Building a Paradox by a Beginner click here to read or make an observation about this  article

by Derek Clark - Wolverhampton, England

At the outset you, dear reader, need to know that if you want a slavish account of building an exact replica of Matt Layden’s original Paradox you should read no further. My view is that this boat is heavily over engineered and modern epoxy techniques mean that much can be safely changed. That is not to say that it must, or should, be changed. Just that it is my amateur’s opinion that it will not be any lesser a boat if it is. It is also my opinion, validated by experience, that the following information will be a great help to the tyro builder, but to this information you must add self belief. You can build a Paradox. I have, nearly :0)


I like books; used along with the internet you can find most answers to almost any question. For everything that you need to know about epoxy resin look at the manufacturers leaflets and web pages. The West System leaflet is excellent but the product made me vomit. I switched to UK Epoxies in Manchester which has no apparent ill effects on me and is cheaper. There is another advantage that Rob Hewitt, the MD, is only a phone call away and cheerfully answers questions. That is worth something considering that epoxy is expensive and a Paradox needs a lot of it.

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Amended track strop - my first silver soldering job in 45 years.

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For modern boat building techniques I found the following books very useful: Backyard Boatbuilder by John Welsford, A Manual of Modern Small Plywood Boat Construction Techniques by Paul Fisher of Selway Fisher Design, Ultralight Boatbuilding by Thomas J Hill, Instant Boats by Harold Payson and last (I wish I’d had this one early on) Boatbuilding for Beginners and Beyond by Jim Michalak. Much of what is in these books is repeated in the others but they are all written in clear English with good illustrations. They are good reads as well. If you can only afford one, buy the Michalak book. You do not need a specific Paradox manual.

Finally, use the pictures of Paradoxes that available in the group and on various web pages such as Al Law’s, Bill Sergeants and Dave and Mindy Bolduc’s and email the owners. An unfailingly helpful bunch. Thank you, thank you and thanks again.


This was my first boat build and I regard myself as a mediocre to moderate woodworker. I’d much rather use a dowel joint than cut a mortise and tenon, and I haven’t cut a dovetail since I made my toolbox 20 years ago. Biscuits and glue do just as good a job.
I do have a good selection of tools because buying tools and cleaning up old ones appeals to me.

Many of my clamps are rescued wrecks from car boot sales that have responded to heat and hammering to put them back into shape. You can’t have enough clamps and if you google you will find ways to make your own.

I prefer plastic handled chisels because you can use just about anything as a mallet. I often see them at car boots and look out for the Stanley and Marples makes with blue handles. It doesn’t matter if the blade is short or has been used as a paint can opener and stirrer. They clean up easily and sharpen very well. The steel is good quality. You could make this boat with just an half inch chisel.

Fitting bulkheads to sides

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For striking chisels (wood, plastic or rubber mallet preferred) and bronze ring nails a good carpenter’s claw hammer is needed. Any other woodworking hammer is too light for driving the ring nails.

A drill and selection of bits for predrilling nail and screw holes.

My most recent saw is a Japanese style pull saw from B&Q. Plastic handle, about £9 and works wonderfully. No effort at all on fine cutting.

I use hardpoint panel and cross cut saws because saw sharpening is tedious. I do sharpen saws occasionally, but only as a way of setting myself a task that stops me strangling the kids. I like the Stanley Jet Cut in the short blade lengths and use a fine tooth (11 TPI) for across the grain and a coarse tooth (6 TPI) for down the grain. When the blade is getting blunt I relegate the saw to rough cutting like plasterboard and ash blocks. After that I throw them away. It takes eons to blunt them on plywood.

Having said all that I cut with a power saw where possible. I find jigsaws useless because they wander and tear wood. The best blade for ply cutting has proved to be the one meant for cutting metal.
I also have a table saw (not essential), a small, very old bandsaw (useful but not essential), and a portable circular saw (couldn’t work without it). The latter I use with 8’ or 4’ long guides (made from instructions in an old copy of Fine Woodworking) that I clamp to a plysheet and cut the sheet down to size across at least three sawhorses, but it will also cut freehand quite close to gradual curves. When cutting ply with a circular saw I usually do two cuts: the first only part way into the sheet and the second just through it. This method stops tearing of the surface veneer.

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Fitting bulkheads to sides - overhead view.

I’m using Stanley Junior plastic sawhorses nowadays. They come in pairs, often less than a tenner, and fold up out of the way. They are also reasonably tall so reduce back ache from stooping. I have six but two of them form an almost permanent support for a table top which helps keep my Black and Decker Workmate clear.

I bought the Workmate over 30 years ago and it cost more than a weeks wages at the time. I promised the wife countless shelves and cupboards but really bought because I hadn’t got anything to overhall my Honda 500/4 on. She eventually got the shelves and cupboards when Ikea opened. The Workmate is still a dependable tool.

I bought a Machine Mart special to work alongside it. It cost £20, isn’t as heavy as the B&D but does the job fine. It won’t last 30 years but then neither will I.

I have a carpenters bench but always use the two portable benches. I take them to the work, and the carpenters bench is always covered in stuff anyway.

I used a No. 5 plane for most general work, a No. 4 for final smoothing, a small block plane for end grain smoothing, and a cheap power plane as often as possible.

Fitting bulkheads to sides - rear view

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For marking out: pencil stubs (Ikea have hundreds of thousands of them) and coloured biros. I have a method for accurate marking out. First draw the line in pencil. If it’s wrong rub out and do it again. Still wrong? Do it in blue Biro. Wrong again? Do it in red Biro. Still wrong?? Plane off and start again in pencil.

A sliding bevel, a square (I’ve cut the blade on a cheap multi one down to 6” but a small metalworkers square works well), 5 metre metric tape, and a metre rule or straight edge are all very useful.

A router. Definitely not essential, but I love my little Bosch POF 500 and can always find something for it to do. Rounding over spar edges and deck edges comes to mind. It could be a good tool for scarfing with a jig. I also have an ELU set up in a table as a baby spindle moulder but rarely use it.

A belt sander takes a lot of the tedium out of sanding but you will end up finishing by hand. When buying sandpaper go to a painter and decorator trade counter. Wear old clothes. Buy the grades you need by the metre off the roll. When they tot it up and give you the price look shocked and in a querulous voice say, “Is that trade?” You may be surprised how much cheaper it can be. Pay cash and get a receipt to maintain the illusion. If they want proof of trade status (I’ve only been asked once) go home and knock up a letter head in Word. I once found a machine that did 50 business cards on the spot and I became a toy box manufacturer. Good for timber, decorating and metal working supply discounts!

A backing plate and sanding discs to fit an angle grinder is a powerful remover of epoxy drips, timber, clothing and flesh.

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Those d%$#ed chine logs!

Epoxying Tools. All are available from UK Epoxies. The broad spatula is very useful as is the tool cleaning solvent. I didn’t find white vinegar very useful. I did come up with a super tool for filleting – the back of a spoon. A serving spoon for big fillets, a dessert spoon for medium fillets and a teaspoon for small fillets. They cost a few pence from the charity shops. Used with spittle they make lovely smooth fillets. If your spittle doesn’t work I can sell you mine, but it doesn’t come cheap.

Don’t bother with the pumps. My hardener pump got crystals in and I had to completely strip the bottom and redo it. It was like removing fudge, took nearly a week to get it all off and it cost me an extra £150. The bottom is where the dearest fibre mat goes. I was so fed up that I took a break for a few weeks. Read what Jim Michalak has to say on epoxying; it’ll save you a few bob on filling powders and a lot of aggro.

A gas heater. The smallest one from Machine Mart heats an enormous area very quickly. It is mainly useful when epoxying. There is a minimum temperature below which the epoxy won’t set. I wish that I’d had the heater at the first Christmas rather than the second. Best used in conjunction with a Carbon Monoxide monitor.

The Build

I have learnt as I went along, and I have made a lot of mistakes but they have all been easily corrected. We are dealing with wood and epoxy here and most of it will be at reasonably low levels of stress. Nothing that I have come across on the boat has to be close tolerance, cabinet maker standard. Have faith; you too can build a Paradox.

If I were doing it all again I would start with the mast, yard, boom, yuloh, rudder and the bits that go with them such as bottom pintle, tack strop and boom axle. These bits are all going to fit onto the finished hull and I have found it very frustrating having a finished hull sitting in the workshop while I make these.

Floors and bin sides in place to keep it square.

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All of them were easy excepting the mast which I couldn’t interpret from the plan. Don Elliott provided an exploded drawing which coupled with advice from Al Law made it all clear. I think that I could redraw it to make it clear. Once I understood the plan the build was easy. I have since seen a diagram of mast building as clear as Don’s and not dissimilar. As soon as I remember where I saw it I’ll put it here.
There are two photos here: They show a mast in construction by Matt Layden. Gives a clearer idea of what the plan is trying to show.

Next make the deck beams followed by the bulkheads and build the vent box onto bulkhead 2 while it is on the bench. Al Law told me to do this and I didn’t. It is a right bugger trying to work on it in the confines of the hull. I made bulkhead 2 from one piece of ply and I made the hole in that bulkhead as big as possible to be able to get a Porta Potti through. It’ll save making a seat for a bucket or having a red ring around your bum.

I would glass in a bucket top and its lid on bulkhead 1 to give me a cheap, airtight seal but still allow access for when the eyebolt in the stem leaks.

Having now got a pile of bits stored around the house and workshop make the hull sides. The shape can be cut with a mixture of hand saw and portable circular saw. You might think here whether you require scarf joints. Personally, I now think that one of the butt joints to be found in the books already mentioned would do, and they are much easier to make.

A good idea is to now follow the instructions on drawing 6 of the plans. The construction sequence for the hull is given in some detail and works well. I had trouble with working out the bevels and eventually gave up on them. Thickened epoxy fills gaps, and big gaps can have wooden infills inserted along with the thickened epoxy. Panels cut undersize, or at the wrong angle, can be built back up with fresh wood. Panels cut oversize can be trimmed to fit and reduce the swearing that goes with cutting them undersize.

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Near to decking

I made the stem to fit the panels while doing the dry fit. I tried making it first but the panels only touched it occasionally as I pulled them in. I obviously have a problem with angles. Maybe I’m an anglexic or an anglephile.

Nail scrap between the 4 by 4 parallel sleepers to ensure that they stay parallel. While my hull sides were bonding to the bulkheads my wife fell over a sleeper end. It was quite amusing until I found that it had moved and the hull sides ended up slightly out of true. Trimming with a plane fixed it.

At this stage it helps to make a trolley to move the hull around on. The 4 by 4’s can be used for this. Al Law bravely used a skateboard.

The Chine logs and sheerclamps are a swine to fit. I halved the width of my sheerclamps to make them more manageable, but how necessary are they? Next time I would leave them out and rely on stitch and glue for joining the bottom and deck to the sides and only nail along the line of the bulkheads. Also, the deck and sides, and the bottom to sides joints are further strengthened by turning the fibre glass sheathing over the joints.

The chine runners could be thought of as an external, shaped chine log. I made mine from blocks glued into place and finally shaped in situ.

On drawing 1 Matt has written that fastenings are intended as a permanent back up to glue bonds. From my reading, I don’t think that is necessary with modern epoxies but bronze nails are awfully boaty, aren’t they? Even under fibreglass and paint.

My version of the cabin

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The 18mm ply for the bottom I found very difficult to get into shape. With Spanish windlasses and 4 by 2 props it looked like a Roman siege engine. I had visions of it springing apart and killing me. Thoughts of the wife enjoying the life insurance kept me just on the side of safety. There was enough tension about that one slip could have demolished much of our road with flying timber. Next time I would use two sheets of 9mm and stagger the joints, or I might just go to 12mm thick. There is high quality fibreglass and thickened epoxy going on the bottom as well.

The rear deck went on fine but the front didn’t. I cut it along the line of bulkhead 2 and did it in two parts. Much easier.

I should mention that before the decks go on is the best time to fit the flotation. It needs to be two inches thick and goes under the decks and down the sides. There is a lot written about what to use and what to avoid but in the end I chose standard 2” thick wall insulation sheets bought from Wickes (a mini version of Home Depot). I think that it is polystyrene. I’m told that it absorbs water but you can see it on beaches anywhere rubbed spherical and smooth by wave action, and still floating.

My worst case scenario is that I am coastal cruising 3 miles out to avoid some hazard, the weather changes and the boat fills with water. What do I want to happen?

Firstly, I want my auto inflating life jacket to inflate and I want to be wearing it. I want my spare life jacket to inflate and remain in the forward area where I will store it. I want the emergency services to hear my mayday on my waterproof handheld VHF radio and I want my pump to work, but if it is overwhelmed I want my boat to float with the decks level with the water at its lowest.

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Completed hull - front view

I will then sit in the boat clutching my bright orange waterproof grab bag containing those items dearest to me: picture of my dogs, energy bars, bottle of water, spare insulin, money and car keys. I would chuck out heavy stuff, excluding myself, and sit tight. I would fully expect to be rescued within an hour, or two. If the boat floats that long I’ll be happy.

I have held my polystyrene in place with deck clips and cord so that I can remove it to check the inner sides of the hull and the undersides of the decks. In the area between stem and bulkhead 1 I have added empty two litre soft drink bottles, secured in threes by duct tape, for extra flotation. Between bulkheads 2 and 4 I have put 6mm camping mat against the sides for insulation. I felt that the 2” foam took too much out of the capacity of the sidebins.

I think that it maybe possible to inflate a couple of tractor inner tubes inside the boat using the gas cylinders that paintball guns are fitted with. This is something that I intend to experiment with.

The hull is now pretty heavy but four people can turn it over using levers. My son can turn it from its side to its bottom all by himself. Of course he did it before I was ready to catch it on a second lever and it hit the concrete with an unpleasant bang. If it leaks when I launch in a couple of weeks it is down to him. On the other hand, if he makes it as a rock star, and supports me in the manner to which I’d like to be accustomed I will forgive him.

This is a good time to fit the seat, panels, floor and other internal bits. Electrics and instrument positioning is also good done now. There is a fair bit of room without the cabin on. If you didn’t fit the vent box when bulkhead 2 was on the bench join me and struggle.

Completed hull - rear view

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I have abandoned the cabin plans. I had plenty of 12mm ply so I made the cabin sides and front from that. I wanted smaller windows so I routed out the shapes and have used 3mm Polycarbonate for the side windows and 6mm for the front. Polycarbonate cuts with an ordinary saw and shapes with sandpaper. I have polished the edges of the windows smooth with sandpaper on the assumption that a rough edge could give a starting point for a split. I don’t know how well founded that idea is.

I have a lift out rear window made from a piece of 6mm Polycarb.
Quelle Horrors, but I have mounted an outboard. David Beards gave me the measurements to fit the outboard bracket free and gratis from his own transom. No copyright there, thanks David.

The idea of yulohing the Thames is enough to make me want to slit my wrists. Have you seen the video of Matt sculling? It is the mating dance of the crane done to Techno. I am, however, making a yuloh because Al says it is great for docking. I think that it lengthens your reach and you snag a bit of dock with it. I am using a piece of cheap pine planking found in a skip and a length of 2 by 2 shaped to a picture found on David Deedes web site. If it doesn’t work it’ll make a nice fire.

That is where I am now. I’m toying with idea of a convertible type top instead of the sliding roof. Lorry trailer curtain material is very hard wearing and waterproof and I like the idea of rolling the hood closed.

I hope that this helps somebody. If any of the builders would like to add to this let me know and maybe I will.