expensive. (That will be my next Instructable!). This method is a good start to build experience and gives you a cheap, quick way to make a boat good for a season or two. This boat is amazing fun as it is easy to store, easy to transport and just loads of fun.

If you like it, please don't forget to vote for me (Just click the orange flag in the top right hand corner) Thanks.

Step 1: ​Design

Picture of ​Design

There are many designs available for this construction method, including kayaks and sailing boats, but the design I chose uses free plans for the 'mouseboat' by Kevin Atkin as it was the smallest and simplest. It produces a very stable but manoeuvrable hull, with a shallow draft. It in turn is based on the Mirror dingy design, so called as it was sponsored by the Daily Mirror Newspaper in 1962 in a drive to bring cheaper sailing to the masses. The free plans are available here and come with full instructions to mark out on your plywood.

This 'mouseboat is about the same width as a kayak, but has a truncated design that is easier to store, ( I carried mine up and down 5 flights of stairs as I kept it in a closet in my flat.) It is easy to transport on top of a regular car roofrack too.

Step 2: Disclaimer and Safety Advice

Picture of Disclaimer and Safety Advice

This tutorial is just to show you the construction method. It is up to you if you decide that your boat is seaworthy! Using one that you have built through these instructions is entirely at your own risk. I recommend that you always wear a lifejacket, don't go out further than you can swim and not in adverse weather or where currents can drift you out. These currents can be surprisingly strong. Always tether your paddle so you can't lose it overboard. Always check your boat before going out, especially for cracks or splits in the wood or leaks in the seams. You made it so you can repair it! When cutting, sanding, glueing or painting, it's always advisable to wear gloves and eye protection as well as a face mask. You don't want to breathe in the fine particles of wood dust or get splinters or irritating chemicals on your skin. Always read the safety advice. I found the polyurethane glue melted latex gloves so read the manufacturers information carefully. As I am not a confident swimmer, I chose to fill the fore and aft sections with waterproof expanding foam, therefore with no possibility of it becoming waterlogged. I also wear a full 'Atlantic' lifejacket at all times. The closest time I have come to capsizing, however, ironically, is when I was nearly swamped by the inshore lifeboat! The wake on that thing at full speed is phenomenal. This boat is really only suitable for inshore, lake, canal, or river use. I found that even relatively small waves would lap over the decks and run into the boat. For that reason, I later built a deck spray using waterproof material, which proved to be very effective. I have been fishing half a mile off shore in calm conditions. The wake from other vessels being the greatest hazard.

Step 3: Materials

Picture of Materials

The plywood is standard 4 foot by 8 foot (1.22 m × 2.44 m). (You don't even need expensive 'marine ply' as it will be completely sealed with the paint and glue and the glue is very strong). 6mm may seem very thin, but it needs to be flexible enough to form into the boat shape and doing so will make it much stronger. Note also that it is the water that supports your weight!

2 Sheets marine plywood or good quality WBP plywood 6mm (¼”) 4’ x 8’ (1.22 m × 2.44 m)

4 Pieces pine wood 12 mm (½”) x 18mm (¾”) x 8’ (2.44m)

4 Tubes PL Construction waterproof glue (I used PU18 from eBay

50mm wide Fibreglass tape about 15 m (50ft)

Stainless steel screws about m6 & m8 size.

Zip ties (about 50 1/4" )

Clamps (most pound shops have these, you can't have too many! see my pictures)

Household emulsion and primer

Step 4: ​Tools

A tape measure and metal rule

A 't' square

A meter rule

Hand saws

Jig saw

Drill and bits

A hammer

A sharp craft knife

A Surform or sharp traditional plane


A glue tube applicator 'gun'

Lots of rags

White spirit & turpentine (for cleaning up the glue and paint brushes)

Step 5: Construction

Picture of Construction

The instructions downloaded in the zip file along with the plans, have a sheet of measurements which you can mark up on the plywood. (I can't reproduce them here for copyright reasons) It uses a 'datum' point and measurements from that across and down the plywood. With those you mark a series of crosses and just join up the points to create your panel outlines. I laid mine out on my living room floor. As you will be drawing large curves, it's best to find a long flexible object, such as a piece of plastic pipe or flexible wooden batten, to give a smoother line. Once you have drawn the panels out you can cut them out very easily with a jigsaw, which goes through like butter. Next you carefully drill holes along all the edges that are to be joined every 10cm (6") and about 6mm (1/4") in from the edge. These need to be large enough to take the zip ties. Check after the first one. When all the holes are done, turn the ply wood over and sand off the rough burrs, watching out that you don't get splinters in your hands. Use the zip ties to join the two ends and the middle of each panel together first, then all the ones in between. Be careful not to pull them so tight that they damage the wood or pull it out of a smooth curve. You will find that the thin flexible ply will now be a lot stronger when it is formed into the proper boat shape. You now need to cover the joins with fibreglass tape. Make sure that you use plenty of glue as this will seal the gaps. I found I needed to put more glue on top of the tape, to soak in and make a smooth finish. (Don't be confused about the black and white glue in the picture, as I ordered more glue from a cheaper provider and it was black. It's essentially the same PU18). Once all the seams are done and have been given the required time to cure, you then have to add the inner bulkheads and the edging strips. These are screwed in place and then also glued around the joins. The clamps are used to hold it all together while the glue dries. After everything is complete and the glue is dry, you need to sand the whole thing all over to give a good 'key' for the paint. Household emulsion is actually plastic (polyurethane) and will help to seal the wood, but you will need primer and then at least two coats of gloss after sanding down each coat. Good sanding is the most tedious part of the process, but it will greatly improve the quality of the finished boat. I used a slightly heavier ply for the decks and varnished with exterior quality varnish. It is also good to round the edges of the wood strips, first using the surform and then sandpaper to get a smooth finish. You will be glad of any rounded edges when you are handling the boat later on. I did a leak test by filling it with water and found only one small leak where I'd forgotten to fill a zip tie hole securing the inner bulkhead. I glued in two pieces of staircase handrail to support the seat and provide a useful carrying/tie down bar. The seat, which is bungeed in, is just a waterproof cushion for an outdoor chair. The base of that being a couple of pieces of ply with a brass hinge. I also found some plastic deck cleats and a fishing rod holder on eBay. I made my paddle from a 5ft (150cm) long piece of curtain rail and two off cuts of thicker ply.

Step 6: Having Fun Out on the Water

Picture of Having Fun Out on the Water

I've had some amazing adventures, including long expeditions up rivers and off shore fishing trips. I found that wherever I went there was a lot of interest. Even a girl from the local sailing school who drew along side on a paddle board, said that they were all admiring my boat. Everyone wants to know where I got it from. The fact that you have made something instead of buying it, just adds to the enjoyment. Not only that, it works out at a fraction of the cost of a plastic kayak!

Step 7: Future Project

They say that once you have caught the bug it's hard to stop. My next project which I have already started, will be a better sea going version made with epoxy seams and then fibreglassed. It will incorporate skate wheels, so I don't always have to carry it. It will also have lights and a 12v bilge pump as well as the facility to add an electric trolling motor. Watch this space!

If you like my project, please don't forget to vote for me
(Just click the orange flag in the top right hand corner) Thanks.


dylan_sebuck (author)2016-07-15

How much weight will this boat support?

xp24 (author)2016-05-23

A nice and simple instuctable! Is it safe to use the boat on a river? I mean, it's only thin plywood... On a lake, maybe...

PaulA42 (author)xp242016-05-24

Thanks, but what a question! Of course it's safe to use it in a river, lake or even the sea. Did you not see the photos? It's only thin ply but if it were thicker it would not bend to make the boat shape. In any case it's the water that supports your weight, not the plywood. If you want it stronger you can cover it in fibreglass. Perhaps you should actually read my instructable. It's all in there!

warriorethos2 (author)2016-02-15

PaulA42, your mini boat that has inspired you to brave the water is nice. I found that your instructions were easy to follow even though you could not provide the schematics due to copy write laws. Your pictures of the pieces before your put the boat together were helpful but I wish you did have at least one photo of the zip ties being placed 6 inches apart. I could not tell if the top of the boat was flat or if it had a small pitch so the water would drain off to the sides and not into the boat? I look forward to seeing your next build. Ensure you take lots of pictures through your steps just in case you want to enter in another contest. Good luck in this contest.

PaulA42 (author)warriorethos22016-02-15

Hi Warriorethos, Thank you for your comments. There are a couple of my pictures which do show the zip ties if you look closely. I provided a link to the schematics as I couldn't reproduce them. The decks are flat which is why, as I explained, I had to add spraydecks to keep the water running off. Paul.

warriorethos2 (author)PaulA422016-02-15

Yes you are right, I missed the zip tie in the picture. Still a good project and will be following you for your next boat build. Good luck in the contest.

PaulA42 (author)warriorethos22016-02-15

Thanks, yes, I already have all the materials including the wheels and 12v bilge pump! Believe it or not, my ultimate project is to make a microlight (ultralight) on floats. which is why I wanted to get experience of the water, particularly currents and waves. I do have a lot of experience hang gliding and some microlighting. I could make the floats using the same technique. Paul.

000colin00 (author)2016-02-10

Looks like a teacup sailboat. You should try putting a sail on it.

PaulA42 (author)000colin002016-02-13

If you put a sail on it, you would need a keel too, which means it would no longer be able to go in shallow water. there are designs available for sailing versions, but they are quite different. The Streaker, is a class of sailboat which can be homebuilt in a similar way, but it is a much more ambitious project.

000colin00 (author)2016-02-10

Looks like a teacup sailboat. You should try putting a sail on it.

-chase- (author)2016-02-07


I was thinking of building a folder years back but never got around to it. Nice to see different variations of the diy small boats. You did a real nice job building her from what I'm reading and seeing from your images. Thanks for sharing.

- chase -

Btw - error in your material list. You have 6mm listed as ¼ and ½ imperial. Don't think that's correct for both. ;-)

PaulA42 (author)-chase-2016-02-07

Thanks, and thanks for spotting the error! The pine wood should be 12mm. I've corrected it.

rschoenk (author)2016-01-31

can't open the zip file but I'm going to build it any

pfadams (author)rschoenk2016-02-01

You need to download a free program like 'Winzip' for a Windows PC. There are others for MAC etc

rschoenk (author)pfadams2016-02-02

Thanks for the info, so nice of you to help.

rschoenk (author)pfadams2016-02-01

I'm using an iPad , don't know how to view a zip file here ?

pfadams (author)rschoenk2016-02-01

Here's the link

pfadams (author)rschoenk2016-02-01

You just need izip the free app here (or just search in the app store)

boatmakertoo (author)2016-02-01

You have made unique and beautiful boat. I am amazed that you take this small boat offshore. I live in southern Ca too and have recently built a stitch and glue boat. The plan for mine came from Hannu's boat yard and was called a one sheet sampan. I felt that it was too small for my 80 year old, 230# body so I increased all dimensions by 25%. Testing it in a pool it proved to be easy rowing and seems to have sufficient freeboard at least for protected waters. mine is sealed with thickened epoxy in the seams. The seams and bottoms are covered with fiberglass and epoxy. I am presently installing decking, floatation and removable seats in the hope of making it safe for two men. Cartopping is the ultimate goal. I believe that with two men and some gear it will still have 10 inches of freeboard. I think that if I duplicate your boat I would increase the size a similar amount. Always wearing a life preserver is something that I have done for more than 70 years even thought I am a strong swimmer. The water here is so cold that one needs to be able to reboard the boat should you end up in the water. You have already provided a large rear deck that would make reboarding and bailing possible. -Boatbuildertoo, gepetto3rd

corpus s

pfadams (author)boatmakertoo2016-02-02

Thank you sir, I impressed that you are still actively enjoying life. I am very observant of the conditions and only go out in good weather. It can change very quickly and I have drifted out much further than I would have liked a couple of times. If you do a Google search you can do d plans for larger boats rather than adapting the plans.

Blaise_Gauba (author)2016-02-01

I used EPS foam cut to the shape of the forward and aft compartments and sealed them in permanently. I also put in a open drain in the bottom of my small wooden craft, so water may come in...but it always drains out. The boat is totally unsinkable. But I agree, I do not take it too far from shore, not more than a couple of kilometers and only in perfect weather conditions. I'm on the west coast of the United States in Southern California, so mornings tend to be the perfect time to go out on the water.

Still, this is an excellent little tutorial on your build and is inspiring.

PaulA42 (author)Blaise_Gauba2016-02-01

Thank you, Always a bit careful about claiming that it's 'unsinkable' following the Titanic's demise, however. Note I'm wearing a full Atlantic lifejacket. This design is meant for inshore, calm waters, although I have been quite a way offshore in good conditions. The wind can whip up surprisingly big waves on a lake or wide river too. I stopped the water coming over the decks with a deck spray, made of waterproof material. Now I can stand small waves or the wake of a passing jet ski and the water doesn't come in.

Blaise_Gauba (author)PaulA422016-02-01

Yes, you're right about the Titanic claim. But my little boat has capsized and it just won't go anywhere under the water...and it's easy to flip over in the water when it capsizes. Not that it has actually more than once. Although I have practiced flipping it just to make sure that I could flip it back over. Stay safe on the water! :-)

Gavin Atkin (author)2016-01-31

Thanks Attica - I'm always delighted to hear about people enjoying these little boats. I should say that I would avoid using the expanding foam because of the danger that it could trap any moisture that sneaked in, potentially causing rot... I'd favour empty tanks and drain plugs that can be opened to ventilate and dry them. Meanwhile, this page might add to the general inspiration

PaulA42 (author)Gavin Atkin 2016-02-01

Gavin, you may have a few more people interested in your plans, as this instructable has had 18976 views!

Gavin Atkin (author)PaulA422016-02-01

That's a stunning result!

PaulA42 (author)Gavin Atkin 2016-02-01

indeed :-)

pfadams (author)Gavin Atkin 2016-02-01

Hi Gavin, many thanks for your design/free plans and your comments. This has been a very worthwhile project and has created a lot if interest. I tested the foam before I used it. It doesn't absorb water in fact.

Gavin Atkin (author)pfadams2016-02-01

Absorbing water or moisture isn't my concern - it's the danger of trapping it, perhaps against ply. But it's a theoretical concern only. as I've no experience of doing this and can't say what the result will be...

pfadams (author)pfadams2016-02-01

I called the boat 'Attica' because I built it in my attic! It is registered as one of Gavin's designs no. M254.

evanmars (author)2016-01-31

I made one of these a few years ago. Simple and light enough to portage for short distances.
I built it specifically for a Whereigo in Grafton State Park in New York.

pfadams (author)evanmars2016-02-01

Thanks for your comments/photos That's a good photo showing the zip ties!

evanmars (author)evanmars2016-01-31

That's my daughter in the middle pic, my feet in the last one. I weighed about 230lb at that time. That design is aimed at kids, Gavin Atkins has several designs along that general design, some wider and some longer for larger adults.
Here is his website:

MarkF30 (author)2016-01-31

Great Instructable on an excellent project. We had a Mirror Dingy when we were kids, lots of fun to be had "messing 'round in boats" [Wind in the Willows]. I was going to suggest that you add some built in wheels to make handling easier. A cut down juice bottle tied to the seat supports would be a great addition for bailing out water.

pfadams (author)MarkF302016-02-01

I did have a cut-down juice bottle to bale out. I found that water came down the paddle with every stroke. Also, I have some skate wheels to include on my next (fibreglass) instructable.

nutley (author)2016-01-31

I *think* all plywood sold in the US is "marine grade" these days as it is all made with waterproof glue. Poss. the more expensive stuff has fewer or no knots and voids too.

Also in the spring when people do their spring cleaning they often throw out bits of wood/plywood free for the taking.

Excellent Instructible!

ColR (author)nutley2016-01-31

Not so in Australia. Marine grade is more expensive and worth it. Enjoyed the instruct able though

nutley (author)nutley2016-01-31

I also collect broom and shovel handles for the long dowels. Would make a good paddle handle. Also old thrown out house paint. But I;m a crazy recycler!

AviationMetalSmith (author)2016-01-31

What if I want to use hot-melt glue?

I dont think hot glue likes water, my experiments as a kid making boats for the pool always came unstuck with hot melt glue..

If it's all you have to waterproof seams, I would venture a yes. You'll need a LOT of glue sticks and I would use a putty knife/spatula/spreading tool to work the hot glue into the seams.

Hot melt glue wont work like he said use a polyurethane glue or fiberglass cloth and resin

Hi, thanks for your message.
polyurethane glue is tried and tested. I don't know about hot glue and whether you could safely rely on it, also you would need a lot of it, so I think that would be expensive. The best, more permanent solution would be fibreglass, but that is also expensive and needs a lot more skill and care to use.

stevemoore21075 (author)2016-01-31

Does anyone know the weight capacity for this design?

pfadams (author)stevemoore210752016-01-31

Well, I am 200lbs. You wouldn't want to load this design up much more than that. There is still capacity for my heavy anchor, fishing gear and lunch though!

The_Doctor___guy (author)2016-01-31


pfadams (author)The_Doctor___guy2016-01-31

of course, those are real photos!

BernyM1 (author)2016-01-31

I would recommend a 2nd hand 3HP seagull two stroke outboard which I use for my twin hulled kayak. It's lighter than an electric trolling motor with battery, more powerful and runs for about 2 hours on a tank full. I picked one up for under £60 on ebay.

pfadams (author)BernyM12016-01-31

I did consider one of those. It would be a lot messier and noisier though.

wclapie (author)2016-01-31

very good looking sir. master craftsmanship!

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