Building a Michalak Jon Jr. click here to read or make an observation about this  article
By Tim Lehman - Steelton, Pennsylvania - USA

After building three kayaks and a canoe, I decided that I “needed” something a little larger. I wanted to be able to take my kids out fishing and have room for some gear and maybe even something to shade us from the sun.

I settled on a jon boat for its capacity and stability, so I got on the ‘net and started looking around at designs. I narrowed it down to three finalists, all Jim Michalak designs: Campjon, Jonsboat and Jon Jr.

I gave it a lot of thought. Campjon would be my first preference. It has an enclosed cabin area for getting out of the sun and maybe even catching a little siesta. It would also be good for keeping the kids corralled and it’s certainly large and stable enough. But I didn’t feel comfortable taking on that large a project solo. I’m sure I could have gotten someone to help me turn the hull as needed, but then there was also launch and recovery to think about. I figured better safe than sorry.

Jonsboat, at roughly the same overall dimensions as Campjon and 100 lbs lighter, started to look like a better option. And I already had the plans in Jim’s book. But my workspace is somewhat limited, so I turned my attention to the Jon Jr.

I ordered the plans from Duckworks along with some other items that I planned to use on the project. Then I waited patiently for their arrival. Fortunately, it didn’t require a lot of patience. Chuck and Sandra must do nothing all day but fill orders because I received all of the hardware items in less than a week after submitting the order. The plans came direct from Jim a day or so later.

Once the plans arrived, I decided to make a model first to get a better idea of how the boat would look and to try out some ideas. I made copies of the panel layouts and used them as templates for cutting the parts from 1/16” balsa. Then I glued the parts together in basically the same process as building the full-sized boat.

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I decided to make a model first to get a better idea of how the boat would look and to try out some ideas.

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I didn’t put the frames in. I didn’t think that would have made a significant difference in the way the model turned out. I was just interested in getting to the basic shape so that I could visualize it better and play with some ideas.

I was just interested in getting to the basic shape so that I could visualize it better and play with some ideas.

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I experimented with putting some sort of well/floatation chamber in the stern, but I didn’t like the look of it and was afraid that shifting the seats forward to accommodate this feature would make the boat hard to trim so that idea got scraped.

Next it was off to Home Depot for materials. Three sheets of luan ply, a 2 X 6 X 12’ plank, two tubes of PL Premium, a box of drywall screws and some miscellaneous nuts and bolts.

The 2X6 was destined to be ripped into ¾” X 1 ½” strips for chines, keels, gunwales and frames. This technique yields nice vertical grained stock at a good price. It was the clearest one that I could find in the pile without spending all day digging clear to the bottom, but it still had a few knots in it, some of which came back to bite me later.

I wanted to use Chief Red Elk’s cloth-and-paint method of covering the bottom, so the next stop was Big Lots for a canvas drop cloth and a gallon porch and deck paint. They were out of drop cloths so all I got was a gallon of oil-based dark brown porch paint.

Wal-Mart had some suitable fabric in the dollar-a-yard bin, so I picked up six yards. That was enough to cover the bottom and both transoms with a little left over. The bits that I trimmed off make good shop rags and the extra half yard or so will get used for something eventually.

Time to get busy…

I temporarily joined two sheets of ply with duct tape, being very careful to keep the factory edges aligned. I laid out the side panels and cut them out leaving about 1/8” excess outside of the lines. Then I removed the tape and joined the sections with Payson fiberglass joints, again keeping the factory edges aligned. After the joints cured, I clamped the panels together and used the belt sander to sand down to the lines.

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Looking Aft

I built the boat to plan with two exceptions. First, I substituted 3/4" ply that I had on hand for the transom and added a 1X6 doubler for the motor support. Second, instead of a triple 1X for the outer wale, I installed a single outer and a single inner with spacers on the inside. I prefer this because it gives me plenty of convenient places to tie "stuff" off. The boat might not capsize, but things DO get dropped over the side, so I try to keep everything on some sort of leash.

the bow storage with cover off

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I wanted some means of closing off the bow compartment for storage and emergency floatation, but I didn’t want a deck hatch. I wanted to keep that area flat so that one of the boys could sit there while we were fishing. When we’re under way, they both sit on one of the seats, but they need to be separated when we fish.

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back side of hatch cover

I cleaned up the cutout from the opening in bulkhead #2, cut a larger piece from some scrap and glued them together. I used two lengths of 1X2 for the inner latch and mounted them with long carriage bolts and springs. The springs place just enough pressure on the latch to force it back away from the frame when the wing nut is loosened. A couple of stops on the inside of the frame align the latches in a vertical locking position. As the wing nuts are tightened, the latch bars rotate until they contact the stops and then they tighten down onto the frame. Likewise, when loosened, the bars rotate into a horizontal position and the hatch can be moved sideways to disengage first one side then the other for removal. It’s basically the same type of arrangement used for the latches on some electrical panels.

bow storage cover in place

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The pictures below give a closer look at exactly how the latch system was put together.

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the latch and hardware

drawing of the latch assembly

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The final assembly, ready for finishing...

The first step was to get the cloth and paint on the bottom. It really isn’t much different than applying fiberglass to a hull. Just lay out the cloth, smooth out the wrinkles, make any tucks and darts needed to help the cloth fit closely around corners, tack in place with a few staples in the chines and then apply the paint. The first coat was thinned about 20% and applied liberally with a brush. After that soaked in and was starting to dry, I applied two more on top of that with a couple of hours drying time in between.

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bow view

I masked the sides with newspaper to avoid the inevitable drips falling from the chine logs and onto the sides, only to be sanded off later to the detriment of the luan veneer. I’ve never been accused of being an overly neat worker; therefore, I try to avoid opportunities for drips, spills, slashes, smears and any other type of “mistake”.

I found that while it looks like three-ply stock, it is actually five-ply (sort of). There are three plies of some unidentified white wood of substantial thickness and two paper-thin plies of luan on the outside faces. You can see in the bow view picture below where I sanded through that thin veneer on the top edge of the bow transom and the resulting red glue line.

I sanded through that thin veneer on the top edge of the bow transom

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After a couple of coats, the weave of the cloth was starting to fill up so it was time to attach the two layers of 1X2 for the bottom runners.

Two sets of lines were laid out on the bottom with a chalk line. The first was the centerline of the runners. I drilled a series of pilot holes spaced about six inches apart along this line for attaching the first runner from the inside of the hull. It also gave me a target for laying down the caulk. The second set of lines, ¾” closer to the chine on each side, served as a guide for placement of the outboard edge of the runners to ensure that they went on straight.

I ran a thick bead of caulking down the centerline and carefully lined up the runner, allowing about an inch of overhang at the bow. I drove a screw from the outside into the bow transom framing, pulled it down into place and clamped it at the transom. Then I crawled underneath the hull and installed the permanent screws from inside. The process was repeated for the other runner and the ends were trimmed flush with the transoms. The first four inches at the forward end beveled to a thickness of 3/8”.

The forward end of the second layer was shifted back four inches and beveled to match the bevel of the first layer and screwed from the outside to make later replacement easier. Then they got a coat of brown to match the bottom.

The wales, quarter knees and foredeck got a coat of stain, followed by three coats of spar urethane along with the sides with light sanding between coats.

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One of the quarter knees before finishing

I had some white interior/exterior semi-gloss latex enamel that I used for the interior. I added a bit of brown latex to the white enamel to help reduce the glare that the white enamel would have produced. I also experimented with a splatter pattern on the interior, to break up the monotony of the flat tan interior

Once all the finishing was done, the hardware was reattached and she was ready to go. The cleats and oarlocks were from Duckworks. The carry handles, rope and other ground tackle came from Wal-Mart.

I also built a set of oars per Jim’s design. I worked from a copy of his essay rather than the Jon Jr. plans. I didn’t realize that there was a difference until I tried rowing. The essay calls for 7' oars while the dimensions in the plans are for 6.5' oars. That made rowing a bit awkward, but I managed by sliding about six inches of the square section of the loom into the oarlocks. The nylon locks that I got from Chuck were flexible enough to handle it with no problem. I really only rowed a few yards into and out of the dock area where the water was too shallow and the plant growth too dense to use the motor. I've since cut the original handles off and formed new handles, shortening the square section by about 6" and they work quite well now.

I had hoped to launch the boat on the weekend of June 24/25, before departing for vacation in Indiana. But the weather here in Pennsylvania, and elsewhere in the northeast, was just too bad for that to happen. Although we got so much rain here that I thought I might get to use the boat right in the street.

Vacation time…

I launched my Jon Jr. on July 2 at a lake just north of Ft Wayne, IN. The boat handled well and my kids and I got to do a good bit of fishing over the next week. It was also nice going out at night to fish or just anchor and watch the stars.

I launched my Jon Jr. on July 2 at a lake just north of Ft Wayne, IN.

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I only encountered one minor problem. It seems there were a few knots (I think I mentioned them earlier) in the seat framing that I didn't notice during construction and the frames couldn't take the weight. I doubled up some 1X2 scraps that I scrounged up and was back in business. When I got back home, I made proper repairs, adding another 1X2 across the full width of the frames and installing vertical supports at the center of the frames.

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The PA Fish and Boat Commission rated it for a maximum of 7.5 hp, but Jim recommends 5 hp and that should be plenty.

The PA Fish and Boat Commission rated it for a maximum of 7.5 hp, but Jim recommends 5 hp and that should be plenty. Besides, most of the lakes around here are in state parks and limited to electric motors only, so my little trolling motor will see a lot of action.

That trolling motor got it moving at about 1.5 MPH on “high” (according to my GPS) and 1.2 MPH on “low”. I didn't cover a large area but it got me where I wanted to be and it’s less work than rowing. And at that speed, I don’t mind letting the boys have a turn at the tiller once in a while. I'm looking for a small outboard in the 3 - 5 hp range that I can use on the local rivers. That should get it moving at a respectable pace.

All in all, it’s a very nice boat and I’m very happy with it. I literally lived in the water for a week and showed no signs of leaking or any other problems.

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All in all, it’s a very nice boat and I’m very happy with it. I literally lived in the water for a week and showed no signs of leaking or any other problems. If you’re looking for a small boat for fishing or just cruising around on small lakes, you can’t go wrong with this design. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the classified ads in the local paper for a “deal” on a small outboard. I guess perseverance pays off, because I found, not one, but TWO old outboards: an early 50’s vintage Johnson Seahorse 3 and a late 60’s Eska 5. Now that I’ve received my copy of Max W’s new book on maintaining old outboards, I should be able to get them running.

And while I’m taking a break from working on them, I can work on constructing a bimini so that I can have some shade in the middle of the day. I’ve already purchased the hinge parts from Duckworks. Now all I need is a few pieces of electrical conduit and some polytarp and I’m in business.

Looks like it’s going to be a busy summer. Maybe I can find time this winter to write something up on those projects. Stay tuned…

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