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How to Build a Raft: How to Make a Homemade Raft

Updated on June 19, 2013
My friends and I carrying our homemade raft to the shore
My friends and I carrying our homemade raft to the shore | Source

Why build a homemade raft?

I was inspired to make a homemade raft

In part by the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and in part from my adventures floating down the Farmington river in Windsor, CT with my friends. We were looking for some added weekend adventures and were tiring of our 14 foot plain green canoe. The calm, cool, cautious flow of the water's current had become blasé. The fish had stopped biting. So with every trip down the river my mind flowed with ideas to increase our summer excitement.

And then it hit me. The problem was not our adventures on the water so much as our mode of transportation. I combined this idea with my buddies upcoming birthday and came up with my greatest plan yet. I was going to build a raft and travel down the river Huck finn-style.

My idea to make a homemade raft taught me a lot of things about raft building

My lack of craftsmanship and inexperience building anything in my life that floated could not deter me from my plan. I am much more of a writer than a craftsman, so the plan was almost certainly doomed from the start. it taught me some valuable lessons, however, about homemade raft building. I would have loved to know these tips before beginning to build my design. I will pass on what i learned to you.

The raft was so heavy we needed 4 people to get it to the edge of the river
The raft was so heavy we needed 4 people to get it to the edge of the river | Source

How do you build a homemade raft

Ideas to improve your homemade raft design

For all the effort to build it, the raft failed miserably. Poor assembly, weight and bouyancy issues, and faulty materials doomed the trip. Some simple changes to my plan could have helped make my raft design more successful. I learned the following lessons:

Build your raft using screws

My raft design was flawed from the first swing of the hammer. The natural rhythm of the water and the jostling by our movements on top of the raft loosened every nail (and I do mean EVERY nail) in every board within 20 minutes of casting off. There was nothing that could be done to fix it once the journey had begun. Building the raft with screws would be a much better option. By design, screws are much more resistant to coming undone. Although cheaper, easier, and faster, nails are not the way to go. unless, that is, you enjoy swimming!

factor weight issues in you raft's design

Staying with the theme of cheap and easy, nearly all of the wood materials to build the raft were salvaged from a nearby neighborhood dumping ground. The hodgepodge of wood consisted mainly of discarded wood from house projects and surplus from the resulting renovations. Much of the wood was well on its way to feeding the surrounding flora. I had to look hard for good wood and plan the raft around what was usable; the heavy oaks were coming with me. As a result, the raft was so heavy that it took the strength of three men (and at least the same number of aspirin for my back). The weight of the raft plus the weight of the riders easily topped 600 pounds. I anticipated needing to increase the rafts buoyancy with the plastic bins on each corner. I had not plan for anything of the scale necessary to float that much weight. I didn't have the materials anyway. So if there is any possible weight cutting measures in the raft design- do it.

Duct tape does not fix everything

I know, I know...saying that duct tape does not fix everything is like questioning a priest mid-sermon. It is a sure way to make enemies. But I have solid evidence that duct tape does not make a good sealant. Generously applied though it was, the white buckets on each corner of my raft design took on water. The raft listed to the side for most of the trip before failing completely. Consider using something that seals better like oh I don't know, an actual sealant product. And by the way, duct tape isn't nearly as sticky when it is wet. One of the buckets fell off when the glue let go.

The homemade rafter beginning its maiden voyage.
The homemade rafter beginning its maiden voyage. | Source


The lesson learned from making a homemade raft

The raft building experience was as meaningful as it was disastrous

Swimming should have no place in a homemade rafting adventure. This one did. In fact, over half of the approximately four mile trip was spent clinging to the sinking raft. The dislodged nail, capsizing buckets, and poor buoyancy forced our raft under the water (which reminds me, Bring life vests!). With not much else to do after our hopelessly amused laughter and quips of our impending doom, we got to talking. And no, I am not talking about the regular guy talk, but real talking. There must be something emotionally liberating about the combination of factors that lead three grown men to such a calamitous situation. We shared some great conversations that could only be had clinging to a half sunken raft that we built ourselves. Topics like life, love, and how the hell we got ourselves in this situation!

I hope this story of complete and utter failure is both helpful and inspiring for any would-be raft maker. Heed my advice, and make sure to plan your design with these tips in mind. Don't worry if you fail like I did, complete failure happens more than you'd think and it's not always such a bad thing.

The Raft Floats!

Proof that the raft works.
Proof that the raft works. | Source


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Aha that's awesome!

    • RyanBuda profile imageAUTHOR

      Ryan Buda 

      5 years ago from Windsor, Connecticut

      haha. Yes, a raft is not something to build hastily. But all failures are great learning experiences.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      5 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      From the sound of it, this was quite an adventure in many ways. You've learned much about design, engineering and unexpected forces that you've generously shared with the rest of us. After watching Castaway again, I had wondered if I could ever build a real raft. Now I see the challenges.


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