Setting up to build a wooden boat

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Setting up to build

This has got to be the most rewarding and exciting part of building a wooden boat. Be warned though, one mistake here and you’ll be doing more head-scratching than a bean counter!

Setting up you will either use a “form” or a “ladder” set up. A form is really a long thick piece of lumber that takes the shape of the keel and locates the frames, transom and stem. Generally only used for boats up to 12 foot long that have relatively few frames.
The ladder style set up is really a ground jig that sets up the frames heights and spacing. With a good jig you should also be able to locate the transom, stem tip and the stringers. Naturally if you look at it, it really does look like a ladder lying on the ground. The spacings related to the frame spacings and there will be vertical planks that clamp onto the frames to set the heights. Almost always the hull is face up in this case. At the ends of the ladder style jig there should be specific blocks for the end of the stem and the outside of the transom (if curved)

The ladder jig is not a thrown together array of timber mind you! The outer lengths must be true and flat, at least one side that is. The upper side will be used as the base line so it must be horizontal regardless of the floor level. Same on the other side now and both must be securely fixed to the ground taking into account bumps and knocks while you’re working. The width is set according to the maximum beam of the boat; you don’t want a 2 foot wide jig supporting a 7 foot wide boat even if you are wearing steel cap boots. The joiner beans running at 90 degrees to the side must be true and flat also. If any of these are off the frames will follow and the chine and sheer lines will waiver.

Some of the more serious jigs I have seen utilized sides blocks that were bolted into the ground. The side beams were then screwed and glued to these after being leveled. Even though the ground level was uneven you could sit a ball-bearing on the top face with no roll. The other side was set using a tape measure and a spirit level…all pretty basic but true!
If the stringers are notched to suit the frames, then this is the ideal way of setting up. Once the stringers are set correctly then the frames will locate into the slots, taking care of the spacing and heights all in one go.

As with the form set up, the frames will need to be checked for being vertical and parallel to each other before securing. This can be done in so many ways but generally they are clamped to vertical planks coming up from the jig, temporary battens laid across the outside frame etc. You have to account for flex now as you may be looking at say the frame bottoms some 5 feet above ground level.
This is the foundation of a quality build so you only get out what you put in!
Lock it up, square it up and you’re half way home…


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