Drift Boat Project

by: Doug and JD McCabe






Step 1:  Planning

We started out cruising around the internet. We researched the forums and various websites of companies that build boats.  Did we want a “stitch & glue” style or “frame” style?   Did we want a skiff or more traditional design.  We purchased Drift Boats & River Dories by Roger Fletcher.  The book has a ton of information about drift boats, their history, design and construction.  Ultimately we decided on a “stitch & glue” design because of the clean lines and unencumbered interior.  Jason Cajune of Montana Boat Builders caught our eye.  Not only were his boats fully functional, they were good looking too.   As a woodworker this appealed to me, so we settled on the Guide design.  Jason sells plans for his boats for a reasonable price.  The plans come complete with list of materials and a list of material suppliers.

Step 2:  Buy Materials

Plywood is the major component of the project.  The design provides the quantity and size of the plywood sheets.  We selected Okoume and Merantti marine grade plywood.  We needed 3, 6, 9, and 12 mm 4 x 8 sheets.  The side and bottom material required to be scarfed together to make a 4 x 16 sheet.  We decided to select a supplier (Boston) that could provide 4 x 16 sheets already scarfed.  This was more expense, but when you factor the need for a scarf jig and the time to make two scarf joints, it turns out less in the long run.  The supplier also had 1 x 8 x 16 ft mahogany boards.  These will be used for the gunnels and the extensive trim work.  The wood arrived on a Monday, packed between sheets of OSB, and weighed 700 lbs.  Next we ordered (Rhode Island supplier) one-half of the epoxy and all of the fiberglass spelled out in the design plans.


Plywood & Mahogany

Epoxy, Fiberglass & Supplies










Step 3:  Bottom Panel

The design specifies the width at mid-ship of 55 inches.  To make that happen, we cut  four 3.5 inch strips off the end of the 4 x 16, 12 mm Merantti piece.  These were attached to the sides with butt joints, biscuits and epoxy.  After these pieces are clamped and allowed to dry, the outline of the bottom and transom are laid out according to the provided drawing.  The bottom is cut out with the skill saw set at 30 degrees in order to provide the proper angle allowing the side to flare out.


Extension with biscuits

Bottom outine









After the bottom piece is cut out, the edges are sanded to remove any saw marks and to make the curve uniform.  Selecting one of the sides of the bottom, the surface is sanded especially along the side extensions.  Next a piece of fiberglass cloth is cut to length, mark which end is which, fold up and set aside.  Mix some epoxy and apply a flow coat to the entire surface.  Wait about 10 minutes, then carefully unfold the fiberglass over the bottom.  Mix more epoxy and spread evenly over the fiberglass cloth, working the epoxy into the glass.  After the glass has dried, sand the surface and apply another coat of epoxy with a foam roller.  Repeat until the glass is all filled in and you have the desired finish.  Flip over the bottom and repeat on the other side.  I decided the inside side of the bottom gets 3 layers of epoxy, with a lot of sanding between the second and third coat for a real smooth finish.  Be prepared to go through sanding disks since the epoxy is very hard.  Also be prepared to go through a lot of foam rollers.  The foam rollers are used to apply the successive layers of epoxy.  The transom piece is prepared the same as the bottom, glass on both sides.

Glass applied and flow coated

Flow Coat before Glass  



Step 4 Side Panels

Layout the side patterns on the 4 x 16 piece of 9mm plywood and cut it down the middle length wise.  Pick the best two looking sides for the inside and label them.  Start with the outside and fill in any imperfections, cut the fiberglass cloth for each piece, fold up and set aside.  Next sand the surface, especially the scarf joint with 100 grit.  Clean all of the dust off and get ready to apply the fiberglass.  Flow the fiberglass cloth using the same method as the bottom panel.  After applying the second layer of epoxy and letting it dry, flip over the side pieces and sand the inside, finishing with 150 grit.  I went to 150 grit here, because the inside will remain natural.  Apply three coats of epoxy, sanding between each one to get a smooth finish.  I used the West 207 hardener on the inside because it dries a little more clear than the regular hardener.  The 207 is also used on the inside of the transom.  We are putting three layers of epoxy on both sides of the side panels.  When each side is dry and sanded to the desired finish, trim the bow and transom ends. Put the sides together facing each other.  Trim the bow and transoms ends of the panels as needed so both pieces are identical.


Outside of side panels with fiberglass

Inside flow coated with epoxy

Inside of transom with fiberglass cloth

September 6, 2015

We made some progress this weekend.  Sanding of the inside of the bottom was completed and a third coat of epoxy applied.  One of the sheets of 1/4 inch plywood is for the parts for the side storage boxes.  Some of these parts form the inside front and rear spreaders.  The spreaders will be put in place during the “stitching”  of the sides to the bottom to keep everything in alignment.  We drew the parts on the plywood according to the instructions and cut them out.  All of the parts are in sets of two (2), so care was taken to make the final cuts on both pieces.

September 20 & 27

Both of the side panels, transom and bottom were coated with the third application of epoxy.  After using several methods, the 3 inch chip brush worked the best.  The foam roller left too many air bubbles and the foam brush fell apart before we got half way through the side panel.  Next up is to sand each of the surfaces one more time.  The insides will get 220 grit, and the outsides 150 grit.

October 4

Each of the pieces were given a final sanding.  Next up is to trim the bow arch on the side panels to 30 degrees.  The approach is to cut the first panel, then use it as a template for the second panel.  After they are cut, I’ll line them up inside to inside and make sure they are exactly the same.  After they are shaped to match, the panels will be clamped together, so that the angle cut for the stern end will be cut on both panels at the same time. After the side panels are cut to the right shape, we’ll be ready to start assembly.

October 17 & 24

Finished cutting the side panels.  The stem was a little tricky because of the compound angle.  There is a 1 1/2 inch arch as well as a 30 degree bevel.  Managed to stitch the side panels onto the bottom over the past two weekends.  It took two tries for the bow.  I assembled from the bow about 40 percent along the sides, but I took it apart.  I didn’t like the gap in the stem.  Started over and was able to get much better alignment and less of a gap.  Next up is to cut the transom to the correct size.  This will be done by measuring the space where the transom goes.


October 31

The transom was trimmed to size and stitched in place. Next the front and rear panels of the dry boxes along with part of the frame were installed.  This was done mostly for spacing and alignment.  Since the dry box parts are identical, we can get a sense if the side both flare out at the same angle.  Adjustments were made to get uniform alignment.   Next 1 1/2 inch screws were put in place where the sides meet the bottom.  Pilot holes were drilled, which was tricky because the bottom is only 1/2 inch thick and we had to make sure the pilot hole was drilled straight. Screws were put in about every 9 or 10 inches, which is more often than the plans.  I used pipe clamps to either push down or pull up the bottom so it met the sides cleanly.

Dry Box Frames

Clamps pushing down the bottom

Screws along the sides

November 14th

The transom has been trimmed to final size and screwed into place.  We didn’t worry about how much overhang there was on the sides and the bottom.  All of the overhang is accounted for in the design.  The extra will be trimmed when the we flip the boat over to work on the exterior of the joints.  Next, we mixed up some epoxy along with fine wood dust to the consistency of peanut butter.  This was pressed into the area where the bottom and the sides come together.  The peanut butter fills the small gaps. While the peanut butter is still wet, we cut a piece of the bi-axial fiberglass tape for the inside of the bow.  The tape is soaked with fresh epoxy and pressed into the joint.  A squeegee was used to get air bubbles out and any extra epoxy.  We will use this same technique for the balance of the side/bottom joints.

Transom stitched and screwed in place











November 28

Here we see the fiberglass tape fit to the inside of the boat.  All of the joints get the tape applied according to the process described above.  The next photo shows the fiberglass tape after it has been applied to the joint.  While it was still a little damp, we used the extra resin and “painted” the tape.










December 5

Due to the thickness of the fiberglass tape, the edges need to be feathered out.  Yup, sanding and lots of it.  We had to be careful not to sand too much.  After sanding, epoxy thickened with saw dust, was applied over the tape to achieve the feather effect.










December 12

With the help of neighbors, we flipped the boat over.  Since the sides extended past the bottom slightly, all of the joints need to be rounded.  The extra bottom and extra sides at the transom were trimmed at this time because the joints were also rounded.  I decided to leave the extra height of the transom.  That will be addressed when the gunnel and transom trim is installed.  Next, all of the holes made during the stitching process and any small gaps between the bottom and sides were filled with “peanut butter”. After rounding all of the joints, fiberglass tape was applied to the joints.  With the cooler weather, we are letting them cure a little longer.  Next up – yes you got it – sanding.









December 27

All of the fiberglass tape that was applied was thoroughly sanded.  There was still a sharp edge to the tape.  So, we mixed some epoxy and thickened it with wood flour (very fine saw dust).  The thickened epoxy was spread over the fiberglass tape to feather the edge along both the side and the bottom.

Fiberglass Tape with feathered edge

January 3, 2016

With the weather getting colder, the thickened epoxy is taking longer to cure.  That’s okay since there is a lot of other work that can be done.  We started on the front and rear pedestals.  We are modifying the front pedestal.  It is being made wider to accommodate a cooler.  The side facing the middle of the boat is left open to slide the cooler under the pedestal.  Both pedestals require curved sections.  These are created by laminating two 1/8th inch thick pieces of plywood together over a mold.  When dry, the pieces will hold their shape.


Front pedestal pieces on the mold

Rear pedestal on the mold




















We have made some progress over the past three months. Unfortunately, the colder weather and my day job have slowed us down a little.  i have lost track of when some of the work was done.  After the front and rear pedestal lamination’s dry, they are assembled into their final configuration.  They get flow coated inside and out.  Due to the rocker of the boat, level floors must be built for both the front and rear positions.  The level floor pieces get a layer of fiberglass on both sides.


Front & Rear Level floors & Cooler Pedestal Top

Rear Pedestal Assembly

Front Pedestal Assembly

After the front and rear pedestals have flow coated and dry, they are in place with a tab of thickened epoxy. Before installing the floor at the rear position, we installed a piece EMT right down the middle. The pipe will be used to route the anchor rope through the pedestal and underneath the floor. The pipe is held down with pipe straps and epoxy’d over with two pieces of fiberglass tape. Each of the level floors have a step. the height is determined by the amount of rocker. The front floor has an additional support cross piece along the front of the pedestal. Up in the bow, we needed to cut a 3 inch wide piece of plywood that is cut on an angle to feather the level floor into the bottom of the boat. Likewise in the rear, two pieces are feathered around the rope pipe and the rear pedestal.

Front Pedestal and Level Floor

Here we see the front level floor with the small piece expoxy’d in place and the two small pieces for the rear level floor in place. The step for the rear floor is right up against the dry box. Therefore, before installing the floor we added the end piece for the dry boxes.

[caption id="attachment_1678" align="alignleft" width="300"] Level floor feathered into floor bow
Feathered pieces around Rear Pedestal

With the level floors in place, all of the joints will get fiberglass tape and everything gets sanded. We next added the side pieces and the front pieces to the dry box frames. Notice the front corner of the dry boxes are curved. A piece cut to the proper curve is temporarily attached to the bottom of the boat. The curve section is actually two pieces of 1/8 plywood laminated together, just like the pedestals.
Dry box sides attached
Curved Dry Box Frame, Ready for skin

Just like the pedestals, all of the joints for the dry boxes, both inside and out will get 4 inch fiberglass tape. This includes where the panels meet the floor. Before installing the tape, a fillet of thickened epoxy is spread along the floor. Next we attacked the gunwales. We cut the four pieces (inside & out) and both left & right out of a 1″ x 8″ by 16′ clear mahogany board. Each of the gunwale pieces are 1 1/2 inch wide. The front of the outside piece gets shaped to a gentle point. We used epoxy as the glue and clamped the piece onto the side of the boat. We then came back and installed bronze screws from the inside space about every 9 inches. You should be able to see in the photo after we removed the clamps, all of the pieces of the dry box are installed. Naturally, there is still more sanding to be done. The outer gunwale will be installed on the other side, using the same method. Next up will be making the breasthook that goes in the bow (we’ll make this out of walnut) and the inner pieces of gunwale. The breasthook and inner gunwale will each be notched and mated together. After assembly, the breasthook will get a gentle curve from one side to the other.
Right Side Outer Gunwale Clamped
Right Gunwale – clamps remove. Dry boxes with skin pieces

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