Origamiboats: The Art of Frameless Steel Boatbuilding

Dream it. Build it. Go!  Buy Alex Christie's unique 3 hour DVD set on origami steel boatbuilding, and you can build your own steel boat the origami frameless steel way, economically and fast! 


With the assistance of my video, available for purchase online through this website (you can also click on the Web Store tab in the menu above), you can build your own beautifully fair 36 foot offshore-capable steel sailboat hull faster and more economically using unique frameless origami steel boatbuilding techniques pioneered by designer Brent Swain. The two-disc video features over three hours of footage detailing construction from plate steel to a bare hull which you can then fit out to your own tastes and needs. A customized hull which is safe and seaworthy is within your grasp. In the video, Brent Swain shares many "tricks of the trade" which will save you both time and money, as well as helping the builder avoid common pitfalls in steel boatbuilding. Reach Alex directly at achristie(@)shaw.ca, for more information about building these boats, or look through the website for a tour of the different boats via the photo albums, which also includes some photos of the building sequence. A picture is worth a thousand words, and you'll soon have a grasp of what origami steel boatbuilding is about.

For a very quick education in exactly how origami boatbuilding works, open this link here, print the page, cut out the paper to the lines and fold (or more precisely pull together your own model of an origami hull, keeping it together with some tape. You can expand this to any size, and there is a free pattern for an origami dinghy in Brent's book. Brent Swain carries around in his pocket a piece of plastic from a yogurt container lid cut to the same pattern, and whenever people ask him how the hull building system works, he just pulls it out and lets them do it themselves. The lesson is instant, profound, and lasting.

Videos showing the boats sailing can be found in the videos section or click here to go there directly. You can also view the same videos directly on my Youtube video Origamiboats channel.

[Note: Brent Swain also offers a hugely practical and economically priced handbook to building and fitting out the completed bare hull, with so many ideas which can even be applied to any steel boat, from mast-building, self-steering to roller furling and anchor winch designs that are easy to make and easy on the pocket book. He can be reached at brentswain38(@)yahoo.ca for ordering information on his book and his 26, 31, 36 and 40 foot sailboat plans, all at prices which even the most thrify builder will find pleasing.

If you are already excited about building your own steel boat and want to order a DVD set for $54 Canadian funds, shipping included, you can click here go directly to my web store page.

Or read on!


Traditional steel boatbuilding techniques are completely out-dated, but many amateur builders get sucked into building that way and sadly end up losing their patience and wasting both time and money.  Too many projects are abandoned as builders get frustrated when they realize their sailing dreams are out of reach. If only these builders had discovered that they could build the same size of boat with less steel and less time, they might be sailing today. Traditional steel boatbuilding tried to mimic the old craft of wooden boatbuilding, with a strongback (or ladder frame), the laying of a keel, setting up frames, and laborious and time-consuming hull plating. Basically they replaced wood with steel. No doubt they yielded extremely strong hulls from this process, but all this required untold hours of finicky welding as well as grinding and fairing. Sadly, many amateur yacht builders expend so much energy in building the basic hull that they soon lose their desire to continue -- especially when their hull does not look good. 


With origami steel (or "folded") boatbuilding, a beatifully smooth hull with long fair curves is created with much less effort, and way less welding and grinding. This is because each half of the hull is actually made from one 36' long piece of steel, so welding runs are minimize, lessening distortion from heating and cooling. Bending a long piece of thin material such a yardstick or a ruler will show you exactly the same principle on which these origami steel boats yield their fairness. Imagine peeling an orange and flattening the peel out on the table; now put the peel back together again; what do you get? An object shaped like the original orange! Origami steel boatbuilding works similarly: lay out the pattern on flat steel, cut it out, then pull the hull into shape. It yields a strong stiff hull because the steel is under tension, something we call a "stress skin" or "monocoque". For a hull, this means added strength, and it's a common and well-grounded engineering principle. Google those words to dig up more information, and have a look at my Yahoo group Origamiboats: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/origamiboats. Read the experiences of others who have built these boats and sailed them on extended voyages, because honestly you need to see concrete examples of other people building and using these boats to believe in the concept. Don't just take the word of one person raving on his own website about it, do some solid research. The internet is full of people selling ideas that don't work, or ideas which require an engineering degree to sort out. Building a boat is a big investment, and no one makes any kind of investment without looking at all the angles.

One of the most remarkable voyages in one of these boats is that made by Dove III, a 27 foot Brent Swain origami steel boat with a centreboard, which made a transit of the rugged Canadian arctic Northwest Passage. Crewman Len Sherman wrote a book about their single-season crossing called Arctic Odyssey, you can read the blurb on it here, and on the Amazon book site here. The confidence of sailing in a steel sailboat made their voyage seem almost normal. Perhaps some day a lot more people will be cruising that route in boats like this.

Many other Swain boats have made circumnavigations of the world, and Brent's own yearly voyages to the South Pacifc and back to the British Columbia coast over 20 years is a testament to the abilities these boats to take people where they want to go, in comfort and safety.

Pseudo-frameless hulls: Bruce Roberts has some frameless hull designs, but for some reason he still specifies the need to build the boat over a frame (then throw away the frame and all the material you had to pay for). No intent to criticize Roberts, but in Brent Swain's system you don't waste time and money on a frame, and the stiffening members (angle iron) which you attach to the hull skin before pulling the hull together, stay with the hull. The Swain hull has no "hungry dog" look about it as many other boats do, because the stiffeners run front to back (or Fore and Aft for the nautically inclined), yielding a very pretty looking hull that needs no fairing and filling prior to painting, a huge time and money savings. Vandestadt also has frameless-type hulls which still require a large investment of time and money into building a framework to support the hull skin while it's being put together. If you want to build one that way, well, it does work, but I'm just sayin'...there's another way, and it costs less yet generates a boat equal in strength and seaworthiness.

How does an origami hull go together? Have a look at this site from a couple building their own 65 foot origami steel junk-rigged boat and they show a perfect photo set of Paul Liebenberg's own 65 footer pulling together. Brent Swain helped Paul pull that big boat together from flat steel, and the design of the hull was directly inspired by Brent's boats. Their own boat was directly inspired by Paul's boat, which was directly inspired by Jack and Monica Carson's 44 foot steel origami junk-rig boat, Bella Via, which was made from a Brent Swain. Note on that photo of Bella Via that it's Moon Raven, a 36 foot Brent Swain sloop following along closely, both boats sailing out of Comox, British Columbia (the heartland of these boats).  Moon Raven is a sistership to Silas Crosby, also moored in Comox, a lovely 36 footer in which I enjoyed a pleasant afternoon sailing trip in over 30 knots of wind and became permanently "sold" on these types of sailing craft. On any given day at the Comox marina, it always seems to be Silas Crosby which is out sailing and enjoying beautiful Baynes Sound. All the plastic boats stay tied to the dock, paying moorage and going nowhere.

Now have a look at Carl and Kate's great website Moonflower of Moab and view how it all came together. This boat is now sailing the Canadian west coast with great succcess and happiness for her new owners who dedicated heart and soul into their retirement project.

Often the finished versions of these boats baffle onlookers who see them afloat; "what is that boat made of??". Steel.  There only one very short chine midships on either side of these hulls, about 6 feet long and underwater, the rest of the hull is all conic sections, giving you a hull that has round bilges in nearly the entire length of the boat! Not only is it aesthetically pleasing to behold, but it's also hydrodynamically improved as your hull moves through the dynamic marine environment. With a rounded hull there is much less drag-producing turbulence created. Have a look at these photos to see a bare hull, another completed hull in the water in cruising-readiness, and two half-shells of a bare hull (note 1x1 longitudinals in place) nearly ready to go together: 


 Have a look at more photos in the photo albums by clicking on the links in the menu bar or here: Origamiboats Photo Album for visual details of how these hulls are put together!



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