How to Build a Wood Sailboat




I've been wanting to combine my two favorite hobbies - woodworking and sailing for a long time, so I thought I'd build a boat. It's got classic lines and looks so dazzling in the sunshine that people constantly stop me at the boat ramp to ask me about it. There's something unbelievably rewarding about building something like this from scratch. This is definitely a boat that is much better built than bought. Here's how I did it.

The boat takes about 100 hours to build. I did it over 3 months, working a little bit just about every day and full days when my schedule permitted.

It will take about $1,000 in total to build if you buy everything at full retail cost (not including tools you might need to buy), but you can spread that across the length of the project. For example, you only need to buy one $30 sheet of plywood at a time, take it home, draw out the parts (loft) that fit on just that sheet and cut them out. That will take a couple of hours right there. Some boating supply stores (chandleries) might let you setup an account which might give you a discount if you tell them you're building a boat.

All of the skills needed to build a sailboat can be learned slowly, one step at a time. For example, if you've never fiber-glassed plywood before, just practice on a small piece first to get your confidence up. This was my first boat build, so I did a lot of learn as you go. Not only am I going to show you the right way to successfully build your own sailboat, but I'm going to share with you the mistakes I made along the way to hopefully save you from repeating them.

The end result will be a very attractive little 8 foot long pram, that is easily made out of 4x8 sheets of plywood that is light enough to put in the back of a small pickup truck or roll down to the local lake on the optional dolly. Anything longer would require you to either make a scarf joint (which is a bit tricky) or buy longer sheets of plywood (which is considerably more expensive).

What you will need:

Boat building plans

8 panels of 1/4" oak plywood 4'x8'

Pencil, Sharpie, ruler, tape measure, yard stick, etc.

Long flexible straight edge

Box of 1" brad nails

2 gallons of epoxy resin

1 gallon of epoxy hardener - SLOW

1 quart silica thickener

5 quarts wood flour thickener

1" masking tape

Japanese pull-saw

Table saw (helps, but optional)


Round-over router bit

Flush trim router bit

Palm/random orbital sander

220 sanding discs


Combination square


Drill bit set

Drill bit extension

Basic hand tools

Small diameter wire or zip ties

Wire cutter

12 C-clamps - 3"

Mixing cups, mixing sticks, rubber/nitrile gloves

Wax paper

16' x 60" of 6oz fiberglass cloth

2" plastic spreader

Gallon of waterproof glue

Glue roller

Silicone bronze screws

Stainless steel fasteners

Small blocks

Pad eyes

Gudgeon & pintle - dinghy size

Patience - large

Elbow grease - large

For more detailed explanations on each step and more specific info/reviews on the materials and parts used, check out my boat build blog:

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Step 1: Cutting Out the Parts...

First, you'll need boat building plans. I purchased some very nice ones from a popular boat building website because I had a specific style in mind to build, a "pram". It's a Norwegian design with lots of buoyancy in the bow and building a pointy boat is a little more difficult. There are a bunch of free boat building plans (search "dinghy") online. Also, I wanted my boat parts to fit in a standard (read cheap) 4'x8' sheet of plywood. It also had to be light enough for me to load/unload/move myself. This boat weighs in at about 70 pounds. When on the custom dolly I built, it's very easy to move from the parking lot to the lake.

Next, you'll need to draw out the parts of the boat full-sized onto the plywood (lofting). I actually did this step on hardboard/masonite because I wanted to make templates of all the parts in case I ever wanted to build another one.

This step requires you to be very meticulous. Carefully transfer the measurements (offsets). They may or may not look correct because it's very non-intuitive to look at curved boat parts that are laying flat. Some parts actually bend the opposite way you think they should. To make the curves, I nailed a bunch of 1" brads into the panel and used a long, flexible straight edge (yard stick, etc.) bent to follow the curve, then I traced the curve with pencil/Sharpie. Once I removed the brads, I had perfectly smooth curves. Keep in mind that with the side panels that are symmetrical to both sides of the boat, only draw out one version and cut two stacked sheets at a time. This ensures the boat will not be lop-sided. Make sure to immobilize the two sheets together with screws outside of the boat parts or use double-sided tape/clamps, etc. to keep the parts registered properly.

Using a Japanese pull-saw allows you to control the cuts very carefully and it can follow the graceful curves. They cut on the pull stroke which means they're very easy to control. Make sure you leave a bit of your cut line, meaning cut just outside the line. This allows you a bit of a safety margin and you can always sand to the line to sweeten it up. This is where the elbow grease really kicks in. It takes hours to cut out the hull panels by hand, but it's worth it. I tried cutting the first part out with the jigsaw and it wandered all over the place and quickly cut inside the line before I knew it. Also, a jig saw blade can lean to one side which could mean two panels might not be the exact same shape. Using hand tools is a classic way to do woodworking and is a very gratifying process. With hand tools, things happen slow enough for you to be in total control, whereas power tools can quickly do unexpected damage. With the understanding that you're building a classic boat, using hand tools wherever possible is part of the philosophy.

The plans I bought were in metric and called for 6mm (1/4") and 9mm (3/8") plywood, but I wanted to make everything out of 1/4" plywood so the thicker parts in the plans were glued together with two layers of 1/4" (so at 1/2" they were a bit thicker than designed). I actually liked this because it made the boat feel sturdier and of course it was cheaper that way. The trade-off was that the boat would be a bit heavier.

For any of the parts that need to be doubled-up/laminated (e.g. the transoms), now is a good time to do that. Make sure you use "waterproof" glue instead of "weatherproof" glue like I did...

Spread a thin layer of glue over one of the "bad" sides (plywood usually has a good side and a bad side, glue bad sides together so good sides show on both outside faces), making sure it's completely covered (I used a special glue roller), then carefully place the other half on top. Align all of the edges together, then clamp them in place. Now put heavy things carefully on top to press the parts together. The glue should be dry in about 6 hours.

NOTE: It's considerably easier and safer to do any woodworking processes to the parts before you assemble the boat. This way, you can safely clamp pieces to the work bench and cut out handle holes, etc. Since my boat is a "lapstrake" design, I had to route a rabbet (groove located on the edge) carefully on the bottom edge of each side panel. This creates a shoulder for the parts to sit on, positively locating them while you're stitching the panels together. Likewise, the grab handles in the transoms are much easier to cut out before putting the boat together.

Also keep in mind that any mistake will be considerably more painful the further you are along in the build. For example, if I biff cutting out the grab handle holes while they're just loose pieces rather than when they're a permanent part of the boat, it's much easier to recover - just make another transom. If you had to patch a hole in the boat, it would be difficult and possibly never look perfect. No pressure...

Step 2: Assembling the Hull...

Once you have the bottom and sides cut out, you can start to "stitch and glue" the hull together. This is a technique used usually for smaller boats to be able to pull the hull form together without the need to build a frame or mold (which can take almost as long and as much wood as the boat itself).

I built a gauge stick to make sure my holes were perfectly spaced at 4" at 1/2" in from the plywood edge. It was 1" wide so either edge was the required 1/2" from the centerline. I worked my way down one side of each of each mated seam and drilled all those holes at once while the panels could lay flat on the bench. Make sure to use a backer block to prevent tear out on the back side, even with such a small drill bit.

With one mating panel drilled with a 1/16" drill bit, hold the mating panel in it's relative position. I used some spare twine to wrangle my panels into the proper orientation as I was marking them. Make a pencil mark where the mating hole should be, remove the pre-drilled panel and drill the second set of holes 1/2" in from the edge. This makes sure there's enough strength to hold the boat together.

The first pass on the stitches is just to get the hull together structurally. You can always go back and make the stitches fancier/tighter and tweak the position of the panels.

The stitches go from the inside out. Cut 6" lengths of wire and bend them into long, narrow U's that are the width of the distance between the holes. Stick the ends through the holes and carefully twist the tails together on the outside of the hull, making sure not to damage the plywood. If you're using zip ties, then the holes you drill will need to be bigger and you'll have to start on the outside, go in, turn around, then back out, then "zip".

Make sure your panels' rabbet shoulders are resting securely on the mating panel and carefully tighten all the stitches. For my boat, once I had two panels stitched to the bottom panel on each side, it was time to attach the transoms (ends). Once all of the exterior parts are stitched together, you should have something that looks like a boat. It will be a little rickety at this stage, but that's okay.

NOTE: In the photos I took of my build, you'll notice that the transom doublers (reinforcers) aren't in place. That was because I was following the instruction manual, but I think that was a mistake, so I highly recommend laminating (gluing) the doublers to the transoms before you stitch the boat together.

Step 3: Reinforcing the Hull Joints...

Now that the hull is stitched together, flip it over upside down. You'll be surprised at how stiff it is, considering how difficult it was to wrangle all those panels into position. Be careful, there's lots of poky wire ends sticking out all over the place.

I used a technique called "tabbing", meaning I made small, structural tabs from thickened epoxy that fit between the stitches, then I removed the stitches and made one long, larger fillet to connect the hull panels together.

Make sure your panels are perfectly aligned and tightened. I used a nipper to lop off most of the tails so they wouldn't get in the way, but that left very sharp spikes.

Make sure your boat is square. Take diagonal measurements from corner to corner, make sure the boat parts are parallel to each other, etc. because if there's a twist in your boat, the next step will make it permanent, which will affect the boat's performance.

Now mix up a batch of epoxy and silica thickener according to the manufacturer's directions (meaning each type of epoxy has a different resin to hardener ratio) until it's between the consistency of thick ketchup, but runnier than peanut butter (make sure to mix the 2 parts of epoxy together first very well before adding a thickener). Too thick and it won't fill the void, too thin and it'll run down inside the boat. Both are bad. I used a small syringe to inject the mix into the V intersection between the panels and checked underneath/inside to see if there were any runs.

Once the epoxy has partially set, use a glove wet with denatured alcohol to smooth out the "tabs" so they fit inside the V groove and don't extend above the intersection between the panels. This will give you good practice for the seams that will show on the finished boat. Be careful of the wire spikes.

Repeat this process for every seam on the hull. Let it cure overnight.

Once the tabs have cured, carefully remove the stitches. If the wire seems to be epoxied permanently to the hull, heat the wire with a lighter. That will soften the epoxy enough to pull the wire out. Be careful not to scorch the boat (you don't want a Viking funeral). Now repeat the thickened epoxy process for each overlap, except this time each seam will need to be one long, smooth joint. Let it cure overnight. This goes a long way in making the boat hull structural.

Step 4: ​Fiberglassing the Hull...

Now that you've got a permanent hull shape, it's time to make it waterproof and rugged. Fiberglass and resin over plywood is a tried and true Do It Yourself boat building technique which makes it strong and light.

Mask off the bottom panel and roll out your fiberglass cloth. Smooth the cloth out very carefully so as not to snag or tweak the fibers' orientation. Mix up an unthickened batch of epoxy (it will be the consistency of syrup). Starting at the stern, pour a small puddle of epoxy and spread it out nice and thin. You should be able to squeeze most of the epoxy out of the cloth, leaving only saturated cloth with no dry spots (which will appear white) but the weave should still be showing (meaning no extra epoxy is pooling). You should easily be able to see the wood grain through the cloth now.

Let the epoxy partially cure and using a razor, slice the dry fiberglass cloth away on the taped seam. Then remove the masking tape. Let the epoxy cure overnight.

Flip the hull over and mix up a batch of epoxy that is the consistency of peanut butter. I masked off the joint, but this step is optional, but keep in mind that it will be visible if you plan on finishing the interior bright (varnished wood). It's not as critical if you're painting the interior. With a plastic spreader, carefully make a large radius transition (fillet) between the bottom panel and the first side panel (garboard). Remove the masking tape when the epoxy mixture is partially cured and carefully scrape/wipe any unwanted mixture. It's much easier to remove now than having to sand it all off later. At this point, it's also a good time to fillet the transoms to the sides using 3/4" radius tabs between stitches and 1" finished fillets after you've removed the stitches. Let the fillets cure overnight.

Now, repeat the entire fiberglassing process on the inside. Except instead of just doing the bottom panel, make sure both the bottom and the garboard are fiberglassed. This is basically the waterline of the boat. The fillet should allow the fiberglass cloth to smoothly make the bend between boards. Remove the excess cloth when partially cured and let sit overnight. Some people fiberglass up onto the transom at this stage which will make the boat stronger, but that means you have to have already filleted the transoms to the bottom.

Step 5: Installing Interior Parts...

The bulkheads get stitched in place just like the panels. They will make the already stiff (and much heavier boat) completely structurally sound and push/pull the sides into their final shape. Then make 3/4" "tab" fillets between the stitches to lock them in place, remove the stitches and make long, smooth 1" fillets. The smaller fillets will get covered by the larger fillets. I used two different modified plastic spreaders to do this step. Each spreader was cut with a box knife and filed/sanded into its final shape.

While you're doing the previous steps, if you're in a time crunch, go ahead and build the daggerboard trunk. It's made of numerous parts that are pre-coated with a couple layers of unthickened epoxy, then glued together with silica-thickened epoxy. This makes it strong and waterproof as it will be below the waterline so must be completely waterproof.

The daggerboard trunk is the most important part of the boat, especially if you're making a sailboat version (this boat can easily just be used as a rowboat). Not only does it support the center seat (thwart), but it has to transfer all of the force from the sail to the water and if you run the boat aground, it takes all the shock loading from the daggerboard.

The daggerboard gets filleted into place like everything else. Make sure it's perfectly on the centerline of the boat as that will affect its sailing characteristics.

Next, let's make the daggerboard slot in the center thwart. I set up a straight edge with a spiral upcutting router bit. Make sure to enlarge the slots at the end of the center thwart so that it can fit around the fillets of the center bulkhead. Now is the time to ease the edges of the center thwart because you'll be sitting on it a lot, so it needs to be comfortable. Because it's so thin, I only routed the top edge of the center thwart that shows and just hand sanded the edge underneath (it's very problematic to use a round-over bit on the second side of a thin board). Paint all of the thwarts with three coats of unthickened epoxy, especially the undersides. Once the woodworking is done, the thwart can be epoxied into place with peanut butter (or you can jump to cutting the daggerboard slot in the bottom of the hull). Make sure the thwart fits snugly in place. Drop dollops of peanut butter on the top edges of the center bulkhead and daggerboard case and spread it out evenly (make sure none gets inside the slot to interfere with the daggerboard). Firmly seat the thwart (pun intended) into the goop and weight it down. Let it cure overnight.

While you've making sawdust, cut out the mast hole (partner) in the forward thwart by drilling holes in the four corners (for the square mast we're going to make), then cut out the sides, file it smooth, then round over the top edge with the router.

Any time after the bulkhead thwart fillets have cured, you can seal the airtank chambers. Paint the bottom, sides, inside of the bulkhead and transom up to the level where the thwart will be.

Step 6: Rail & Sailboat Parts...

There are several processes in this boat building instructable that can be done concurrently. While you're waiting for the epoxy on one part to cure, you can be doing woodworking or epoxying another part. This step illustrates that point. While you're waiting for the epoxy on the rub rail (outwale) to cure, you can be fabricating the sailboat accessories (e.g. daggerboard, rudder, tiller, spars, etc.).

In order for the outwale to be thick/strong enough to be effective, you'll need to laminate it in two strips on each side. You can't bend a single piece that thick around the curvature of the hull without either breaking the wood or softening it by steaming it which is a complicated process.

Take a strip that's half the final thickness and a little longer than the boat edge (I made mine a bit beefier), mix up some peanut butter with the colloidal silica and carefully spread it on the inside of the strip. Starting at the stern, clamp it in place, perfectly align it with the top edge of the plywood. Now you have a long, springy lever to bend the wood strip along the compound curve. It dips both vertically (shear), and bows out at the widest part of the boat (beam), then back in toward the bow. At least every foot, clamp it as you go, moving forward. More is better. Toward the bow, the strip will get stiffer as it gets shorter. Once clamped in place, scrape/wipe off all the squeeze-out. It's much easier to remove now than after it hardens. Let it sit overnight. You'll have to repeat this three more times, meaning this step takes four days (if you're using "slow" epoxy hardener).

During those four days that you're dealing with the outwale, you can make major progress on the sailboat parts. They're completely separate from the hull. If you're just making a rowboat, then you can skip making these parts.

The daggerboard and rudder are cut out and laminated. Then a bevel is ground onto the leading and trailing edges to make it slice through the water more efficiently. Then they're covered in layers of epoxy. The mast step is assembled. This has to be very strong because all of the force of the sail is transmitted to the boat through the mast step and the mast is a very long lever arm. The rudder cheek plates and tiller also have to be assembled similarly to the daggerboard case.

NOTE: Whenever there's a hole to be drilled into any part of the boat, you must take additional steps to make sure the water doesn't penetrate and damage the wood. The correct procedure is to drill an over-sized hole, completely fill that hole with epoxy (I usually put a piece of masking tape on the back side to act as a dam), then once the epoxy cures, re-drill in the center of the epoxy plug the correct hole size. That makes each hole in the boat possibly a 2 day process, so plan accordingly. You can also use 5 minute epoxy to knock out a bunch of holes quickly, but be careful, they're not kidding. This stuff gets rock hard very quickly and will permanently glue anything touching. This is exactly how you drill the hole for the pivot point for the rudder/cheek plate assembly. If the pin is 1/4", then drill 1/2" hole and fill that with epoxy. Now the 1/4" hole will fit nicely in the center and be completely waterproof.

Since all the parts need several coats of unthickened epoxy and they just about all have holes in them, I hung them up with some twine and painted them on all sides, one layer at a time, for several days. Make sure the rudder doesn't get too thick to fit inside the cheek plates.

Step 7: Making the Spars...

More sailboat parts you can make while waiting for other parts to cure are the spars, the structural parts that support the sail. The mast is another glue up. I used 3 - 1x3's of hemlock. A relatively soft wood, but with a nice tight grain with no knots. A mast would break at a knot, regardless of how strong the wood is. Using the waterproof glue, align the pieces as perfectly as you can then clamp up the assembly and let dry overnight. Then run it through a table saw to get the final dimensions. Use a router and a round-over bit to ease the edges. Cut to length and sand the sharp corners. It should fit easily, but snugly into the forward thwart.

The boom (bottom of sail) is a little more complicated. Cut out the gooseneck (boom pivot point) by using a hole saw first, making sure to clamp it securely to the workbench, then cut out the profile. This gets attached to another piece of 1x3 hemlock, after it's been cut to length and the edges have been rounded over.

The yard (top of sail) is easy. Just cut to length and round over the edges. Drill and fill any holes in the spars at this time. You'll need at least one hole on each end to lash the sail grommets to.

This time, everything gets covered with several coats of varnish, epoxy is not necessary. The varnish protects the wood from water and UV damage.

The reason we had to make at least the mast at this point is because we'll need it in the next step to establish the location of the mast step.

Step 8: Finishing Up the Interior & Exterior...

Once the outwales are successfully attached, trim them flush with the face of the transom(s). While you're at it, use a flush cut saw (with no sawtooth offset to mar the wood) to trim the sides flush with the transom. This will show you how well your injected silica mix worked earlier. Now you're ready to install the mast step.

The mast step must be precisely located on the floor (sole) of the boat to give the mast the proper angle (rake). This is very important because it directly affects the boat's ability to sail upwind. Using your mast, insert it into the forward thwart (partner) and into the mast step. With the mast at a 3° angle (mostly vertical but with a small, yet noticeable and graceful tilt toward the stern of the boat), trace the location of the mast step. Use a combination square to make sure it's perfectly aligned side to side (athwartship). You can now set the mast aside. Drill and fill holes in the bottom of the boat so that you can securely screw the mast step from the outside of the hull. The mast base must also be epoxied to the sole with peanut butter. After it's screwed into place but before the epoxy cures, make sure to test fit the mast again and verify the rake angle is correct. It would be a little messy at this point if you had to tweak it, but at least you wouldn't have to cut it off.

Now comes the most unpleasant part of the whole build. On your hands and knees, make a 1" radius fillet on the underside of every part in the boat. I didn't worry about making these pretty, just structural and water tight (these create the flotation tanks that keep the boat from sinking if you capsize). Let that cure overnight.

Next is the scariest part of the build, making the slot in the hull for the daggerboard. Using a drill bit extension, from the inside of the boat, reach down through the daggerboard case and drill a hole at each end of the slot through the bottom of the boat (make sure to use a backer board). Drill a couple holes in between, then take a jigsaw and connect the dots. This weakens the hull enough so that the router won't tear out any extra wood. Note, this step can easily be done prior to affixing the center thwart. Using a flush trim/laminate router bit, let the bearing run around the inside of the daggerboard case. This will make the hole in the hull perfectly match the slot. This is important because you don't want a shoulder on the inside for the daggerboard to hit and you don't want to damage the waterproof lining of the case. Last, ease the sharp edge of the daggerboard slot with the router and a small radius round-over bit.

The skeg must be cut to fit the curve of the hull (rocker), then using silicone bronze screws, attach it to the hull using the same drill and fill/peanut butter techniques. Make sure to snap a chalk line on the centerline of the boat for reference. Then make a 1" fillet where it meets the hull which will support the skeg and make it strong. The skeg keeps the boat tracking straight in the water. I optionally used some fiberglass cloth to cover the skeg and overlap onto the bottom to make the entire assembly stronger and more waterproof. The skeg will take the brunt of the abuse when launching, beaching, loading and unloading, etc. I also installed a stainless steel rubstrake on the aft end of the skeg with this in mind. In wooden boat building, silicone bronze screws are often used because they won't corrode when encapsulated like stainless steel screws can.

Install the skids parallel to the skeg. These are solid pieces of hardwood because they will also take a lot of abuse when the boat is sitting on shore, protecting the thin hull from rocks, etc. They get installed the same way as the skeg, although it's a little tough to bend the wood along the rocker. Scrape off the excess peanut butter once they're screwed in place.

I also installed the optional outboard motor pad at this point because I plan to use an electric trolling motor on the back to quietly putter around the lake in the evenings to relax with the family after work.

That should be the last parts that go into making the boat!

Step 9: Finishing the Hull...

Now comes the last dash to the finish line. One of the more tedious steps is that you now have to sand the entire boat. I actually built the entire boat inside, but for the sanding stage, I took her outside. Several hours of sanding all of the fillets nice and smooth. Everything will show in the finished product whether you paint the boat or leave it "bright" (unpainted). If you've been careful about cleaning up the peanut butter as you go, you should be able to sand the boat with mostly 220 grit. Be careful not to sand through the thin veneer of the plywood. After the sanding is done (make sure to use a dust mask), vacuum the entire boat and then wipe it down with a tack cloth to remove any dust. I also reversed the hose on the shop vac and used it to blow the sawdust off since I was outside.

Next, you must coat the entire interior and exterior with 3-4 coats of unthickened epoxy. This makes the entire boat waterproof. It will also give you an idea of how beautiful the wood will look when varnished. This is why a lot of boat builders decide to leave their boats bright so the beauty of the wood shows through.

Mix up 1 cup batches of unthickened epoxy and pour out large puddles onto the surface. Taking a foam roller, distribute the epoxy in a smooth coat. Now take a wide foam brush and gently smooth (tip) the rolled out surface. This should remove any lap marks or bubbles. Move along to the next area, making sure to not touch the wet parts. Also, make sure no dust or bugs get on your finish or it'll mean even more sanding later.

Start with the exterior first. It'll be much easier to get good by practicing on the convex surfaces. The interior is more tricky because you want to prevent sags and pooling by only applying very thin coats.

Make sure to check with the manufacturer's directions during this step in case you have to deal with "blushing", a thin layer that can sometimes form on the surface of epoxy when it cures. This could cause your layers to not stick to each other. If your epoxy does blush, it's easy to just wipe the entire boat down with a rag soaked in acetone after each coat has cured. Some people sand between coats of epoxy. This is how you would make an extremely smooth/shiny finish, so if you want your boat to be museum quality, invest the effort. I'm planning on banging my boat around so opted out of an extreme, fancy, mirror finish.

I was originally going to paint the exterior of the hull, which would require priming and painting, but I'm leaving it bright for the time being. The good news is that you can always paint later if you change your mind, but if you paint it and change your mind, it's tough to go back. There aren't a lot of pics of this step, which took a couple of days because there wasn't much visible progress after that first coat went on. At this point, any surface that's not painted should be varnished using the same "roll and tip" method as the epoxy, with the optional sanding between coats. Note that epoxy has no UV resistance, so to keep your boat from getting sunburned, you must either paint or varnish every surface. Giving a boat a "museum quality" paint and/or varnish finish can literally take as long as building the boat.

Step 10: Making the Sail...

Another step you can do while other parts are curing is make the sail. This particular design uses a "lug" sail, a classic looking sail for small boats with wood masts. It increases the sail area (therefore the force generated by the wind) without it having to be as tall as a modern sailboat mast made of aluminum. There is a kit from an online sailmaking company that you can get for a reasonable price. The Dacron cloth panels are all cut out by a CNC machine, so they fit perfectly together. I used a regular, domestic sewing machine, not an industrial one. The only time I had trouble was when sewing through all 7 layers at the reinforcement patches. When I got to those parts, I had to manually push down on the foot of the sewing machine with a flat-bladed screwdriver (minus) to help push the needle through the Dacron. We jokingly call Philips head screwdrivers "plus".

The panels/parts all come labeled. The directions were a bit confusing because they suggest you make sub-assemblies after the fact to make wrangling the large sail easier but they mention it after you've already sewn the large panels together. It's important to understand what parts go together while the panels are still small and more manageable. For example, the batten pockets are tricky enough to build on a single panel, much less the finished sail. Building the sail was about as difficult for me as building the boat, but it was worth it.

The lug sail gets reinforcement patches on all four corners where you attach it to the spars (bend), and there's also a reefing point for when the wind starts to pick up (freshen). Modern sails have three corners (Marconi rig).

I opted for the less expensive white Dacron sail kit, but there's also a classic red (tanbark) colored kit that's $100 more expensive. Before I sewed a single stitch, I carefully traced every part of the sail kit onto painter's tarp poly film so I can always use the templates to build another sail, all I need to do is buy the tanbark cloth.

Step 11: Rigging Your Sailboat...

This seems to be the trickiest part for most people, probably because there are numerous ways it can be successfully rigged, depending on your experience, preferences or criteria. It's confusing because you have to know what the finished setup will look like in your mind while you're staring at a pile of ropes. I chose a setup that allows the most room in the cockpit for a full-sized adult, so the mainsheet is led forward of the skipper's position. This keeps the skipper's attention forward so they're looking where they're going. I have another boat where the mainsheet is behind the skipper and it takes some practice getting used to.

The lines I made up (rope becomes a line when you give it a job description) were the halyard (hauls the sail up), the mainsheet (adjusts the angle of the sail to the wind = trim) and a traveler bridle (where the mainsheet attaches to the boat). I got fancy and spliced all my ends, but you can just as well use a bowline knot.

I installed a cheek block at the top of the mast instead of the large diameter hole in the directions. I wanted the halyard to run as smoothly as possible when setting the sail. Then I installed a pair of cleats at the base of the mast, one for the halyard and one for the downhaul (cunningham). With both of these lines pulling in opposite directions, it locks the sail in place, flat, so it effectivley acts like a wing. The main halyard attaches to the gaff with a snap onto a padeye. This allows easy on/easy off when rigging at the boat ramp. I also used a small loop (parrel) around the mast and through the eye to keep the gaff located close to the mast. I looped the downhaul over the boom and down to the cleat to try to keep the gooseneck from twisting. Note, except for the blocks, just about all of the hardware used on rigging a boat this size can come in stainless steel or brass/bronze, depending on the look you're going for. If you plan on installing oarlocks to row the boat, this decision becomes even more important to the final look of the boat.

For the mainsheet, I made a short bridle between the handles on the transom with a small eye tied in the center. This allows a place for the snap on the end of the mainsheet to attach to. I could've just as easily allowed the snap to slide, which would give the bridle the function of a traveler, but would affect its pointing ability (sail upwind). The mainsheet is then run to a block on the end of the boom, then to another block in the middle of the boom. This leaves the main cockpit area unobstructed with running rigging. Make sure your mainsheet is long enough for your boom to swing forward of 90° to the boat, with enough to still come back to the cockpit for the skipper to control. A stop knot at the end of the mainsheet will keep the mainsheet from getting away from you and give you something to grip.

The rudder pivot hardware (gudgeons and pintles) must be installed perfectly vertical and on the exact centerline of the boat so that she will sail well. Drill and fill the necessary holes for this hardware. Be careful with the spacing. It's designed to be easily installed and uninstalled while underway.

With this particular rigging layout, when under sail, the skipper must constantly keep the mainsheet in hand, which is a good idea anyway for safety reasons (if you get hit by a gust of wind = puff, you won't get blown over = capsize). The tension on the mainsheet is easily manageable for any size skipper. On larger boats, the mainsheet is held by a fiddle block with a cam cleat, which is not necessary for a boat this size. With that being said, a possible future upgrade would be to install a block and a camcleat somewhere on the centerline of the boat so that more advanced sailors wouldn't need to constantly have to oppose the tension on the mainsheet. Of course the trade-off would be the hardware would probably be somewhere you might want to sit.

Another upgrade I figured out after actually taking her sailing would be to rig up a bungee/shock cord system that will hold the daggerboard both in an up and down position. With the current setup, the centerboard is held down by gravity and must be pulled out of the slot when beaching.

Step 12: Go SAILING!

Because I wanted to be able to go sailing by myself if needed, I made a dolly out of 2x4's and large pneumatic tires (which makes the dolly float). The dolly fits securely between the center and aft thwarts when driving out to the lake. The sides on the dolly lock against the skids on the bottom of the boat so it can't twist. Roll the sail up with the spars and wrap it with the main halyard. At the designed length, the mast doesn't fit inside the boat, but it seems a bit long, so some people have cut the mast down enough so that it fits inside the boat.

Out at the lake, unload the boat, slide the dolly underneath and you're ready to roll down to the ramp. At the launch, roll the boat out into the water until it floats off the dolly, toss the dolly off to the side out of everybody else's way. Drop the daggerboard into the slot and install the rudder assembly. Facing into the wind (important), stick the mast into the receiver hole (partner), tie off the downhaul (cunningham) and hoist the sail until the downhaul is tight, then cleat off the main halyard. Reave the mainsheet (run the line through the blocks) and you're ready to go sailing.

I've found that this boat sails very well. The lug sail makes it very easy to sail upwind (weather helm), it's a little more tender for a large adult, more so than a boat with a hard chine, like an El Toro/Optimist but it's a lot more graceful looking. The payload is very reasonable for a boat this size. My wife and son can easily (and safely) go sailing with me and I don't even need anyone's help to get it rigged and launched. All in all, this is one of the best projects I've every built. I hope you too can discover the joy of building your own boat and then take her sailing. Remember, in sailing, the wind is free, but nothing else is...

This is my very first Instructable after many years of referencing this excellent site to build numerous cool projects (you should see my next post). Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to ask any questions you may have and I'll do my best to answer them. I'm planning on building a larger boat in the near future so stay tuned...

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38 Discussions


8 months ago

The boat looks great but you could have built a "puddle duck racer" for a whole lot less time and money as the plans are free and the material is very low cost compared to what you spent and your boat and the puddle duck are about the same size.and yes the puddle duck will handle two adults.


2 years ago

It looks great. Could you please tell if the 8ft could handle two adults?

1 reply

Reply 1 year ago

Max payload is 375 pounds, which is perfect for me, the wife and our small son. You definitely don't want to overload it.


1 year ago

Hi - these are really useful instructions. Out of interest how long approximately did stage 11 (the rigging) take?

1 reply

Reply 1 year ago

You can literally rig this whole thing in an hour if you go low-tech. I'm a professional rigger, so I took everything up several notches. I did a Dyneema stripped halyard (1 hour), spliced the mainsheet bridle (1 hour) and spliced the snap shackle onto the mainsheet (1/2 hour). I also rigged a parrel with some craft beads and a piece of Dyneema (15 min). This keeps the yard from popping loose from the mast. I also replaced the downhaul/cunningham with a 2:1 purchase to flatten the sail.

You could go with rope from the hardware store and some knots and be in business very quickly.


2 years ago

This is awesome! I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay and now live in Atlanta GA. God I miss the water! This might even get my wife in the water. Great ible, beautiful project, and wish it was mine! :-)


2 years ago

What a beautiful boat! I find that Chesapeake Light craft has some amazing products. Your careful execution of this project is an example for us all. For the readers that would like a much cheaper but similar craft plans can be found at the Spira International website (Back Bay Pram) and in Harold Paysons book "Build the New Instant Boats,"(Nymph). Some slightly larger examples are available from Jim Michalak (Picup) email and the ever popular Gen-L site. This size boat is a great project for a starter and produces a boat that will give a lot of pleasure even if one choses to build a second larger vessel. Great instructible.


2 years ago

This is an awesome boat!! Thanks for sharing ;) Is there any chance to get the sail template off off you? My sail is broken and I have some cloth left.... Cheers!

2 replies

Reply 2 years ago

The sail was purchased as a cut kit from Sailrite, specifically for this boat.


Reply 2 years ago

Ok thanks for the info, I'll check out their site. ;)


4 years ago on Introduction

Wow. it's amazing. Looks very cool. Can it be used for fishing? If it
was installed by some fishing equipment like rod and fishing light with , it's
that right? Like this fishing light which is under the water to attract fish and plankton

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

Yes, the Smith Brothers used to make a very similar boat called an El Toro and they often times were rigged for fishing. The gunwale clamping style rod mounts work very well on it. The good news is that the 8' boat sails at the perfect speed for trolling.


4 years ago

Very detailed instructable and a cool project. Have you ever sailed in this? How was it?

2 replies

Reply 3 years ago

Yes, we sail in it almost every weekend during the summer. It's a little tender and doesn't point all that well, but it's a cute, fun little boat.


Hey Jeff,

Yes, I've sailed it a few times. It was a little tender getting in and out of it, but once you get settled in, it sails great. The standing lug rig is the perfect amount of power and generates enough weather helm to point very well.

I actually walk across the street to the park and setup and launch. It takes more time to talk to the people that stop by and ask questions than it takes to rig.

Jack Moran

4 years ago on Introduction

looks like an optimist! Great work! now kevlar sails, carbon fibre rudder and centreboard...........


4 years ago on Introduction

Easy to build, yet, very well designed.

Went to my Blog:


4 years ago

Wow! Awesome instructions... You just added another +1 to my desire to find a workspace nearby (inner city life) and get onto some projects.