Picture of Optimist sailboat build
optimist picture.JPG
Building the Wood/Epoxy Optimist

In 1947 a gentleman named Clark Mills designed a small sail boat for kids to learn to build and sail called the Optimist.  This boat was designed to be built from 3 sheets of plywood, with basic woodworking abilities.  As time progressed, builders began to modify the boats to gain speed advantages - as happens with all vehicles.
In 1995 the International Optimist Association took the boat back to its roots and a set of dimensions were compiled to retain an exact shape of the boat, so as to remove design advantages from one boat to another.  The Optimist is tightly controlled now with over 60 measurements and tolerances of the hull are generally +/- 5 mm.  The tolerances do not allow the builder to exploit the possible variations of shape of the hull, but do allow a competent builder to construct a legal racing hull. 

Half Moon Bay Yacht Club has a summer youth sailing camp.  Through the years we have trained many a young boy or girl to rig and sail the small boats available to us.  Normally in an older Laser or Coronado 15.  In 2011, the sailing program decided that the Optimist had a place in our sailing fleet to allow the younger kids (7-15) to rig, launch, sail and retrieve the boats themselves while under adult supervision.  We set about looking at the building of wood/epoxy Optimist sailing boats.  We quickly focused on making racing legal hulls so as to be competitive with other surrounding sailing clubs.  This is where the accuracy and repeatability of the ShopBot CNC router at TechShop of  Menlo Park www.techshop.ws became an invaluable tool in our fleet building.  I made it at TechShop.  Due to the close tolerances allowed, and the desire to have an almost identical fleet of boats, the ShopBot  fit the bill to the letter.  Once I redrew the plans into CAD drawings and transferred to cut files the different parts of the boats were identical.  Each group of people that wanted to build a boat only had small amounts of fitting, beveling and gluing to accomplish, with very little use of dangerous equipment needed and quick progress to show for their efforts, so kids fit right into the task of building boats.
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MikeD5010 days ago

Hello from Austria,

great project, awesom description ... very well done, congratulation.

Can you please explain your reason for choosing

1) bottom thickness of 12mm vs. minimum allowed thickness of 6mmm (with 12mm thickness for the doubling pieces)

2) width of doubling pieces 280 and 80 vs. minimum allowed 180 and 70 respectively



BoatGuy1154 months ago

This looks alot like a Teacup sailboat which is made for the same thing, teach people how to sail. :)

timmay161 year ago

Hey I know about the rules and laws around the moulds for fibreglass hull, but has anyone ever made one or attempted one

superdave.morris (author) 1 year ago

http://www.optiworld.org/epoxy.html This link has most of the same stuff as the PDF did. I can not get it to open properly either now. Between that and the British link you should have what you need to build. Good luck. Hope it is a father child project.

Matatas1 year ago

Are you coach now? Do you have realy good sailboats such as winner and another good ships>? And good idea for new yachtsman :D, but i think after week they will need new light original ships. So where is no point to buy wood all parts. I think it's better to give older sailboats for new yachtsman and all costs for fixing will buy off

I have tried several times on several computers to get the optiworld pdf to open and it seems to be corrupted? Anyone have any alternatives. Please help/

wow - great work

superdave.morris (author) 1 year ago

Here is our fleet of Opti's we made. 2 years later they are going strong. Taught many young sailors how to sail. Taken a few hits but easy enough to repair. We added a foam fender to the bow which helps prevent damage from running into each other. I started to add pictures of a sailing class but decided not to put kids pictures on because of todays legal environment.

mwuhrer1 year ago


I love the instructions on the site, but I cannot download any files. It just leads me to a list of numbers. I do not have autoCAD on my computer, but would send it an architect to print it out. Can you help me with that?

superdave.morris (author)  mwuhrer1 year ago
You should be able to download the DWG files. these would need to be opened on some type of CAD program. I use turbocad. Less capable than Auto Cad but cheaper and easier to use as well. Every automated cutting system I use reads a dwg file to convert to cut files. If you are just planning on cutting them out by hand and want full size prints to cut out you will need to take the dwg file to someone with a wide format printer. They would probably have the software to open them. Otherwise just go by the plans and lay it out by hand per the dimensions of the plans that are on the web. That is basically what the DWG files are anyway. Best of luck.
Echinda211 year ago
what a grate father and son project
arduinoer3 years ago
Why waste a great racing sail and spars on a wooden boat?
3 lbs lighter in the ends than fiberglass, as in, significantly faster in chop
much more durable than fiberglass
more collision resistant than fiberglass
it's art.
hello, long time sailor, first time building one. i am looking to build a 12-14 foot FJ/420/topaz type sailboat (2 person, mainsail and jib). any ideas? i was thinking of making it pretty much like a longer version of an opti (preferably narrower beam to length ratio than an opti though, as otherwise i would be looking at about a 6-8 foot wide boat.)
Why not go buy a used C-15. Just buying the hardware new for a boat like you described will cost probably 2x as much as a used C15 with a trailer. A friend of mine just bought a nice one off Craigslist for 600 with trailer and new sails. Needed a repair in the bow where it got T-boned but that took about $40 and 4 hours and now she has a great boat. Boat market is real soft here in the bay area. Put out a shingle on Craigslist for wanted small boat and go visit your local marinas and ask about abandon boats as well as boat storage yards for abandon boats. These Optis are so easy and inexpensive to build compared to most other boats is the only reason I would build these over buy them...Plus the fun/learning factor for the kids. Good luck...
are you suggesting i buy instead of build?!?!? you, sir are NOT WORTHY of being a member of instructables. (jk, i see the logic, but i want to have something that i built and can be proud of.)
The boat you have in mind I think is a FireBall. There are some gorgeous wood boats of that type up near the great lakes, and they are FAST.
Superdave this is a great gift you've put out there. My son and I built an opti without templates recently, I'll be NC cutting the next one for sure as we've been there and done that.
Thanks a lot
Hello from Greece. I managed to open the dxf files .do the crv and sbp files have the same content as the dxf ones.?Thank you for your reply
superdave.morris (author)  gkapralospls2 years ago
Those are exactly the same as the dxf files just converted to the machining files. All you should need are the dxf. Dave
superdave.morris (author) 2 years ago
Macbeath hardwoods was our source of marine plywood.
930 Ashby Ave. - Berkeley, CA 94710
(800) 479-9907 / (510) 843-4390
(510) 843-9378 fax

You can stop by Half Moon bay Yacht club and see the boats for your self. M-F during the 10-3 period they are normally all sailing in kids summer camp. Great fun to watch. Rest of the time they sit on the rack next to the launch ramp.
Thanks Dave,
Don't know if I can make it over there during the week due to work. But I'll give it a shot. If I don't make it over during the week, I'll come over on a weekend and take a look at them out of the water on the rack. Oh, and thanks for the marine plywood source w/ contact info. That will be very helpful.
I'm a longtime sailor and a new Tech Shop member in the Bay Area. I'm excited to tackle making an Optimist Dingy. I grew up sailing in Dyer Dinghys and Sunfish and I think this will be a great little boat to try my hand at for a first Tech Shop project. I'll be taking the necessary classes at the SF and Palo Alto shops to build this boat. Any advice would be much appreciated. And I'd love to come by and see the ones you made for the kids in Half Moon Bay sometime. Do they race regularly in the summer?
superdave.morris (author)  benjaminshaw2 years ago
Half Moon Bay Yacht Club is located in Princeton harbor. Monday -Friday during the day the youth sailing summer camp will normally have all the boats out sailing in front of the club.
Why can't I open the crv sbp and dxf files
superdave.morris (author)  gkapralospls2 years ago
I can not tell you why you can't open the files. I just checked them and the DXF files open in my cad program. I can't open the crv sbp files except on the shop bot Which has the software to do that.
So how much would one of these cost to make in it's simplest form? Like, a Home Depot budget form?
superdave.morris (author)  ssmithsonian2 years ago
We figured our cost per boat about 400. We purchased prefab sails, daggerboards and rudders due to the kids beating up the wood ones. The FRP daggerboards and rudders hold up better.
hope you get a kick out of this one.
my point is to make a sail boat able to sail freely on a lake. what i want is to make a boat like this.
yoo hoo yoo hoo a pirates life for me and relly bad eggs.jpg
could you extend the frame and add a second sail.
If you did, it would in no way be an opti. Could not race in the opti class and there fore would be a one design sailboat. Which you could do. But it won't be an opti. The purpose of the instructable is to make a legal, measurable, race able opti....

I will add a bit to this to say we built 7 of these boats for our club. Summer youth sailing camp totally sold out and we even added 2 more weeks. Now we have an after school program going this fall. These boats have been an great addition to our sailing program. They took their fair share of bumps and hits and I think held up better than a Fiberglass one would have. You can see pictures on www.hmbyc.org.
Mick B3 years ago
I have sent those DXF files to a friend who has a cabinet shop with a CNC router. I will wait until your updated files to go forward. These machines can do bevels? Would a designed-in bevel on the bottom panel edges save some work?
superdave.morris (author)  Mick B3 years ago
Just added the 18 mm dxf file as well..
superdave.morris (author)  Mick B3 years ago
I just edited the instructable with the 2 revised DXF files. These change the bottom width 2mm to bring it into the center of tolerance. I would just bevel by hand. A hand planer works great and takes 3 minutes. Programing time would be more than that. At the dry fit you can see if you need to add more bevel. The revision also moves the bottom outer doublers inward and adds to groove for these in the mid frame and mast thwart. The items on the second sheet of 12 mm are for the daggerboard case sides, daggerboard and rudder. For our club boats the 12mm daggerboard and rudder are too fragile. Probably fine in a private boat. On the DXF file the size of the plywood is drawn as an outer line for reference only. Superdave.morris@gmail.com
Mick B3 years ago
You put the rudder and daggerboard on a file called 18mm cutsheet. According to the rules 18mm would be too thick for those items... The thickness of the daggerboard (excluding bevels) shall be not less than 14 mm (12mm for wooden construction) and not more than 15 mm. The thickness of the rudder (excluding bevels) shall be not less than 14 mm (12 mm for wooden construction) and not more than 15 mm.
superdave.morris (author)  Mick B3 years ago
And 12mm is too thin and fragile for our club boats. So the belt sander and the layers of ply for guides makes for a easy shaping of the material to end up with the desired thickness, contour and shape. You could also cut it out of a 12mm and 4mm but would require you to buy more wood. Belt sander is quick and easy. With the DXF files there you can pull any piece out of the drawings to cut it out of what ever material you like. We are actually buying the rudder/dagger board FPR combos for our club boats due to the fact that the kids run the boats aground and the dagger board takes a great deal of abuse. A private boat probably wouldn't see that abuse.

Or run it through a planer a pass or two... And again the 12 mm version for our club wood boats is too fragile...Thanks for the critical analysis of it. Sounds like your serious. I have tweeked my drawings a little on our #6 and 7 boats. When I get the time I will post them. Change of the position of bottom doubler inward slightly, mast thwart outward 2mm and bottom 2mm wider at 1 spot. This hits the measurements a little more to middle of min and max.
Mick B3 years ago
You can download the official Optimist plans for free from the USA Optimist site. The International site will charge you. Go to http://usoda.org/ and click on FAQs and then Wooden Boat.
nsijan3 years ago
Hi , Can u tell me where did u find plans? I would like to build one boat for my kid, but your pictures are too small to use them :(
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