Who makes their own sails, and why?

Discussion in 'Sailboats' started by kroberts, Jun 21, 2010.

  1. kroberts
    Joined: Mar 2009
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    kroberts Senior Member

    Hi,

    I'm getting closer to building a boat, and have a bunch of questions that I'm sure a lot of newbies ask, but for some reason I can't find threads discussing this sort of thing on the forum. The web sites, I'm not sure if I'm being told the truth or if it's some wacko pushing his ideas. If somebody knows a thread that covers this, or even a FAQ or reputable web site somewhere, I would gladly look at it.

    Who makes their own sails, and why? And what do you make them out of?

    I guess I don't really know how much effort it takes to make a good set of sails, and whether the average person who has a boat can manage to do it. It seems to me that the sail might not lay flat when stretched out on a floor, but I was thinking that if you have a pattern it shouldn't be that tough to do.

    Obviously, the easiest way to get a good set of sails would be to buy them. But it also seems that the cost of sails might equal that of the boat kit for small boats. I don't understand why, and whether that's because of materials cost or manual labor, or what the market will bear.

    How many people build their own sails? 1 of 10? 5 of 10?

    What is their motivation? Cost? Specific design requirements? Urge to build things with their own hands?

    About the only material I've seen mentioned for sails on this forum is Dacron. What else do people use? What else is worth using?

    I found this: http://www.messing-about.com/weekender/sails.html and some sites showing how to make things like the tyvek sails. How well do these things work?

    Is there something to avoid as a newbie or is it just as simple as it seems? Or should I just ignore all that and get professionally made sails?

    Thanks.
     
  2. Munter
    Joined: Jul 2007
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    Munter Amateur

    I made my own sails for the 2 man dinghies I used to race. I did it because it was vastly cheaper than buying new and gave me an option to learn and try a few new ideas that I was interested in. That said, I did have access to a good sail loft where I could do the building and from where I could source the materials so these weren't typical home built sails. With a bit of practice it isn't too hard but have a good facility to work in with stocks of all materials on hand is definitely an advantage.
     
  3. Doug Lord
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    Doug Lord Flight Ready

    You might consider a company like Sailrite. They've been in business a long time. They will custom design a sail and provide you with a kit and instructions on how to build the sail. In addition they have a lot of repair related stuff.
    My personal opinion is to find a good sailmaker close to you and have him/her do the job....


    http://search.sailrite.com/category/sail-quotes-cloth-repair-specs-anchor-sail
     
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  4. Milan
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    Milan Senior Member

    Different people, different reasons. To save money, to be an independent cruiser, able to repair everything on the boat, including sails, to learn traditional trade and keep it alive, for fun, hobby, relaxation …

    I learned basics of the traditional sail making during two winters. (Exclusively hand work, sawing canvas, roping, splicing, no sawing machine in sight). Lessons were given by the people who teached and led group that sawed by the hand all sails for these two monumental projects:

    http://www.scheepvaartmuseum.nl/english/collection/eastindiaman-amsterdam
    http://www.bataviawerf.nl/the-batavia.html

    I found whole experience very interesting and enjoyable.

    It depends on you. What are your goals? Do you want high performance, racing machine that can sail very high to windward, or something more sedate for relaxed afternoon with average, forgiving sailing characteristics?

    Obviously, high performance sails are difficult for an amateur but more traditional, lower aspect ratio sails as a sprit and gaff sails are far more forgiving.

    The most economical way is to by a bigger second hand sail then you need and re-cut and re-saw it to size and shape that you need. .

    Absolutely the best book about subject is Emiliano Marino’s “Sailmaker's Apprentice”
    http://www.amazon.com/Sailmakers-Apprentice-Emiliano-Marino/dp/0071376429

    Salway Fisher also has a good book:
    http://www.selway-fisher.com/SFD Catalogues & Manuals.htm#SAIL

    Sails are no more difficult to build then rest of the boat, but, as with all new skills that you learn, there is a definitely a learning curve. As with everything new, you would be well advised to start small and simple. Be patient, and persist. First try would probably not be perfect.

    Tomas Colvin sad something as a: “I never saw sail so badly made that it didn’t work at all”.
     
  5. Landlubber
    Joined: Jun 2007
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    Landlubber Senior Member

    ...I made my own sails in the early 80's, they were just as good working and looking as sailmakers made, but I was also fortunate to spend time with a very good sailmaker to learn a few tricks of the trade. Basically it is no big deal if we are talking about basic cruising sails.
     
  6. kroberts
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    kroberts Senior Member

    OK, that gives me a bit of an idea.

    The boat I'm looking at is going to be a handful, so I don't need super fancy sails. I tend to run over-budget on all my projects for some reason, and I've made hovercraft skirts before. I'm pretty decent at that as long as I have a pattern. I believe the plans come with a full-sized sail pattern.

    So what I figure makes a lot of sense for me is to make my boat, and if I feel up to it and they have plans with the kit, I'll make some sails to get started. I figure the first set will be short-lived no matter what they're made of, while I figure out how to keep the deck drier than the keel. In that case I don't care if they're Tyvek, poly tarp material, or whatever. If I feel that it's no big deal then I'll continue making them, otherwise I'll get a professional set.

    I enjoy making things, but I don't always have time for it.

    Thanks guys.
     
  7. science abuse
    Joined: Nov 2009
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    science abuse Junior Member

    Actually, some sails are not supposed to be completely flat.

    I'm going to try my hand at sailmaking because sails cost as much as motors and I'm not made of money. :) It also allows me to do things "my way", to set the boat up how I want, for what I want to do.

    Used sails are actually difficult to find *for a specific application*, because you have to find some one who wrecked/junked the excact type of boat that has the sail you need. Chances are slim. I Bought one for my current project, only to find that it needed a custom arched mast. Oops. If you buy a used sail, be sure to get one that comes with a mast.

    I'm expecting it to take a lot of effort, though I do know of people who manage the task while actually alone at sea, with no sewing machine.

    I've made one tyvek sail, long ago, and it was LOUD. Like thunder from an old radio show.
     
  8. Milan
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    Milan Senior Member

    No sail is cut completely flat, with exception of junk sails. All others are designed with curved aerodynamic shape.
     
  9. Perm Stress
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    Perm Stress Senior Member

    If making second set of sails from really different material as first one (example first is tyvek, and second one dacron) your learning will by large part start from scratch again.
    Different materials require different methods of "moulding" to get the same shape. I was fortunate (?) to see how sails, almost identical when on shop floor, behave completely different when exposed to wind; the reason was different cloth properties: stretch, resistance to diagonal stretch, weight... .
    Anyway, I would not expect a good set of sails before try #3 or 4.
     
  10. kroberts
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    kroberts Senior Member

    Perm Stress,

    Thanks for the insight. I'll keep it in mind.

    Well, if I'm going with Dacron I won't have the ability to sew a seam without buying equipment I otherwise wouldn't want. Tyvek or poly tarps, I can buy that and make several with nothing more than a few hours effort. I don't expect perfection the first time around, and as I said I've had experience building 3D tension structures out of cloth-like material. Vinyl coated nylon in my case.

    What it comes down to is that, when it comes time to have sails, if I have the money and inclination I will buy a set of Dacron sails. If not, I'll try to make a set and see how that goes. Any of the non-Dacron materials I might be interested in are so cheap that a few failures would be no big deal, unless I get stranded out there because of them.

    Thanks.
     
  11. Milan
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    Milan Senior Member

    Basic sailmaker’s tools of trade are simple and few – hand-palm, needles, hook, sharp knife, bench, and few other wooden tools that you can build yourself. That’s about it. Not much money in it and if you keep sailing, you will need these tools for maintenance anyway.

    Few photos of the tools:
     

    Attached Files:

  12. kroberts
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    kroberts Senior Member

    Milan,

    Point taken, but...

    I can and have used one of those sewing awls, but there's no way I'm interested in making a whole sail that way. It would be crooked as a politician in the last weeks before the election, and it would take longer than a campaign season. I would rather spend a longer time making the wood look wonderful.

    Maybe at some other point in my life that sort of thing will hold more appeal.

    As far as what's needed for the Tyvek sails, I already have it, and it sounds simpler than what I've already done with hovercraft skirts.

    Thanks though.
     
  13. Milan
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    Milan Senior Member

    It actually goes pretty fast, once you get hang of it.

    But OK, I understand you. It’s been a while for me as well. I sawed small sprit sail for a rowing-sailing boat, made some repairs and sail covers for my bigger boat, spliced some ropes, that sort of stuff.
     
  14. kroberts
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    kroberts Senior Member

    Getting the stitches a consistent distance apart was challenging enough for even a 6" long patch job. Aligning the pieces and then stitching a straight seam, out of the question. I would go through a whole lot of scrap material for that.

    On the other hand, taping and joining a couple curved pieces of fabric so they lay smooth, that's well within my experience. The hovercraft skirts follow a much sharper curve, turning around completely 180 degrees in 30 inches on a two-radius curve.
     

  15. ned
    Joined: Apr 2010
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    ned Junior Member

    im 13 and work one day a week and i have learnt to use a sewwing machine and how to do heaps of stuff and ive built myself a gennaker and a jib.
     
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