Boatbuilding styles: Traditional frame, stitch & glue, or hybrid?

I guess there really is no cure for compulsive boat building.  (LOL)  So I’m going to build two more drift boats this fall while waiting for the ski season to start.  I'll sell one and keep the other for myself. 

Both will be built in my mold which controls the shape and allows them to be built totally without screws if so desired.  Definitively not free-form stitch and glue. They are 17’ x 54”, with either “fly fisherman” or high sides.

The goal of this build is to incorporate the best features of traditional construction with the much lower maintenance and higher resistance to rot of frameless wood epoxy techniques. So I thought this might be a good opportunity to explore the different ways to build a drift boat and give people an opportunity to relate their experiences.

We shouldn't loose sight of the fact that the traditional wood frame boats that most are familiar with were designed to be built by an unemployed logger in his garage using inexpensive local materials.  Good enough to catch a mess of Rainbows and then take him safely through Martin's Rapids---- not to become heirlooms or museum pieces.  We no longer have cheap local materials, but the simplicity and ease of construction remain. Something to keep in mind before you spend more time restoring a tired old boat than it would take to build a new one.

When someone like me chooses to curve the top of the transom and build a cap instead of chopping it off square, add an inlaid breasthook, or build a furniture quality seat it is largely for the pleasure of artistic expression rather than function.  Same principle applies to recurve side panels, curved transoms, and high back rope seats.

Other techniques like using premium Sapele plywood prepared with transparent glass and special UV coatings have both esthetic and practical functions, and can result in a beautiful wood surface that requires less upkeep than paint.

The main alternative to traditional frame construction is the stitch and glue method often used to build kayaks and other lightweight craft. Using this approach only minimal frames are necessary, and the resulting interior can be much easier to maintain, especially if you want the wood to be varnished.  However, building up a chine tough enough to withstand hard use requires multiple layers of tape and subsequent fairing, and is all to easy to shortcut.  And it lacks the great feature of a nice piece of oak to take the knocks that can be removed and replaced when needed.

So in place of a tape/epoxy chine seam I’m using a laminated oak inner chine with a removable/replaceable outer chine.  I’ve developed a procedure that completely eliminates the possibility of water entering the wood through the outer chine screws, yet allows bedding with a material that permits easy replacement.

Since all the oak we receive from suppliers anymore is subjected to the indignity of rapid kiln drying it is quite brittle when bent.   Even if steam bent it is prone to splitting once it dries back out.  For this reason I epoxy laminate all my curved oak pieces—chines, cap rails, casting brace---.  Radically increases their toughness.

Here is the plan for the two boats:  All negative and positive comments are welcome!

BOAT  #1:

HULL:  9mm BS 1088 Ocume marine plywood:  Epoxy flow coated with UV resistant epoxy and sanded to a mirror finish on the interior. Clear LPU topcoat. Painted jade green on the outside.  Cosmetically it will be similar to the nesting dingy I built. (see photo)

BOTTOM:  ½” marine fir plywood: Outside:  30 oz glass and epoxy with graphite/silica filler. Raised double bottom platforms at casting locations.  ANTISKID:  “Treadmaster” as used on high end ocean going sailboats.  No funky hot black bed liner.

TRANSOM:  ¾” Sapele finished clear inside and out as on my Chameleon pram.

SEATING & INTERIOR FIT-OUT:   Traditional rope seats. Laminated arch style aft casting brace. Mahogany cap rails with no raw edge of plywood exposed. Custom breast hook with inlay.

BOAT # 2             

HULL:   Premium grade BS 1088 Sapele marine plywood: Clear finished inside and out. Watertight compartments.  High side version for more extreme waters. I may pull the length out to 18’ as a true double ender.

BOTTOM:  CoreCell-Kevlar-glass: Toughest bottom structure possible. 5/8” CoreCell core with 36 oz glass/epoxy/silica/ graphite bottom.  Kevlar inner skins for bulletproof impact resistance.

INTERIOR: Waterproof side flotation lockers with custom wood lids and twist locking handles.  Straight side rod storage for four rods.  ANTISKID:  Treadmaster as used on high end ocean going sailboats.  No funky hot black bed liner.  Awlgrip LPU paint on the floors. Integrated YETI cooler.  Custom seats.  Open style cap rails with hand holds. Custom breast hook inlay.

Boat #1 will be for sale for $8,000, and #2 for $16,000.  The features are not set in epoxy until they are underway if somebody wants customization. If they want both it will get a lot more expensive!  Like enough more to retire to Argentina. (LOL)  

There are a bunch more photos over on my (Richard Elder's) blog.

Views: 2376


Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Interesting ideas,one thing a S&G boat doesn't offer is a floating floor.With ribs we just lay wood down and presto we have an area for the water to go and keep the floor dry.As fly fisherman we are constantly getting in and out of our boats bring in gravel/mud and  a never ending supply of water from our waders.What are your thoughts/ideas to solve this problem with a non ribbed boat?

Good point.  Like everything else its a trade off!  If having open floorboards is a higher priority than a couple of double bottom flotation areas there is no reason not to build them as modules that just sit in place. They could be raw teak if you want to be upscale, or fir with some anti-skid strips on top.

One design I've seen is a raised floor in the middle so the water gathers to the sides then a small bilage to remove the water.Battery operated by a 12v lith cordless drill batt.This also runs red LED lights for the night fish.


In hull 2 you say Kevlar inner skins,would this be the only skin,or covered with some E glass?

Kevlar is extremely strong in tension--- thus it makes a perfect inner skin for a energy absorbing core like CoreCell.  And you are right-- it would have a e glass cloth over it to take minor abrasion without the dreaded yellow fuzzies cropping up.

One nice thing about doing a flat forward floor is that it provides a natural base for a big cooler and provides the best possible footing.  In the case of boat #2 the cooler will become an integral part of the seating or at least fit into a custom enclosure.

The Yeti cooler idea is a good one,I've wondered why there so good/exspencive?

Just a thought but what if one were to build a cooler from the Corecell?What makes the Yeti so $, do they use high density foam to get the performance?

Great topic/thread and thanks for sharing some of your ideas.


I did build an in place cooler one time.  Cost more that a Yeti! And you really appreciate how important it is to be able to remove the cooler once it is built in and you can't!

Another variation of the same design.  It's a lot harder to do the open hand rails on a frameless boat.  And of course they are harder to keep varnish on, but great for holding onto.   I think the next time I do it this way they will have bronze carriage bolts through them.

Richard -

Great post and great idea's, my current project (and 1st) is a S&G. I am almost finished with the interior finish work and hope to get it wet before fall. BUT like you, I am looking forward to my next build which will be a modified S&G w/ 5 built-in frames for ease of building seats/lockers. Thanks for the great idea's.


One of the advantages of the mold frame jig that I use is that I can build laminated parts like an oak inner chine in it.  Faster than a tape seam system, ultimately stronger, and gives great holding for the screws that fasten the removable outer chine on.  Not aware that anyone else has ever built drift boats this way.  Maybe I should patent it. (LOL)  I do remember a certain delusional well known boat builder telling me he had the exclusive right to build stitch and glue drift boats-----. 

As you might gather I'm not a real fan of stitch and glue except for one-off boats like the Angus expedition rowboat made from 1/4" ocume.

  Both of those should make really nice boats. Selecting all the best ideas from all the boats you've seen or researched and and combining them to the best of your ability IS a smart way to go.  As you say, traditional framed wooden driftboats were not an evolutionary design, worked out by generations of boatbuilders, they were/are though up by fishermen/loggers and meant to be backyard buildable using available and cheap lumberyard materials and without any special boatbuilding skills, really.  Even the boats built by older big name framed wood boatbuilders are unsophisticated and built with cost as one of the main considerations.

   That's what is so cool about boatbuilding...You can go quick and dirty or fancy as hell, and as long as YOU like is right.   Compare a fancy boat like Jason the Montana guy builds to a Lavro chopper-gun dory...or an Alumaweld..or an old Keith Steel or Don Hill...they all float about the same but their individual appeal is worlds apart...

  Personally, I like fine boats built using nice materials and taking some time to do beautiful things.  Your choice of Okume, Awlgrip and the Treadmaster product...those are all products that I often have incorporated into boats I've done.   I might include some WEST Barrier coat into the bottom layup on both your projects.   I think I would use the Treadmaster as inlays only, in places where you step in and out, perhaps underfoot where you stand to cast, but as someone mentioned, it is nice to have the water below your feet...Raw teak makes for excellent floorboards..Look at the yachting world for those cross-laminated cockpit floors, if you want to get real fancy.

  You can also reduce your scantlings by hollowing out some of your wood trim, seat rails, gunwales, thwarts, oars, etc and including tows of graphite or carbonfiber as strength.  I use a little wooden hand plane to 'back out' things, then as I bond them, I include carbon fiber, depending on the load and the desired strength.  You can also use a router or just put the carbon under your glass layers...  I built a Rangely Lakes boat, ultra light two person rowing and sailing dingy with 5' of beam and built the thwarts from 5mm Brunzeel with carbon reinforced honduras mahogany under...they were plenty strong for jumping around on or whatever, yet incredibly light. 

  You should have lots of fun with these projects..Selling them and getting back your investment?  Hmmm....Seems like my projects usually net me about $5/hr when all is done...

  Good luck, post pics please.

  Don Hanson

$5/hr!! Wowa, lets not get out of hand here.$1/hr is my goal! Baby steps.

Your observation on the original builders building cheap boats to use and not become family heirlooms is right on. I once built a little knock around S&G 12' drifter that I could toss in the back of a truck and go. I used  material from the local Lowes. Exterior grade fir plywood was used for the hull and at the time they carried Douglas fir boards so I used that for the gunnels. I used deck paint for the finish. I figured if I could get five years out of it then that's a pretty good return on a $500 investment. Well after 15 years that little boat is still around. I sold it a few years ago thinking I would build another but haven't got to it yet. Point being it was a fine serviceable boat that still got a few oohs and aahs that I didn't mind beating the crap out of. While I  love the craftsmanship of a fine mahogany floating work of art I know what its gonna look like after 5 years of me using it. Im thinking of building my next boat (17X54 Mike Baker framed boat )in the same down and dirty manner using local wood (here in the south its mostly southern yellow pine) and exterior fir. I don't really need it to last forever, just to get me down the river for a few years.


© 2019   Created by Randy Dersham.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service