Woodies 2.0

I have been building wood and wood/fiberglass composite drift boats with glue-laminated gunwales for more than a decade. I like it. I think it's the best way to make gunwales. It is cheaper and stiffer than any other method, which is close to a synonym for better. I mold those gunwales in place, over Visqueen inside or outside a partially finished hull.

Traditional Woodies

Traditional woodies, regardless length and width are made with 1/2, 5/8 or 3/4" plywood bottoms and 1/4" or 3/8" plywood sides, typically glued and also nailed or screwed to wooden U-shaped inner frames. A bent and angled 'chine strip' along the inside bottom edge of the hull provides a common gluing and screwing structure for joining bottom panels to side panels.

Chine strips are seldom thicker than 3/4" and are often planed down to 5/8" thick in order to make then easier to bend without steaming. Chine strips are an obvious candidate for glue-lamination. A glue-laminated chine strip could be 2" or 3" inches thick and 3" or 4" tall, providing substantially stronger support for fastening bottom panels to side panels.

Glue turns out not to be a requirement for wooden boats. Wooden dories can be built without glue using mechanical fasteners and strong-bonding marine silicone caulks (like Dowsil 795) which bond firmly but not permanently. Wood-to-wood bonding with Torx screws and marine grade silicone--unlike permanent glues like Tightbond or Epoxies--can be taken apart. This is a big change. Boats built with mechanical fasteners and marine silicone caulks can be taken completely apart and re-assembled at any time. This is important. With modular, re-workable assemblies anything can be replaced. There is no longer any strong incentive to use the most expensive plywood. MDO sign painters plywood is more than strong enough. It is available at lumber yards and it can swapped out without major disruption, when and if it gets worn out.

The combination of glue-laminated gunwales and fat glue-laminated chine strips, combined with mechanical fasteners and marine silicone caulk also makes it possible to dispose of any interior boat ribs. A typical drift boat made with a 5/8" or 3/4" MDO bottom and 3/8" MDO sides can be fastened together over a massive chine strip, and held stiff at the edges with a glue-laminated gunwale. Ribs are superfluous.

Any such boat could be built as decked or as an open boat. Any open boat could have a side-to-side spanning passenger seat, in order to extra-reinforce beam rigidity. But it really isn't necessary. Not if the glue-laminated gunwale is made thick enough.

What would be the point? What are the advantages? Any boat without interior ribs is easier to maintain and to keep clean. Smoother is slicker. 3/8" thick side panels and massive chine strip and gunwales makes the boat tremendously rigid. And yet repairable. Any and all parts can be swapped out as needed. Skid shoes are suddenly irrelevant. If the 5/8" MDO bottom panel wears out after six or seven years take it off and replace it.

What are the disadvantages? I can't think of any. I have built three boats now using bits and pieces of all these ideas and techniques. Later this summer I'll finish the first one built this way almost entirely. The only exception is that i did make this boat with a fiberglass bottom. If I had it to do all over again I would not. Who needs a fiberglass bottom if you can swap plywood out any time you want? Woody is better. Cheaper and faster. Easier to build and to fix too. Easiest of all in fact.

Finally, just to be clear. MDO plywood is not a requirement for Woodie_2.0 construction. You can still buy Hydrotek if you want a beautiful boat. It's just that you don't have to. Buy it cheap. Wear it thin. Swap it out.

The six boats listed below--Honky Dory in two sizes, Beavertail in two sizes plus Buffalo Boat and Dayak were all originally designed and built as Stitch and Glue Wood/Fiberglass composite boats. But they can all be built as Woodies_2.0 as well. Wood/Fiberglass composite construction is perhaps stronger but it is time consuming and expensive.

Woodie_2.0 construction the fastest cheapest and easiest DIY way to build a long-term durable boat--a boat that can be rowed and maintained forever.