shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Finishing a $200 Dinghy

June 30, 2014

Last week we shared how the Daves built a DCC Boatworks designed pram. In four days, they had the hull assembled using the stitch and glue method. They epoxied fiberglass tape on the chines and coated the wood, inside and out, with epoxy. Though far from done, she at least resembled a boat and was ready for the little bits to be installed.


First, David washed the boat with soap and water and then wiped it with acetone to remove any amines. This is important before sanding the boat so that you don't sand in the amines. They spot sanded any place on the dinghy where pieces were to be epoxied. Ideally, the boat should have been completely sanded before beginning, but they were anxious to get the woodworking part of the project done, so the overall sanding had to wait.

How many clamps do you need? More than you have.

They eyeball patterned stiffeners for the bow transom and the stern transom. These pieces required cutting compound bevels which Dave cuts with a Japanese hand saw after marking the wood using bevel gauges. These stiffeners were attached with thickened epoxy since they may get lifting rings attached to them at some point.


Dave installed gunwales on the outside only. He has built dinghies with gunwales inside and out, but time and money were the largest concerns for this project, so they decided that one set of gunwales was sufficient. They were edge set, bent, and curved, which is a lot to ask of a piece of yellow pine, so the gunwales were fitted slowly with a lot of clamps. These were clamped, dry-fitted with screws, then Gorilla Glued. The gunwales are under no load in sheer, so Gorilla Glue with no mechanical fasteners was sufficient to attach them. After the glue cured, the screws were removed. Later, when they mixed thickened epoxy to make a fillet for the transom stiffeners, they also filled these screw holes.

Seat cleats

They measured on the plans to determine where to epoxy in cleats on the bow and stern so that the seat was 11" off the floor, leaving 7" of freeboard above the seat. Next, they built three boards to attach to the frames and seat, complete with limber holes cut so as not to block the existing limber holes in the frames. They attached these with Gorilla Glue, as well. They routered the top edges of the seat and it was ready to install.


The next pieces to be crafted and installed were the knees. Dave used bevel gauges and a few measurements to sketch the shape of the knees, then cut them out with a jig saw and shaped them with a grinder. Because these will likely be used as handles for carrying the dinghy, they were epoxied and screwed into the gunwales and transom stiffeners.

Shaping the frames by eye

With the inside bits installed, they flipped over the dinghy and concentrated on the other side. Dave found a piece of wood laying around (possibly an old bunk bed frame) to use for the skeg. With the wood touching the dinghy at one point, he measured with a pencil the furthest distance the wood was from the boat. He kept this distance constant and marked the entire board. This gives you a cut line to shape the skeg to follow the contours of the bottom. (This is one of my favorite patterning methods. It never fails to make me smile when he fits a perfect piece of wood into an oddly shaped location using this technique.)


He made the skeg as deep as possible to ensure that part of it is in the water even with a light load. They cut out the skeg, marked and screwed it on from the inside as a dry fit, then epoxied and screwed it to the bottom. Dave used a grinder to shape the front edge so that the dinghy can be smoothly dragged over a flat surface (such as the rail of a boat) if necessary.

Marking the cut line for the skeg

Finally, they drilled a hole low in the bow transom for the dinghy painter. Yes, you can attach all sorts of bits of metal to the bow for this purpose, but why waste the time and money for a piece of metal that may fail, when a small hole in the bow is the perfect way to attach a painter. The hole was sealed with neat epoxy and allowed to cure. Dave cut the hole 1/8" smaller than the line he planned to use for a painter so that the line is a tight fit.

Perfect fit

All of the epoxying was done at once, leaving less product waste. Before gluing any surface the wood was first coated with neat (unthickened) epoxy to prevent epoxy starvation--a situation in which the wood pulls the neat epoxy out of the thickened mixture, leaving the mixture too dry to work well as a glue. The thickened epoxy is then used as a glue immediately. If you allow the neat epoxy to cure, it will need washed and sanded before applying the thickened epoxy. Applying both at the same time ensures that the bond is chemical, not simply mechanical.

Skeg is faired and glued.

If you want to create a masterpiece and the way you express your artistic talent is by building dinghies, by all means, aim for perfection. But if you just want to build a dinghy, then do it. It can be done cheaply and quickly, without affecting performance in the least. It's as much about attitude as it is about talent.

We can build a dinghy in a week, but it's another week to paint it.
To quote Dave: You can't paint anything with one coat.

Now that you have a dinghy, you'll need some oars. MONDAY we'll share how to build $3.90 oars. (No, the decimal is not in the wrong place.)

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