Buehler's Backyard Boatbuilding

Buehler's Backyard Boatbuilding

by George Buehler

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Buehler's Backyard Boatbuilding by George Buehler

Everybody has the dream: Build a boat in the backyard and sail off to join the happy campers off Pogo Pogo, right? But how? Assuming you aren't independently wealthy, if you want a boat that's really you, you gotta build it yourself.

Backyard boatbuilding has its problems. Building in fiberglass is itchy, smelly, and yields a product that yachting maven L. Francis Herreshoff once called "frozen snot." Ferrocement, once all the rage, has pretty much sunk from favor, if you catch the drift. But there's still wood, right? Ah, wood. Nature's perfect material. You can build in the time-honored traditions of the Golden Age of Yachting, loving crafting intricate joints in rare tropical hardwoods, steaming swamp oak butts to sinuous shapes, holding the whole thing together with nonferrous fastenings that cost a buck or better each. Does that sound like boatbuilding for everyperson?

What about the currently fashionable wood/epoxy boatbuilding? You butter regular old wood with Miracle Whip, stick it together in the shape of a boat, and off you go, right? Epoxy works, but They don't exactly give it away; nor is it exactly a benign substance. Suiting up like Homer Simpson heading for a fun-filled day at the nuclear power plant isn't exactly the aesthetic boatbuilding experience many of us are looking for.

Where does that leave us? In the capable hands of George Buehler, who honors the timeless traditions of the sea all right, but those from the other side of the boatyard tracks. Buehler draws his inspiration from centuries of workboat construction, where semiskilled fishermen built rugged, economical boats from everyday materials in their own backyards, and went to sea in them in all kinds of weather, not just when it was pleasant.

Buehler's boats sail on every ocean and perform every task, from long-term liveaboards in Norwegian fjords to a traveling doctor's office in Alaska. This book contains complete plans for seven cruising boats--from a 28-foot sailboat to a 55-foot power cruiser. All the information you need is here, including step-by-step instructions honed by nearly 20 years of supplying boat plans to backyard builders--and helping them out when they get into trouble.

Buehler is anarchic, heretical, and occasionally profane; his book is West Coast counterculture meets traditional hardchine workboat construction, leavened with hardnosed common sense and penny-pinching economy. This book is for those who look around them and see that much of what is done in the world today--whether in yachting or politics or economics or interpersonal relationships--is based not on logic but on conforming and meeting other people's expectations. This book is most definitely NOT about either. It is about the realization of dreams.

If you believe that everyone who wants a cruising boat can have one . . .

If you see beauty beneath the fish scales and work scars of a commercial fishing boat . . .

If you want to build a simple, rugged, economical, good-looking cruising boat--power or sail--using everyday lumberyard materials and few skills other than perseverance, this is the book for you. Buehler's Backyard Boatbuilding tells you how to build extraordinary boats using the most ordinary skills and materials, with complete plans, instructions, and specifications for seven real cruising boats ranging from a 28-foot sailboat to a 55-foot power cruiser.

"Build wooden boats the Buehler way, which is to say inexpensively, yet like the proverbial brick outhouse."--WoodenBoat

Richly flavored with personal advice and anecdotes as well as a wealth of valuable information."--American Sailing Association

"Everyone will revere this book."--The Ensign

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780071817035
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education
Publication date: 01/05/1991
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 30 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

About the Author

George Buehler was born in Oregon in 1948, and has been messing around with boats ever since his Sainted Mother gave him a copy of Scuppers the Sailor Dog. Buehler resides with his wife and two dogs on Whidbey Island, Washington, where he is known for the sterling qualities of his friends, his kindness to stray dogs and abandoned boats, and his collection of bad habits. He's a fair shot with a pistol, and a Croquet Ace.

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By George Buehler

The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 1991 International Marine, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-158380-0




Although this book will tell you how a large boat can be built inexpensively, the fact remains that a small boat can be built even less expensively. But before we go any further I want to assure anyone who wants a large, grand yacht that I like you too. My continual cautions regarding economy by no means reflect an obsessive identification with the proletariat. It's just that I've never seen any sense in throwing away money, and I pay attention to what I get for what I spend.

Costs have an alarming way of sneaking up on you. Several feet of extra length often results in a bit more beam and draft, heavier rigging and anchors, maybe a larger engine. It all depends on what you want, of course. Sure, larger boats are more comfortable to be aboard, but there's something to be said for having a smaller boat, paid for and in the water, especially if you compare it with a large boat, unfinished and in the driveway.

It's amusing how we tend to forget this with age. Back in '72 I built the original 26-foot Hagar (her plans are in Appendix B) for about $3,500, without an engine, and spent two years cruising Mexico and Hawaii. Today, as I add yet another piece to my new 50-footer, I sometimes pause and wonder just what happened to that youthful mind that was so contented with a small boat. Yet I know I could never go back. I like big boats.

Building a boat is simple. Believe it or not, the hardest part is just to stop talking and actually start. From that small step, all you need do is fasten one piece to the next and eventually you'll finish. You just have to keep plugging away at it. If you've ever remodeled a house, tended a large garden, written a Ph. D. dissertation, raised a child, or anything else that didn't offer instant gratification, then you certainly can build a boat. If you've never carried through a large project you can still build a boat, of course. But I'd suggest you start smaller, say under 35 feet. This way things keep moving, and you run less risk of getting bogged down.

The first step, obviously, is to choose a design. But before you do that, it's important to decide just how you want to use your new boat. Although a 60-foot schooner sounds romantic, perhaps a 28-foot powerboat actually would be more useful for you. I suggest you think about these points:

Size. The smaller the boat you can be happy with, the quicker you can build it and the less it will cost.

Complexity. Choose a design you can finish. A simple boat can still be an attractive, strong, and good-performing one.

Design. Build what you want. It is still socially acceptable to think singularly, even egocentrically, about boats.

Given a choice, I for one always go for the fantasies. There used to be an old man who floated around Seattle's Lake Union in a 14-foot, full-rigged ship—three masts, square sails, the whole bit. Practical? No, but what a fantasy!


So many people are saying so many different things about hull shape these days that sifting through it all can be terribly confusing, even amusing. So before we go any further I'd better point out that I'm as opinionated—maybe even bigoted—as anyone else. At least I admit it. That being said, however, I believe the following observations are just common sense.

There are three basic types of sailboats: the racer, the cruiser/racer, and the cruising boat.

The racer is the easiest to define. Its purpose is to win races, so handling ease, accommodations, appearance, and expense are secondary.

Most of the new production boats are cruiser/racer types. They usually have borderline racing sail plans; ease of handling becomes more important, but it still isn't a major issue. A successful cruiser/racer will be a good-sailing boat, ideal for light and moderate wind. It won't be as weatherly or as fleet as the racer, but it will be steadier and easier to handle, and the interior will be comfortable for a group of people to hang out in.

The straight cruising boat is just as specific a design category as the racer, yet it's the hardest to spot; you're likely to see practically any watertight shape out cruising these days. Just look through the cruising literature and you'll see what I mean! For example, back in World War II, a really fearless Aussie vowed that if he lived through that South Pacific insanity he'd do something spectacular, so he took an amphibious jeep around the world. Someone else took a craft made of oxhides across the North Atlantic to duplicate the voyage of Saint Brendan. Thor Heyerdahl has sailed several improbable bundles of weeds and logs across the oceans—not to mention multihulls.

All the same, "true" cruising boat design is a specialized field in itself. Although we've seen that with a bit of luck and a good grip you can take practically anything cruising, there happen to be features that can be designed into a boat that will make it safer, more comfortable, in fact preferable, for cruising.

In my opinion, a proper cruising boat must be well balanced so it steers easily and predictably. The hull should have a smooth roll rather than so much initial stability that it jerks back and forth. It should be able to take a grounding without breaking off a fin or rudder. The sail plan should be versatile, and simple enough to be handled by one person if needed. The interior should be set up for the convenience of the owner's family rather than for the comfort of occasional guests. And it should displace enough to be safely and strongly constructed and still be able to carry the weight of provisions and gear.

What about "performance"? This is a word you'll see a lot in the boat ads, and I'd like you to pause for a moment and think about just what performance means.

I define a performance boat as one that consistently fulfills its design goals. A race boat that loses constantly is not a performance boat. The cruiser/racer is the hardest type to pin down. Its very nature stops it from keeping up with the racers, or from being as comfortable and easy to sail as the true cruiser. Maybe cruiser/racers should be called "compromise" boats. They aren't the fastest, the easiest to sail, or the most comfortable, but they move easily in moderate winds and are fun places to take out a group of people on weekends. But if you want to race, or go cruising on open water, maybe do some real, long-term cruising, you'll be far better off with a boat designed specifically for that purpose. A performance boat, in other words.

If you haven't spent enough time around boats to be able to visualize them readily, it might help to think about something more familiar. Comparing a Ferrari, a Chevy Camaro, and a Mercedes station wagon would be similar to comparing race boats, racer/cruisers, and a dedicated cruiser. Like the racer and the cruiser, the Ferrari and the Benz are total opposites. The Camaro is a lot of fun to mess around in—it's sorta fast and sorta comfortable and it sorta corners—but if you're really going to race, or if you plan on doing a lot of highway cruising, you'd pick one of the others.

I'm not really criticizing the compromise boat. If you're interested in weekend racing, if you're gung ho about sailing and like a boat that turns quickly, points very well, and maybe even starts to surf in strong winds; if you have no great interest in ocean cruising or long-term living aboard, then perhaps the compromise boat is just what you need. But I do get so bored listening to the grand claims some designers and production boat manufacturers make about boats that I know are simply not suited for the purposes described in the ads. No one type of design will do all things perfectly, regardless of what you hear!

This may come as a shock to you, but the truth is that nobody knows all the secrets of designing sailboats. A visit to any large marina will show such a variety of design ideas that I sometimes think the bottom line boils down to whether or not the thing floats right side up. There are no absolutes regarding what will keep your feet dry, you see, and many designers don't consider how each feature they draw relates to others.

Take a good, stiff midsection, for instance. Sounds good, unless it's a cruising boat, where you want a smooth roll rather than an abrupt, jerky roll. Of course a boat that stays on its feet is desirable, but a boat that is overly stiff will be uncomfortable to live aboard, because its stiffness will give it a quick, snappy rolling motion. This will make you seasick, and can even make movement on deck dangerous.

Or take an exceptional ability to go to windward, based on a powerful, high- aspect rig and an asymmetric, light-displacement hull. Incorporating this into a weekend cruising boat that won't have a lot of people aboard to handle it makes little sense. Sometimes we even see a high-aspect ratio sail plan on a hull that would need a 6–71 Jimmy diesel to go to weather!

There are about as many approaches to yacht design as there are yacht designers. Many start off with a beautiful interior, then wrap a hull around it to make it float—never mind whether or not it sails. Others have engineering backgrounds and can quote all sorts of coefficients and ratios, but there's a problem with this approach, too: Practically all the math in boat design is based on assumption. Somebody assumed something, made up a calculation to prove his assumption, and since then all the engineering types have felt comfortable because they can calculate something just like the book sez.

On symmetry

My own years of observing and using boats have made me a "symmetrical-end" man. Those of us in this school believe that the single most important rule of displacement hull design is that both the front half and the back half of a hull should have about the same volume. Symmetrical. For a simple illustration, roll a whiskey bottle on the floor. Because the bow and stern both have about the same volume, it rolls in a straight line. Now roll a light bulb on the floor. It has a nice, fine entrance and a big transom containing a cozy aft cabin. But when it heels, because it's an asymmetrical shape, it pivots on its fat tail and forces the bow to rotate around in a circle.

A boat hull works just the same. Your boat has to deal with all sorts of forces when it's moving. The wind is trying to push it one way, but you're steering it another way. Swells lift it up and down and roll it left and right, and this makes the underwater area change shape constantly.

An asymmetric hull can't deal with all this very well. Rather than rolling or heeling on a line parallel to its keel like the symmetrical hull, it rotates on its wide stern and tries to force its nose into the wind and give up. This is the main cause of heavy weather helm, and can cause steering difficulties in very light wind and heavy swell. If it isn't reefed down in time or if it's hit by a sudden squall, an asymmetric hull can become completely unmanageable and actually whip around into the wind.

Of course, you can still go cruising on one. In fact, most of the production yachts are out of balance. But you'll have a far easier time if your boat is well balanced and not bothered by shifts in wind strength or direction. When you're cruising, especially shorthanded or alone, you have enough to do without bothering with a hull that doesn't want to go straight. I used to cruise on a boat that was so steady you could tie the helm going due down wind, when the breeze was steady. Still, after several weeks the strain of taking four-hour shifts at the helm would exhaust us. I admit things would have been easier with a wind-steering vane, but even then the symmetrical hull is better. Its easier- steering hull eases the job for the often temperamental wind vane. I believe that anyone who disagrees with how important predictable and easy handling is for a cruising boat has never gone for a long sail.

The handling advantages of the symmetric hull are fact, by the way; even most of the asymmetric crowd admit it. But they say they know a mathematical calculation that tells them where to put the sailplan's Center of Effort (push), and this overcomes the problem.

Well it just isn't true. The rule for locating the Center of Effort is based on four big assumptions: 1. The hull is sitting exactly on its waterline and not heeling even one degree. 2. The sails are sheeted in exactly midships. 3. There's no shape at all to the sails. 4. The wind is coming exactly broadside.

Since it's a rare thing indeed for any one of these things to happen in real life, and completely impossible that two or more will happen at the same time, I wouldn't put a great deal of faith in the calculation if I were you.

So why are some boats designed with asymmetric hulls? What you commonly hear is that a broad stern gives a bit of "bearing," which helps keep the hull from squatting in stronger winds and lets it go maybe a little faster than hull speed. If it's a light-displacement boat with a flat or dinghy-type bottom, like many of the new designs, it might even get up and plane, if you can keep it from broaching! Other reasons are to get a big cockpit or squeeze in an aft cabin.

How can you tell if a hull is symmetrical or not? First, locate the Center of Buoyancy. The CB is the place where the hull teeter-totters when it bobs up and down. Imagine a boat floating. A wave hits the nose and the bow teeters up; a wave hits the stern and the bow teeters down. The CB is the fulcrum the hull teeter-totters on, and the closer this point is to the middle the more symmetrical the hull.

Now then, the CB is a useful thing to know, but because it only measures underwater area, the calculation is accurate only (natch!) when the boat is tied in its slip.

The next thing you want to look at is the deck view. The symmetrical hull will look about the same in the front and back. Although we tend to think of double enders as being naturally balanced, many new ones aren't because they're too full in back. A lot of boats with small transoms are symmetrical. In fact, full-bowed boats with big transoms, like Slocum's Spray, can be, too!

The final thing to look at is beam. Take a basketball, for instance. It's perfectly symmetrical, but it isn't a very good shape for a boat. All fast and decent-handling displacement boats are fairly trim. This is why most of the world's little working boats used in open water are relatively narrow, trim, and often double-ended. Believe me, mankind has been trying to keep its feet dry upon the oceans for aeons. There is nothing new in marine architecture regarding the basic principles of design. Symmetry and moderate beam are essential ingredients for a decent-handling cruising boat.


The most practical materials for building a custom, meaning a "oneoff" boat, are wood, plywood, steel, and aluminum. The order of preference depends on your familiarity with the material and its availability. In the Pacific Northwest, wood is readily available. As a matter of fact, at this writing I know where I can buy 40-foot long 12 x 12s for 140 bucks. But if you live in Kansas where there ain't any trees, you might want to give plywood or metal a serious look.

Of course, there are many other ways to go. Ferrocement works fine, but it's very labor intensive. Fiberglass works fine, too, but again it's very labor intensive, and it smells like the New Jersey Turnpike. Both of these materials are difficult to fasten an interior into and require insulation to keep moisture from condensing on the inside surfaces.

People build boats in all kinds of different ways. I've heard of boats that are steel to the waterline and wood up from there; boats built of epoxy-saturated papier-mache, boats built of oxhides, balsa logs—you name it, somebody somewhere has done it. All materials have their place, but take my word for this: Wood, plywood, steel, and aluminum really are the best materials, either for home building, or for hiring someone to build you a boat.


Listen. Picture the ideal construction material. First we'd want something easy to work. We'd want something that glues and takes fastenings easily; something that flexes and bends easily without weakening. We want something that looks good and, since we're just imagining, lets throw in smells good, too. Believe it or not, there is a material that does all this. It ain't manmade! It's wood!

Wood is really a marvelous material. It's naturally insulated, so moisture doesn't condense on its inner face and drip on your face while you're sleeping. It smells good. It's the most fun to build with. It's the easiest material to repair. It's easy to find almost anywhere. And it can be used in any number of ways.

Regular plank-on-frame construction has been with us since Noah nailed up the Ark. Plywood works well, and it's stronger than steel for its weight. Cold- molded laminating is ideal for a strong, lightweight hull. Strip-building with an outer layer laminated on is good for heavier displacement, round-bottom hulls. Strip-built, cold-molded, and plywood boats can all be covered with epoxy, which, advocates say, "encapsulates" the wood. By keeping moisture and air from it, epoxy protects wood from deteriorating, yet still allows it to retain its natural insulating qualities.

There's a lot of B.S. around about maintenance problems with wood, but it really isn't true. What requires maintenance is bright-work! All that varnished teak gingerbread on the Taiwan Baroque boats takes a lot of time to keep up. But caring for a wood hull just involves painting it once a year and checking for leaks, which is far more pleasant than waxing and buffing a fiberglass hull. With good air circulation inside and the liberal use of preservatives, wood will last just about indefinitely.


After wood I like steel and aluminum. Steel is easy to learn to work, it's fast to build with, doesn't require a great many tools, it's readily available, and it's very strong. It's probably the best material for hiring a hull built because of the speed of assembly. But it must be insulated to keep down condensation and to keep it from sounding like an oil drum inside, and it just isn't as pleasant to be around as wood.

Aluminum has many of the advantages of steel, and it's much easier to shape. Normal woodcutting tools will saw it, but it's a little trickier to weld. Although aluminum is ideal for light-displacement boats, so is plywood, and plywood's cheaper and easier to work.

Excerpted from BUEHLER'S BACKYARD BOATBUILDING by George Buehler. Copyright © 1991 by International Marine, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments Preface 1. Things to Think About When Choosing a Boat to Build 2. Setting Up Shop 3. Materials 4. Lofting 5. Keels and Ballast 6. Framing Up 7. Planking 8. Decks 9. Bolt-Ons: Rails, Chainplates, Posts, Sprits, and Bulwarks 10. Hatches and Houses 11. Mechanical Stuff 12. Interiors 13. More Bolt-Ons: Coamings, Rails, Companionways, and Rudders 14. The Finish: Paints, Varnish, and Oils 15. The Launch 16. The Rig Appendix A. Outfitting Appendix B. Boat Plans Appendix C. Suggested Reading Index

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