Row what you sew

Feb 20, 2017 General Interest ,Technology

A traditional boatbuilding technique gets a modern makeover with the release of a locally-designed kit-set dinghy that’s stitched and glued together. Words by Lawrence Schäffler, photos by Simon Bennett.

DIYers looking for a fun parent/child project should take a serious look at the new Stitchbird dinghy, an attractive, inexpensive, rewarding and easy-to-build entrée to the boating lifestyle.

The brainchild of Auckland mechanical engineer Charlie North, the 2.2m Stitchbird’s various pre-cut components are literally held together by stitches while the glue sets. The stitches, in this case, are standard plastic ‘cable ties’ – easily unpicked once they’re no longer needed. No need for nails, screws, clamps or fibre-glassing.

“Building a boat in a garage,” says Charlie, “can be quite an undertaking even for experienced craftsmen, let alone novices. Stitchbird kit-sets make the process simple. They come with everything you need and the entire boat can be built in about 12 hours.”

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Each kit-set comprises some 30 components – all pre-cut with a CNC router. Construction material is predominantly marine grade plywood in three thicknesses – 4, 6 and 9mm. The keel and stem are shaped from solid timber, usually iroko.

The all-timber construction gives the Stitchbird a natural buoyancy, but this is easily enhanced by inserting inflatable bladders or foam within the thwarts, or even sealing the thwarts.

Equipped with nylon rowlocks (oars are an optional extra) the dinghy is easy to row – and it goes particularly well with a 2.5hp outboard engine hooked on to the transom. Oars (Australian ash) are made by Palmerston North company Pelco Joinery. The transom’s fitted with two rod holders, and the bow with a stainless steel tow hook.

Completed boats weigh around 28kg and are easily lifted on to a car roof-rack or the deck of a yacht. They make excellent tenders. So far, 10 Stitchbirds have been built.

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Charlie says glue application is particularly easy.

“I use a West System (Six 10) glue, and it comes in a tube that fits a common, hand-pumped sealant gun. It’s a very strong, two-part epoxy glue, but rather than having to mix it, the product’s ingenious nozzle design does it all for you. As you squeeze the glue from the tube, so it mixes in the nozzle in exactly the right ratio. This means the mix is always of optimum strength, and better still, there’s no wastage. It’s a simple ‘point and shoot’ application.”

Stitchbird kits-sets are priced from $1,800, excluding GST, and can be purchased via the company website – And rather than paying for freighting, the kits can be cut at any facility with a CNC router, close to the DIYer.

Charlie says the idea for the kit-set boat came to him about five years ago, after he and his dad built a classic boat designed around the remains of a wrecked old hulk called Miss Ponsonby.

“It was an enormously positive experience for us both. What I learnt has stayed with me ever since. The memories will last even longer. I want every Stitchbird kit-set boat to provide experiences, lessons and memories for those who bring them to life.”

To illustrate the ease with which the dinghies are built, Charlie and a few enthusiastic helpers
assembled a boat for our camera crew. And it was all stitched together in a matter of hours.

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The basic process is as follows:
Unpack and prepare: Some items need to be glued up prior to the main construction (1 hour)
Main construction: This involves gluing the bottom, sides and seats into place (2 hours)
Filling and coving: Removing cable ties and filling the holes (1 hour)
Sanding and fairing: Sanding any stray glue and preparing for painting (2 hours)
Sealing: Sealing the boat with a quality epoxy sealer to increase life span (1 hour)
Painting: The final step – multiple 30-min sessions depending on desired finish.

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