Hide the Puzzle Joints

I love the puzzle joints from an alignment and strength point of view.  But, to me, they are UGLY.  They take away from the hand crafted feel of a wood boat. I’m building a passagemaker and on the outside I guess I will paint up to the top side panel.  That will hide most of the joints on the outside.  But on the inside I really want to have a natural wood finish.  The plywood is beautiful but your eye is sure drawn to the puzzle joint.  In the Passagemaker the joint is between the stern seat and midship bulkhead.  Highly visible!

Has anyone come up with a clever way to hide or minimize the puzzle joint on the inside?  I just can’t come up with anything other than painting a strip across the boat. That would look much worse.

9 replies:

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RE: Hide the Puzzle Joints

   Your boat, your rules. Still, you need to know you are the only person they will bother.

RE: Hide the Puzzle Joints

You could build from plans and use scarf joints.   

RE: Hide the Puzzle Joints

   Laminate a thin veneer over the joints, feathered down to the plank fore and aft


RE: Hide the Puzzle Joints

   BTW, My old Passagemaker has scarf joints on one side, and puzzle joints on the other. I mentioned it to CLC and even they don't know why that is!


RE: Hide the Puzzle Joints

I think I'm just going to have to get over it.  It is a dang good looking plywood boat with the puzzle joint. The joints are just a part of plywood boat building.     

For my next build I'm thinking about a strip built Guillemot Hybrid Night Heron - High Deck    

RE: Hide the Puzzle Joints

The beginnings of a boat builder's wisdom:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

RE: Hide the Puzzle Joints

Hi JHR, 

On the puzzle joints, i would offer the following thoughts.  

more often then not they seem to get less noticable after a nice marine varnish is applied which tends to smooth the look.

they also seem to be less noticable if you have something of visual interest that draws your attention away from it.   if you look at the gallery for the passagemaker on the CLC site (there are about 92 pictures there), there are folks, for example, that paint the lower part of the inside a solid color.   varnish, for example, is not a great floor.  so a contrasting paint inside, is an example of a feature  that will simply pull your eyes away from the puzzle joints that remain.

fwiw, i had the same concern when i did a brite finsih kayak that had puzzle joints and while i seemed to really notice it while i was building it, it soon faded from my view.  i never had anybody who was admiring the boat remark about it either.

as an example of what i mean, this is a shearwater i built and it has puzzle joints that all but disapeared.  if you enlarge the picture and look carefully just aft of the forward hatch, you can see the puzzle joint in the first deck panel. the varnish, as i mentioned, blends it.  the lime green bungies and dark center deck pull your eyes away from noticing the puzzle joint.

on your idea of a high deck night heron strip buiilt, i can endorse it as a very very pretty boat.  paddles great, roomy and fast.

this is one i built where i slight customized the 'high deck' by raising the deck per the high deck but getting rid of the 'peak' in the orginal design approach.  so it basically has the shape of the low deck but the additional room of the high deck

hope that helps.


RE: Hide the Puzzle Joints


I scratch-built my varnished schooner from CLC's Puzzle-Ply plywood with pre-cut puzzle joints and people seemed to laser focus on the joints when they saw the boat. It was always the first thing they asked about. They all wanted to know how I made them, how long it took to cut them, etc. They were a very big hit with the onlookers.

As you say, joints are just part of the build. If it wasn't a puzzle joint it'd be a straight line scarf and those are harder to execute well in thin plywood than the puzzle joints so the chances are it wouldn't look as nice anyway. Embrace them and impress the spectators, at least until they find out that you bought the wood that way.


Good sentiment, I'll drink to that :-)


RE: Hide the Puzzle Joints

Thanks everyone for the input.  This forum seems to be a warm helpful place.

@hsapra thanks for the post and input.  It is good to hear you had the same concern and the varnish will help minimize the joints.  I was thinking about getting the no skid insert kit and it may help cover the joint.  It so good to hear you have made several boats.  This is my first one and I can see having a boat in the shop all the time.  I want to get this one done and in the water before I order my next one. Thanks for sharing the photos of your boats they are beautiful!  

It’s a cool 43F here in downstate Illinois and I have a date with a sander.  Actually looking forward to it!  I don’t want to be stuck inside sanding when it is nice out.  But I’m sure I will.  I’m about 1/4 of the way through my build.


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