How to Build a Pontoon Boat From Drums

Written by richard may
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How to Build a Pontoon Boat From Drums
Once cleaned up, oil drums are perfect for making pontoon boats. (Oil Drums image by Yali Shi from

The invention of the pontoon boat is credited to an American farmer named Ambrose Weeres from Richmond, Minnesota. In 1952 he had the idea to lash 2 cylinders to the underside of a deck and found a cheap method of building a versatile and stable boat. You can build a pontoon boat, like Ambrose did, using old oil drums for the fraction of the cost of buying a ready-made pontoon boat.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Work bench
  • 3 8-foot-by-4-foot 2-inch marine plywood sheets
  • 3 8-foot lengths of 8-by-4-inch treated timber
  • 2 12-foot lengths of 8-by-4-inch treated timber
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Carpenter's square
  • 24 1/2-inch bolts
  • 48 1/2-inch washers
  • 120 5-inch galvanised nails
  • Hammer
  • Drill
  • 1/8-inch wood drill bit
  • 1/2-inch countersink wood drill bit
  • Circular saw
  • 16 2-inch wide ratchet straps
  • 2 1/2-inch wrenches

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  1. 1

    Lay out all the lengths of timber on the ground to form a rectangle 12-foot by 8-foot with the 8-foot planks overlapping the ends of the 12-foot timber. Place the spare 8 foot length across the middle, resting each end on the 12-foot lengths of timber ready to mark out the notch cuts.

  2. 2

    Mark the widths of the top timber on the lower 12-foot timber at each corner and the middle points and mark the width of the lower 12-foot timbers on the overlapping 8-foot timbers. Measure halfway up from the bottom of the 8-foot timber and mark with a pencil at each marked point to determine the depth of the notch to be cut. Measure down from the top of the 12-foot timber at each point to determine the halfway point and mark with a pencil.

  3. 3

    Adjust the circular saw so that it is set to the depth of each notch to be cut and cut each notch along the inside of the pencil lines. Make repeated cuts 1/8-inch apart until you reach the other pencil mark. Remove the leftover wood from the notch using a chisel. Repeat this process at each notch point.

  4. 4

    Lay out the timber again in the same rectangle, this time dropping each 8-foot timber into the notches cut in the 12-foot timbers. Draw a two-inch square directly above each notch using a pencil and the carpenter's square.

  5. 5

    Drill a hole through both timbers at each corner of the square, on each notch point, using the 1/2-inch countersink wood drill bit. Make sure the holes are countersunk deep enough to make sure the bolt head is flush with the timber.

  6. 6

    Slide a washer onto each of the bolts and push the bolts through all the drilled holes. Slide a washer and screw a nut on each bolt. Turn it only finger tight for now. Once all the nuts and bolts are in place, use the carpenters square at each corner and the middle beam to check that the frame is square. Tighten the bolts using a wrench on the nut head and a wrench on the bolt to ensure they are as tight as you can make them.

  7. 7

    Lay the three plywood panels over the frame to make the deck. Nail it in place with the galvanised nails spaced at three inches apart. Make sure each nail goes into the centre of the frames timber.

  8. 8

    Flip the frame over so that the deck is on the ground and the timbers are facing upwards. Place four oil drums along the length of each side and hold them in place with wooden blocks. The drums should be hard against the edge of the frame.

  9. 9

    Draw two points on the underside of the deck, next to the corner drum, to mark the location of the oil drum seams. Mark the location of the seams in relation to the deck for the other thee corner drums. Once you have marked each corner remove all the oil drums from the frame.

  10. 10

    Cut a 2 1/4-inch wide slot at each seam point using the jigsaw. The slots should be cut from the pencil line to as close to the side beam of the frame as possible. Cut two slots at each corner where you marked the oil drum seams.

  11. 11

    Arrange the oil drums in two lines of four, eight feet apart, and hold it in place with blocks. Slide two ratchet straps under each drum with the ratchet end on the outside of the two lines. Each strap should be on the inside of the drum's seams. Leave the blocks in place.

  12. 12

    Lay the deck on top of the drums so that they sit just inside the beams with the deck floor resting on the drums. The centre beam will pass between the middle two drums on each side. Push the ends of the ratchet straps through the slots cut in the deck from underneath. Feed the strap into the ratchets and tighten. Check that each strap is secure and passes just inside each drum's seams.

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