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.