Share your favorite boatbuilding/repair tools and techniques

What are your favorite wood boatbuilding tools?

What are your favorite building/repair techniques?

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I bought a used cordless oscillating tool this past summer.  People say "I wonder how I did without this..."  I know: lots of minute hand sanding, careful chisel work, even more careful jigsaw work, several rasps, and lots more minute hand sanding.

I HIGHLY recommend an oscillating tool, even if it's the $20 corded one from Harbor Freight.  I'm getting chinesium blades for $1/ea on eBay and they're actually sharp and durable!  Especially for a decked boat--there are a ton of small crevices and grooves when making deck gutters and hatch lips, and epoxy/glass is really hard to get out once it gets in the wrong spot.

I honestly use my table saw more, but that goes without saying.  I use the oscillating tool only seconds at a time, but its use saves me cumulative hours.  I love my random orbital sanders, but the oscillating tool again helps me in the corners the ROS can't reach.  If you have a cordless tool system, definitely buy an oscillating tool to match.

Almost everything I do is fiberglassed because I'm into S&G boats.  My favorite technique is to pre-saturate the glass.  Rather than trying to align it on the work and slathering it with epoxy...or wetting the wood and laying the dry glass on the wet epoxy....I prefer to precut the glass, then lay it out flat on a piece of visqueen.  Dump the epoxy on it and spread it evenly with a squeegee.  Saturate the wet wood and then pick the wet glass up and smoosh it into place and squeegee it smooth.  Works GREAT on vertical surfaces, taping fillet joints, etc.

And if you'll be fairing it later, you can wet the glass, wet the wood, then thicken your remaining epoxy and spread that on top of the wet glass.  Smoosh it in place and squeegee smooth.  Because it's thickened and applied on top of the glass, it won't soak through the glass and "float" the glass like it would if you simply use too much epoxy.  This saves a fill coat and the time required to apply one fairing coat.

Sorry no pics because I always have wet gloves when I'm in this step!

this router guide made southco c5 latch installation a breeze with exact results every time.  clamp or screw it down, run the router around inside the frame, and your latch hole is exactly where you want it.  

I hadn't wanted to buy a pattern bit with the guide bearing just for this one use.  The frame is awesome.

A good friend of mine can no longer do any wood working. He had a full shop of tools that he had to sell. He did loan me his Festool Rotex Random Sander. What a quality tool! I have several ROS 's now but nothing compares. I like the sanding dics as well. The heir is very little vibration, just smooth operation that results in a fine surface. I have used up a lot of sandpaper in my day and I like the fact that the discs last much longer.

Another favorite tool hasn't gotten much use but when I needed it wow! I call it a kitten's paw pry bar. It is only eight inches long but after a few minutes on my grinder it was a wonderful tool to place between the frame I had put in backwards. The bevel was going the wrong way but with a slight tap of a small hammer the bronze ring shank nails were cleanly cut off. Popped the nail heads back through the skin and after turning the frame around I drilled new holes and reset the nails. Slick as a whistle. I used to sell Takagi woodworking tools and bought one of them for prying off moldings and such. The end of the tool I like was shaped like a trouts tail. From the factory they are about 1 1/4" wide and 1/32" thick. The other end can be used like a small hammer and has jaws that will capture the head of a small brad or nail. Rock the bar on its hammer like fulcrum point and the brad it out. Also useful for pulling staples left over from stapled down foam padding for carpet!

Rick Newman

I made the wooden drilling jig for lining up the bolt holes on the gunwales of my drift boat. And the other tools have been extremely useful restoring the wooden boats. Baco scrapers and a painter’s tool. 

So many things I learned on my first boat, I could write a small book, and build a nicer boat in 1/2 of the time.  Things that come to mind for a Decked Dory are :

1.  Plan everything first if at all possible, hinges, latches, gasket brand, drains, and clearances, etc...   Don't get excited and put your boat together and then start fitting and adapting things once it is shaped like a boat.  This will put your body into crazy positions and result in much ibuprofen.  

2.    If possible, build a dedicated shop space with lots of huge work benches and do everything you can on a workbench at appropriate height for you to be comfortable.  For example, hatches can be completely fabricated, tested, painted, and fully operational before you secure that portion of the deck to the boat.  This way you can even inspect the closing tolerances from the inside.  

3.     If you are building a nice boat that you want to last many decades, don't bother trying to go cheap on hardware or materials.   I spent hours and some dollars trying to work around expensive southco C5 latches and it was not worth it for me.  If you are investing hundreds of hours into your project get the right stuff.  As a DIY type person I always try to outthink the easy retail solution but on this project every time I gave up and bought the right tool or proper material, life got much better.  Of course if you are just making a duck hunting boat from 2 sheets of plywood and don't care what it looks like, good on you, that's another story.    

4.     Respect your wood as soon as you buy it.  I was aware that dents, screw holes, sloppy fillets, etc... could all be fixed and faired later.  well... they can be, but I wasted more than a week or two of my life touching up things that could have been avoided.  Plywood especially will dent and scratch during transport and handling.  This may seem obvious to a woodworker but not so much to a newbie.  

5.     Keep the Knuckle/pin part of your piano hinge a bit of a distance from where the gasket will strike the hatch surface.  Of course you will probably have a gutter of some sort running between the  hinge and the coaming around your hatch, but if this distance is short, like 3/4 of an inch or less the hatch sort of scrapes the gasket back towards the hinge, rather than coming right down on top of the gasket.  This may depend on gasket thickness to some extent, but examine this relationship closely.  If the gasket is close to the hinge the ratio of rearward movement once the hatch strikes is quite high, especially with half inch thick hatches.  This is another reason to build your hatches and decks on a workbench instead of in your boat.

6.     IF you are new to resin, it's hella strong when laid up with cloth and wood and it results in amazing rigidity.  Overbuilding your boat is easy to do and results in a heavy, harder to maneuver, boat.  I would bet most beginners overbuild.  In reality if you hit a sharp rock at speed with a heavy boat you are going to punch a hole in most things.  A decked dory for big water is a different thing from a drift boat that will constantly be rowed into shallow water by a guide every weekend.  When you read what other people decide upon for their layup pay attention to where they are and what they plan to do with their boat.  

7.    This is just my 2 cents and I'm early in my boat building addiction.  I was going to have a backyard-covid-scrapwood fire tonight but it's raining so I typed this instead, I might be wrong, but I hope I saved someone some effort.  This is such a small and obscure hobby I think everyone probably has something to contribute.  


These are fantastic tips.  You don't sound like a novice boatbuilder!
I have learned most of these along the way but never thought to write them out as eloquently as you did.  This is must-reading for a first-time builder.

A couple pointers learned from my experience...

1) Stop working on your boat when your mind is tired or distracted. Otherwise costly mistakes can be made.

2) Keep a clean, organized, and well lit shop area. Doesn’t need to be fancy. Of the three, good lighting is #1. 

3) There is a lot of useful information on the internet about all sorts of skilled crafts. Take the time to educate yourself. But be discerning and use your better judgment.

4) Use marine-grade lumber for your marine projects. Non-marine woods rot in short order. 

5) Keep up your momentum. Not everything about building a boat is fun and it’s probably a lot more effort and cost than you planned for in the beginning. But just keep chipping away at the small tasks one by one.

6) Don’t rush through the project with a looming deadline. That will suck the fun right out of everything.

7) You’ll have to build things to make things. Such as jigs, templates, frames, tools, etc.

8) You’ll need skills on carpentry, finishing, fastening, fiberglassing, glueing, painting, and varnishing.

9) Be safe. Use eye and hearing protection that allows you to focus on your cutting, sanding, grinding, drilling, etc. 

10) Ask for help. When in doubt, seek advice. This is a good place for that. 

Shawn, I'm glad you started this thread, because the same thought has been running through my mind as I build my current boat.  There's some great advice, jigs, fixtures and ideas already mentioned and I'll only add a couple of things:  1.) Festool Rotex 150 sander... already mentioned, worth mentioning again.  Life changing.  2.) And I hesitate to even mention this because I don't know if this is even still available: Straight line sander, but more importantly, the flexible sanding base.  I bought this one years ago when I was building canoes for BassPro Shops, and it has been a lifesaver for sanding curved surfaces... perfect for a dory.

I second Jason's suggestion of a straight line sander. i had to work on a tight budget. Straight line sanders demand a high flow of air so I borrowed a second air compressor from a friend and plumbed them so they would both run at the same time. It took some juggling and fine tuning to get them to work together. I need more air flow than my simple nailer air compressor could provide.

Harbor Freight used to have a unit for 30 to 40 dollars. They also have a good return and replacement policy for tools that quit working. Which all three of the units I had eventually did! Since they were only a ten minute drive away it wasn't much of a hassle to go get another one. While I wasn't doing canoes I didn't need the rounded adapter. I however did go through a lot of sandpaper as I learned which epoxy and paint techniques worked the best and the worst! I became good friends with one of the guys at a local auto body supply and paint store. He still helps me to this day when I need assistance and knowledge.

I also found that a sharp knife designed for scribing line for wood working was very useful. Now if I just could get my saw blades to follow the lines accurately I would be set.

Another tool I like and use a lot are Japanese pull saws. They almost allow me to make an accurate cut! Some of the blades are not very resistant to breakage however. I almost had a salesman give me a new blade when I told him the teeth had fallen off!

Rick Newman

How did I not know about straight line sanders?  Like a powered longboard?

I'll have to check out a Rotex sander.  Thanks gents.

I have done a bit of body work and hung around body shops, hence the knowledge. They are a great tool and you can buy a variety of "grits" of sandpaper already cut to fit between the clamps. Thr Festool sander I used is a wonderful tool. Now if I could just get a discount on sandpaper!



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