Rebuilding the Dyer Dinghy

Dyer Midget dinghy
The newly-rebuilt Dyer on the shore of Little Bay.
Dyer Midget dinghy
The Dyer, as I found her

The little Dyer (actually a Dyer “Midget” low-sheer) was a restoration project that had been started by someone else when I found it.  The disassembly portion of the work was complete.  I had bought a pile of parts with no instructions, leaving me scratching my head over what to do next.

On our way north this summer, we stopped in at the Dyer factory in Warren, RI, to buy pre-bent pieces of wood that would be fashioned into the new rubrail and clamp.  These pieces give the dinghy most of its strength; provide a place for attaching the oarlocks and hanging knees (for the thwarts), and generally hold the boat in its proper shape.  Before departing North Carolina, I had already experimented with trying to bend thin pieces of wood around the fiberglass shell to try to laminate a new rubrail. The thin, unsupported fiberglass hull complained and deformed under the load of trying to bend even 1/8″ wood around its edge. After those efforts, I decided that it would not be worth the time to try to save the cost of purchasing new, strong, steam-bent pieces of white oak from the factory.  Otherwise, I would need to build a support for the hull to hold it in the proper shape with enough strength to form the new rubrails around it.

The stop at the Dyer factory was worth it.  They provided heaps of information about how to go about the reconstruction of my dinghy, gave a tour of the factory working areas, recounted much about the history of the Dyer dinghies, and answered every question that I could come up with.  I took a couple of pictures of some of the construction details that I knew I would have trouble with later, but as soon as I was observed to be taking pictures, I was told that they didn’t want me to take any more.  Dyer doesn’t mind sharing  most of their secrets, but they probably don’t want someone publishing the details.  That is more than fair.  I wasn’t asked to delete the pictures that I had taken, though I had offered to do so, and for that I am thankful, as they did help me work out some details during the rebuild.  I won’t publish the pictures that they let me take, so all of the pictures here are of my own boat at home.  Dyer also provided measurements for the placement of all the hardware in the boat, which was particularly helpful, as I had not seen my dinghy before it had been taken to pieces.

Dyer Midget rubrail
Fitting the new guard at the bow. It doesn’t want to bend like that!

The rebuilding process was not quite as straightforward as I had hoped.  Fitting the new rubrail (the “guard”, which goes around the outside rim of the hull), and clamp (which goes around the inside of the hull) was more complicated than just putting them in place and hand-peening nearly 100 copper rivets.  The new pieces of steam-bent white oak still needed a fair amount of coaxing and a bit of shaping to fit the hull.

Dyer Midget dinghy
“New” transom board made from the old center thwart.

I started by turning the old aft thwart into a new transom by trimming it to size, as the old transom did not come with the boat.  It had presumably rotted away.  The new transom piece is a bit thinner than the original, and has some “character” from its former life as a thwart.  It was bedded in place, but not glued, as the factory told me that gluing can cause problems in the future if the piece ever needs to be replaced again.

Dyer Midget dinghy rubrail
Riveting the new rubrail to the bow

The next task was to fit the new gunwhale clamp and guard.  Dyer provides them as a kit, which is comprised of the wood, copper rivets, a couple of wood plugs and screws, and instructions.  First, I sanded and planed the inside, bottom edge of the forward part of the clamp so that it would fit into place against the compound curve of the hull.  Dyer had instructed me to do this, but I had to remove a bit more material than I would have guessed.  The forward part of the clamp was drilled to accept rivets, using the old holes in the hull as a guide.  The port-side guard was then held in place with “C” clamps and drilled to accept the rivets.  This sounds easier than it was, as the curve at the very end of the bow was tighter than the bend in the new piece of wood.  I bent a few of my small, cheap “C” clamps trying to get enough pressure on that piece to get it firmly into place.  Rivets were placed before fitting the starboard guard, which also resisted a tight fit at the bow.  No matter how I tried, when I put the starboard guard in place, a small gap would open up where the two pieces butted together at the bow, as pressure from the new wood pieces changed the shape of the hull slightly.  In the end, after a few attempts, I got the gap down to around 1/16 of an inch, which I can live with.

Dyer Midget dinghy rubrail
Almost finished fitting the new clamp and guard!

The remaining pieces of the clamp and guard were trimmed, fit into place, drilled, and riveted following the excellent instructions provided by Dyer.  I won’t go into all of the details here, because Dyer has already got this covered.  Fitting the aft sections of the clamp and guard was easy when compared with the frustratingly difficult bow sections.  The whole process took me probably about 30 hours of work spread over about a week.  I had to frequently step back to figure out how exactly to proceed with one detail or another, and the fitting process took me a long time, as I don’t have much experience shaping and working with wood.

Dyer Midget dinghy rubrail
Rubrail complete. Cutting new aft thwart; skeg; etc.

Once the clamp and guard were in place, the little Dyer had some strength to its form and could be moved around much easier than before.  Now it was time to cut new pieces for the aft thwart; skeg; and daggerboard case support.  These were made out of some marine plywood I had left over from another project.  The aft thwart is lightly glassed in place from below with a small amount of tabbing, as I was shown by Dyer, and has a vertical support in the center to transfer loads to the keel.  I had coated the underside of the new thwart with epoxy before tabbing it into place, and I had to use a heater to get the epoxy to cure, as the days were too cold for it to work properly.  This almost caused a disaster, as the thwart warped from the combination of heat and uneven sealing.  Luckily, I caught the problem before the epoxy was hard.  I was able to wedge the thwart back into the proper shape.  Once the epoxy cured, it was fine.  Had I not caught it, I would have had to cut the piece out; clean up all the surfaces, and start that portion of the project over again.

Dyer Midget dinghy rubrail
New skeg almost complete–ready for glass

I built the new skeg from two thicknesses of my piece of leftover plywood.  It was carefully fit to the bottom of the boat.  Further, I protected the boat with mylar tape where the skeg would sit, and then coated it with epoxy; pushed it in place; and let it cure.  This provides a perfect fit and a solid base for the skeg.  Holes were drilled for bolts sent in from the bottom of the skeg.  The aft-most bolt does not go all the way through the skeg, as I couldn’t find one long enough.  Instead, I potted a 3 1/2 inch machine screw in thickened epoxy.  They are backed up by nuts and big fender washers on the inside to avoid over-stressing the hull if a heavy load ever gets placed on the skeg.  The boat showed old signs of stress-cracks in the skeg-attachment area, so I decided on this attachment method, which differs from the factory.  They use screws from the inside of the boat.  The skeg got 4 layers of 6-ounce fiberglass cloth and epoxy on the bottom to protect it from the wear it will eventually see on beaches.  I finished it with white Interlux Brightsides polyurethane.

Dyer Midget dinghy
Fitting all of the hardware. There are hundreds of fasteners in this 7′ 9″ boat!

With the glass-work complete, I moved on to fitting the hardware that attaches the remaining two thwarts into the boat.  I didn’t have bronze screws, so I bought new stainless fasteners.  I wanted the strength of bolts for the hanging knees and breast-hooks, so I sunk washers into the new rubrail.  It would have saved many hours of work to just have sent the bolts in from the outside, but the bronze pieces were all countersunk for screws.  I wanted the strength of good contact with the shoulder of the countersinking, so I sent the bolts (actually machine screws) through from that side.  Each fastener had to be cut to length and the threads cleaned up so that it would thread into its mating nut.

 

Dyer Midget dinghy rubrail
Nuts sunk into the new rubrail

I assembled the whole boat, including the daggerboard case and the piece that ties it to the center thwart, to make sure that everything fit properly.  Then, I took it all apart.  The new wood was all given at least three coats of varnish, and all of the plywood pieces were sealed with epoxy in addition to varnish (or paint for the skeg).  Only then was everything finally fitted with bedding compound.

Dyer Midget dinghy
Finished, and only 74 pounds! (without flotation foam)

 

I am sure that I could have built a simple dinghy for the hours that I put into this project, but now that I have used my “new” Dyer for a week, I feel that it was worth it.  These dinghies have been in production for more than 50 years for good reason.  They are wonderful tenders–lightweight; tough; reasonably fast; and relatively stable while providing good carrying capacity.  The Dyer factory is an outstanding resource, and will provide parts, and answers to any questions you might have if you are ever tempted to do as I did and restore one of their great little dinghies.

16 thoughts on “Rebuilding the Dyer Dinghy

  1. Glad to have found your site as I am the recipient of a fine looking old Dyer Midget.
    As it has been neglected for many years while lying inverted on 4×4”s the bottom side exposed to the sun is showing its fiberglass origins, yet still feels structurally sound.
    I seek advice on how to refinish this portion of the boat.

  2. Barry-

    An absolute miracle that I found your post! It is now pinned in my bookmarks!

    I am currently repairing a sailing Dyer Dhow 9′. The rubrail is completely rotted and will have to be replaced. Everything else in the boat is in pretty good working order, but needs some TLC after sitting outside for a few years at a yacht club. I have contacted Dyer after reading your post about how helpful they are. As a first time repair job (on literally anything) I have to ask what tools did you use for the rubrail beyond what Dyer was able to supply you (the rails and the clamps)? The inner rail on my boat is in good shape so that just needs some sanding and varnish.

    I’m very excited about getting started! If you have any guidance on any part of the process that’ll be much appreciated.

    Thankfully I’ll be doing the repairs all summer (we use the Dyers for frostbiting at my club).

  3. Hi Barry, my son is replacing a gunwale on a Dyer Midget, and it’s great to find your wonderful post!
    A question for you: not sure how to put a firm back behind the rivets for support while peening. Any advice on how you did it would be gratefully received!
    Thank you,
    Kate

    1. Hi Kate,
      Sounds like your son has very worthwhile project going. To get a good backing for peening over those copper rivets, all you need is something heavy. I used two 16-ounce hammers firmly lashed together so that they acted like a 2-pound weight. A 3 or 4-pound hammer would be better. You just need something hard with sufficient mass to allow your peening to mushroom out the rivet on the other side instead of pushing it through the wood like a nail. It should have a flat surface that you can work against and some way to hold it. An extra pair of hands to help hold the backing weight is very helpful, especially when getting the first few rivets started.
      Hope the project goes well!
      Cheers, Barry

  4. Hi Barry,
    My husband and I were given a Dhow Midget that was made in 1978 by a friend. We have ordered the gunwale and other parts to try to restore it to some degree. We have never done a project like this and appreciate all of your efforts to rebuild your boat. We live on a stream fed lake in the N. GA mountains, and have lots of wildlife, amphibians, fish, etc. I want to finish the teak seats and oak gunwale with something that is not toxic, and that won’t come off in the water. What kind of varnish did you use? Is it non-toxic to wildlife and fish? Thanks!

    1. Hi Shauna-

      What good fortune to have been given a Dyer! You have a great subject for a first boat restoration project.

      I used Epifanes marine gloss varnish on all the wood of my dinghy. Where plywood was used in my boat, it was first coated with epoxy and then varnish was applied over. Those products, when cured, won’t wash off in water or harm marine life. Cured epoxy is basically an inert plastic, while varnish is a blend of natural resins that cures to a semi-flexible clear coating. I recommend varnish for best long-term protection of solid wood pieces that you want to finish with a clear coating. If the boat is stored indoors or covered, varnish is easy to maintain and will take relatively little work to keep up—probably lasting years before requiring re-coating, especially if any small nicks are touched up as they accumulate. If the boat is stored exposed to the weather, it will probably take a few hours each year to put a new coat of varnish on everything. It’s a bit more work than some other options, but there is no comparison to the way properly applied varnish shows off wood.

      Another option is to oil the wood. There are natural wood oils available that will slow the deterioration of the wood on your dinghy. Oils don’t offer as much protection to your wood as varnish does, and will wear off with weathering and use, normally requiring a new application every few months or so. Some oils also turn black with age as they oxidize. Oil is much easier to apply than varnish—just wipe it on with a rag. This is the easiest option for wood finishing, though a very small amount might wash off in the water. I don’t think that any completely non-toxic oil products will provide much protection to wood that regularly gets wet. The other available oils probably have some level of toxicity. You would have to do some research to turn up any real information on specific products.

      The final option that I will present (besides the obvious option of paint, which I guess you don’t want!) are synthetic coatings such as Cetol. Cetol is an almost-clear product that is a little easier to apply than varnish and is a bit more durable. It cures to a hard finish that won’t wash off. Compared to varnish, it has some tint to it from the pigments used to block UV rays from damaging your wood. Many people find that Cetol holds up better than varnish, particularly if the wood is left outside all the time. Cetol comes as a two-part system consisting of a base coat (with the pigment), and a clear overcoat. Another type of synthetic coating is a clear 2-part urethane “varnish” like Interlux Perfection Plus. This type of product provides a very hard, durable, clear coating, but these products are expensive, noxious to work with and must be measured in precise amounts and applied in the right conditions to work properly. In my experience single part clear polyurethanes (hardware-store products intended for furniture) don’t hold up well outdoors.

      All options for finishing your wood will be somewhat toxic while liquid (some much more than others), but when they are cured they should present no hazard to your lake.

      Best of luck with your project!

      Cheers,

      Barry

      1. Good morning, Barry,

        Thanks so much for your reply. After my husband and I read and reviewed the options in your response, I think the best thing for us would be to go with the Epiphane. The boat will be out in the weather much of the year, but we can always do a few hours of maintenance every year to keep the boat properly coated. You are a wealth of information! Thanks again.

    1. Hi Gordon- “The ANCHORAGE, Inc.” in Warren, RI is the factory that builds Dyer dinghies. They have every part you could ever want for these great little boats.

      They can be contacted by email at: dyerboats@dyerboats.com, or by phone at (401)245-3300.
      If you’re in the neighborhood, their address is: 57 Miller St, Warren, RI 02885

      Here’s their website: http://dyerboats.com

      They have a Facebook page at: https://http://www.facebook.com/The-ANCHORAGE-Inc-DYER-Boats-277106265641092/

      Hope this helps!

      –Barry

  5. I have an eight foot that is not the sail version. I would like to convert it to the sail version. Does anyone have any suggestions?

    1. Are you looking to have a “class-legal” sailing version that could be raced against other Dyers, or do you just want a dinghy that sails? If you just want to put a sail on your Dyer, you just need to add a mast, rudder, and daggerboard. You could build these yourself, use parts from a similar-sized dinghy, or buy parts from Dyer in Warren, RI. If you use non-Dyer parts you could do the project on a much smaller budget, but would not be able to take part in any of the races for this popular sailing dinghy. If you buy all your parts from Dyer I am sure that they will answer any specific questions you may have about the conversion–they were very generous in that regard when I bought the parts needed to rebuild my dinghy.

      I think the most difficult part of the conversion would be adding the daggerboard slot and case. The rest is mostly bolting on the right hardware and glueing in a step for the bast of the mast.

      As a purely practical consideration, you could probably find a used sailing version of the same dinghy for less cost than making the conversion, especially if you sell your current Dyer as part of the process.

  6. Wow I thought I would be able to take on similar repair on my 9 ft dyer Dingy. .I am certain that I will have to locate a boat repair service as this appears to be a huge undertaking.
    I’m bummed that my Dyer will be dry docked another season.

    1. It was quite a project, but I am glad that I did it. Dyer offered lots of support. If you decide to do it yourself, don’t hesitate to get in touch with them. You might be back on the water sooner than a repair shop could work you into the schedule…

      1. I have to echo that this is a very doable rebuild with the pre-bent
        clamp and guard from Anchorage, Inc in Warren, RI. The gunwale kit comes with all the nails, screws, etc and very good instructions. Tad and Anna Jones offer advice and support. It is well worth a visit to Anchorage in Warren where you can see the boats being assembled. And they have every conceivable part sorted in bins. But like most boat projects, start early (fall) and keep moving. I got my boat done at 1AM the day I set out for a summer cruise.
        If you don’t want to take this on, I think Tad will get the repairs done at Anchorage.

        1. Hi John- Glad to read that others are keeping their old Dyers in shape! I am happy that I decided to rebuild this wonderful little sailing dinghy and it is always a pleasure to see others around the harbor.

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