I want to build a boat for drifting and fishing rivers in the west up to class 3-4.  Three criteria are important for me:  (1) I want to build with solid wood, (2) it needs to be relatively easily repairable, and (3) the build needs to go relatively quickly (3-4 months).  Has anyone built, or seen, a “driftboat” built from solid wood?


With these criteria in mind, I’m leaning toward “parallel carvel” planking as advocated by Sam Rabl with a cross-planked bottom.  I was contemplating a design of my own based on a St. Lawrence River bateau in Chapelle, but with time an issue, I may just use the stem and framing set-up for the 16’ double-ended Mackenzie in Fletcher’s book and plank it rather than use plywood.  I realize such a boat will likely be heavier than the plywood version.  Depending on the outcome of the planking, the outside will likely be painted with the interior oiled.


I have two questions at this point:


1)    For a driftboat that will be wet for 12 hours or less at a time for most of its use, do you think caulking the planks is necessary?  I understand there is a structural component to caulking that may be critical for some boat designs.  If so, would I need to caulk all the planks or just the bottom couple that will be in the water most of the time?  Would there be any advantage to using seam-batten construction for the planks requiring “caulking” rather than caulked carvel?  I was originally thinking about strip plank construction but think now repairs would be much more difficult.


2)  I’m conflicted about which wood to use for the planks.  I think most folks would normally recommend some type of cedar for planking, but I’m concerned how well cedar may resist damage from rocks, etc.  (My children will row as well so I expect some damage.) 


Reclaimed plain- and rift-sawn DF (likely coastal DF) is available 150 miles away.  Its nice wood, relatively expensive, and may have nail holes to consider. 


There is a small sawmill about 60 miles away that does big business locally with inland DF from Montana.  They are very accommodating, and their prices are very good – less than $1/bd-ft.  Plain-sawn planks would be readily available and air-dried.  Rift-sawn planks may be available, but likely would have to be milled and would take some time to dry. 


And then there’s redwood from the local big boxes that’s relatively expensive, a little tougher than WRC, and more stable than DF. 


WRC is available from a mill about 200 miles away.  Its likely to be plain-sawn.  Prices aren’t too bad but I have to consider the time and gas it would take to travel there and back.  Likewise with some of the other options. 


Do any of those options stand out above the others?


Another option would be to buy a used plywood driftwood and bring it back to life, but it would be plywood and built by someone else.  That would be my last option if time seems to be slipping away.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.


Gary Davis

Billings, Montana

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Thanks for that Phil.  I'm really trying to stay away from FG and epoxy.  I'm thinking I'll use 5/8" x 4" RWC without FG to ease repairs which I'm sure will come as my kids think they are getting a new boat.  I'll cross-plank the bottom - probably with douglas-fir.  I'm thinking that may be the first to need repairs and DF is less expensive and easier to acquire locally than RWC.

Did you discuss the butt joints and how they were working?  Is that common on drift boats to butt on the frames?

Did you get any images you can share?

Thanks again Phil.  I look forward to seeing your creation here.



Didn't get to discuss as long as I wanted.  The Expo was a busy place and lots of competition from others interested in this drift boat.  I looked over the butt joints and they looked tight.  Have only been studying Drift Boat designs a couple of years so I don't know what's typical .  This is a common practice in building stripper canoes, also encapsulated in FG/epoxy.  I chose to use scarf joints (8:1) on all my strips to make them full length where necessary.  Mostly due to a lack of experience.

This builder is a local Michigan guy and builds his boats for local folks.  Michigan doesn't have nearly the fast water as you'd see out West, so I'd assume the strength isn't such an issue.  I have 1-2 pictures of interior features and tramsom on my wife's phone and haven't been successful in getting them out of it.  I'll see what I can do and post them ASAP.

Looking forward to following your progress.


phil w

I saw the same boat at the show. I did get a chance to talk with the builder. He butt and edge glued all the strips together while there were flat, not on the boat. Then he covered both sides with 6 ounce fiberglass and epoxy. Only then did he cut it up to make the sides. Essentially he made his own sheet goods to work with. Not exactly plywood but built in the same manner.

Thanks for elaborating Frank.  Good to know.


Frank R.


phil w.


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