Build this Rowboat

Hit the water with the plans for this easy-to-build rowboat.

| October/November 2005

  • Original Article
    The original 1985 article.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Plywood Layout
    Construction illustration.
    Illustration courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Build a Rowboat
    Putting the finishing touches on the boat includes adding seats.
    Illustration courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Rowboat
    Installing corner braces, or gussets.
    Illustration courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors

  • Original Article
  • Plywood Layout
  • Build a Rowboat
  • Rowboat

As Water Rat noted in The Wind in the Willows, “There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” If you want to know how to build a boat, MOTHER’s Basic Boat is a simple boat plan, which should be easy to construct for those with woodworking experience. You can purchase detailed plans, including instructions for constructing an optional sail.

Cut Out the Pieces

All you’ll need to build the boat are a few tools and the materials listed at right. The large pieces of the boat will be cut from plywood, and reinforced with pieces of hardwood lumber. You can cut the 170 feet of lumber you will need from three 10-foot lengths of 1-by-8 stock, or use any scrap hardwood lumber cut to 11/8-inch-wide boards.

Start by drawing an alignment line for the midship bulkhead, which forms the central support for the boat, across the sheet of plywood 3 feet 61/2 inches from the stern end, as shown in Figure A. Now select one of your long pieces of lumber, which you will use to draw the ship’s curve. Start by drawing the left side piece. Mark the midway point of the length of the strip on the piece and center the strip on edge over the midship alignment line. Next, use a C-clamp to secure the strip over the outside center clamp position located one-eighth inch in from the plywood’s edge. (Clamp positions are marked on the diagram with a “C”.)

With a friend’s help, gradually bend the ends of the strip in until its outside surface can be clamped at the two other outer clamping positions. Now trace along the outer surface of the ship’s curve to form an arc that intersects all three points. Move the piece of lumber to the inner set of clamp positions, again aligning its center point to the midship line. Bow the strip around to intersect the three points and secure it with clamps. Again, draw the arc along the ship’s curve, then add the slant of the bow and stern as shown in Figure A. Use a saber saw to carefully cut around the boat’s sidewall. Use the flopped first piece as a pattern to cut out the right sidewall.

Going on to the second plywood sheet, use your hardwood strip “ruler” to draw the boat’s bottom, employing the same bend-and-trace technique used when drawing the sides. Then, cut out the bottom, leaving a surplus of 11/2 to 2 inches around the pattern on the sides and at the bow. It will be trimmed away later. With that done, you can cut out the second side and the transoms, and also draw and cut out the midship bulkhead.

Assembling the Boat 

Next, you’ll put together the support frames for the bow transom (front of the boat), stern transom (back of the boat) and midship bulkhead (center support) and attach them to the boat sides. Start by gluing and screwing the hardwood support strips, and the cut-to-fit motor-mount brace, to the front and rear transoms and the central support, using the No. 6 wood screws set at 3-inch intervals. The upper support strips for the front and rear transoms will be trimmed to match the angles of the bow and stern (see Figures C and D). Simply use a sliding bevel to measure the appropriate angle on the bottom panel — use the pattern lines, not the “hem” — then set your saw’s miter gauge to that angle and trim away.

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