Weekend Project
Justin Newcombe's tips on outdoor DIY projects

Weekend project: A round way to paddle

By Justin Newcombe

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Justin Newcombe launches himself into a seafaring project, an ancient coracle.

Justin Newcombe prepares to embark at Pt Chevalier beach. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Justin Newcombe prepares to embark at Pt Chevalier beach. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Summer means messing around in a boat. But not just any boat. This coracle - or Brendan boat - is named after 6th century Irish monk Brendan the Navigator, who is said to have discovered America in one of the leather-hulled beauties. I don't know how he managed: for one thing the pilot/navigator is only a bum shuffle away from losing everything on board, including himself. But for taking to the beach, and having some fun with the family, it's excellent. The benefit of this boat, though, is not its ease of paddling, it is its ease of construction and its light weight, which makes it easy to carry. Paddling is unusual because if you paddle from the side, like in a canoe, you end up turning the boat around. Instead, the operator must paddle over the bow in a figure-of-eight motion.

Construction proved to be very easy and took about six hours from start to finish. The ancient monks used leather, but I used an old drop sheet for the cloth of the hull. In hindsight, I'd recommend buying something a little stronger, such as strong canvas. The fabric can drink a lot of paint and is a good opportunity to use any left over acrylic or oil-based paints from other projects.

I used Bituproof plus as my final waterproofer (this is used primarily to waterproof behind retaining walls). Bending the timbers proved relatively easy but soaking them in water overnight would help them bend more easily and lessen the burning of the heat gun. I couldn't be bothered doing this in two stages. Apart from a little bit of scorching, I was happy with the results.

If nothing else, my daughter has a great new paddling pool.

Step 1

Cut a sheet of 4mm thick marine plywood lengthways (2.4m long) into 40mm strips.

Step 2

Take a 20mm thick board 200mm wide and 1m long (I used a piece of leftover ply) and draw a centre line both widthways and lengthways. This will be your seat. Take another length of timber 50mm to 100mm wide and 1200mm long and do the same. This will be your support. Set the front edge of the seat against the centre line on the support, then screw together.

Step 3

To form the gunwales (outer frame) curve two strips of marine ply around the seat and support timber. This will form an egg-shaped ring. Make sure it is as even as possible. Glue and screw a second strip around the first.

Step 4

Start weaving the framing together. The spaces between the slats are 60mm and I had nine slats going each way. To stop everything shifting about and to keep the weaving neat and even, partway through this process I pinned the framing to my workbench with a couple of batons screwed across the top. Make sure the screws don't go through the framing itself.

Step 5

Cut two pieces of 75mm x 50mm timber into 300mm lengths and screw to the bottom of the weave. I positioned and marked the legs then unpinned and slid the weave over to the edge of the table. I then glued and screwed the legs to the weave from underneath. I then glued and screwed the seat and gunwale section to the legs, re-pinning everything to the table when finished.

Step 6

Using a heat gun to soften the timber, start bending it to form a basket. Don't force the timber too much or it could fail.

Step 7

Once all the strips are screwed and glued, trim the excess off with a handsaw.

Step 8

Place two more strips diagonally across the bottom of the boat to form a cross-brace. Paint or varnish the woven frame - you can use either acrylic or oil-based paint (I use black acrylic house paint).

Step 9

Paint the cloth using any acrylic or oil-based paint. Wrap and staple to the frame with the painted side on the inside of the boat. Then paint the outside with waterproofer.

Step 10

Glue and screw a second gunwale to the outside of the cloth to pin it to the framing. I painted the seat and gunwale to match the cloth.

Step 11

A basic paddle can be made of ply.

- NZ Herald

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