The Easiest DIY Boat-Building Method | Stitch and Glue Boat

2022-12-02 20:13:52 By : Mr. barry zhang

And the guy who discovered it is sharing all of his secrets.

In the summer of 1974, Sam Devlin was working on a tugboat in Alaska when he read the first issue of Wooden Boat Magazine. He was immediately entranced. “I couldn’t shake the image of that wooden boat from my head,” Devlin says. “I can even see it today, almost five decades later.” Devlin had loved boats from a young age and had worked on fiberglass boats in the past, but the process lacked creativity, he says, and didn’t challenge him. This wooden boat, though, was something different.

A natural craftsman, Devlin believed wooden boatbuilding was a career he could be proud of. He leaned into the idea of making vessels that were both beautiful and functional—something that would last. Physical labor suited his strong, tall frame. And as a child of the ’60s, someone who came of age post-Vietnam, he felt the freedom to draw his own roadmap and forgo a traditional career.

However, the wooden boat revival had just begun, and very few builders were sharing their processes. Devlin had to come up with his own from scratch. Starting in 1977 with hand drawings and small, to-scale models, Devlin created hull shapes that looked viable for small sail and motorboats. But one part stumped him: how to fuse the panels together.

Nevertheless, he forged ahead. “My dad agreed to buy the materials if I would build him a boat,” he says. Cutting the hull panels was the easy part. But they needed a method to attach them together. “We looked around the shop and saw baling wire and pliers, and two hours later we had the boat stitched together and looking like the shape we wanted. That was the eureka moment,” Devlin says. He had stumbled upon the stitch-and-glue method.

The stitch-and-glue method is a simple boat building technique popularized in the 1960s that creates a solid, one-piece hull, unlike most other wooden boats, which start with frames and bulkheads and build the hull on top. Using marine plywood panels stitched together with electric fence wire and sealed with epoxy resin, the process eliminates the need for frames or ribs, making it a simpler, faster construction. Stitch-and-glue doesn’t require expensive molds like fiberglass, and can be maintained over the long term, perfect for DIY builders.

Devlin and his father continued to tinker with the shape and construction of their boat. A few days later they had a functional skiff. It wasn’t perfect, but it showed the stitch-and-glue process was more than viable—it had clear advantages over other boatbuilding methods.

Stitch and glue, generally speaking, has a remarkable ability to adapt. Without high tooling costs like most other boatbuilding mediums, it’s more accessible to more builders, which makes for rapid idea evolution and pervasion about the method. “With low barriers to entry from an experience side, we learned a lot quickly,” Devlin says. They learned that if they cheated on the grade of plywood, they would be sacrificing the integrity of the whole boat. They learned to use epoxy resins because they would seal stronger than more popular polyester resins. And moreover, they learned the process, the best order of operations, and how unique it was to quickly go from an idea to an actual, working boat.

Less than a year after finishing his first boat, Devlin embraced boatbuilding as a full-fledged career. Research led him to builders making small boats in England and New Zealand that used a method similar to the one he had devised with his dad, but not at the same scale or complexity he envisioned.

From there, he focused on improving the process. “We needed to nurture the method, testing the parameters and not constraining it with patents,” Devlin says. “My goal from the beginning was to proliferate the knowledge as much as possible and keep persisting and developing my own skills as a designer and builder.

“Most people didn’t see the potential for boats over 15 or 20 feet with stitch-and-glue, but I didn’t believe in that limitation. I hung my boatbuilding shingle on the door of my shop at the time in Eugene, Oregon, and I got my business started in 1978 with 25- and 30-foot boats.” Devlin’s business has grown since then, adding members to his team, expanding his shop, and refining his process. Today he works on a variety of wooden boats, and currently is putting the finishing touches on a 40-foot ocean-going catamaran.

The biggest advancement in the stitch-and-glue method in the past decades has been computers replacing hand drawings. Using 3D modeling and CNC machines to cut out shapes, the panels of the boat are more accurate and easier to work with during assembly. This also allows boat designers like Devlin to ship kits to home builders with precut panels to assemble using their own tools.

In 2012 Devlin received the Lifetime Achievement in Boatbuilding and Design award by the Wooden Boat Foundation and Wooden Boat Magazine, after designing and building over 400 boats (ranging from 7 to 65 feet) with the stitch and glue method, which he helped improve and bring to the mainstream. To this day Devlin is still building boats, from his facility in Olympia, Washington. Here are his tips for making your own.

1. | Procure a set of plans, or scaled drawings of what you’re going to create. Devlin creates plans for hundreds of DIYers, detailing the peel shapes and all the materials you’ll need.

2 | If your boat is longer than 8 feet, edge-join the marine plywood panels end to end (called scarfing). If using a kit, the kit manufacturer will provide wave-to-keyhole type indexing to the ends of the panels that will help allow them to be joined.

3 | If you have a CNC router, use it to cut the panels to size (there are usually 5 to 8 for a small, simple boat). Skip to step 14.

4 | If you don’t have access to a CNC router, draw lines across the width of the panel at right angles to the long edge of the plywood, 1 foot apart.

5 | Make marks at the bisects at each line, as shown on the plans, then hammer small brad-type nails (“fence posts”) partially into the plywood at each of those intersections.

6 | Draw smooth curves between these fence posts using a flexible wooden batten to span smoothly between each of the fence posts. When complete, remove the nails.

7 | Saw the panels out, leaving about 1/8 inch extra plywood overhang so you can see the line you drew.

8 | Take both pieces and use a block plane to even them out so they’re symmetrical, smoothing the cutting lines out to the pencil line marks made previously.

9 | Do this for all of the panels of the boat, which together will make up the entire hull.

10 | Use a block plane to knock 45-degree bevels on half the thickness of the panel, on the inside surfaces (where it will mate with another panel).

11 | Scribe a stitch line, usually the thickness of the plywood plus 1/8 inch, and pre-drill small holes as marked on the designs. This works well on the bottom panels.

12 | For larger boats (those above 15 feet long), stitch upside down—it eliminates having to roll the boat over another time. A small boat can be stitched right-side up, because rolling one of these is much easier.

13 | For larger boats, set up the bulkheads, or athwartships (sideways) and longitudinal (lengthwise) structures that add structural strength and help define the architectural space of the boat. For small boats, use spreaders, which are small battens that open the top of the boat to the designed width, to stretch out the shear of the boat.

14 | Start with the two bottom panels laid one over the other (like a closed book) at the bow end and stitch the first two panels together at their keel edges. This process is similar to sewing two pieces of fabric together, but instead of a needle, you can feed the wire through the holes with your hands. It should be tight enough to keep the peels sealed together.

15 | Open the two halves of the bottom panels like opening the pages of a book and fit them over the bulkheads upside down. For small boats, use spreaders to maintain the correct shape.

16 | Repeat this process with each panel, stitching one side and then the other, from bow to stern. When all the panels are in place and the stitches are clamping the panels together into a boat shape, stitch the transom to the ends of the panels. For small boats, add spreaders to open up the top of the boat to the planned size.

17 | Start epoxy tabbing, which is like tack welding, putting epoxy and fiberglass tabs between the wire sutures, on the interior of the hull.

18 | Once the tabs have cured solid, at least 24 hours but maybe more in humid climates, you can pull out all the wire stitches and lightly sand over the tabs to smooth things out.

19 | Finish fiberglassing the interior seams of the boat. Set several layers of fiberglass tape in epoxy resin over the top. Then fiberglass the exterior plywood panel seams.

20 | Once the hull is to the designed thickness and all seams between the panels are taped with epoxy and fiberglass cloth layers, sheath the entire exterior of the boat with epoxy and fiberglass cloth. Some builders use a final layer of peel ply to control the resin-to-cloth ratio and eliminate air bubbles.

21 | Finish fiberglassing the seams of the interior of the boat, starting with narrow tapes up to the final width of the plans designated.

22 | Sand the boat inside and out to help smooth the edges and overlaps of the fiberglassing. Reseal with epoxy resin rolled and brushed over the hull as smoothly as possible.

23 | Sand and seal one final time and roll the boat over.

24 | Install the interior, such as seats, hardware, and the engine.

25 | Paint the entire boat, inside and out. Opaque paint offers the best UV protection, which is important to shield the boat from the sun’s reflection off the water.

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