Sunday, October 1, 2017

Announcing Publication Date

Book cover, showing the plane till in my basement workshop.

I'm very excited to announce the publication date for my book, Hand Tool Basics, from Popular Woodworking Books: January 12, 2018!

It will be available for pre-order at in mid-November. The price will be $34.99. As a bonus, I'll also be posting SketchUp images here of some of the jigs in the book.

The book is a direct companion to my video series, Intro to Hand Tools (more information on the series, including the free Part 1 and sample lesson, is at Intro To Hand Tools Downloadable Videos).

The images are taken from the digital video I recorded for the series. The organization and content of the book match the series. The book is therefore a visual reference, with some 1400 captioned photos.

Why produce a book version identical to the video series? Several reasons:
  • Some people prefer learning from videos. Some people prefer learning from books.
  • It's nice to have both so you can sit back and watch the videos, then have the book with you on the workbench as you follow the steps for a procedure.
  • The dynamic images in the video allow you to watch the tools in motion, while the static images in the book allow you to take your time examining details like how to hold a tool. 
A big thank you to the editing and layout team at Popular Woodworking! They did an outstanding job with the written and photographic material I supplied.

The images here are screen shots from the author review document, so the image quality is reduced from the final copy, but they show what to expect.

Here are the full Contents and Index pages so you can see what's covered. As always, I like to show multiple ways of doing things, so you can tackle any situation based on the tools you have available, your personal preferences, and your current skill level.

Here are some sample pages representative of the layout and level of detail in the book.

From Chapter 1: The Tools, showing a selection of the tools covered.

From Chapter 5: Mortise and Tenon Joinery, showing some of the fistfights and fundamentals.

From Chapter 6: Dovetail Joinery, showing some of the steps laying out and sawing a tails-first through-dovetail.

Once it's out, feel free to email me at if you have any questions about anything you see. One of the challenges in a book is getting just the right explanation that conveys the information to all readers regardless of their experience and skill level, and sometimes that fails.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Taking The Next Step Toward Boatbuilding

The house in East Boothbay.

Life has been busy, busy, busy lately. Hence the lack of posts here.

My book draft is now in the hands of the team at Popular Woodworking Books, with some 1400 captioned photos.

My shop time has been occupied teaching individual classes. That's produced good material for some upcoming technique blog posts.

I've started reading through my stack of boatbuilding books. That'll take a while, but Greg Rossel's excellent Building Small Boats has been a great first step, detailing the sequence of operations.

A Place To Build Boats

The next step in the journey is the other big thing occupying my time, a place to build boats. That place is in East Boothbay, Maine, where my mother-in-law has now bought a house. She'll live there in the warm months, then with us in the cold months. Meanwhile, we'll spend weekends and vacations there. Eventually, we'll retire there permanently.

The two main criteria for the house were that it be near water, and that it have a space for my woodworking, specifically large enough for small boatbuilding. We had previously owned a house near the Damariscotta River in Boothbay, Maine, so we were familiar with East Boothbay. That was our general search region. It's spectacularly beautiful, as you can see from this image search.

The house she bought meets the criteria wonderfully. Built in the mid-to-late 1800's, it sits directly across the street from the historic shipyard waterfront of East Boothbay, on the bend of the Damariscotta a couple miles upriver from open ocean.

They've been building ships and boats there since the 1700's. Two small yards are still active, Hodgdon Yachts, America's oldest boat builder, building high-end sailing and motor yachts, and Washburn & Doughty, building commercial tugs and fireboats. 

Hodgdon Yachts is on the site of the former Goudy and Stevens yard, where Louis Sauzedde ( worked on the replica of the yacht America as a teenager in the late '60's.

In between those yards is a public boat ramp and a separate kayak ramp. There's another public boat onto Linekin Bay less than a mile away. Ocean Point Marina, where we used to keep our old boat, is 50 yards upriver, on the other side of the mouth to the tidal millpond.

So near water, check. About 100 yards from house to ramp. The river is visible past the Washburn & Doughty buildings. Their launchings are always an event.

The workspace is behind the house, a small barn with loft and one-car garage. It's perfect. There's a big sliding door in the wall that opens to an ideal spot for a small boat construction frame, leaving plenty of space on the side for workbenches and general woodworking. The loft upstairs is perfect for, well, lofting! And sailmaking.

Rear view of the house showing the barn.

At some point this will become Close Grain North, where I'll teach private classes in hand tool woodworking, violin-making, and boatbuilding. Of course, I have to learn how to do those latter two myself first. See one, do one, teach one.

There are many other small boatbuilders in the area, as well as riggers and sailmakers. The shop of Nathaniel Wilson, master sailmaker, whose work graces the USS Constitution, among many other historic ships, is a couple houses upriver from the marina. That's only a quarter mile walk from the house.

I picked up this great poster for Nathaniel Wilson at the Maine Boatbuilders Show in Portland in March.

The whole area is just steeped in it, with 300 years of history. I even met a lady who's a former instructor at the WoodenBoat School and staff editor at WoodenBoat Magazine. For an aspiring boatbuilder, you couldn't ask for anything more.

I continue to learn about other schools in the area. In Bristol, on the other side of the river, there's the Carpenter's Boat Shop. Then just down the road from that there's the Maine Coast Craft School.

The latter school is particularly interesting because founders Kenneth and Angela Kortemeier have taken over the torch from Drew and Louise Langsner's Country Workshops in North Carolina now that they have retired. Kenneth was an intern at Country Workshops in the 90's (Peter Follansbee is another Country Workshops alum).

Boothbay Region Historical Society

When we first found the house, I was curious about the history of the barn. I was aware of the long history of boat and shipbuilding in the area, so I wondered if it might have been used as a workshop by someone building small workboats for the bigger ships.

I contacted the Boothbay Region Historical Society, and over the course of a few emails, historian Barbara Rumsey very graciously gave me some information.

The real-estate listing said the house was from the 1880's, but based on tax records, she felt it could have been built in the late 1860's. She also felt the barn was probably a small livestock barn, since it was common at the time for families to have a few animals.

I visited the Society, where Barbara showed me how to go through their copies of the old tax collector's books. That was fascinating. The book for each year was a hand-written account of every resident and their taxable property, roughly alphabetical by last name.

People were taxed on their land, buildings, and various types of livestock. There was even a heading for musical instruments over $15 (a significant sum in the 1880's). Anyone who had an ox was very popular; they were like the guy with a truck you could hire to help haul stuff.

What she had found was that the house's street address appeared in the book for 1882, listed under the name Alvin Goudy and occupied by his mother. That gave me a starting point.

Working back through earlier records, I found Alvin Goudy's name first listed for that location in 1867. Working forward to see if taxes increased due to property improvements (for instance, adding the barn), there didn't appear to a major change. So it's possible the house and barn have been there since 1867.

What I wasn't able to determine was what Alvin did for a living. Presumably he was of the same Goudys as Goudy & Stevens shipyard. Lacking any other evidence, it seems likely the barn was indeed used for livestock.

After we closed on the house, I stopped by the Society again to say hi, and found Barbara talking to another gentleman. She said he was one of my neighbors in East Boothbay, Nat Wilson. I said, "The sailmaker!"

Indeed it was. I told him sailmaking was another thing I needed to learn, and I would love to visit his shop. He invited me to stop by any time. The mind boggles. What more could an aspiring boatbuilder ask?

Hobie Tandem Island

Since building even a small boat is 100 to 200 hours of work, it'll be a year or two at hobbyist pace before I have something ready to put in the water. In the meantime, I'm happy to enjoy some rotomolded plastic fun.

So under the heading of YOLO, I bought a Hobie Tandem Island, which is an amazing trimaran sit-on-top tandem sailing sea kayak. It has pedal-powered Mirage drives. The pedals power fins that move sideways, inspired by penguin fins; they're even reversible so you can backup as well as go forwards. You can paddle, pedal, or sail!

This thing is a marvel of mechanical engineering. The modular assemblies go together quickly and easily for use, and detach just as easily for breakdown. As a tandem, it's large, 18' long; as a trimaran, it's heavy, 240 lbs. fully rigged.

But those outriggers (called "amas") make it incredibly stable, able to handle any kind of conditions, even out to open ocean. That's perfect for the Maine coastal river estuaries. It has molded-in fishing rod holders, and Hobie says it's even suitable for bluewater trolling. I've never been a fisherman, but this I can get behind!

How To Transport A Hobie Tandem Island, New In Box

We spent a small fortune on Thule pickup truck bed and roof racks to transport the boat from Sebago Sailing And Watercraft in Raymond, ME. But with a boat that long, I wanted a good secure support to avoid damaging it or the truck. And now we have a very versatile hauling setup.

The boat was in two packages. The main hull was wrapped in a long bubblewrap bag. The amas and all other parts were in a cardboard box about 14' long. Both fit side by side on the racks. Captain Mike, a tall fellow (who also has a timberframing business), helped us load it up. His wife Maura had been my contact for buying it.

The boat loaded on my wife's F150 pickup truck. Mounted to the bed is a Thule XSporter Pro rack. On the roof is a pair of Thule AeroBlade bars. I secured the packages to the racks with 25' lengths of half-inch climbing webbing fore and aft.

To unload the boat on our own, I used a retired climbing rope and a pair of carabiners to rig a 2-to-1 haul system from the upper door of the barn. My wife, Cat, belayed the rope to sway the front end of the box down off the rack while I stood on my toes and lifted off the other end. That allowed her to lower away easily. Then we repeated that with the main hull.

Cat belays the box.

Belaying the main hull.

I unpackaged everything and laid it out, then followed the instructions on assembly. It didn't take long. The boat is made to break down for transport with minimum fuss. I had also bought a heavy-duty two-wheel dolly that included a cradle for the amas.

The boat fully assembled with sail unfurled. You've heard of sailing on the mooring? This is sailing on the driveway.

This boat also takes a spinnaker. That'll be next year after we've spent some time buzzing up and down the river and out the mouth.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

When I Grow Up

My Harry Bryan plans arrived yesterday!

I've figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be Harry Bryan. Harry is a boatbuilder in Letete, New Brunswick, Canada, just across the border from Maine on the Bay of Fundy. This is a breathtakingly beautiful area of wooded, rocky coastline, crystal clear water and enormous tides.

Harry lives off the grid, building wooden boats with a few alternatively-powered power tools and a bunch of hand tools. His philosophy is one of slowing down, going back to the land, making rather than buying, relying on yourself, your skills and ingenuity, and never stop learning.

He's extremely inventive, combining traditional boatbuilding methods with creative solutions. Anybody for a treadle-powered bandsaw?

It is an idyllic life, no doubt with its challenges, but he and his wife have succeeded, raising a family and enjoying time with their grandkids. The appeal and the draw of this life are powerful.

I first heard of Harry when my daughter participated in a project at her high school to build his dory skiff Daisy. Now I find that there are a number of videos featuring him online (more about that below). Here are two that captured my imagination, Slowing Down, The Schmee of a Successful Man, and The Closest Thing to Magic – Of Boats and Boathouses.

Harry is like Phil Lowe and Al Breed, what I call a shut-up-and-watch master of the craft. If you get a chance to spend time with them, you don't interrupt them, you just shut up and watch, absorbing the decades of knowledge and experience. Whatever they want to show you is well worth your time.

I've finally succumbed to the lure of boatbuilding. I learned to sail in 2000, and became intrigued with small wooden boats in 2005 when I found John Gardner's Building Classic Small Craft: Complete Plans and Instructions for 47 Boats at the bookstore in Boothbay Harbor, ME.

At the time we had recently bought a small vacation house close to the nearby Damariscotta River, where I kept a 23' O'Day sailboat that was built the year I graduated from high school (we had to sell the place in order to afford getting the kids through college, but we'll be back, count on it). I resisted the siren call to build my own for a long time, because I knew there was no going back.

Everybody who knows someone with a boat knows what boat crazy is. But wooden boats, and building them, is a special kind of insanity. Why mess about with all that rigamarole when you can throw a sleek gel-coated fiberglass modern creation in the water?

First of all, because, indeed, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.

Second, wood adds to that romance. The history of thousands of years is under you as you glide across the surface. Plus wood is such a wonderful material to work with, engaging all the senses. You become part of it.

Finally, there's the pure satisfaction of using something you've made yourself with the skill of your own hands. Even the simplest boats are complex shapes. Building them is much more an exercise in hand tool work than power tools.

Sure, there are dozens, if not hundreds of board feet of planking to get out and plane to thickness, and hundreds, if not thousands, of screws to drill and drive, so a benchtop planer and a power drill/driver are huge labor savers for very repetitive tasks.

But most of it is handcrafting lines that are curving continuously and fitting parts that meet at odd compound angles. Even driving screws is worth completing with a brace and driver bit to give you that delicate feedback to know when they're seated just right.

When you're done, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor in an intensely sensuous fashion. The Damariscotta River is a lovely small river that opens out to open ocean, with spectacularly gorgeous rocky, pine covered coastline. The tidal range in that area is a good 10'. That means it's actually a reversing river, flowing upriver on the rising tide, and downriver on the ebb. There's even a small reversing falls at the head of the river in the town of Damariscotta.

This also means the river has many personalities, from a glass-still surface at slack tide, to a fast race when the downriver flow joins the tidal flow, to the chop and wild wind of a late November storm. You feel the power of nature, held in check or unleashed.

Whether it's the mesmerizing burst and glide lazily pulling in a rowboat across the glassy river at slack tide, or the full heel of a sailboat close-hauled to the wind sluicing across the current, or a gentle drift from the head of the river  down to the mouth after having sailed up beat on beat on the flood, you feel it with your whole body. You are joined with that power, harnessed to it in a vessel of your own making.


First, of course, I need to learn how to build them. I've added significantly to my library with modern and classic books on wooden boatbuilding, rigging, and sailmaking from Amazon. You can also find supplies there, such as sailmaker's palms, needles, and thread.

Additions to my library.

The Internet has also provided a vast treasure trove of articles, forums, and videos.  I often watch videos at 1.5x or 2x speed. The YouTube player has a speed setting for this in Settings. The Vimeo player doesn't have a speed setting, but the unofficial Vimeo repeat and speed extension for Chrome works well, allowing any speed.

There are many more to be explored, but three video sites in particular have caught my attention.

Off Center Harbor

First is, an inexpensive membership site (it uses Vimeo for video when logged in, although some videos are also on YouTube). This is where I found the Harry Bryan videos.

This was the tipping point for me, what tempted me to approach the black hole until I got sucked in. For this I can blame Al Hansen, from the Guild Of New Hampshire Woodworkers Boatbuilding subgroup. He recommended it at a Guild meeting where I was giving a demonstration on hand tool tag-teaming.

OCH is filled with videos, some how-to, some just to drool over. It's headquartered in Brooklin, ME, about halfway between Boothbay and Harry's shop in Canada. They have a number of videos of Harry at work, explaining some of his nefarious devices and showing the boats he's designed and built.

Based on these, I've ordered several plans from Harry, as well as for the Off Center Skiff. One of these will be my first build. Although there's also that Nutshell pram, that's cute. Auuuggghh!

Traditional Maritime Skills

Second is Traditional Maritime Skills, the YouTube channel of Marcus Lewis, from Cornwall, UK. He has a variety of videos showing building small sailing dinghies up to larger sailboats.

Tips From A Shipwright

Third is Tips From A Shipwright, the YouTube channel of Louis Sauzedde, from North Kingstown, RI. Louis is another shut-up-and-watch guy, a short, wiry ball of energy, the living embodiment of the saying "When ships were wood and men were iron."

In addition to a great series on a new build, he has lots of videos of restoration work. He doesn't hesitate to open up all the planking of a boat to fit in new frames, or unstitch the entire bow to replace the stem.

You can read a nice article about him in the sample digital issue of WoodenBoat Magazine, entitled "A Modern Traditional Boatbuilder."


In my online travels, I've come across a couple of schools. I'm sure there are many more.


I've also found several suppliers. As with schools, I'm sure there are many more.
  • WoodenBoat is the site dedicated to all things wooden boat. Browsing it is a sure sign of that slide into insanity. But what a glorious insanity it is! 
  • Jamestown Distributors is a family-run business in Bristol, RI, and is the sponsor for Louis Sauzedde's videos. They have parts, tools, adhesives, and finishes.
  • Toplicht "Equipment for traditional ships and classic yachts, supplier for boat builders" in Hamburg, Germany. They appear to be a go-to supplier for all kinds of common and obscure fittings and supplies. They sell oakum!
  • Duckworks Boat Builder's Supply is a small family-owned business in Port Townsend, WA. Their website includes an online magazine.
  • Sailmaker's Supply is a small business in Gautier, Mississippi.
  • R&W Rope’s Traditional Rigging & Outfitting Division is a family-owned business in New Bedford, MA. In addition to rope and traditional fittings, they also have caulking and splicing tools.
  • Hamilton Marine is a regional boating supply chain along the Maine coast.
  • West Marine is a national boating supply chain.