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Why Build with Ply

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Plywood is very popular as a boatbuilding material for amateurs and a well-built plywood boat can have a very long life. Dudley Dix designed and built his Didi 38 "Black Cat" in 1995, it was the first to use the radius chine plywood build method. "Black Cat" is now 25 years old, she has crossed the Atlantic 6 times and three other voyages between South Africa and St Helena, including winning the monohull division of the 2014 Governor’s Cup Race, when 19 years old. There are plywood boats still sailing the world that are 40-50 years old.

The development of the WEST (Wood Epoxy Saturation Technique) methods of boat construction have put new life into timber boatbuilding. By combining the age-old natural material of timber with specially formulated space-age resins, a light and strong engineering material is formed with predictable properties.

The WEST system can be successfully combined with various methods of construction, from strip plank to fully cold moulded, either with or without stringers. All have the common factors of trying as far as possible to produce a monocoque structure while sealing the timber to keep out moisture which would reduce its engineering properties and cause rot.

Plywood is the closest rival to steel for speed of hull and deck construction but the shape used by most designers is limited to chine or multi-chine. A good alternative is radius chine plywood construction which closely approximates a modern round bilge hull shape using sheet plywood to the flat surfaces and laminated plywood to the radius. Plywood remains an excellent material for amateur construction, particularly when combined with epoxy resins for adhesives and surface coatings. It continues to be the most economical material for building a boat in many countries.

Displacements with traditional timber construction methods are normally fairly high, resulting from the use of high density timbers and large scantlings. In contrast, modern methods can produce boats of very light displacement with sparkling performance. Compare the displacement of the DIX470 with similar sized GRP catamarans, they can be as much as twice the displacement.

For home building, timber does prefer to be covered over during construction. As a minimum, it can be used in the open but all unpainted surfaces should be protected by tarpaulins or they will deteriorate with subsequent painting or rot problems.

Most neighbours will have little objection to a timber boatbuilding project, partially because most men are involved in woodwork to some extent and can relate to the project. While power tools are needed, they are relatively quiet and their use is generally of fairly short duration. Epoxy resins are smelly but are far more pleasant than polyester resins and the smell fades much more rapidly.

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