How to make a cardboard boat that is built to last

About a year ago I did a video about the building of my cardboard boat. I built the boat in 2008 after reading on the Internet about cardboard boat races. However, instead of making a boat designed to stay afloat for a few hundred yards, I built one that was designed to last much longer. The final product was a mixture of instructions I found on the Internet and some ideas of my own.

The video has the majority of the information you will need to get the job done. I’m doing this post now to answer some of the frequently asked questions about the construction process:

Q: How do you make the first layer of newspaper stick to the cardboard?

A: First, I brushed a coat of varnish on the cardboard. Then I place pieces of newspaper on the hull, making sure there are no bubbles or wrinkles. Once that is dry, I apply a coat of varnish on top of the newspaper and repeat the process. Once I have as many layers of newspaper as I desire, then I finish it off with two or three more coats of varnish.

Q: What kind of varnish did you use?

A: I used Helmsman Spar Urethane because I had some of that on hand. If I had it to do over, I’d probably use this product from Rust-Oleum. Similar brands of varnish should work as well.

Q: Where do I find water activated paper tape?

A: Here is a link to some on Amazon. If this item is no longer available, do a search on Amazon for “water activated tape”, and you should find plenty of options.

Q: How do you make the paddle?

A: I didn’t! This part wasn’t cardboard. I bought a kayak paddle like this one.

This post may be updated in the future as more questions are posted in the video comments.

  • Jingogunner

    How difficult might it be to build a larger boat, with an outside keel rather than inside the boat as you have, with a slot for a centreboard and a mast and lugs to hang the outboard motor? Would it be possible to make a garden shed with varnished cardboard, or even a small house?

  • Bernardo

    Putting the keel on the outside would have been a good idea. The boat does have some extra yaw back and forth because of not having one. I am considering adding an outside keel, but who knows when or if I’ll get to that. I think you could probably put a trolling motor on it, but I don’t know if it would hold up over time to the extra weight. I do have a trolling motor – perhaps that is something I could try at some point.

    A garden shed or house? Hmm… never thought of that. It would take a lot of cardboard 🙂

    Speaking of the cardboard boat, I am uploading a new video of it as I write this. This time I’m using it to fish for catfish on the Potomac river. You can find the video here:

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