How to Make Wooden Boat Cleats

Written by michael mackenzie
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How to Make Wooden Boat Cleats
A homely but functional wooden dock cleat. (klampe image by Wolfgang Reiss from

Dock lines and running lines are always fastened at a cleat so they can be released quickly and easily. Wooden cleats, made and mounted properly, are just as strong as metal cleats, but much less expensive. They are small, practical sculptures, and will be pleasing to the eye as they perform their important function on your wooden boat.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Stencil paper
  • Jigsaw or band saw
  • Rasp and wood files
  • Drill and bits
  • Flat countersink
  • Sandpaper
  • Varnish or paint

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  1. 1

    Make a sketch of the size and shape of your cleats, then draw a pattern on stiff paper. The length of the horns should be six times the circumference of the line. The mouth of the cleat must be slightly larger than the diameter of the line so the line will pass through freely and not pinch. Plan the size and measurement of the bolt holes and mark them on the pattern.

  2. 2

    Select the wood blocks for your cleats, choosing tight-grained hardwood such as locust, maple, ash or teak. Buy blocks that are slightly thicker than the width of your finished cleat.

  3. 3

    Cut out the shape from the pattern, fold it in half to confirm that the two horns are symmetric. Draw a pencil line around the pattern to transfer the shape to the block.

  1. 1

    Cut out the rough shape on a band saw or jigsaw. Take care that the blade is exactly vertical to the plane of the block so that both sides are identical.

  2. 2

    Mark the location of the mounting holes making sure they are centred. Drill and countersink the bolt holes. A drill press will help you drill straight and vertical holes, but if you take your time, you can drill proper holes using a hand drill.

  3. 3

    Shape with files or a rotary shaper such as a Dremel tool, then sand the piece carefully. Since lines will be running through your cleat, be certain the surfaces are fair and smooth.

  4. 4

    Apply a first coat of diluted varnish to soak deep into the wood grain. You may choose to finish your cleats using a wood oil instead of a paint or varnish.

  5. 5

    After mounting, plug and finish the bolt holes. Bed the plugs in varnish leaving them a bit proud. Sand them smooth and apply several more coats of varnish, paint or oil.

Tips and warnings

  • Countersink flat bottoms for the mounting holes to accommodate washers and bolts. Normal V-shaped wood screws are more likely to split the wood.
  • Through-deck fittings, if not sealed and bedded correctly, will leak and cause trapped moisture to rot the wood and rust the fasteners.

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