Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tech Tip Tuesday

So, now that you've decided to build a skin-on-frame boat, you're looking for instructions and plans, aren't you?  Let's take a little look around at some of the plans that are available:

Traditional Build:

Most books for traditional skin-on-frame boat building generally target kayaks or canoes.  If you look around the internet, you'll find instructions and classes for building things like coracles, umiaks, basket boats, kayaks and canoes.  Not really all that difficult if you're looking.

If you're going really "Old School", David W. Zimmerly's Qayaq: Kayaks of Alaska and Siberia has some neat drawings and images of traditional kayaks.  It would be for an advanced builder to interpret things from the sketches in a way that fits the individual paddler.  You have to keep in mind that the Innuit used body measurements - hand spans, cubits, and the like to make their boats - they were tailored to the builder.

Some more up-to-date books to build versions of the Greenland kayaks are written by Christopher Cunningham and Mark Starr.  Cunningham has written Building the Greenland Kayak: A Manual for It's Construction and Use while Starr has written Building a Greenland Kayak.  Both are excellent books and I recommend them highly if you intend to build a traditional kayak.

While Starr and Cunningham's books are both very good, I'd have to rate Robert Morris' book Building Skin-on-Frame Boats to be excellent - it delves deeply into the build of kayaks, but also talks about other type of boats including prams, canoes, and umiaks in the back of the book.  Morris owns Brewery Creek Small Boat Shop in Vancouver, Canada.  He appears to have been strongly influenced by Zimmerly's research and writing - which is a good thing.  The book is out of print, but if you can find it, borrow it or get it at your local library, I highly recommend it - whatever method of skin-on-frame you intend to try.

Qajac USA, the American Chapter of the Greenland Kayak Association also has an excellent listing on their website of resources information for builders including books, weblinks, and video - check it out here.

For canoes, Hilary Russell of the Berkshire Boatbuilding School has done more than most to bring about the building of small skin-on-frame canoes in the tradition of Rushton's small double-paddle canoes.  Sometimes he works with sawn woods, sometimes with natural materials - typically willow.   He offers plans, kits, parts and a book - Building Skin-on-Frame Double Paddle Canoes as well as classes.  The boats are lashed frames with steam-bent ribs and Nylon or Polyester skins.  He also had two articles in WoodenBoat Magazine on the buildling of one of his boats - that includes plans - in WoodenBoat issues #205 and #206 - available from the WoodenBoat Store as PDF downloads.   I met a woman this summer while out paddling who had taken  his class and built the boat she was paddling - a beautiful specimen, to be sure.  I'm still tempted to build one.

Sorta Traditional Build...

No listing of kayak building resources for skin-on-frame boats would be complete without the seminal classic, Baidarka: The Kayak by George Dyson.  George and friends built a variety of baidarka - including some massive sailing versions in the '70's.  These boats are not wood framed, but are framed from lashed aluminum plate and tubing and skinned with nylon fabrics - basically a high-tech twist in terms of materials on classic designs.  George is still very influential in the skin boat world and owns Dyson, Baidarka & Company in Bellingham, Washington.  George supplies a significant portion of the Nylon and Polyester fabrics used to skin boats today.  My students and I purchase our fabrics from him.  A nice gentleman to deal with with broad interests and a depth of knowledge.

Bridging the gap again is Wood and Canvas Kayak Building by George Putz. It's a unique, slightly homespun book and could perhaps use some updating in terms of skin materials.  In particular, the use of a "truss" system along the sides of the boat along with "floors" very similar to the construction of larger sail boats is unique.  Well worth a read if you find it.

I'm torn about where to put this one.  Geodesic AiroLITE boats designed by the late Platt Monfort and still offered by his family in the form of both plan, kits and partial kits are really a bit more high-tech than most "traditional" methods.  He used steam-bent ribs in his designs and lashed stringers to them.   He then used Kevlar "diagonals" to ensure that the boat's frame stayed rigid.  The skins and skinning methods were really borrowed from the aircraft industry and are a bit unique to skin-on-frame boatbuiding.  There are a wide variety of plans offered including paddling, pulling and sailing craft.  The thing that's special about the Geodesic AiroLITE boats is their impressively light weight.  A gossamer 12 foot long canoe can weigh as little as 14 pounds.  Truly impressive.

Non-Traditional Builds:

I would do a disservice to the history of non-traditional skin-on-frame boats if I didn't include Percy Blandford.  (Some information on this website.)  Percy designed skin-on-frame kayaks that were very popular in the UK from the '30's to the '70's including the PBK10, PBK14, PBK 20 and PBK 27.  He also wrote a book called Canoes and Canoeing - now out of print.  They were very popular with Scouts in the UK.  Plans are available from Clarkcraft.com.   Most, if not all of the designers offering plans below, owe some credit to the efforts of Mr. Blandford.

Tom Yost has taken what Percy Blandford did and ran with it.  Tom offers a website of free designs and building instructions on his website, Yostwerks.   The offerings on the website include boats with plywood frames, wood stringers and PVC skins.  Other offerings include folding aluminum and plastic frames with PVC skin and inflatable PVC boats.  The designs have evolved over time and some of the older designs have faded away.  There is also a Yahoo! group dedicated to Tom's boats.  All of Tom's work is well worth looking at, but I'd recommend skipping the PVC skins to save weight and look at Nylon or Polyester.

Dave Gentry of Gentry's Custom Boats seems to have started on his path with Yost designs and evolved into his own with an impressive selection of kayaks, canoes, pulling and sailing boats.  Dave's offerings seem to be expanding on a regular basis.  He offers both plans and kits at his website and offers classes at the WoodenBoat School along with other locations.  This year, my students will be building three of Dave's designs including his Chuckanut 15 kayak, IGO canoe, and Annabelle sailing skiff.   His building tutorials that come with the plans are quite good and a nice addition.   I'm looking forward to the time when Dave writes a book on the subject.

S. Jeff Horton of Kudzu Craft offers skin-on-frame kayaks, canoes, pirogues and pulling boats.  He offers plans, kits, parts and two books - Building Fuselage Frame Boats and More Fuselage Frame Boats.  My students will be building three Stonefly canoes from the first book - we built a total of eight of them last year.  Overall, Jeff seems to specialize in the kayaks, but the other offerings are interesting.  The instructions tend to be somewhat simplistic in the book, but are still a very solid offering for someone who wants to build their own boat at home.

In next week's Tech Tip Tuesday, I hope to discuss the idea of converting existing designs to skin-on-frame designs.

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