Complete Plans and Instructions for 47 Boats
International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press
ISBN 0-07-022864-7, Retail: US 49.95.
Reviewed by Barend Migchelsen
The book is a reprint of two collections of articles written by the late
John Gardner (1905 - 1995):
1. Building Classic Small Craft, Volume 1.
2. More Building Classic Small Craft.
To the first part is added an Appendix: Notes on Boatbuilding
Methods that touches every facet of this process. These 39 pages alone are
already worth the price of the book.
The Appendix to the second book describes the many different “Boat
builders’ Planes” and the tools to make them. Knowing that John was a
master also in all these things make me stand in awe.
Since this is a Commemorative Edition, eight articles about John
Gardner as a person precede the boat descriptions. None of these articles
mention that John during his 89-year lifespan kept an open eye for, and
wrote about the many socio-economical problems, especially of the crisis
years before WW II, the adverse effects of the chemical industry on the
environment thereafter, and was not afraid to give his at-that-time
dissenting opinion about them. Even around 1965, he wrote an article about
a highly controversial subject in a capitalistic economy: A Guaranteed
Minimum Income (page 34, WoodenBoat # 40, May/June 1981).
Actually, it started just before WW II with the introduction of
The improving of fiberglass materials and epoxies substantially added to
it. The progressing knowledge of how to weld aluminum nearly completed it.
What I am talking about here is the demise of the traditionally
built wooden boats. These boats became endangered species, and made the
classic wooden-boat builders a dying-out breed. An important part of our
North American heritage, the age-old art and craft of building classic
wooden boats was on the verge of completely going into oblivion, and of
being lost for always for the future generations.
It was close. But, thanks to John Gardner, this did not happen,
The inside of the cover page of this book tell us, and I quote:
“John Gardner, a teacher and a writer by training, was a rare
man, good with both words and tools. As Associate Curator of Small Craft
at Mystic Seaport Museum from 1969 to 1995, he became the leading
teacher of building small wooden boats. He sought out the best remaining
examples of classic wooden boats. Then he measured them, drew them,
researched their histories, and wrote out instructions so clear and
complete that any amateur builder with modest talent and ambition could
build a beautiful boat.”
This description of John does not mention sufficiently that he was a
gifted, superb draftsman, witness his drawing on page 51 of this book, and
reproduced herewith. This drawing of the transom of a Skiff, in all its
simplicity, shows clearly all the details of measurements, bevel angles,
crown, and, above all, the different flares of the sides in a way that no
misunderstanding is possible. All the little details are there.
It is not a book that you will read one page after
another without being able to put it aside. But you will keep it close to
your workbench at all times. It will give you enough study material for
many of those long winter nights. Its main merit is that it documents the
nearly lost art and craft of building traditional classic small boats with
cedar planks on white oak frames at a time when this was nearly pushed
What I personally like the most about this book are the
colorful pictures on the
cover cover, especially a larger photograph of the late John Gardner
beside a beautifully finished, double-ended, rowing peapod. Or is it a
Rangeley boat as described on page 163?
The possession of this Commemorative Edition should be
high on the wish list of anybody who is interested in small boats. It is a
must for everybody who takes his (her) boat building seriously. The
extensive alphabetical index of 9 pages with 3 columns per page makes the
looking-up and finding of any subject child’s play.
At US$49.95, I consider it the “steal” of the year.
PS: If you ever feel inclined to give in to the urge to
design your own boat, and you have not read this book, go to your nearest
library and read what John says about designing small craft in the
Introduction. It will be a constant guideline, and save you a lot of