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“Carefully review all plans and instructions….”

Whenever we start a “do-it-yourself” project, we invariably receive the sage advice, “Carefully review all plans and instructions before you begin construction.” But what does that really mean?

I’m reminded of the certified document examiner who was testifying in court. After stating he had examined a particular document, the defense attorney asked him, “What did you mean when you said you ‘examined’ the document?” The document examiner replied, “I looked at it really, really closely.”

Just looking at a set of boat plans “really, really closely,” may not be enough to ensure a successful build.  So here are five tips on how to review the plans for your new boat.

1. Get familiar with the environment

When you get a set of boat plans from Glen-L, you enter a whole new environment.  Start by going to the website, where you will find helpful tips from fellow boat builders, photo galleries, blogs, books, DVDs, teleseminars, and links to other resources.  Register as a new builder (on the Forum), and explore this vast resource.  Look for others who have built the boat you plan to build and review their blogs and photo galleries.  You will see how others have personalized the basic boat design to suit their own tastes.  Make note of ideas that you may want to incorporate into your own design.

Join the blog (or Forum) by introducing yourself to the Glen-L family.  Describe the boat you plan to build and tell us about yourself.  You will receive a warm and encouraging welcome.  Feel free to ask questions of other builders.  You may even find someone in your local area who has built the same boat.

2. Research the techniques you want to use

Boat builders are constantly developing new and improved techniques and products.  I teach woodworking at the local community college, so I am constantly looking for new ideas on the internet to share with my students.  Read books, magazines, and blogs and watch videos to learn about the latest innovations.

Take the time to review A Consumer’s Guide to Building Your Own Boat, which Glen-L makes available for free.  Glen-L offers a variety of other books that you should consider including, as a minimum, the Boatbuilder’s Notebook, Boatbuilding with Plywood, and How to Fiberglass Boats.  I have also found excellent advice about cold molding and using epoxy in The Gougeon Brothers on Boat Construction.  (The Gougeon Brothers developed the West System of epoxy for use in building wooden boats.)  The Powerboater’s Guide to Electrical Systems is another valuable reference if you intend to do any electrical wiring.

3. Review your Glen-L plans

Glen-L plans typically include:

  • Full sized plans for frames or molds.
  • Scale drawings with lots of notes and details.
  • A booklet of written instructions with photographs.
  • A basic order of work with detailed instructions about each phase of the building process
  • A bill of materials and a fastening schedule.

All of the Glen-L materials are interrelated, so it helps to review the materials several different ways.

Read all of the instructions.  Take notes about procedures that are unfamiliar to you.  Then research them and develop confidence that you can perform them.  Learn the definitions of terminology that is new to you.  Boatbuilding has its own language, which is important to understand before you start building.

Compare the full-sized drawings with the scale drawings and written procedures to learn how each part of the project relates to all the other parts.  Start your own Order of Work, listing the steps you plan to take from the beginning to the end of the project.  You may need to group procedures into categories in order to complete sub-assemblies that are required before other tasks can be performed.  Include any modifications you intend to make to the basic building plan.

In planning my Malahini build, I decided to fabricate the stem, frames, and transom in my shop before I assembled the building form. Since the building form would be outside, I had to build a bow house before I could hang the frames on the form. Those decisions dictated the order in which I had to buy materials and plan the flow of work.

4. Make your own plans

List any modifications you plan to make to the basic design of the boat.  Read about the effects of moving or changing weight loading to make sure you don’t alter the boat’s trim characteristics.  Glen L. Witt’s book on Boatbuilding with Plywood includes a discussion of this topic that may help you to make these important decisions.  Other builders can also help by describing their own experiences.  Ask questions on the blog and in the Forum and look forward to learning from others who have already dealt with these issues.

Itemize all the parts and materials you will use to build the boat.  Glen-L provides a Bill of Materials that gets you off to a good start, but it may not include all of the parts and materials you plan to use.  Be sure to include all of the components you intend to include in your build that are NOT discussed in the plans.  What kind of motor will you use? Which kind of steering controls? How large will your gas tank be?  How many batteries?  The list may seem endless, especially when you get down to deciding whether to use plastic, brass, or chrome through-hull fittings.

Extend this list to identify your intended sources of supply and the approximate cost of each item.  I extended the Glen-L Bill of Materials to identify the type of lumber for each component. From that, I developed a cut list to determine the rough dimensions of each board I would need and used that information to calculate total board feet and cost for each type of lumber.  This gave me an idea of my total budget and the cash flow I would need to complete each phase of the project.

5. Set milestones

Estimate milestones to complete each of the project phases or sub-assemblies that you identified in the Order of Work. This will give you an idea of the total amount of time before you can take your first sea trial.  Don’t forget to plan around family vacations and holidays.  This list may surprise you, but it will help you develop a healthy expectation of the amount of work and the time and cost required to complete the project.  The list of milestones can serve as a great motivator to keep your build on course. I made room for an actual completion date next to each of my milestone dates so I can celebrate any time I get ahead of schedule.

You may find, as I did, that you need to continually adjust all of these lists as new details occur to you, both before and during the actual build.  I’m keeping a log to record the facts learned and decisions made each day as a reference to keep me from confusing myself as the build progresses.

Speaking of celebrating, remember there are three important events that tradition dictates you need to celebrate when you build a boat; the day you lay the keel, the day you turn it over (assuming you’re building upside down to start) and the day you launch.  Plan those celebrations carefully and share them with family and friends so they can join in the joy that comes from building a boat.

Finally, plan on taking your finished creation to a Glen-L gathering where you can compare notes with other builders and perhaps meet some of the people whose good advice contributed to your success.

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2 Responses to Carefully review all plans and instructions….

  1. Joanne Latimer says:

    My uncle has just started on a Hunky Dory project. He’s picked up the wood and got the first seven frames done, but is now stuck at the next stage. Each of the next few pieces needs to be a different size but the plans don’t seem to specify the sizes. He’s looking at a 22′ length for the boat, if that helps. Can you offer any info about these pieces, or direct us to a resource that might help?


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