Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Aluminium Boatbuilding

This post was prompted by me receiving the photo below from a client who is building one of my aluminium designs. I have posted about him before, his name is Brian Russell and he is building in Tennessee. The reason for the post? Well, the photo is just so gorgeous in its composition and shows up the framing system of the boat so nicely. And, of course, there is his pretty wife right in the middle of it as well, to add interest.

Brian Russell's Dix 43 Pilot. The black surfaces are
insulation, which highlight the framing system of
longitudinal stringers and transverse frames.

Brian is a professional sculptor, so he obviously does beautiful work and has a great eye for aesthetics to show it all off. Brian's website is at .

This design is the Dix 43 Pilot, originally drawn for steel construction. Many have been built by professional and amateur builders from steel and a few have been built by professionals from aluminium. One of them, "Blue Pearl" was built by Jacobs Brothers in Cape Town and has cruised many thousands of miles, including voyages to both the Arctic and the Antarctic.

"Blue Pearl" in the Antarctic

Aluminium is a great boatbuilding material and well-proven in use. It is also a much nicer material with which to work than steel. It is relatively light, so it is easier to manhandle pieces by yourself than with steel, with less need for heavy-lifting equipment. It is also easily worked with woodworking machinery like power saws, power planes etc and it is a lot quieter to work than steel. It also has the advantage that it is not necessary to paint it above the waterline, so the increased cost of the material is offset to large extent by the savings in fairing and painting.

OK, so what is the problem with it that blocks most amateur builders from using it? Aluminium is a material that can result in an unsafe boat if the builder does not properly educate himself before starting construction. That education is needed in two areas, which are proper choice of alloys and correct welding techniques. Get these two things right and you will have a good boat.

Proper choice of alloys is important because incorrect alloys will result in corrosion problems that will seriously shorten the safe life of the boat. The aluminium must be marine grade, from the 5000 and 6000 series of alloys and they must be selected for their strength, welding and corrosion characteristics.

Correct welding technique is much more important for aluminium than for steel because it is a more difficult material to weld successfully. Correct preparation of the weld zone and cleanliness of the work area are needed because any contamination in the weld will adversely affect weld adhesion and strength. Aluminium welding is also badly affected if the inert gas is blown away, allowing oxidation of the molten metal. That means that there must be no wind or other air movement where the welding is going on.

So, any amateur who is prepared to take courses at the nearest Community College should be able to build a good boat in aluminium. You don't want to find out in 60 knots of wind and 50ft seas in the Southern Ocean that your welding techniques were not up to scratch. Do it right and you will have a boat that can take you anywhere in the world that you want to go.

See our full range of designs and much info on boatbuilding at

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Time to Plan for Winter

Winter is coming fast and the weatherman says that it will be another cold one, much like last year. If you are into winter sports, this is a great time of year. If you are like me, you prefer the warmer months. Despite that, I don't let the cold trap me inside, you will often find me out on the ocean, surfing in air and water temperatures that are not many degrees above freezing. I will be covered head to toe in black neoprene, with only my face exposed to the elements. If the surf is good, that is where I will be.

When I am not surfing or working, I keep myself busy in the workshop with projects. My current project is rebuilding a 40 year old British sportscar, a Lotus Europa S2. It was given to me by a friend, in a very sad state. This project will keep me busy for a few winters.

My Lotus Europa rebuild project, garaged and with
 the body off the chassis. My surfboards are racked
 on the wall.

Now is the time to plan what you will do this winter. Building a small boat is a great project that will keep you busy, in a warm shop or garage. It will also result in a product of your own hands, of which you will be proud and which will give you lots of fun when the warmer weather returns.

Nomatter what your age, you can benefit from building a small boat. As a schoolboy, you can build it for yourself. As a father or grandfather, you can build it for yourself and your children or grandchildren. Whether you are into fishing, sailing or the exercise of rowing or paddling, there are boats that you can build with basic woodworking skills.

Some designs need boatbuilding skills but most can be built by people with only basic woodworking skills and no prior boatbuilding experience. You should choose a design that you are sure that you will be able to complete. It is good to challenge yourself but don't aim so high that your project will get the better of you.

We have a few designs that are suitable for winter builds. At the lower end of the skills scale are the 3:1 dinghies that are built by the stitch & glue method. They can be built by almost anyone and can be propelled by oars, sails or a small outboard motor. Use them for sailing, fishing, teaching boating skills or simply lazing around on the water, with or without a fishing rod.

Nicely built Argie 10 3:1 dinghy, built from
plywood by an inexperienced amateur builder.

At the other end of the skills scale are the lapstrake Challenger and the Paper Jet. A completed Challenger is also a 3:1 multi-purpose dinghy. The Paper Jet is very different, being only a sailing dinghy. But it is a sailing dinghy with a difference in that it has 3 sailing configurations that make it suitable for sailing at all skill levels.

Whatever, your boating preferences you can find a boat to build in our Winter Projects. If you get started now, you can be having fun "messing about in boats" when the warm summer months come again.

See all of our designs at .