Maintaining Trailer Bearings

Spring is our time to recommission our fleet of four trailers, so I recently made the rounds to check the condition of lights, tires, axles, and bearings. I found that the grease in the bearings of one of our trailers had a milky brown appearance, rather than the clear, thick motor-oil appearance that it normally has. The light color was an indication that water had found its way into the grease. Grease that has been overheated by friction-generated heat will be darker than new grease. With this trailer, it’s likely that the seals had failed and the bearing needed to be removed, cleaned, and inspected. The cleaned bearings or their replacements then get repacked with grease and reinstalled with new seals.

Sharpening Files

My equipment includes three glass flower vases I bought at Goodwill for 69 cents apiece. A thin stick and some small spring clamps hold the tangs out of the acid. Drain cleaner provides sulfuric acid to etch the files and a saturated baking-soda solution neutralizes the acid. The third vase has a fresh-water rinse. The file card (lower left) cleans file teeth and shop-made tools of copper, brass, and steel remove the debris the file card leaves behind.

Files don’t get the attention that planes and chisels receive, but they are cutting tools and they work best when they’re sharp. Because files are made of very hardened high-carbon steel and their teeth are numerous and small, the easiest way to sharpen them is with an acid. I’ve used vinegar (acetic acid) and drain cleaner (sulfuric acid). An acid reacts with the iron in steel, removing metal from the surface. Picture a dull cutting edge as rounded over with wear. As the metal dissolves, the radius of the curve diminishes, and the edge gets sharper.

Knots and Toggles for Bungee Cord

The Angler's Loop (both horizontal) and the Zeppelin Bend (vertical) will hold in bungee cord without coming undone or jamming.

Bungee cord is very useful stuff aboard a boat, but the precut bungees, fitted with metal hooks or plastic balls on the ends, are not always well suited to the applications I have in mind. The stretch of the cord itself might accommodate the length required for a particular job, though if the bungee is on the short side the extra tension makes it hard to work with—and if it’s too long, making extra wraps to take up the slack takes time, often when there’s good reason for haste. I’ve never liked the metal hooks (they often snag things), and the plastic balls sometimes get loose and whip around like a monkey’s fist on a heaving line.

Fender Washers

Screws canhold work pieces together in areas where clamps can't reach and fender washers spread the pressure of a wide area, minimizing the damage to the wood and helping prevent splits in lumber.

With oversize diameters and small holes, fender washers were developed for working on automobile fenders where the sheet metal would be distorted when pressed by smaller washers. I can’t remember where we came across the idea to use them in working on wooden boats, but I am glad that we did. We often encounter tasks that are beyond the reach of clamps, and a fender washer and a screw can pull parts together, like bending a plank into position on a frame, stem, or transom.

Fillet Brazing for Custom Boat Hardware

By using a brazing alloy that would build up in fillets at the intersections, the resulting radiused transitions would have the appearance of custom-cast fittings.  After some experimentation with different alloys, I found that Harris Safety-Silv 45% Silver Brazing alloy, purchased in a coil of 1/16” wire, produced a nice fillet with a golden color that is a good match for brass, though not quite so dark as bronze.

Boxing a Bigger GPS

The larger screen is much easier to read than the screen of a handheld GPS. The box makes the unit self contained and portable.

I’ve been watching with interest the adoption of waterproof electronics by kayak anglers. The GPS units they usually use have 4” to 5” screens, are waterproof, and have waterproof cabling to connect to a waterproof box that contains a small 12-volt motorcycle battery. But these units are mounted to kayaks and aren’t meant to be removed from the boats for use on land or on other boats.

Shop-Made Riveting Hammers

A common ball-peen hammer may have a head that is too heavy; it may buckle the rivet's shaft within the wood pieces it's joining and be tiring for the user. Tom DeVries made riveting hammers to do a tedious job more effetively.

Rivet hammers come with cross-peen or ball-peen heads. This hammer’s head is fashioned from 5/8″ stainless-steel rod, the handle is turned from a 12″ chunk of 1-3/4″ square maple, and the wedge that flares the handle in the head is a sliver of ironwood.


The Skipper and I launch our small sail-and-oar boats from our beach and dock; coming and going we have to negotiate several obstacles. With the boathook we may pole off the beach, fend off from our beach groins, or push off the dock. We’ll also paddle to and from the dock and in and out of the wind shadow created by the shoreside trees. We like to carry as little gear as possible when sailing, so we created a combination paddle and boathook, which we call a “padook.”

DIY Bronze Blocks

Homemade blocks met our goals for light weight, affordability, and a classic look. The two blocks at the left share a single axle, creating a double block.

When Kyle and I decided to build our own boat to take on a trip down the Mississippi River, we decided to make, rather than buy, as many of the bits and pieces as possible to save money and make the build and journey on the boat even more meaningful. We needed five blocks for SØLVI’s sailing rig and looked to see what was available on the market. Traditional bronze blocks were beautiful but heavy and expensive. High-tech blocks for dinghy racing, made of stainless steel and fiber-reinforced plastic, were light and smooth-running, but expensive and not in keeping with the classic look we wanted. Our research led us to L. Francis Herreshoff’s Common Sense of Yacht Design, where we found drawings of blocks that we could adapt to meet our requirements.

5 Handy Tips

A pair of sawhorses make contact with the handles and the leathers, leaving the rest of the oars free for varnishing.

If you find oars unruly subjects for varnishing, you can get them to behave themselves, as Ben Fuller of Cushing, Maine, does by cantilevering them on a pair of sawhorses. With the leathers resting on one, and the handles tucked under the other—weighted if necessary—nothing is in contact with the areas you’ll varnish. Spring clamps either side of the leathers keep the looms from rolling while you’re varnishing one side and allow you to turn the oar over to brush the other.

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