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Build a Five-Dollar Skiff



Scientific American Supplement,
June 24, 1876.

THE following directions are for the construction of a skiff to carry four persons. If built for rowing alone the cost of materials will be about five dollars. It is easily built, but more difficult than the scow described in our last article. Its sharper bow facilitates speed. 

Ten or eleven cedar boards 3/4 in. thick, and not less than 7 in. wide, are required; also, two cedar boards 1 in. thick, 14 in. wide, and 10 ft. long, free from knots. The latter will be called the side boards [sides]. They should both be of same quality, so that one will bend as easily as the other. Cedar is used throughout, except where the name of the wood is given.

A piece is cut, shaped like Fig. 9, with the entire length 4 ft., the width 12 in., distance d from the end to the dotted line 4 in. We will name this the crossboard [mold]. A piece of oak is cut of similar shape, but making the entire length 20 in., width 13 in., and distance d 6 in. This is the stern board [transom].

[10 larger]

[11 larger]

Both ends of each side are sawed off bevel like the ends of the crossboard, and with same slant at both ends. The bevel at one end of the side should be the reverse of that at the other, making one edge 12 ft. 8 in. long, and the other 12 ft. The side has the appearance of Fig. 9 elongated. The tapering of the sides at the ends, which was necessary in the scow, is not required here. The necessary upward curve of the bottom is obtained by the bending of the sides as described hereafter.

Set the sides (BB Fig 10) on edge parallel, with the long edges uppermost and at about the middle place the crossboard t between also with its longer edge uppermost. Nail the sides BB lightly to the mold t. With the aid of ropes draw two ends of the sides together; the other ends draw against the stern piece (R, Fig. 10). In a piece of oak about 16 in. long, cut grooves throughout its length and make the cross section like Fig 11. This "stem piece", as it is called, is placed between the end of the sides that were drawn together. After altering the shape of the stem piece, if necessary, so the sides (BB Fig 11) shall fit the grooves, the sides are securely nailed to both stem piece and stern piece. The projecting upper end of the stem piece is sawed off, and the boat inverted carefully.

[12 larger]

The convex edges of the sides are planed down an inch or more at the middle (c Fig. 12) so that the bottom -- (the boat is now bottom up) -- may be flat from a to b, making easy curves at a and b. The flattening of the bottom is not useless, the draft being thereby diminished, and the speed probably increased.

Bottom boards 3/4 in. thick are nailed on crosswise (Fig. 12-1/2) and the projecting ends sawed off [12-1/2 larger].

[Turn skiff over]

The cross-board, which is temporary, is knocked out. A long bottom-board is put in, as before described for the scow (Fig. 3).

[13 larger]


[14 --15 larger]

[16 --17 larger]

Fig. 13 represents the seat at the bow. The cross-piece n is secured by nails driven through the sides into its ends, as at P. In Fig. 14, which represents the seat at the stern the cross-piece L is fastened in the same manner. There is a cleat at K. The seats in both bow and stern are about 3 in. below the edges of the sides, and the seat-boards are lengthwise. [Note this show the mast step and partner for the Sailing Skiff described in Part 3.]

We are now ready for the "upper streaks," as they are called. Two strips are cut 12 ft. 8 in. long, 2 in. wide, and 1 in. thick ; two notches, each 1.5 in. long, and nearly 2 in. deep, are cut in the upper edge of each side (Fig. 15). They are 3 in. apart, and the point midway between them is 5 ft. 1 in. from the stern, measuring on a straight line in the middle of the boat. All the longitudinal measurements hereafter given are upon this line.

The upper streaks are now nailed on the outside of the sides even with the upper edges of the latter. The joint made by the upper streaks at the bow is shown by Fig. 16, in which A is the stem-piece, BB are the sides, and CC are the upper streaks. The row-locks are now completed by a short strip (y, Fig. 17), strongly screwed on the inside, over the notches.

Make thole-pins, of the shape shown by Fig. 6, and fit them into these mortises. It is often convenient to have another pair of rowlocks about 2 ft. nearer the bow, that when a person sits in the stern, the rower may shift forward and to better distribute the weight, for a boat rows hard when the stern is weighted down.

Make two cleats for the rower's seat, with their aft ends 6 ft. from the stern, and the upper edges 7.5 in. below the edges of the sides. Saw off a seat board 3 ft. 10 in. long.

[18 larger]

Invert the boat and fit a piece of inch-board (N, Fig. 18) upon its edge, at the stern, upon and perpendicular to the bottom. It is fastened at g by a screw; between g and M, by nails driven into it through the bottom from the inside, and by the strip M of the same thickness, nailed on the end of N and crossing the stern-piece vertically, to which it is screwed.

A 3/4 in hole is bored through the stem-piece at L, Fig. 19, through which the painter 10 ft. long is tied.

Right: An iron strap, shaped like the double line in the same figure, is screwed to the cutwater [19 larger]. The proper length for oars is about 7 ft.

The boat is now caulked unless already rendered water-tight by one of the equivalent methods described in our first article. Nail heads are covered with putty, two coats of paint are applied, and the skiff is completed.

In our next we will describe the method of making a centre-board sail boat.

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1.0 06/30/99