Do you know that building a wooden boat is doable even for people with little woodworking experience? The process is meticulous but manageable and, most importantly, fun.
If you love lying on the calm water and watching the sunset on a peaceful afternoon, I don’t see why you shouldn’t start this project. In this article, I compiled a beginner’s guide on how to build a wooden boat step by step. Making a vessel is easier and more doable than ever.
Firstly, gather woodworking tools and plan your boat’s construction with detailed measurements. Then, build the transom, bow stem, and ribs to form the frame before adding the bottom and hull. After that, add the interior (e.g., chairs, cup holders, shelves) to your liking. Finally, paint the boat, apply teak oil, and your DIY wooden boat is complete.
Besides, you need reinforcements, such as chines, battens, sheer clamps, and a keel to make small wooden boats. I’ll explain these terms as I go, so dive in!
Table of Contents
What You Will Need
1. A boat’s construction plan
A boat includes many different parts, angles, and details. Before you can make a wooden boat, you must have a clear and concise plan of the boat’s model, dimensions, and structure. Without a plan, you won’t know where to cut and apply the wood.
Fortunately, you don’t have to make a plan from scratch. There are many premade and field-tested boat plans sold on the Internet.
If this is your first time doing woodwork, we recommend picking small wooden boat plans as they are less complicated and time-consuming. In this article, we’ll guide you through the construction of a 12-foot flat-bottomed Jon boat. Download the plan for free here.
When you get the plan, read it thoroughly. It will precisely tell how much wood you need for each boat part. Don’t buy materials before you comprehend the whole plan, as you risk purchasing the wrong wood types and thicknesses.
The materials you need include marine plywood, paint, and epoxy.
To cut and prepare the wood, you must have a circular saw, a table saw, a hand drill, and an electric sander. You also need screws and bolts to reinforce the wood joints.
4. Safety gears
Finally, prepare goggles, disposable gloves, and a mask or respirator.
Steps to Build a 12-foot Wooden Jon Boat
Step 1: Build the transom and bow stem
The transom is also known as the stern. It’s the vertical section at the rear of the boat that helps attach two sides. Build it by cutting the wood into a quadrangle shape and adding strips of wood to the edges.
Follow your plan for the measurements and cut the wood accordingly. After that, sand down each piece of plywood and attach them with marine epoxy and screws.
The bow stem is the tip of the boat. You can construct a pointed or flat one with the same method as the transom. After you have the rear and front of the boat, you can build the frame.
Step 2: Build the frame
Connect the transom and bow stem by adding to the frame ribs and chines.
Boat ribs are the horizontal wood frames that you can see in the photo. They help connect the boat’s sides and bottom. Construct a rib by securing three pieces of wood together.
For a 16-foot Jon boat, you might need up to eight ribs. But for a 12-foot one, you only need two to three ribs. Each rib has a unique width. You must follow your plan’s instructions correctly.
Chines are the two longitudinal lines at the curve edges of the bottom. They help to break the waves, letting them hit the boats at multiple angles instead of slapping against a flat surface. With chines, boats are less rocky on water. Rip a 12-foot long plywood into two 2-inch wide pieces to form two chines.
Find the measurements in your plan and cut the hull and bottom planks accordingly. After that, sand down the edges and apply a layer of marine epoxy to the planks. This will protect the plywood against the marine environment. Wait 12 hours for the epoxy to dry. Afterward, glue the side and bottom planks to your frame. Remember to add screws to ensure they bind together securely.
Step 4: Add a keel and two sheer clamps
You can now see the shape of your boat forming. This fourth step adds two reinforcements to the structure: a keel and two battens.
A keel lies under the bottom of a boat. It runs longitudinally along the center of the bottom. The keel keeps the vessel upright and prevents it from being blown sideways by the wind.
Sheer clamps are parallel to chines and are attached to the outside of the hull’s top edges. They strengthen the connection between the bow and stern and lower the wind’s impact on the vessel.
Both keel and clamp replicate the shape of chines. So, use similar techniques as when you make the chines. Then, adhere and screw them in place.
The bottom of a boat receives the most wear, so you must treat it with one extra step. Apply a thick layer of marine waterproof epoxy sealer evenly on the boat’s bottom. You can use a paintbrush or plastic spreader; start at the top and slowly work downwards.
Be sure to use epoxy that resists barnacles, weeds, and water organisms. Allow the layer to dry for at least 24 hours and have someone help flip your boat over.
Step 6: Add two battens
This is the last technical term in wooden boat building you have to deal with. Battens (sometimes called stringers) are parallel to chines but are attached to the inside of the hull’s top edges. The main function of battens is to strengthen the side planks. Because battens are on the inside of the hull, they are shorter than chines, only 10 feet long.
Step 7: Paint the hull
For paint to withstand marine conditions, you need to build three layers: a primer, a topside paint, and a clear coat. Follow these steps to paint the exterior:
- Sand down the hull: You should sand the surface before painting with 80-grit sanding discs. Remember to put on your safety gear.
- Mask off the edges: Use masking tape to seal the curved edges of the bottom.
- Coat the surface with the primer: Brush the primer in long strokes along the boat length. Spare at least one hour for it to dry.
- Apply two coats of topside paint: You should apply a thin layer and wait until it dries before reapplying a second layer. Doing so will enhance the colors and help it stay bright for an extended period.
- Shield your hard work with a clear coat.
Step 8: Add interior furniture
Get creative in this step and include different items for the interior: two to three seats, shelves, floorboards, cup holders, or handles to pull the boat in and out of the water.
You can make a simple bench with one plank as in the photo, create more complicated designs, or buy premade vinyl boat seats. There are endless options.
You can also paint the interior the same color as the exterior or leave it in the original wood color.
Step 9: Apply teak oil to the interior and exterior
This final step will protect your boat from moisture, UV light radiation, stains, and insects. You should choose a teak oil with no pigment and carefully apply it with a rag. Cover any wooden surface on your boat.
Step 10: Launch the vessel
The final result weighs 110 lbs with the capacity of 3-5 adults. It is squared, spacious, and lightweight, perfect for duck hunting trips. It costs little money for materials. You can add a 1-6 hp outboard motor to tackle bigger water bodies and a car top carrier to keep fishing gear.
Now, you can take your wooden boat to the water and see your hard work pay off. Launch your boat in calm and shallow water to see how it performs and make any adjustments needed.
The youtube channel Bourbon Moth Woodworking has an incredible video on making a wooden boat. You can refer to it to see the whole process:
That’s how you build a small wooden boat. Within ten steps, chunks of wood slowly turn into a beautiful vessel. We hope you’ll bring this huge DIY project to fruition. It usually takes three to twelve months to finish, so start early to yield the best results.
If you plan to tackle this with a team, share this article on how to build a wooden boat step by step and discuss the strategies with your members. We’d love to assist, so feel free to send us questions. See you then!
Working to create content for Marine Talk has always been a fascinating experience. I get to travel, absorb knowledge about boating, and tackle all the issues when we sail into freedom!