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Building Argonaut Jr

Simon Lake in Argonaut Jr.
(1) Newspaper photo.

(2) Drawing apparently based on
the retouched newspaper photo.

Dimensions: 14 ft long, 4 1/2 ft beam, 5 ft keel to deck, 7 ton displacement.

(1) The shallow ruts in the sand could not be the results of a 7 tons of submarine So the majority of Argonaut's ballast would have been removed when she was on dry land.






(3) Model done for the Royal
Navy Submarine Museum.
See more photos here.

(4) Non functioning replica built
by the Lions Club.

(5) Lion's Club Replica

(6) High resolution photo with
good details.

(7) From #6. Anchor Capstan

(8) Possibly an air valve.

(9) From #6. Vent or air supply
pipe?  Viewport.

(10) From #6. Tow Bar and flat
bar to secure ends of planks.
Nailer for the bulwark?

(11) Rare photo of the top view
of Argonaut Jr. showing its
double ender hull design. Likely
the last one and the opposite side
of the boat from #6

(12) Double ended flat iron.

(13) From #10 Bulwark over
tow bar.

(14) Apparently an untouched
photo of the abandoned

(15) Contrast altered photo
shows the wheel drive sprocket
has teeth for a roller chain type

(2) Drawing seemingly make from photo (1).

(3) The Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, England, has a model of the Argonaut Jr. There are no plans or description of the interior details so this model was likely based on the same photos available to us and presented here. While it is very helpful to have the creators' input, it only represents a logical possibility. We are much obliged to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum for having provided detailed photos of the model.  See: RN Sub Museum

(4) The Lion's Club replica is non functioning but they apparently lowered the height of the end bulwarks. I think that would be more likely as tall end bulwarks would have blocked the fore and aft view from the sail's portals.

(5) Another shot of the Lion's Club replica.

(6) Unfortunately the only photo with good detail shows Argonaut Jr. as a derelict.

(7) On the end toward the dive wheels there is an anchor capstan. There was an anchor on each side at different ends of the boat.  This would allow the anchors to be lowered to the bottom allowing the boat to float up off the bottom in order to give more clearance for a diver to exit the bottom hatch. It's a logical conclusion as Simon provided us with a detail drawing of the Argonaut I that shows two such anchors at each end.

(8) This looks like an air valve. Possibly for a diver, but on the Argonaut I, Simon has the diver's air line deployed through the diver's hatch. 

(9) Good detail of the viewport and what was likely a ballast tank vent.

(10) Iron strap for towing. One was located on each end. Another is pictured in #10  Flat bars are used to secure the ends of the longitudinal planks.

(11) (12) The rare top view of Argonaut Jr. contributed by Tim Smalley, shows that the ends are symmetrical. It was described as having the shape of a "flat iron" and that would be accurate as some antique flat irons were pointed at both ends. Today a boat builder might call the Argonaut Jr. a double ender.  Also in this photo you can see what looks like the marks from two long hinge plates in the front side of the sail on either side of the view port.

(13) Deck with partial remains of the bulwarks.

(14) Argonaut: The Submarine Legacy of Simon Lake  lists the man in this photo as Simon Lake's grandfather. He is apparently standing on a structure inside. Most likely the ballast tank.

(15) Tim Smalley enlarged and adjusted the contrast on the photo of the chain drive to reveal sprocket teeth.  Now we know Simon used a type of roller chain.  We were really pleased with the finding, because we had already decided to use roller chain for Argonaut Jr. 2010.


Argonaut Jr. 2010's Hull Design

One possible interior layout
of the original Argonaut Jr.
by Tim Smalley

We know nothing of the interior of the Argonaut Junior except what is subtly reveled by the locations of pipes are hardware on the outside of the hull.  We also desire to build the Argonaut Jr. 2010; the modern version with features that Simon wouldn't have used on his original version of the Argonaut Jr. because the materials didn't exist, his budget money was limited or he omitted because he only needed Argonaut Jr. as a simply a proof of concept submarine.  There was no need for the little pine submarine to survive beyond six or seven months it was needed to prove a point.

So at this point the the Argonaut Jr. of 1894 and the Argonaut Jr. of 2010 part ways.  Epoxy laminated plywood sheets will insure that the hull remains structurally sound even though left in the water for months.  It also provides a bonding strength greater than any glue available to Simon in 1894. The skipper of the Argonaut Jr. 2010 will also have the added safety of drop weights that can be released for the bottom of the hull.  This will allow the submarine to surface even when it is partially flooded, the air supply is exhausted or one or more of the ballast tanks have failed.  We will also use scuba tanks and not a soda fountain tank, and we will fill the tanks at a dive shop and not with a hand pump.  We think Simon would be happy with the changes. :)

From the photos above, it looks like Simon built the original Argonaut Jr's hull from two layers of 1 x 6 inch thick pine boards,  Back in 1894 an 1 x 6 board was really 1 inch think and 6 inches wide.  It was not the 3/4 inch thick, 5 1/2 inch wide board you find in the lumber yards today..  Or 2010 version will use plywood but only 3/4 inch thick on the sides and 1 inch thick on most everything else.  The reason we can use thinner material is due to the additional strength of plywood.  The 1 inch thick boards Simon used were not joined together except by nails.  Each plywood sheet is make of multiple thinner layers of wood called plies. Wood is naturally strongest along the direction of the grain in the wood than forms as a tree grows.  So on ply in plywood will have it's grain running end to end and the next ply that is glued to it will have it's grain running side to side.  We will then take 1/4 inches thick sheets of plywood and glue them to together with epoxy to make thicker water proof sheets.  So 3/4 inch think epoxy laminated plywood turns out to be better that two layers of 1 inch thick pine boards.

The Argonaut Jr. will also be an ambient submarine, meaning that was we dive, air pressure is added to the inside of the submarine to counter act the force of the water pushing in on the outside of the hull.  Simon did the same thing, which was why he could open the bottom divers hatch without flooding.  We can actually dive the submarine as deep as we like, as long as we keep adding air inside. But that does not mean that the hull can be very thin because it must still carry a lot of load.

Designing an ambient submarine so easiest to do if broken down into two steps.  First you think about the submarine as an aquarium. Close the top hatch, then turn the whole thing upside down and fill it with water.  An ambient submarine traps air underwater and that air pushed upward on the inside of the submarine with the same force that the water applies when the submarine is turned into an aquarium. Since we know the volume inside the submarine we know that the it will need to hold about 5 tons of force.  The second step is to flip her back upright and empty the water out and attach all of the lead weights you need to keep 5 tons of air from taking you to the surface.  And, you likely guessed it; that's 5 tons of lead.

(1) Cut plywood for cabin deck

(2) Laminated beams

(3) Drop weight system

(4) Sole & ballast tank partitions

(5) Ballast tank top

(6) Hull ends

(7) Top frames

(8) Deck and top frames

(9) Vertical frames

(10) Sides

(11) Conning tower and hatches

(12) Interior hardware and trim

Building Steps

(1) CNC cut one layer of plywood for the cabin deck.  This will be used as a template for laying out the top and bottom laminated beams that from the curved sides.

(2) Layout two 4x8' sheets of 3/4" plywood, end to end and join them to make a base for forming the top and bottom longitudinal beams.  Cover the base with plastic and screw 2x4 blocking to the base on 16" centers along the inside of the beams curve using the deck cutouts in step (1) as a template.  Use epoxy to laminate 5, 1x4s together to form each of the curved bottom beams and 6, 1x4s for the top beams.  Trim the beams to 14 feet and join them at the ends with a 4x4 using a mortes and tenon joint in the bottom beam. Use the template to mark and cut for the top beams to receive the vertical 4x4 frames.

The epoxy will be jgreer.com; AeroMarine 300/11 for bonding, and AeroMarine 300/21 faster drying for the exterior coat.  Coverage is 70 sq/ft/gal

(3) Notch the top of the bottom beams to accept the steel angles for the drop weight system.  Install and test the drop weight system.  The drop ballast consist of approximately 3,200 pounds of lead blocks.

(4) Install the bottom of the hull which is 4 layers of 1/4" plywood laminated together with epoxy.  Joints between the sheets will be staggered. The bottom is glued and screwed to the bottom beams and then routed with 1/2 inch deep grooves and pockets to receive the 1 inch wide ballast tank partitions and vertical 4x4" frames.  One layer of 4" wide fiberglass cloth will be used on both sides of the partition joints to create a filet.

(5) Install the 1" laminated top of the ballast tanks which is also the cabin deck. The bottom side of the cabin deck is routed with 1/2" groves to fit over the vertical ballast tank frames. One layer of 4" wide fiberglass cloth will be used to secure the ballast tank top to the tank partitions.  The open areas at the ends of the ballast tanks will house a total of 6,800 pounds of lead bricks, and be covered with hatches cut from 3/4" plywood.

(6) The hull sheeting for the sides and ends is 3/4" ply, laminated from 4, 5mm (3/16") ply sheets.  The ends will be screwed and glued to the vertical 4x4 corner post, then set in place and secured in the same manner to the bottom frames. 



(7) (8) Pre assembled top fames and deck will set in place on the hull ends.  The top frames are build in the same manner as the bottom frames except they are not 5, but 6, 1x4s laminated together, and then notched to receive the 4x4 vertical beams. Image #6, show the top frames without the deck so the notches are clear, but it will be assembled with the deck already attached as shown in image #7. 

The deck will 1" thick and constructed like the sole and bottom.



(9) The vertical 4x4 beams  are installed and secured to the ballast tank partitions and the top frames.

(10) The 4x4 vertical beams are planed to match the curvature of the bottom, sole, and deck.  Then the side is laminated into place from four layers of 5mm (3/16") ply to form a 3/4" laminate.


(11) The conning tower is 1" laminated ply and the  top and bottom hatches are also 1" think with an additional 1/2" of laminate recessed 1" from the edges to form a area for a compression seal.



(12) Finally the stanchions, bulwarks, bumpers and all of the wheel drive and steering hardware, etc. This is a view with the sides removed.




Building the Laminated Beams

Wooded ship building in 1800's

Mike and Kay putting the
blocks together.


First beam, glued and clamped
into position to dry.


Cutting blocks for the frame.

Mike, Brian and Doug pushing
and clamping the glued boards
to the shape of the frame.

Second beam done.

Kay putting epoxy on the boards
for the last beam.

Stacking the boards and putting
epoxy on the back sides.

The stack ready to clamp.

All clamped into the jig.

Axel support blocks are
laminated 2 x 8s.
Using a power planer to smooth
the top and bottom of the beams.

Simon Lake likely had some large curved beams supporting the frame of his Argonaut Jr., but he may very well have picked them up from an old ship. In 1894 along the New Jersey coast large curved wooden beams would have available from dialect wooden ships.

Today, with large trees in short supply most large wooded beams are laminated or glued together from smaller pieces of wood.  Laminating wood also has the advantage that thin planks of wood like the 1x4's we are using can be bent into a curved frame with wet glue between them. When the glue dries the boards can be removed from the frame but the glue will hold them in their bent shape. Next time you see large wooden beams in a building, take a closer look to see if  they are laminated.

Second beam clamped in place. It only takes about 2 hours to do when you have done it before. And it's great to have friends helping out when you're getting the first one done.



Cutting the Plywood the CNC Router Way

CNC Router Table

(1) Hauling home the plywood

(2) 2D CAD drawing of the
parts we need cut from plywood.

(3) Convert CAD to G-Code
Sample G-Code

(4) Run the G-Code

(5) Pick up the pieces

CNC or Computer Numeric Control means that a robot is cutting the wood.  We will use a CNC Router Table with 3 motors that move the router up, down and around the table in order to cut a piece of plywood that is laying on top of the table.  Their is no need for measuring, marking, or cutting with a hand held power saw.  Read more about Our CNC Table.

Step 1  Get some plywood

Find a friendly local lumber yard like M&M that will supports small projects for schools and buy some lumber.  (1) There she is! Argonaut Jr. sitting on her trailer.  Still a lot to be done, but 70 sheets of 1/4 inch plywood is a good place to start.  We are using 1/4 inch Luan Plywood,   it's not marine plywood which would be higher quality, but not higher enough quality to justify the 3 fold price increase. Read more about our Plywood & Glue.

Step 2  Use CAD to Create Shapes to be Cut

We have used Computer Aided Design or CAD software to much of the design and planning for the Argonaut Jr.  Read more about that here Computer Design.  (2) The modeling work was all done in 3D so we convert those shapes to 2D and arrange them so they fit within 4 x 8 foot sheets of plywood. All of the parts will be laminated from multiple layers of plywood so color coding and labeling the sheets will help us sort out the many parts.  The plywood is also 3 ply, meaning it is constructed from 3 layers of wood with the grain of the middle layer running from 4 ft from side to side and the top and bottom layers running the longer length 8ft direction or 90 degrees to the middle ply.  This makes the plywood a little stronger from side to side, so when we glue up our


pieces from multiple sheets of plywood, we will do the same trick and turn every piece 90 degrees to one below it when possible.  If you look at the layout diagram you can see that many of the pieces are on multiple plywood panels but they are turned 90 degrees.

Step 3  Convert the Drawing from CAD to G-Code

CAD programs can save the drawing as in a file format called Drawing eXchange Format  or DXF.  The DXF then needs to be converted to a G-code file that will be used by the CNC machine.  The G-code files also have additional instructions added for turning on the router on and off, lower and raising the cutting bit, and so forth.  (3) We use LazyCam to covert the the

CNC Control Box

 CAD drawing for part of the bottom and top deck in the illustration. The resulting G-code is basically move the router to the starting location, turn it on and the list each location it is to move to in an X, Y and Z coordinate. For example the line "X-0.1430Y9.9716" tells the machine to move the router to -0.1430 on the X axis and 9.9716 on the Y axis.

Step 4  Run the CNC using the G-Code

Finally the fun step we use Mach3 on the CNC machine to read the G-Code and uses it to control the router. The Mach3 software runs on a computer that is connected to the CNC machine with a printer cable.  (5) A control box on the CNC machine takes the instructions and runs the motors on the table that actually move the router.


Laminating Plywood


The curved sides of the hull will be formed just like the beams we laminated above. However we are laminating the flat parts too. There are three advantages, first we can simply butt joint sheets in order to make a single sheet of plywood that is 14 feet long for both the top and bottom of the submarine. Second, the epoxy provides a strong water barrier between each sheet of plywood. And third, we can use as many layers as required to achieve the strength needed for the specific part.




Putting the Hull Together

Bottom frame

Top side of the bottom fame

Top Deck

The beams will be on the inside so the deck is upside down.  No
nails or screws are used, just lots of  epoxy.  More than 1000
pounds of  weights are then added to help press the parts together.

With help from Mike, Hunter,
and Brian, we got at good start
on the conning tower and drop
weight system.  We are using
fiberglass tape along with the
epoxy to construct the conning
tower as it is one of the most
critically structural pieces.

The drop weights system will
allow us to release 1,600 pounds
of lead weights from the bottom
of the submarine in order to
surface in an emergency.


Kay sanded the conning tower
portals in preparation for epoxy.

Dennis Tucker, Tina, Maya, and
Sicily joined us for an evening of
putting on the epoxy.


The tanks with their plumbing
stubbed out and epoxied to
make them waterproof.

Ballast Tanks
We've started adding all of the
hardware, vents, flood valves,
and other hardware that must be
in place before we can close up
the sides of the ballast tanks.

Framing and Ballast Tanks

Hull ends, previously laminated
were epoxied and clamped on.


Simon apparently positioned the
portals in the ends of the hull to
give the helmsman a view of the
bottom n both directions.

Sides planed and sanded.

Applying thickened epoxy glue.

First layer of the hull side.

Sealing the ballast tanks with
fiberglass tape and epoxy.

Getting ready to roll her onto her
side with the gantry crane.

Mike lifting the Argonaut Jr.
which is about 1 ton at this point.

Aden, Mike and Kay clean the
first layer in preparation for
more.  We get em started early.

Mike, Carl and Doug apply
epoxy to the one of the

All done. The laminates are
covered with plastic and
weighted down with lead ingots.

We got the second side on but the rain was not kind to our epoxy so Hunter, Mike and Doug spend the day sanding off the mess left on the second side.


Cutting the portal openings.

Only epoxy, no screws, bolts or nails were used to secure any of bumpers, bulwarks, or stanchions to the hull which helps to reduce the possibility of leaks.

In the original Argonaut Jr., it looks like Simon used portals taken from an old boat.

For our Argonaut Jr. we used 3/4 inch acrylic with 1/4 inch steel rings on the outside.

The 8 inch view ports will be bolted over a 6 inch opening using 4, 1/4 inch bolts.
Simon Lake in Argonaut Jr.

With the hatch and portals in place, she looks like the original Argonaut Jr.

Carl, our son is out in the heat helping cast the lead ballast weights, while our grandson Aden and I work installing the inspection port hatches inside the air-conditioned submarine.
Trailer Ramps,
Drop Weights,
Air System Plumbing,
and a really hot day.
Rushing to complete the Air Supply and Electrical Systems.
Checking for leaks in dry dock.  And another really hot day.

Bottom Frames



Top Deck











Conning Tower

Drop Weights







More on the Top Deck and Conning Tower








Framing and Ballast Tanks









Putting on the Fist Side.





Sealing the Ballast Tanks.












Adding Plywood Layers





Sanding the Hull








View Ports













Kay completing the final epoxy seals inside the ballast tanks by working through the inspection portals.


Mike Bearden building a  ladder that has made it easy to climb down.  No more crawling thought the divers hatch!


Ballast Weights &
Inspection Portals








Fitting Her Out