Building Roar
How I built a row boat.
Bruce Hallman

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This is only the second boat I have built. The first, thirty years ago, was a total failure. [Well not a total failure, while it didn't float, it was fun to build.]
I am writing this journal with the hopes that you might learn from my process.

Steps along the process:

  1. Thirty years of dreaming about building another boat.
  2. Three years of reading and study. I am a huge fan of the iconoclastic naval architect Philip C. Bolger, check out is books from the library. Most are out of print. His most recent book Boats With An Open Mind is available from and other places. I also recommend the magazine Messing About in Boats (508)774-0906, in which P.C.B. writes a biweekly article. My copies of Dynamite Payson's bookz, Build the New Instant Boats and Instant Boats are nearly worn out from repeated reading. You should buy these books from the author [who will autograph them], telephone (207) 594-7587.
  3. Six months with "plans in hand", building the boat in my head.
    Buy the plans from Jim Michalak who designs and sells plans in the "tack and tape" spirit of Phil Bolger. Send for Jim's catalogues, which are a good read in their own right. Jim sells plans for Roar. He also has written an excellent book about his boat designs and how to build them Boat Building and Beyond which is a must read book!
  4. About a week shopping; Orchard Supply & Hardware had the best price on polyester resin, TAP Plastics had the best selection and price on fiberglass cloth and tape, and I bought the luan plywood [and an excellent 16' tight grain redwood for the gunnels] from Goodman Lumber.
  5. I spent one evening cleaning the garage. I needed almost the entire floor area of my two car garage for flat space to edge join the plywood

Don't rush into this project until you have studied the plans and built the boat several times over in your mind. After you have done your shopping lay four sheets of plywood end to end on a board and carefully tack them in position so they don't move. You carefully layout the curves from the plans onto the plywood.

As the boat is 14 feet long you need to end join 8 foot sheets together by laminating with fiberglass tape and resin. Actually, due to the layout of the panels [see plans], you only join one full sheet, and one half of the other pair.

I chose to use my favorite Japanese pull saw because of the better ability to control the fineness of the curve and that power saws tend to splinter the surface ply of the "cheapo" mahogany 5mm luan plywood.

I found it to be more important to cut a fair and broad curve than to carefully follow the layout lines.

The symmetry of the boat depends on the curves you are cutting now. Flip the right side panel over and use it to scribe the layout to the left side. And, use the scrap left over from cutting between the right edge of the bottom panel and the side panel to scribe the left side of the bottom panel.

Not shown is the cutout of the bilge panels and the bending mold panels [edged in 3/4" pine strips for rigidity], all of which are laid out here on the garage floor.

This is the fun part!
[Don't get excited as you are only 25% done at this point.] Using drywall screws, tack the center mold to the two side panels.

Glue and screw the stem post [which you have bevel cut to shape on a table saw] to the leading edge of the side panels.

Attach the remaining molds to the locations called for on the plans to the side panels. The 5mm luan plywood [1/4"] is thin and bends easily and almost magically into the shape of a boat.

The next task is to build the transom panel; plans call for a simple straight and flat top edge. For aesthetic reasons I chose to give the top edge a curve and embellish with a "sculling notch"

I glue and securely clamp this to the transom plywood. Allow to cure.

The scaled height of Mold "A" on the plans is 17" but the dimensioned height is marked 21 1/4"??? Use the scaled dimension of 17" because as you can see, the bottom curve is way off when you use 21 1/4". I removed Mold "A" after this photo and rebuilt it, look at the photo below to see the shape you get with 17" height.

Install the bilge panels, which drooping under their own weight simply fall into place. Carefully go over the whole boat at this point fairing the curves by shimming the molds and/or trimming panel edges.

Everything I have read about tack and tape boat construction calls for you to install wire ties or tacks at the panel joints. I didn't do this, I simply taped up all joints using masking tape. This tape [plus the screws on the molds] holds the boat together enough to turn it over.

The next step is to install automobile body filler "Bondo" using a tongue depressor to the interior chine joints between all the panels. Just skip over where you can't reach at the molds.

As you can see the careful use of masking tape can save you *hours* of headaches sanding down Bondo blubbers.

The boat is now much more rigid, flip it over and install Bondo to the outside of the chines. Again, careful use of masking tape saves you time later in sanding.

I used my Skil saw with a ripping fence to rip off 16 foot long lengths 3/4" wide from a fine tight grain redwood 2x6 plank.

Using lots of glue, drywall screws and sweat you bend the gunnel strips onto the boat. Two laminations 3/4" thick add up to a 1 1/2" by 1 1/2" gunnel.

I used some good glue and a variety of drywall screws, screwed in place with my Makita screw gun.

Half way point!
Gunnels in place, ready for the fiberglassing about 19 hours into the 38 hour project. Fiberglass the outside first, starting with the bottom.

I only bought 9 feet [three yards] of 38" bottom cloth which I cut into two "triangles" which I fit end to end on the bottom panel. [saving me a few bucks.]

Glassing the chines. First you paint resin on the bare wood, then you stick on the 3" glass tape and then you go back and "fill the weave" of the tape. Plans call for two layers of glass on the exterior chines. I initially only bought a gallon of resin, and after finishing the bottom I realized that I would need another 1/2 gallon.

The stores being closed, I moved on to the making of the oars. First I checked in the stores to buy 7 foot oars and the ones I found were way too expensive and also way to heavy. The plans include lines to construct your own oars from two 1x6x8' pine boards. I used 1x8's which allowed me to avoid a few knots. Layout and cut pieces to make three laminations.

Using liberal amounts of glue, laminate the pieces together. I used drywall screws instead of clamps because they are so cheap and easy.

After the glue dries take your jigsaw, set at 45" and cut a fillet on all edges, making the square shafts hexagonal.

Freehand with your belt sander and a coarse belt shape the shafts round and the blade oval. Total time making the oars was about 4 hours.

The stores were open now so I bought another gallon of resin. Remove the inside molds and apply a single layer of 3" tape to the insides of the chines.

This was the least fun part of the project, sanding the "wax glaze" off of the cured resin. I spent several hours and didn't really do that good of a job. At a minimum you need to scuff of the glass so that paint can adhere.

Time for the primer coat of paint. I used that 1-2-3 primer sealer which adheres pretty well, even to the areas on the glass which still had some wax that my sanding missed.

Feeling inspired at the ease of shaping the blades to the oars I decide to enlarge and shape the skeg of the boat, part for aesthetics and part because I think the 3/4" skeg called for on plans seems a bit "weak and skimpy".

Though this looks hard actually the shaping of the skeg was pretty easy.

I mounted the skeg on the bottom in a bedding of Bondo and laminated over the Bondo fillets with double layers of glass tape. I also taped the leading edge of the skeg where it is exposed to abrasion.

You can see the glass on the skeg and the bottom "keel" fitted to place.

The keel is mounted in Bondo and screwed in place from the inside. This was tricky and I didn't get it firmly in place before the Bondo set up, so I added a bead of latex caulk between keel and bottom to cover up the gaps.

Almost done now! I laid out and cut the transom knees to reinforce the joint between the transom and the sides. I chose a 2x12 which had curved grain around a knot for strength reasons. The layout is tricky because of the double bevels of the curved side meeting the curved transom.

Not shown is the installation of oarlock sockets, stem pads and cross boards. You sit on a 9" portable seat, which I cut out of a 5 gallon bucket.

Woo Hoo! 38 manhours later she's afloat. I find that the length, skeg and light weight makes her a mighty fine rowboat.

Want to know more? Read my hour by hour journal of the construction.

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