This constantly evolving site includes our most popular “do-it-yourself” projects from the last 25 years of publishing, and we’re adding the best new projects as they publish. This website will always be “under construction” and we’ll eventually include all our most popular boats, way back to some of the first versions published in Popular Science magazine in 1979.
Harley, Chief of Security and Cultural Advisor
We’ve published in most of the popular boating magazines, and we also did projects for "Family Handyman", "Workbench", and "Mechanix Illustrated". We designed and built projects for the American Plywood Association for over 10 years, and we’ve worked for Outdoor Life magazine for over 20 years doing outdoor related projects including at least one boat every year. I was also a contributing editor to the good old original Small Boat Journal—may it rest in peace! Over the years we’ve published over 200 project articles, three boating and how-to books for International Marine and Rodale Press, and in the process we’ve designed and built well over 100 small boats for publication and clients.
We have a few designs on the website which are traditional classics designed to be built in ply/epoxy, and all our more recent building plans are quite detailed and include sketches, photos, material sources, step-by-step, builder’s tips and discussion of many options to modify each project. The plans are written and illustrated with amateur and first-time builders in mind, and we encourage customizing each project. As far as I can tell, from dealing with boat people including clients and friends over the last 30 years, just about everyone is slightly eccentric when it comes to boats anyway, and so whatever they want to do with their boats is right—so long as they don’t hurt themselves or endanger anyone else. Boats, similar to artwork, religion and politics are highly personal items, and isn’t that half the fun of owning them. Like the boats, the building plans do not take themselves too seriously; these are after all, small, simple fun boats.
I’ll show you how to build the basic boat, where to buy the best materials and how to put them together, and you can choose from many options to suit your own specific needs. The Maxi-Mac boat plans for example, include over 40 pages and over 10,000 words in an easily read spiral bound shop manual format which covers each phase of construction in a step-by-step process, including pro and con experiences. Hundreds of versions of the Max boat have been built and we use the feedback from builders to improve and upgrade project design and building plans. Plan buyers are also encouraged to email any time with questions and comments.
We have applied everything we've learned from building boats to a variety of projects including hot tubs, saunas, furniture, heirloom toys, campers, cabins and houses. My design and building philosophy evolved with the availability of new materials and I began to realize that proper design with a combination of these materials could result in predictable and long-lasting strength and weight characteristics. We could build small boats and other projects that would perform better, look better and require much reduced maintenance over the long term. We built some of the first large sailboats using these techniques, and one of the first lightweight ply/epoxy white-water dories built for commercial use in the Grand Canyon. We did a bare hull prototype and handed it over to the river guides, and after a season of use Grand Canyon Dories ordered six more boats for their fleet, some of which are still in service.
I am primarily a wood boat builder. Can’t imagine doing anything else! I was fortunate enough to serve a 4 year traditional wood boatbuilding apprenticeship, building plank on frame workboats and yachts, from design and lofting phases right through to mast and spars and final finish, and along the way I worked with a number of talented European shipwrights doing repair, new construction and custom projects. That was back in the days when you got paid to learn by getting the job done, instead of paying to learn, like I see happening now. Concurrently I served a hitch in the Marines, then a hitch in the Peace Corps establishing a vocational boatbuilding school in the Sulu region of the southern Philippines. I studied with Westlawn School of Yacht Design for a few years, just long enough to realize I had little interest in “yachts”, and also spent enough time in a small boat design office to know I belonged out in the shop instead. In between I weaseled and finagled as much time on the water rowing and sailing as I could manage while struggling with building and magazine deadlines. At one point I thought I’d forge a career as a famous mast and spar builder, the work was so enjoyable, but the really good commissions were too few and far between to pay the bills. However I’ve been pretty much self-employed for well over 20 years after I discovered editors would pay me good money for writing about all the boats I was building for clients.
Like the evolution of design and building philosophy, our interests also evolve, and I find myself more fascinated with small lightweight boats and activities like small-stream exploring and river floating, camp-cruising, sailing in mini-cruisers and open water rowing. Considering all the boats we’ve built and owned, from 34 foot sailboats down to 6 foot prams, the smaller boats including the rowing and sailing dories and camp-cruisers have been by far the most enjoyable. They’ve also been the most fun to build, the least expensive, the most carefree and rewarding in every way.