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Thread: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

  1. #1
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    Default Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    Has anyone done this, or know of anyone who has done it? I'm not talking about a small skin-on-frame canoe, a dug-out, or a coracle, but a substantial boat. I met a guy in Morocco many years ago who was just finishing a 30+ foot boat which he made on the beach with a bare collection of handtools, and as a lifelong woodworker I knew how much work that entailed. I use hand tools a lot, and often make pieces of furniture using no power tools, but I can't imagine building say a 20 foot yacht without the aid of electrickery.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    I suspect the task would take longer and one would have some substantial upper body strength at the journey's end. Also, the value of a truly sharp edge would be deeply appreciated. It's not my thing, but I applaud those who do.

    Jeff

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    The most sophisticated 'hand tool construction' starts with the tree. Size and shape selection for the natural crooks, planks etc. It's then felled and split, so you get perfect longitudinal grain with zero run out. Splitting it quarter sawn gives naturally bevelled planks perfect for lapstrake construction. And so it goes on. You see this with Norse boat construction or did when it was a boat for the village and the village chief headed off into the wood. It extended to the Viking sea chests - you see the perfect grain. It's why Norse construction rewards close study and understanding.

    Very little waste like this too. Modern quarter sawing by machine leaves alot wasted as sawdust. It's still a valid approach but in reality getting the tree is difficult and splitting takes time to achieve. Even getting crooks - tree surgeons want the tree down and cut up for firewood in a day and you are a pain in the ass stopping the getting home, stood there with some pattern.

    I recently bought a 4 tpi saw to see if I could rip through some 4" and frankly gave up. I'm not built like a pit Sawyer would have been or developed 200 years ago. I have something to compare it to - the bandsaw in the corner. Back then they knew of nothing else. I might have another go if I take out some of the set. I think a big bandsaw blade held in a frame saw can work pretty well. I tried an old frame saw and found them a bit springy and flimsy but maybe a new build one would be stiff. Its how the do it on the continent. In actuality if you had the crook green and wet like for a stem, you'd have shaped it alot easier approximately to shape before it dried where the tree fell, rather than sweating sawing a 4" dry piece sat before me. They'd have done more with adze and axe.

    Otherwise it's a game of patience. A frame saw instead of a bandsaw, or cut a line and chisel the waste off running with the grain etc. Scrub planes for hogging off then bench planes etc. Moulding planes/ chamfer planes instead of the router. Basically I think living without a thicknesses, bandsaw or table saw would be difficult because of how wood arrives these days. You could of course saw up ply with a hand saw no issue. The huge blade width of a handsaw compared to a jigsaw makes for a better cut it's just the time thing. There's a line that it becomes a drudgery if you're doing this afterwork for 'fun' and the only skill is maybe in the saw sharpening profile etc.

    In out of the way places, you see pretty big boats built sometimes with a chainsaw getting used 'artistically'. I see furniture makers cutting pieces with a frames saw for example but they are small pieces. When it's 20ft long and thick/ heavy you can't position it as easily (usually you're squatting above the bench) and it takes ages. I tried had sawing some floor boards to bookmatch them side to side and gave up on that too - just cedar. My 'hobby' bandsaw just managed it. If all your timber arrives rough sawn to thickness, hand tooling is no problem, but someone else has done the 'lectric and made the waste.
    Last edited by Edward Pearson; 07-24-2021 at 03:56 PM.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    I canít suppress the asking why.

    Do you want to make a boat or make a point?

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    Not a substantial boat, but I have built with hand tools only. It took me about three days to build a flatiron skiff of lumberyard materials using only hand tools. The boat served well for years. If your design is simple, I think you could build a larger boat this way. Flat bottom or v bottom boats and strip plank boats can use dimensional lumber.
    I think boats are still built by hand on beaches in the Caribbean.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    Quote Originally Posted by JimConlin View Post
    I canít suppress the asking why.
    perhaps one happens to love boats and has the desire to make something beautifull using the tools and methods he enjoy the most?

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    WoodenBoat had an article many years ago about a guy who built boats using handtools. They were open boats under 20' as I recall. But the one electric thing he couldn't get away from was the vacuum cleaner. I found that interesting.
    -Dave

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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    Without electricity, or without mechanical power? Especially for some longer cuts or any sort of lathe work I'd want a spring pole kicker at minimum. Rip cuts with hand tools are one of my least favorite things.

    I'd think more about how using hand tools in certain aspects of construction could result in something special. Here's a handful of pictures from "The Art of Japanese Joinery" that I could see being used in a build that uses hand tools for areas where their use can really influence what you end up with. I'd still use a power drill for a lot of the chisel work though...

    I'm an alright dry stone mason. I can drill holes by hand for quarrying and there's a certain art to it, but I'd have never have gotten as much time shaping stone and building as I have if I didn't use a power drill for that part. At some point the fun and flex of doing things with hand tools is met with how much time it takes.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    Sure you can. Folks did for rather a long time. But why do it? Just find a balance that works for you.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    I used to see West Indian chippies do it, Their planking was milled , roughly, but frames were chopped with a hatchet and adze.
    They operated their rip saws holding the saw backward (to us) ,and used the same arm motion as chopping
    On early jobs, one west indian fellow I hired to do a bit of work,older gentlemen, requested one powertool ... a drill motor.
    He got bit in the ass by a centipede and was laid up for awhile so I hired a much younger chippie from Bequia, he wantewd only one powertool also, an electric radio.

    Last edited by wizbang 13; 07-25-2021 at 09:14 AM.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    I like hand tools, but shoulder problems curtail big things. Doubt I would live long enough to build a 30ft entirely by hand, plus, it takes long enough with power tools and I want to go sailing...
    I do buy rough sawn planks and use the band saw and planer/thicknesser to size stuff. That saves a lot of running about = time and money.

    One of the sailing jounalists visited an amateur wooden boatbuilder on the east coast of UK (30+ft boat). The builder was proud that he was building to a millimeter. The journo was left thinking on the way home. Why?
    My first boat was all hand tools, but only six feet long and my father was a bit worried about me using the jig saw at aged eleven.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    Quote Originally Posted by JimConlin View Post
    I canít suppress the asking why.

    Do you want to make a boat or make a point?
    Sorry, I should have been clearer. I am not planning to do this, but was simply curious about whether anyone had done it recently.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    I have read that two experience sharpie builders could build a sharpie in a week. These were working sharpies 25 to 35 ft LOA. They were built rough and used hard.

    This was in the late 19 century and they they could buy sawed lumber but had no power tools. They probably worked 10 to 12 hours per day, six days a week.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Building a boat using hand-tools only.

    Hand tools can do everything that a power tool, or a machine, can do, they are just a lot slower.
    My first substantial build was a 20 footer, and the only power tool I had was a 3/8 drill, and even that didnt get used much.
    I did though buy the material for stringers and such already cut to their cross sectional dimensions, but the rest was all hand tools.
    There are some advantages to those tools powered by elbow grease, they're generally much faster to set up for a small one off job, and boatbuilding is a long procession of small one off jobs.

    John Welsford
    An expert is but a beginner with experience.

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