Kit build or scratch from plans?

Hi all,

I am considering building the Sassafrass 16 canoe.  I am trying to decide between buying the kit or building from scratch.  I have experience with woodworking tools and some power tools.   I have some fiberglassing experience. 

I have built a few wooden surboards from plans.  I enjoy working from scratch because I feel you get to know what your building better. 

I guess my question is- how difficult is it to cut okoume ply, and sapele decks, mahogany outwales, etc?

Concerns are also for joinery difficulty...what kind of joints would i use for binding the panels together?  Looks like the kit is using CNC puzzle piece joinery.

Thanks for your opinions and advice!

David in NJ

13 replies:

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RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

If you've built surfboards from plans/scratch, you got the skill to build the Sassafrass from  plans/scratch.

Okoume is very easy to cut with a sharp saw. I prefer a Japanese razor saw. Sapele is only slightly more difficult because it's somewhat more brittle and will splinter unless the saw is really sharp. A good way of handling this is to cut the piece a bit large and trim it with a sharp block plane. A sharp saw will also work for mahogany. Note a common theme?

Most plans builders use scarph joints. But if you still want that puzzle joint look without investing in the equipment, CLC will sell you sheets of plywood with finger joints cut into the ends.

Have fun, it's a real beautiful boat,



RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

While I get the satisfaction of building from plans, personally I like knowing the pieces are dead-on, CNC-precise and when I'm trying to get things to line up.

Also, if I want to spend X extra hours on the build, I think the payoff is better spending that time on the finishing end rather than the panel cutting end.

Just my opinion

RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

Having built several CLC kits I decided to use plans for my Skerry Expedition sailboat. When it was time to register my boat in Georgia I found that CLC doesnt issue hull identfication numbers for boats built from their plans. Georgia issued me a "home built" Hull ID and informed me that a craft with a homebuilt ID cannot be sold to another person at any time. So consider your state rules if you will ever plan on being able to sell your boat.

RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

Thank you all for your input! A follow up question- looks like routing some edges may be needed on the panels.  I have a plunge router but not a large routing table. Do you think routing any edges would be difficult? As far as NJ goes with legality of home built boats, this is what I found:  

How to title and register a homemade boat

To title and/or register a homemade boat, visit a motor vehicle agency with proper identification (NJ Driver’s License, Non-driver ID, Passport or Birth Certificate)and the following: 

  • Original receipts for all parts purchased 
  • Notarized statement outlining all construction details 
  • Fee payment: $60 for a standard boat or $85 for a financed boat
  • “HIN Investigation Report” form OS/SS-10A (found only at motor vehicle agencies) completed by the NJ State Police, Marine Division.
  • Completed Universal Title Application (Form OS/SS-UTA)
  • Completed Boat Registration Application Form(BA-51) 







RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?


In GA you fill out the Boat Registration application with the Hull ID.  II you have no Hull ID and built the boat yourself provide the cost of the boat materials and arrange for a boat inspection Send Boat Registration application in along with a form requesting a Hull ID after inspection. If you request the ID and you built the boat from scrarch the State will assign you the Hull ID as being homemade. GA does not have a "Hull Identification Report", nor could I find any national agency that would assign a Hull ID. GA then provides the ID reflecting that the boat is homemade and cannot be sold to anyone else in the future.

I'm just saying plan builders should look carefully at their state's homemade HULL ID process and requirements before deciding .



RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

According to the NJ MVC website, non-motorized canoes don't need titles, registration or a HIN.


RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

  Thank you Laszlo. I see that now regarding NJ laws.  Appreciate you looking.

  What can i expect for work for routing the edges of the panels where they join? I assume they will need some sort routing on the edges?

I realize I am making my life harder by just building from plans.  I guess I enjoy the torture? 




RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

Well, Dave, I reckon that, if you enjoy it, it ain't really torture, you think?  <;-)

Have fun!


RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

Why I'm upset with GA's Hull ID Process for homebuilt sail or power boats. (Canoes and kayaks are exempt in GA as in NJ). 

John Harris designed my Skerry Raid as a yawl for me after learning of my love for George Holmes' sailing canoe yawls. I got the plans from John "without a manual which would be written later) when I was 73 years old and was pretty fit. I'm now 80 and find it harder each day to handle a one person sailboat while sitting on the floor boards and handling the sheets etc. I would like to purchase  a small power boat but I need to sell my Skerry Yawl to do so.

Here is the law in Georgia: "Homemade watercraft that has never had a registration certificate requires an HIN number. If the vessel doesn't have one, the DNR will physically inspect it before issuing a number. Owners can request the inspection after applying and paying the registration fee, but they must be the vessel's builder and keep it only for their their own use. Georgia does not allow for the transfer or sale of homemade watercraft to another owner."

So now I have a boat I cannot really use anymore and can"t legally sell. If I'd known this I would have purchased one of the first kits for the Raid with a Hull ID # and modified it into a yawl myself. I'm a very carefull craftsman and have build a safe and beautiful boat that will likely sit covered up outside. Fortunately my Kayaks and Peeler Skiff were from kits and I didn't have this problem selling them.                                  





RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

   " What can i expect for work for routing the edges of the panels where they join? I assume they will need some sort routing on the edges?"

I think that might be one of your bigger challenges. Having just built a lap stitch boat (wherry), the edges of some of the panels are routed to half-thickness of the ply. Probably not a big deal with a router table and fence, but the edge you will be routing isn't flat, it's concave ( I think) so it won't sit nice and flat on the router table.

I'm sure others have successfully done it hopefully they can chime in.

RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

The planks are routed flat, then curved to assemble the hull. That's the case whether it's kit or plans built. The only difference is who does the routing.

For that matter, it doesn't actually need to be routed. A nice sharp rabbet or shoulder plane will cut the laps as well as a router would, albeit requiring a different set of skills than a power router.



RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

   Sorry if I wasn't clear. I meant when the panels are cut and laid flat, most of them have a gentle, sweeping arc shape and the half-lap cut follows the curving contour of the panel edge, which might present some challenges.

RE: Kit build or scratch from plans?

I bought a Waterlust canoe kit mostly because it had been decades since I'd last attempted anything as involved as building a boat; that was a 14' 'stripper' scow from plans published in a popular magazine at the time. The prospect of taking raw materials then turning them into proper boat parts was too daunting. Even at that, it took me nearly 2-1/2 years to begin assembly.

With the advent of the ama stability package CLC introduced a few years after, I went with the plans option (patterns, actually): less involved than a full boat build, the on-hand availability of suitable plywood stock (I'd had for over two decades, bought in anticipation of building other designs), the skills with epoxy and confidence in stitch'n'glue technique I'd gained with the building of the Waterlust all contributed to making that choice.

For the capable, plans offers a different experience that a kit-build. It's a wider set of skills needed to cope with the greater challenges presented by taking drawings & dimensions then making shapes in suitable materials that then are assembled to bring forth a finished project. Full-size patterns, when available, offer a middle path.

To my mind the prospect of doing lap-seamed ama panels from scratch was a little daunting at first. With my previously acquired skill using routers of various sizes the actual process of cutting laps on the ama panels with a small trim router went swimmingly. Panels cut to plan outlines lay flat during the process, and controlling a small, light router fitted with a suitable bit (in my case a 1/2" two-flute carbide) hand-held was straightforward and fast. A couple of (inevitable, considering dust!) deviations beyond the lap lines were quickly filled with epoxy during assembly.

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