A next level side project

02 July 2015

When 26-year-old web designer and developer Emma Chee decided she needed a hobby that would take her away from a computer, she went all out and decided to build a wooden boat from scratch.

With her background as a Bachelor of Design/Computing graduate, Emma drew up a quick to scale sketch on Illustrator, showed her father James who would be an occasional helper, and she was on her way.

Emma worked on the web development of this blog and the other week, instead of chatting about blog-related things, we turned our attention to the handmade row boat that is taking shape in her parent’s backyard.

Where did the idea of building a boat come from?

It's a mix of a couple of different things. I wanted to have a hobby that wasn't computer-related and I had also seen people do it on reddit and thought - I could do that! I looked on instructables and found a couple of people who had done a wooden boat project. There's one that I based mine off but I changed a lot of the design. That was probably the hardest part because it's pushed out the timeline by about a year. 

What was the original timeline?

I wanted to get it done in six months - I thought it was going to be easy! I saw this company called the Balmain Boat Company and they have these flat-packed boats that you can put together in one weekend. 

So wait, did you buy one of those packs?

I didn't because I was like - I'm not going to pay $2000 for a kit - I'm going to make my own and I'm going to document it and everything. I made these cardboard templates and cut out all my pieces and thought - I'm going to put this online, I'm going to write my own instructable but because everything's become so bespoke, I think you just figure it out just by doing it.

How often do you get to work on it?

At the beginning, I worked on it every weekend and then when it got to about Winter I had to stop because the weather was not so great. Now, I'm lucky if I manage to work on it once every three to four weeks because I’ve gotten pretty busy.

How much do you think it'll cost to make?

Well I didn't want to go over the cost of the kit and so far I have kept in that budget because I've used a lot of wood that was leftover from when my parent's house was renovated. I've used lot of floorboards for the ribs, which means they're really sturdy but so heavy.

Did anyone help you? Or have you been doing it 100 per cent on your own?

As much as I wanted to do it by myself, I'm not going to lie, I've got help from Dad because sometimes the circular saw kind of freaks me out a little bit.

What kind of wood are you using?

The wood is a mixture of hardwood floorboards and the stuff that I've had to buy from Bunnings is meranti pine and also I've used pine, which is kind of light but will probably rot really easily so I've put it in places where I can rip it out later on, just in case, and all the screws are on the inside so I can undo them. I'm also using a six millimetre plywood for the outside. 

That doesn't sound too thick.

It doesn't but I tried to punch it and it stays pretty solid.

And how is it stuck together?

I'm using screws and epoxy resin, which is very very messy and probably my least favourite part, which is why I've just dragged my feet with a lot of it. It's getting to the point where I'd cut up all the pieces - I just needed to glue it all together. I was having to mix up batches of resin and wear this paper suit, rubber gloves and a respirator. You look like Breaking Bad. The first time I wore the suit and was mixing up epoxy, there was a helicopter flying above and I was like - oh my god. 

Where do you think you'll take it and does it fit friends?

It should fit about three people comfortably, it's three metres long and I just want to take it down to Parramatta River first to be honest. You're not supposed to fish in the river but Dad does it anyway, so I basically built the boat just for myself to learn how to build a boat and then so Dad can use it. I think we'll use it together.

That's really nice! It's a row boat right?

Yes, so it's a row boat but you can put a small outboard motor on it. I think it's ten horsepower because if it's more you have to get a licence.

And the first test will be in a neighbour's swimming pool to see if it floats?

Yeah, the secret test. Basically everyone who I've told about this project has invited themselves to a launch party. I guess people will be able to sit in it and go out a bit. 

Has the project been as satisfying as you were hoping it would be? 

Definitely, just to spend your whole Saturday or Sunday outside building something and then at the end of the day you see - oh, I put this panel on the side or I put these ribs together - that's pretty rewarding.

Emma's blog documents the construction of her boat right from the start - I'm going to keep checking it to see photos of the upcoming swimming pool test :) Thank you Emma and good luck for with the rest of the build. 

P.S I had never heard of instructables before and love that it's a DIY anything website!

Photos by Emma Chee.

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