I like boats.

Really Cheap Canoe

January 2009

I wanted to build my own boat. I don't know how it all started, but there it was. Of course, being a cheapskate with no money it also had to cost nothing, or as close as realisticly possible. Boat plans were of course to be free, which took me on a fun but timeconsuming quest to find them all. On my world wide web travels I came across the four hour grip clip kayak, and wrinkle dinkie. I can do that! I thought to myself.

Now for the materials. First of all I needed wood. For the frame, you see. This sent me on a mission to Bunnings Warehouse. Notice how I said “to”, not “in”, because outside their shop they always have a bunch of pallets they don't want anymore, free to a good home. Perfect for me! Well, perfect except the maximum length of wood I could find was only about 110cm. I would just have to make a design to suit.

I figured I needed a keel to hold all the bits of wood together. Well, how about a two by four? A farmer we knew was gonna burn down an old farmhouse, and we could take whatever wood we wanted. I got a couple of nice beams from that little adventure and one of them would do just fine. In fact, when I was planing and shaping the thing to a keel-like shape, it looked rather nice. Turns out that it's rimu. I knew I should've taken more!

Now for the covering, you know, keep the water out… We had a tarpaulin covering our sailing dinghy, a nice good quality silver one, with only some minor holes, and severely oversize. I just cut half of it off, tadaa!

Of course I was going to have to make all these pieces stick together, using nails and glue. I had nails, I had glue. Interior PVA glue. I used it. That was a bit stupid, because a lot of it is letting go at the moment.

I was almost ready to start, all I needed was a plan. So this is what I came up with, a sort of angular canoe shape().


The first thing I did was shape the keel(). Two rebates in the end because the thing wasn't long enough. Two through housings to hold the frames. Then I rounded some of the corners so it wouldn't poke through my tarpaulin.

Next on my list was making the frames(). These were made from the pallet wood. Just simple squares really, I added some corners in for reinforcement. They were glued and nailed together.

Now the keel needed to be extended, as it wasn't long enough. One of the pallet planks was ripped in half with a circular saw. If I was to do it again I would probably do it by hand. One half on each end of the canoe in the rebate housing. Then a bow and stern piece() were made from a plank, and glued and nailed to the keel. Final touch was shaping it to be pointy. All done!

What next? The stringers. I would need 12 of those, so I ripped 6 of the pallet planks in half. The four on the central section of the hull were just hammered and glued on. The ones on the bow and stern() sections would need some surgery first.

To stretch the skin on I put the tarpaulin on the picnic table and then put the boat on top of it. Stretch on either side and then secure with clothespegs(). The wooden ones with a metal string stretch surprisingly far! Then I just used a staplegun to fasten. Later I added some decorative thumbtacks. Which later rusted. The fold that was created in the corner was just taped to be nice and streamlined.

Floorboards are just two planks that have a hole in each end, which go on nails on the frames. Removeable for bailing and carrying. Also I put some bamboo sticks on the bottom as extra stringers. Otherwise there was almost 30cm of unsupported tarpaulin. They're tied to the boat by zipties around nails.

A mast partner was made by cutting a hole in a piece of wood and screwing to the underside of the top of the frame (just look at the pics ;-) ) Mast step is a nail. Mast a piece of bamboo with a hole in the bottom node for the maststep nail and a hole through the top for the halliard. The sail used to be an animal food bag. It has lots of cool writing like, “proven top quality” and my favourite, “pull narrow tape to open” with an arrow pointing at the tape I used to give it some shape. Later I made a better sail from a new bag, which was sewn, and has real grommets. I also made a leeboard which is just swung over the side. It is a pain as you have to hold it down all the time. There are some cleats on the boat made from clothespegs. Most of the rope is from an old retractable dog leash.


Before covering, pic1.

On land, pic1, pic2.

Details, pic1, pic2, pic3, pic4.

First launch in pool, pic1, pic2.

On lake Ngaroto, pic1, pic2, pic3. Sorry about the quality, I spent so much time it was getting dark :-)


This boat really exceeded my expectations! It is very light (about 25kg without the floorboards I think) which makes it a breeze to carry. In the water things feels a little bit tippy at first but as long as you sit on the bottem it's no problem. She moves a lot better than those plastic sit-on-top kayaks even with the boxy shape. The small one meter square sail pushes her very fast in any wind, better than paddling. And in a breeze things get pretty exciting in that skinny hull.

And it cost me nothing but a packet of staples.


First of all I need a bigger leeboard and sail. At the moment the best I get is a reach.

Next time use a tarp without holes. Even with lots of tape she's still a bit leaky. Also a lot of the pvc glue joints are letting go. Gorilla glue or something like that would be better.

The tarp is plenty strong for on a lake. It's been stored outside for more than a year now, in the sun a lot of the time, and it's showing no signs of giving up.

I'd like to make a new one using only bamboo for the stringers.

Sorry about my lengthy ramblings, I got a bit carried away there. If you have any questions, advice, or just want to vent some steam, do not hesitate to contact me!! I enjoy getting feedback from my visitors!

On to part two.