A shantyboat is a small crude houseboat. There is a long history of people building and living in shantyboats, the obvious choice for itinerant workers, miners, dockworkers, and farmers. As living on land has felt more and more constrained, people have looked to the relative freedom of rivers, lakes, and seas. This is the chronicle of a journey designing, building, and floating one such shantyboat.

Start at the beginning and work your way forward: A mad idea fueled by gin. Or enjoy a little inspiration for the journey. And finally, here is the plan, more or less.

The rest of the blog details the pitfalls, triumphs, near-death experiences, and joyous moments along our course.

What the #*@&% happened?

You must hate me.

Last I left you with "Walls take shape" and then radio silence for six months.  Did I lose interest in the project? Get tragically killed by a falling jet engine?

No, I'm not dead and the project is moving along albeit a little more slowly. I started grad school. Which means that I no longer have the time for such luxuries as eating and sleeping.  However, I still spent many weekends working on the boat.

So the blog is six months behind, but the shantyboat is six months further along. Things in store for you as I update the blog, walls, windows, roof, decks, steps, doors.  Cool things like that.

So feel free to send me an email urging me along with blog posts. Here's my commitment: For every email, I receive from a different blog reader, I will create a new shantyboat post.

Roof Rafters - The cabin takes shape

When we disassembled the Hollister chicken coop, we got a bunch of beautiful old 1x12 redwood siding, a shitton of corrugated metal, a handful of old dimensional redwood 2x4s, and finally, a dozen or so roof rafters, complete with birdsmouths.

True they were old and some were a little worse for wear, rotted at the ends or showing signs of termites, but most were quite usable.

This is an awesome diagram with much of what you need to know about roofs in general. Terms you'll need for our shantyboat roof are common rafter, ridgeboard, birdsmouth, eave, gable end and gable end stud, ladder, collar tie, and rafter tie (also called a ceiling joist).

I sorted the good rafters from the marginal. The usable but marginal ones I treated with CopperGreen Clear and cut off the bad parts.

Since our shantyboat is smaller than the original chicken coop, I cut the rafters down to size, decreasing the overall length as well as the length of the eaves. I carefully cut the angle where they met in the center and re-cut the angle of the birdsmouth.

I laid them out on the floor of the barn, and used a temporary plywood collar tie (leaving a slot at the top for the ridgeboard) to keep everything from going wonky while I struggled to secure them into place.

With some ridiculously awkward effort, I got the two end rafters up supporting the ridgeboard.

Then one by one, I installed each of the rafter pairs.

Finally, I added a permanent collar tie to each of the inside rafter.  I suppose soon I will have to add a ladder to support the gable overhang and a fly rafter.

At the end of the day, for the first time, I was able to see the shape and size and height of this crazy boat.

Cabin Framing, More Mistakes Were Made

If there's one thing I'm good at, it's not being good as things.  But given my delightfully blinding optimism, I plunge on ahead anyway, learning a ton with each monumental goof.

You remember the cabin framing looked like this. That's more or less an eight foot wall, with maybe 1 foot 8 inches below the deck of the hull.  The height was chosen more or less arbitrarily, based I think on having 8 foot two-by stock to work with for the framing.

At this point I'm thinking all the great and rare 1x12 redwood we pulled from the decommissioned chicken coop was not going to be enough wood, and was gong to be too brittle, too bug eaten or rotten, and too heavy.  So I was pricing new redwood, though this was not my ideal.

When I got down to thinking about (and pricing) the redwood siding, I realized I'd made a small but critical blunder. About 2-1/2 inches of blunder.

Had I made the walls a tiny tiny bit shorter, I could have used 6 foot long boards for the siding. This made a huge difference in the pricing since 1x12 or 1x10 redwood is already expensive, but longer lengths are even more so. With 6 foot lengths, I could easily cut 12' lumber in half, but the next common step up is 16' lengths, which were much more spendy and wasteful.

Well, the cabin already looked ridiculously tall, and I wasn't yet committed to the height, so I decided to do something crazy...

I cut the walls down 2-1/2 inches. I clamped my carpenter's square to each stud to serve as a guide for my skillsaw and cut a few inches off of each stud.

Considering that everything was glued and screwed (or nailed), it wasn't easy. I had to remove the little stud nubs and glue and nail the top plate to the new tops of the studs.

It only took most of a morning to fix the height of the cabin.  Now the walls measure exactly six foot from the deck to the top of the walls.

As a consolation for my troubles (and perhaps reward for conscientiously correcting my mistake), I had a beautiful visitor that day.

Cabin Wall Framing. Finally.

Whew, finally. We get to constructing the cabin walls. This is the fun part for me. As a former carpenter, framing construction is well-within my comfort zone.

Initially, it looked like it would be easy as pie. I planned to simplify the standard stud construction to reduce weight: (single) sole plate + studs + (single) top plate + simplified door and window openings.

But as I started planning out the end walls, I realized I needed access to the space under the decks, and so the end walls had to work around that.

The side walls were a little simpler and more conventional.

I was using all recycled Doug Fir 2x4s from the salvage pile at the dump, ripped from 3-1/2 inches to 3 inches.

Looking one more time at my wall detail, you see that the coaming (labeled "edgeboard") is cut into the wall studs.  So I had to dado a sizable groove into each of my studs to accept the coaming.

Real woodworkers have tools for this, but I had to resort to some deft skillsaw work. And without a working wood chisel, I was sadly using a flat head screwdriver.  Embarrassing. But it worked reasonably well.

Next, I assembled the walls on the floor of the barn, and then awkwardly personhandled them solo into place in the boat.  Every connection was adhered with construction adhesive and nailed.

In the boat, the wall framing was glued and screwed.

Two walls.


With window framing and blocking added.

And finally four finished walls. In this last photo, you can see the doorframe to the head on the right.

A big day, for sure. Time for a cigar.  Next up, more mistakes were made.