Traditional Boat Building Tools

Written by rachel moran
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Traditional Boat Building Tools
Traditional boat building is rewarding and exciting when you have the right tools. (Tay Jnr/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

The world of traditional boat building requires patience, a careful mastery of carpentry skills and an understanding of nautical engineering, but the end results are breathtakingly rewarding. A toolbox of the right tools will begin the career of any shipwright on a voyage to success and satisfaction. Purchase tools that are the best quality you can afford -- even if you only plan to use them minimally, the time and physical impact on the boat and your body is worth at least a small investment.

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Caulking Irons

Caulking irons are flat wedges that are used to stuff the seams of a boat with cotton caulking. Types of caulking irons include dumb irons, which are used to wedge open narrow seams so more cotton can fit. There are crease or making irons, which stuff the cotton caulking into the seams. Bent irons stuff caulking into curved seams. Hardening irons tamp down the extra cotton for sealing with compound.

Wire Twisters

Wire twisters are simple tools found on farms and wharves. In traditional boat building, shipwrights use them to tighten wire stitches that hold the boat's panels together. The wire twister is a hook on the end of a bent shaft that twists on a wooden handle. They often come with wire ties included. These tools are particularly handy if you run out of clamps, because you can use them to clamp together materials temporarily.


Clamps vary in shape, size and purpose. The most recognised clamp is the C-shaped or G-shaped clamp, but boat builders use clamps like third hands -- it's wise to have many of these in your toolbox. Bar-and-sash clamps are needed for long reaches, such as attaching a transom. Pipe clamps apply extra pressure. Spring clamps are easy to use during sawing. Mitre clamps are specifically made for mitre angles.

Saws, Planes and Chisels

Saws have a unique role in traditional boat building. While wooden boat repair knowledge dictates the avoidance of power tools, in boat building, power tools are an acceptable way to reduce the time spent on cuts. Traditional boat building saws are works of balance and craftsmanship, though, and usually require two people to use.

Once a piece of wood is cut, the use of a plane hones it finely. A plane works wood down to its finished dimensions and creates smooth surfaces. When choosing planes, wooden ones are usually better than metal ones, because they are lighter and allow more control.

Chisels provide the closest cutting detail. They can be used for both specific angles and joints, or they can be used later during the building process to create decorative finishes. Investing in high-quality chisels is worth every penny, simply because chisels spend so many hours in your hands.

Hammers and Mallets

The two main sorts of mallets a traditional boat builder wants in the toolbox are a claw hammer and a carpenter's hammer. For the most part, metal hammers should be avoided in traditional boat building, because they are too strong and will break or distress panels. This damage may not show until later, when it is additionally problematic.

Mallets are used with chisels or alone to wedge, push, apply pressure or remove components of the boat, including panels, joints and caulking.

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