Lewis LilJon 10


Lewis LilJon 10

While surfing the net for mission furniture kits about a year ago, I stumbled across a couple of websites from builders of small boats. Well, you know what happened. By October I had bookmarked dozens of boatbuilding websites and had several makers’ pages almost memorized.

Steve Lewis’ excellent explanations of the building process made it sound as though even I could build a usable boat, so off I went for ¼” ply, some 1X2’s and this magic stuff called PL Premium. It would be nearly 7 months before the 10’ LilJon saw the water (the wettest October and November on record made it tough on building outside), but I now own and use the only rowing jonboat I’ve ever seen!

I didn’t own a table saw at the time (Christmas is a wonderful thing!) so I played it safe and built it with plumb sides, using ¾” square molding for chine logs (internal). Steve’s plans left the seating arrangement up to the builder, and while I was pondering what to do with that, Paysons Build The New Instant Boats and Michalak’s Boatbuilding for Beginners arrived.

Now I was really in trouble! After measuring, figuring, and scheming for a couple of weeks, I settled on a flotation tank seat for the rear, and a lengthwise thwart (a la Bolger/Payson) beginning at the center and running to the front deck. From everything I’d read, that seemed to be a good solution to the problem of trim when using the boat alone or with a passenger.

Oars came from closet poles and 3/8” ply leftover from the deck. I’d never rowed anything before so I didn’t have any experience to compare it to, but I’d expected it to be as much trouble as paddling a commercial jonboat. To my great surprise, the rocker in the stern makes this boat easy to get going, and the 5” skeg makes tracking good in all but a direct crosswind. Once when a lightning storm came up out of nowhere on a local lake I easily outran all the trolling motor guys back to shore! Nothing like a little motivation…

Since this was my first boatbuilding effort and I was finding out something new everyday, I ended up doing some unusual things and combining different construction techniques—such as how to solve the problem of beveling the bottom edge of the transom. With no table saw and after several frustrating tries at getting a good bevel with a circular saw, I finally just measured the angle with a bevel square and ran a 2X4 through the chop saw and came up with blocks at the correct angle. This looks really strange, but it works! The ones at the bow are inside the deck/tank so nobody can see them.

Also, though I used chine logs, the bulkheads and center thwart are filleted and taped. And I ended up having to ditch the lengthwise thwart because I built the boat too heavy to load and unload alone. So I cut out the upper crosspiece and use a moveable rowing seat.

In the end, ideas from several sources were used in this rowing jonboat:

  • Steve Lewis- Figuring the transom angles, stern rocker, and other good info.
  • Jim Michalak- Rowing Ditty Box, Oarlocks on the outside, Attaching the skeg with Bondo and two layers of tape, Varnished twine for oar leathers.
  • David Beede- Using staples and twine to hold the buttblocks while the PL cured.
  • Harold Payson- Lengthwise thwart, Wax paper over epoxy joints.

And several builders’ websites for tips on making oars, and something from just about every project photo I could find (Duckworks archives are great for that).

So, my aim was to have a boat to throw in the back of the truck and take my son or wife fishing, something that I could build myself that would be both stable and easy to build. The LilJon fit the bill, though what I ended up doing with it may be unconventional. AND, with all that rocker it could be sailed, sort of a bigger Brick. And if I could put in a word for Steve, I was able to have the hull together before I’d ever read a word of Bolger, Payson, Michalak, etc.

Everybody in the family enjoys rowing this boat. That’s good, ‘cause I can sit in the back and watch where we’re going while we’re fishing, and every time my son has oars in his hand is one less opportunity for him to part my hair with a crankbait.

Rick Cunningham
Birmingham, Alabama