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Boatbuilding Tools
A comprehensive list

Written by John Wermescher c.1986, originally published in Wood News Issue #3 April - May 1978.

This issue we will describe boatbuilding tools. While lack of space will prevent me from going into great detail about their actual use, Fred P. Bingham's, an excellent book on boatbuilding, is a good place to study the details of tool use. Marvelously concise, thorough, and generously illustrated with clear drawings, it is a must for any boatbuilder's book shelf.

In buying tools, new or used, you should make intelligent decisions about quality. If you are buying your main electric drill - the one you'll be using day in and day out - get the best you can possibly afford. You can hardly go wrong getting a fine tool and taking care of it. However, there are some cases where you might want to get a cheap drill. If you plan to drive a lot of screws in joining epoxied joints and you know the drill is going to get all fouled up with resin in a short time, get a cheapie. It will probably last until you have ruined it. If you have an operation that requires one drill dedicated to it, but it is used only occasionally, such as some portable drill guide systems, get a cheapie and use it only for that.

Tools used in boatbuilding are basically those used in general wood working, with some additions and one or two subtractions. It really depends on the kind of boatbuilding you are planning to do. If you are building new boats, the type of boat will dictate those few specific tools needed. If you are going to do a lot of restoration work, you will need every kind of tool you can get your hands on.

The appropriate tools skills should be mastered before applying a tool to your boat project. Practice, experiment, get it down right. Then go to your good material and proceed with confidence. I'm a sucker for tools. I always find a good excuse for buying this one or that. I have fun taking it to the shop, reading all about it, playing with it, practicing, finding new ways to utilize it, etc. This way, by the time it needs to go into production, I have pretty well mastered its basic use.

Nearly all the tools you will need for boatbuilding are available at Highland Woodworking, or through special mail order houses supplying the boatbuilding trade. There are some vintage tools you'll hear mentioned in connection with the shipwright's art - the adz, broad axe, broad hatchet, and ship auger. These are traditional boatbuilding tools and are not needed for the average person building today's boat, but I'll cover them briefly for those interested in building more traditional and larger boats.

Boatbuiling Tools Adze Axe The broad axe is just what the name implies, an axe with a very broad blade. It is used to hew logs into large timbers and is swung from a standing position. Work is done on the sides of the log. The broad hatch it is a similar version of the same, used at closer quarters. The woodworking adze is more like a hoe or mattock, and as swung between the legs, straddling the log, to hew the top surfaces. All three are rather dangerous, but in the hands of a master can bring timber surfaces level and smooth. A smaller adze, the lipped adze, is swung somewhat overhead, as in working down the sloping sides of a keel/deadwood assembly in a larger boat, where the lower planking curves down into solid wood aft. It is still used for this type of work in many traditional shops today and can result in very fine surfaces.

The ships auger is a single or double worm auger with no lead screw at the foot. It is used will boring long holes, such as an engine shaft log, or cabin side bolt holes. The lead screw is a omitted as it would tend to lead the auger off in a direction other than dead straight. Directional control is maintained by jigging outside the bore. If you can't find a ship's auger, grind the lead screw off a regular auger. If it needs to be extra long, weld on an extension.

Ships Auger
Ship's (Barefoot) Auger

The normal array of boatbuilding tools can be quite extensive. Since boatbuilders, in addition to hull joinery, also build cabinets, furniture, carve, route, inset, do leather work, canvas work, metal work, rope work, and goodness knows what else, you can hardly have too many tools. The beginner is limited by his needs and bank balance. Will cover tools by function, and in each category, talk about hand tools, power tools, and stationary tools. Remember you can do all with hand tools it's just tougher and takes longer.

The first step you'll take an actual building is to measure and mark. Interesting, in my own inventory of tools, and in the list I compiled for this column, marking and measuring tools represent largest category. Measuring and marking all the angles and curves on a boat can be an extensive operation, so will spend some time with this.

Most obvious and basic are the six-foot folding wood rule and the steel tape. Likewise the level (a couple or more sizes), framing square, small steel square try square (for square cuts and checking other tools), and combination square. You may also want to build yourself a large triangle - I'm talking about maybe a six-footer, out of the quarter-inch plywood, with some cutouts to lighten it and make carrying easier. It should be dead on 90゚ - as most plywood is - and have smooth, perfectly straight edges. This will come in handy for lofting work.

Sliding Bevel Perhaps the most vital measuring tool is the sliding bevel. You'll use it constantly for taking the angle of a cut or bevel off a lofting (full-size drawing of the boat's lines) or off a part of the boat to cut a joining part. Get a good sliding bevel and use it with tenderness. It is forever. You may need a protractor for those cases were angles are given to you in degrees. Depth gauges and contour gauges are mighty handy at times. And, of course, ice picks.

Never heard of ice picks in woodworking? I'll name just four that immediately to mind. The ice pick is an excellent scriber. You may have several other scribers, but an ice pick is hard to beat. It is the perfect depth gauge for nail and screw holes you want to probe to determine the proper length fastener, especially in repair and restoration work. In the same way, it is a good probe to see if the wood under that paint is solid, or as your view feared, a bit punky. Most important, ice picks are used in a lofting: transferring a set of offset measurements from tabular form to full-size curves on the floor. We'll get into lofting in detail later. To connect a series of points taken from the table, a long clear strip of wood is laid on the floor and bent through the points to make a fair curve, i.e. one that is smooth, sweet, and without humps or hollows. The ice picks hold the batten in place. Some people drive nails or brads - not through the batten, but on either side of it - but I prefer ice picks. They are easily driven in with the palm of your hand or a light mallet, and easily jerked out to move around. You'll do a lot of that. Get them by the dozens.

Batten With Ice Picks
Batten With Ice Picks

The battens should be considered measuring/marking tools and a boatbuilder will have quite an assortment of such battens, starting with small 1/4" by 1/4" strips of straight mahogany or ash, two to four foot long, and going up through twenty-footers footers of 1x1 pine or spruce. The important thing is that the battens be of absolutely clear stock, straight grain, and of constant section. Sometimes, where a long slow curve ends in a sharp turn, a batten may be tapered to make that transition. The taper must be smooth and perfect. The batten is the boatbuilder's version of the straight edge, of which you should also have an assortment.

Calipers, compasses (several kinds including trammel points for making a beam compass), dividers, and a traditional marking and cutting gauges are all handy at one time or another, just as they are in most woodworking. One use of a compass (a good one with screw setting and bow spring) is in spiling. This is a process of transferring a curve from one place to another. It is not the complex or arcane mystery people often think. I'll describe it later when we talk about planking, where it is most often used.

Get plenty of pencils, no. 2 and no. 3 regular yellow pencils, some ball point pens, felt-tip pens, and any other marking device you can think of. You'll use them all some time or another. Stand them in an empty can near the workbench. For fine joinery cuts, a marking knife is indispensable. Get a good one that is handy to use. In scribing your line with a sharp marking knife, you are making the initial cut into the wood. You are severing the wood fibers smoothly and cleanly at the surface. Subsequent cutting will not disturb the surface of the wood beyond the line and you will obtain considerable accuracy by working just to that perfect line.

Learn, from the beginning, to make measuring and marking devices of your own, for in time these will become your main tools for layout and marking. I'll discuss just a few; you will invent more as the needs arise. First is a scriber, or what I have rigged up and called a scriber. It is better, to me, than a compass, which is often used for scribing. The point of the scriber follows some contour to which you want to fit another piece. Drill the hole for the pencil anywhere, or a special distance for some particular project, or drill several holes. The important thing in using such a scribe (or compass, or anything like that) is that you keep the tool at the same angle to the work piece throughout. Do not swing it around and tried to keep it normal to the curve. Rather, keep it parallel to the length of the workpiece, or some imaginary line. If you keep changing the angle of the tool relative to the workpiece, you will not get a matching curve.

Another scriber which I'll call a Hidden Line Marker is used where the contour to be followed cannot be seen, but is interrupted by the piece you are marking, such as trimming a deck to follow the sheer curve. These gadgets are easy to make and I usually have one or two lying around me to use. Just glue two tongue depressors, or sucker sticks, to a scrap a pine about an inch thick. Since these fingers are of equal length, one will always be over the other and will mark the same line. Do you see the danger, though, in marking your deck line like this? If you are hull sides have any flare (angle from the vertical) you must allow for that flare on your deck edge, so that the actual edge you cut is outboard of the line you mark. Solution: cut well wide of your marked line, then plane at the flare angle, following the hull side, until you you get the deck edge even with the hull side and at the proper angle all along. It changes, of course, from stem to stern. If you do not do this carefully, you will get a gap between the deck edge and rub rail.

Tick sticks masquerade under many names, but they are all pretty much like the illustration. They are necessary for getting a pattern for an odd-shaped piece, such as a bulkhead. Suppose you have to fit a bulkhead (partial bulkhead, cockpit floor, whatever) into a space on a boat. Clamp a scrap of stiff cardboard or plywood firmly in place in the same plane as the piece will go. Now place the tick stick flat on it in various positions, each of which puts the point on the periphery of the bulkhead. For curves, use as many points as needed to define the curve. On each placement of the tick stick, trace the little wiggles of the tick stick on to the pattern board, and label them. When this is done, tape or tack the pattern board to your bulkhead stock, placed the tick stick in the marked positions on the pattern board, one by one, to get duplicate points on the stock. Followed the dots, mark out, and cut with confidence. If you have smooth curves and, use a batten to fair them through the dots.

Pattern stock is most important - pieces of cardboard such as pad backs, scraps of cheap wall paneling, thin plywood, door skins, thin hardboard, anything you come by. I keep a stack of art pad backs, nice stiff cardboard, for patterns. Easy to cut and snip with razor blade and scissors until a pattern fits, then traced that on to your wood. I believe in patterns.

This is but a partial list of all the measuring and marking tools available. They are all useful one time or another. You'll find yourself making at many as you go further into boatbuilding. Remember, boatbuilding consists very much of inventing devices, jigs, fixtures, do-dads. Be creative. That's the fun.

After you mark, you saw. A good back saw and dovetail saw, the kind that looks like a small back saw, are needed for fine joinery of small parts. Learn how to use these saws properly and they'll do wonders for you. A keyhole saw is handy, especially if you do repair or restoration work. Keep a decent hacksaw around for those bolts, etc. that occasionally have to be shortened. If you like the Japanese saws, these work well for courting cutting joints and do some things the other saws won't do.

Two saws are needed in the power hand tool department: a saber saw, which some people seem determined to call a "jig saw", and the standard hand circular saw. You don't need a big one and less you are building a rather big boat. Best choice is probably the 8-1/4 inch. Get a good one.

Stationary power tools for sawing are real labor savers in boatbuilding. The main one is the bandsaw. Old traditional boatbuilders built their shop around the "ship saw", which is a huge bandsaw whose table remains level and the entire blade assembly tilted. A good shop today will have two bandsaws, a 14" model bandsaw with a thin blade for doing curve curve work, and a larger saw with ripping blade for ripping, resawing, and a host of other things. This almost eliminates the need for a table saw, a lethal beast which has little use in my shop. This is even more true if you have a radial arm saw, another workhorse. If you have a limited budget you can get along fine with a radial arm saw and a 14" saw.

Cutting tools - shearing, pairing, slicing, boring - will be your biggest inventory. You will do most of your shaping with these. The roughest, or should I say primary shaping a very large pieces is done with a woodworking adz, as mentioned before. Other timbers, not so large, are shaped with a drawknife. It is good to have at least one of these handy, know how to use it, and keep it sharp. I mean sharp. Similar to the drawknife is a spokeshave. You will collect them if you do much small boatbuilding. Both of these tools are but special kinds of planes, really, and it is well to understand them and their correct use. The drawknife does the same thing as a plane. But it does it faster, in bigger chunks, and can follow some curves. Same thing for a spokeshave, but on a smaller scale and usually on curves. Exercise extreme care with the drawknife. Used carelessly it can chew up good wood, not to mention otherwise good boatbuilders.

Cabinet scrapers are marvelous tools. If you do much coating with epoxy resin, They are mandatory. The kind that have various curves are handy, but the straight Sandvik type card scrapers are the mainstay. Learn how to sharpen and use it and it will save you many hours of labor and give you a fine surface.

You'll need a number of chisels. The large boatbuilders chisel, called a slick, is used in heavy shaping. Several really fine paring chisels, kept perfectly sharp, are important. Mortise chisels and butt chisels are often are not often needed. A few general bench chisels for some odd rough work might be handy, as will one or two gouges. I like to have a small range of cheap chisels for rough work, some better chisels for medium good work, and three or four really fine chisels for fine joinery.

Hand Planes, of course. The more, the better. You can hardly have too many. Kept sharp and in good order, they will serve you well on most every job. You should have a jointer, a jack, and a smooth in the regular bench planes. A couple or so block planes, one a low angle job, are needed. Add a rabbet plane - I liked the 3-in-1 kind and some special wood planes, maybe of your own making. One wood plane that you'll need if you are shaping concave surfaces is the Japanese scooping out plane, a real jewel for hollowing certain places on planks and oar blades. Where a plank of solid wood fits against a tight turn of the boat's bottom in a round bottom boat, the insides of the planks must often be hollowed to fit well. The traditional boatbuilder used a hollowing or backing plane - a wood plane with a curve.

In addition to your marking knives, which are really cutting tools, you should have one or two wood carving knives, a utility knife, and an assortment of odd knives, such as a kitchen paring knife, butcher knife, butter… you'd be surprised how such things can come in handy in the strangest ways. When prying off moldings and small rails or trim pieces on a repair or restoration job, the butter knife and paring knife are just the ticket.

Another tool which you may need on board and away from shore is a hand drill, the egg beater type, with an assortment of bits. A cordless battery type to day replaces this if you want to invest in one. You will not try to build a boat without an electric hand drill. The 3/8" variable speed reversible drill is best. Get one or two main good ones, and a set of regular twist bits. Keep these sharp. As your work dictates, you may want to add some extra-long bits, Forstner bits, and brad point wood bits. The usual spade bit I find a little rough for most work, though if you keep it sharp, go slow, and use a backing block, it may do well in some cases. For drilling screw holes and countersinking or counterboring for plugs, all in one operation, the taper drill combination set is the best we have present, I'm afraid. Some adjustment has been made for the fact that this bit has a continual taper while screws don't. It require some fiddling to keep the collars in place and it clogs every few holes. Still it is the best thing I have seen to date and if you are drilling a lot of screw holes, it's a real labor saver.

If you counterbore for plugs, you will also need plug cutters, sized to your counter bore diameter. Cut plugs from the waist wood nearest the work are plugging so the color and grain will match best.

One gadget you might find useful if you are boring holes which must be at right angles to the surface is the Portable Drill Guide. It attaches permanently to a drill. Good if you have a spare drill.

If your boatbuilding is going to be sizable, consider an electric hand plane, small or large, depending on your workload. Planing is something you do almost constantly in boatbuilding, and if you have to take off very much material in places, this little tool will save you a lot of sweat. You can get near your final surface with it, then finish off carefully with a bench plane.

The wood router is a good tool that has found its way into nearly all sections of woodworking and has become a real benefit to boatbuilding as well. I use three. An all beat up router is screwed under a flat piece of plywood with a laminate top surface. When I have to run a chamfer or quarter-round on very much wood, I haul this out, clamped it between two benches, and use it like a shaper. I haven't "everyday" router on the shelf for all those little jobs best done this way. Then I have a large router fastened into a scarphing jig. Scarphing is the joining of two pieces, boards or sheets with a long tapering glue joint so that the strength of the wood is maintained as well as its shape and bendability. There are several ways to cut scarphs, which I will describe in a future issue. If you are doing a Scarph much plywood, for long sheets of planking, a gadget called the scarffer for is marketed by the Gougen Brother's of epoxy fame. It attaches to your circular saw and makes an 8 to 1 scarph cut in plywood.

In stationary power tools you will do well to consider a jointer, planer and drill press. Even a cheap drill press is better than none. Hard to do without this. If you can't afford a jointer or planer or combination, you will have to find a friend with these tools, or pay to have such mill work done. I cannot imagine planing sixteen foot boards, all four sides, by hand. Not many, anyway.

When you think of cutting tools, think of sharpening. If you don't keep cutting tools razor sharp they drag, burned, dig, dull and mess up work, at best. I am not a big sharpening buff. If I can get a tool sharpened cheaply and quickly, I send it out. But chisels, plane irons and drill bits need almost constant attention, so you'd best learn to do these yourself. You will need a low speed bench grinder. The fast ones like most shop grinders will burn fine chisel edges and plane irons. Once burned, they have to be retempered. The slow wheel reduces this danger. Get some Japanese Waterstones too, and take good care of them. They are today's sharpening miracle. A few strokes on two or three successive stones will keep your cutting edges in top shape and razor sharp. Accept no less. There is a gadget that mounts to the bench, next to the grinding wheel to sharpen drill bits. Hard to beat. Forstner and spade bits can be sharpened with a small metal file. For router bits, I use only carbide, when they get dull, I send them out. I send out all saw blades. If you are in it for the long haul you may want to consider a Tormek Sharpening System - after-all, time is better spent building boats and working wood.

Woodworking clamps come in a variety types for many uses. However, clamping tools begin with a good workbench, which is itself a clamping tool. I'm talking about the hefty free-standing kind with a good solid vise on one side. Highland Woodworking sells many premium workbenches or for you ambitious types, they also have plans to make your own custom workbench. You must have a good, flat, level surface you can depend on. You will constantly be clamping boards and panels to it. A tail vise is not needed, nor is the row of dogs. But a stop or two at the vise end are mighty handy at times.

For clamping work to the bench, you can't beat the wooden-jaw cam-action clamps. Get a dozen. Good metal bar clamps, 6 or 8 in a couple of sizes, and some longer ones, pipe clamps, and C-clamps round out the list of store bought items. There is no way you can have too many woodworking clamps. You'll probably never have enough. Heavy sash clamps are not likely to be needed often.

Lap Clamp Half the clamping devices you use will you will make yourself. For lap straight planking, where the planks do not fit edge to edge, but overlap each other, a special clamp is needed to hold the laps together while clenching. You can buy these, but you might as well make yourself a bunch if you are going to plank boats lap strake. As needs arise, you will devise clamping gizmos to solve the problems. Old bicycle tool tubes, not fit for holding air, make great tubing. In boatbuilding, especially in laminating veneers, we have come to think of staples as clamping devices. Nails, too. With the epoxy resin as an adhesive, you need only enough pressure to keep parts together until the resin sets.

Something should be placed between metal clamp pads and your wood, to protect it from being marred. I cannot imagine fiddling around with putting wood blocks under clamps each time I use them. I get a sheet of 1/8' cork and glue cork pads to the bearing surfaces of all clamps. When the cork gets buggered up with glue, etc. scrape it off and replace. Learn to gauge pressure on clamps by feel. Often you do not need a ton of pressure on a joint. You just need firm, even pressure to assure good contact and glue distribution. What is important is the direction and evenness of pressure. Learn to use pieces of wood, cambered if necessary, to spread pressure. In laying a deck, for instance, always clamp from the center out so that adhesive spreads out and drives out any trapped air.

Driving tools are hammers, mallets, punches and nail sets. You'll need a variety. Get good ones that feel right. And don't overpower. I cringe when I see someone driving a six-penny nail with the 20 an ounce hammer. This is basic.

Driving tools are those used to mount one part into or through another. If the part is wood, use a correctly sized woodworking mallet to save the finish. When riveting with a ball peen hammer, many light blows will do the job. Heavy blows may cause the rivet to collapse. We're talking about very small hammers here. Driving drift pins into heavy deadwood calls for a sledge.

Joining tools take in hammers used for nailing. The main hand tool is the screwdriver. If you are doing fine joinery and driving bronze screws, please get a set of good cabinet screwdrivers that fit the slots. They will save a lot of marred wood.

A brace and a screwdriver bits are necessary to get the torque on screws larger than 10x2", roughly. Be careful here, as with power drivers, you do not over torque and twist a screw off. Bronze is not as hard as steel and brass is softer yet. You've got to learn to feel the difference between a screw driving in and a screw that is stuck and twisting, ready to sheer off. You can feel it. You will learn this feel very quickly after you have twisted a few off and have to dig them out.

If you find screws binding in holes and twisting off, you have several options. Go to a smaller screw. Drill a larger hole. Wait a few minutes for the screw to cool. Lubricate the screw with beeswax.

Of course, your variable speed reversible electric drill is a great driving tool, with the precautions noted, plus the added caveat of making quite sure the bit fits the slot and it does not slip out. Slip out with a power drill and you can chew up a lot of nice wood. In a production situation, it is often best to have one person drilling the holes and the second person coming along behind driving in the screws.

Quite often we have to make up a transom, rudder, solid bulkhead, ect. out of stock not wide enough for the whole piece. Edge joining is called for, unless you are using plywood. The best tool in the world for edging edge joining is a biscuit joiner (Festool Domino Joiner). Note that biscuit and joiners are not an option where great cross-grain strength is needed. For instance, the rudder on a thirty-foot sailing yacht is a large expanse of wood in many cases. The stresses at sea can be quite high. Edge joining with anything that does not reinforce the cross-grain strength is out of the question. Either make of composite - laminates, plywood laminates, etc. - or join the boards with long drifts for cross-grain strength and warp resistance.

Air-powered staplers are becoming more of a joining tool for boats now that you can obtain bronze and monel staples. Main use for staples is really a clamping device for cold molding techniques. When you're laminating veneers, a lot of staples spread over an area will do a great job. You must make sure they are evenly distributed and have enough of them. If these staples are bronze or monel and stay in the boat, they are then also joining fasteners. If they are merely to apply pressure while resin sets, and are to be removed later, you can spread the clamping action by stapling through tongue depressors. This also aids in removing the staples. As permanent fast centers, staples are excellent for holding and, due to their speed of entry, are less liable to split wood than a fastener pounded in.

Abrading tools are most important, as any of my apprentices will tell you. You need a good assortment of woodworking files and rasps. If you have to start out with just one, get a pattern makers rasp, Nicholson No. 50 or thereabouts, and a square wood rasp. A four-in-hand rasp and file is mighty handy. Half way between abrading and slicing comes Surform Tools, good performers, especially on rough rezoned surfaces.

The tool you can't do without, of course, is sandpaper and sanding blocks. I find it lamentable that so many people consider sanding a thankless drudge to be gotten through as quickly and painlessly as possible. Actually, this is the attitude that makes it so painful. Now, I have no quarrel with the "tool finish" school of woodworking. My hat is off to the person who will touch no sand paper because he wants to work fine wood down with good sharp tools and nothing more. That's great for museum furniture.

It's probably good philosophy for a clamming skiff, too. But if you are going to build boats and paint and varnish them, better get your head around a different angle about sanding. Sanding, in addition to being a good aerobics exercise - don't laugh; do it in plenty of ventilation and wear does mask - is calm, quiet, almost meditative exercise. You can think while you sand. You can day dream a bit, let your mind relax. And all of the while, the wood is becoming smoother, softer and more beautiful. Grain patterns emerge. A glow begins to form. You know you have done something worthwhile.

Naturally, if you have done a good job with your plane or scraper, there is no need to sand initially. If you have coated with rezin, use a scraper to level things off, then sand with 80, followed by 120. Wait until the resin has fully cured before you sand. Scrape before it cures fully. If, after it cures fully, your sandpaper clogs, wash the surface with ammonia and water. Let it dry, then sand.

Rough wood, as on restoration or repair work, should be sanded with 80, then 120 grit usually. More of sanding specifics when we get into finishing. Finishing is standing. Sanding is finishing. The best paint or varnish in the world isn't worth a darn over poorly prepared surfaces.

You should have an assortment of production grade paper, garnet or aluminum oxide, in 60, 80, 120, and 180 grits. Blocks of wood, or better, cork sized to fit a quarter sheet of paper, pulled over the sides of a block are a must. You might put a pad of felt, cork, or rubber on the blocks. For really soft work there are soft pads available.

I buy sanding belts and lengths of belting, all sizes and grits. I am continually gluing such strips to links of plywood, hardboard, cardboard, laminate, veneer, and so on it. I make rasps by gluing coarse belting to 1x2s or whatever. I use emery boards for small places. I use what the automobile people call body files. I call them hull files. Take a 2-to-4 foot strip of plywood, as wide as you are sand belt, glue on a rubber mat, and adhere to the belting to this with 3M Sanding Adhesive. Nail and glue a couple of handles on top and you have the perfect tool for making a hull fair. I have a dozen are so varying with grits and varying degrees of flex, for round hulls, long runs, short work, fine work, whatever. Builders in FRP often use a hard foam block to fair a hull. It is very coarse, fast and wears to the curve you are standing. Boatbuilders call it fartrock. Use some and you'll find out why.

Hull File
Hull File

Power Sanders are a blessing if you have much surface to cover. The little hand block sander, jitterbug, is a dandy. Some of the larger vibrating and orbital models are good too. A belt sander is great at times, but so very risky. You'd better get a good one and learn how to use it. It must be adjusted properly, which the el cheapo models can't be. The body grinder or disk sander can do a lot of damage in a hurry, but if you learn to use one properly, you have a better tactile and visual check on your work then with a belt sander. Tilt the body grinder a bit, and use the rim of the disk. Keep it moving and watch what is happening just beyond the disk. You can get a really fine touch with one of these if you practice.

Fitted with a soft foam pad and a 100 to 120 grit disk, the body grinder becomes a finishing tool. This is the way to go on a FRP hull that needs to be painted. Does anyone still believe the gel coats last forever?

I have had drawers full of disk, drums, birds and flappers of every kind. You can hardly have too many sanding gadgets, many of which will you will make yourself.

Stationary Power Sanders are the belt, disk, and drum sanders, all useful at times. The little bench top belt and disk combo is very nice. A good way to use your belt sander is to jig it up in a permanent horizontal or vertical stand and consider it is a stationary tool. The usual shop grinder is for wearing down heavy metal ax heads, bolts, straps, etc. the slow grinder is for sharpening.

Cleaning tools are important. Unless you have a separate "clean room" for painting and varnishing, cleaning is vital aspect of your work. I rarely use a shop brush or whisk broom, but take a shop vac to everything that gets dusty. If you have a shop with stationary power tools, it is good to have a dust collection system. It saves a lot of mess. As an in-between measure, you can devise ways to hook the shop vac to each stationary tool.

A few small syringes are good to suck or blow dust out of screw holes after they are drilled. Rags, towels, etc. are needed to wipe down surfaces for inspection and finishing. Before you varnish, use a tack rag thoroughly, wiping carefully over every surface to be finished.

Finishing tools, or course, include brushes of all kinds. For fine enamel work, get the best brushes you can possibly buy and take care of them. Before each use, rinse the brush in the solvent that thins the paint you will use. After use, wipe all the paint you can on newspaper, then rinse the brush in some dirty solvent you have in jars for this purpose. Jig it up and down and press it against the bottom of the can you are using. When you feel you have dissolved all the pigment out that you can, drain the brush, then so outside and shake it well, tapping it against you outstretched shoe. Now go to a jar of somewhat cleaner solvent and repeat. Keep doing this until you get to a clear solvent and it remains clear after rinsing. Now wash the brush in warm, soapy water, rinse well, and hang it up soaking wet.

For varnish work, get throw-away foam brushes. In many instances, where you are not cramped and can work freely, these foam brushes do a fine job and leave no brush marks. Varnish can be stretched outmore thinly. And you do not have to clean a bruch when you finish.

A complete shelf of solvents, jars, cans, etc. is part of the finishing inventory, along with paints and varnishes. You should also invest in some strainers. Most paint and all varnish forms a skin on the surface if much air is left above the unused portion. This can be prevented with the use of Bloxygen Finish Preserver, which lays down a blanket of heavier-than-air inert gas that blocks oxygen from reaching the finish. If a skin has formed on finish, it must be cut out (use your kitchen paring knife) and the stray lumps and bits strained before use. A vital finishing tool - do not be without it - is a tight-lidded metal can for disposing of solvent rags. (NOTE: Spontaneous Combustion Warning - the best way to dispose of finish and oil-soaked rags). No one can afford a fire. If you are painting with materials that are the least bit toxic (and most paint solvents are), ventilate well and/or use a toxic vapor mask.

If you are using resin, and I think mainly in terms of epoxy resin, there are special tools to gather for its use. Unlike some other materials, epoxy resin must be mixed in precise ratios. If you are not using large amounts, get mini=pumps, which are plastic, inexpensive, and screw onto the containers. If you are going to do any large-scale resin work, consider their piston or gear pumps which, while not cheap, save a lot in waste and time.

Don't use good brushes - epoxy will ruin them. Buy bulk glue brushes. Understand that brushing resin is not like using a paint brush. You must regard the brush as a flexible spatula and use it to move the resin around on the surface and out it where you want it. A squeegee works well in some situations.

Safety equipment is a good follower to resin. If you are going to use epoxy, for goodness sake respect it. Some people are sensitive to epoxy right off. You will know it by the immediate appearance of rashes or other symptoms. They can never use the stuff. The rest of us can become sensitized sooner or later. Why let that happen and lose the use of such a powerful tool? Wear protective skin cream and disposable gloves. Ventilate the area where you are working, and if you are using large amounts, wear the appropriate toxic vapor mask.

Wear a mask whenever you are creating a vapor or dust. We hear more and more that these materials will nail us in time if we do not prevent inhalation. Sanding "green" resin, resin that has nut cured fully, say 3 or 4 days, is quite dangerous, not only to your lungs but to skin. wear skin cream.

Any woodworker knows, or should know, that goggles or a face shield are imperative when grinding or doing work that makes chips fly. If you are going to operate a high speed machine, wear eye protection. If you think it can't happen to you, it probably will.

The last category of boatbuilding tools I'll call jigs, fixtures and et ceteras. People see all manner of weird contraptions in a boat shop. There are just too many odd operations for which no tool is manufactured. You have to make your own. That is part of the fascination of this work: the constant challenge to your ingenuity. The word ingenuity comes from the same root as the word engineer. I can't name all the jigs and fixtures you'll engineer in your boatbuilding - you will come up with them. Weights - lead chucks for weighing down things - are useful. Heat sources such as hot gun, hair dryer, or the tiny hot tool for burning designs into wood all find use. you may need a variety of heat sources.

Pry bars, table knives, and spatulas. Mirrors for seeing under decks and places where you can't poke your head. Protective battens, which are 2x4s covered with felt for supporting pieces you don't want to scratch. If you resin a lot of pieces, you'll want to make spike boards. Drive brads in a pattern of one inch squares through a piece of thin plywood. This fakir bed will hold your resined pieces up so that you can remove them easily and have only small dimples to sand out.

Spanish Windlass

Don't forget the old Spanish windlass, a device you'll use many times in boatbuilding. Crude, but mighty effective in pulling boards together. Experiment, engineer, devise, scheme, be creative. that is what's fun about boatbuilding.

Written by John Wermescher, an Atlanta commercial artist and boatbuilder.




Originally published in Wood News Issue #3 April - May 1978.

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