A Downdraft Table

A simple downdraft table can put the space between the rip-fence rails to good use.

Building and maintaining a wooden boat involves a lot of sanding and a lot of dust. I have an exhaust fan for the shop, a dust collector connected to my tablesaw and jointer, and shop-vacuum connections for the belt sander, disc sander, bandsaw, and random-orbit sander. My latest addition to my arsenal of dust-collection devices is a shop-built downdraft table. It comes in handy capturing the dust from small pieces created by hand-sanding or that escapes the random-orbit sander.


A locker door is in the works in the foreground, with excess epoxy seeping through the holes in the perforated release film and darkening the bleeder fabric. The suction cup fitting at the end of the hose to the vacuum pump is at the back to the left and the pressure gauge is to the right.

You may think vacuum-bagging is intimidating but it is an easy multi-purpose technique that’s within reach of most amateur boatbuilders. While vacuum-bagging an entire hull may be beyond the means and requirements of the home boatbuilder, there are lots of small parts that would benefit from a simple vacuum system.

Mud Pattens

Mud pattens have been in use for centuries and are effective for walking on mud. They’re squares of wood or plywood with three cleats on the bottom, and two loops of thick rope on top. A separate length of lighter rope binds the thicker rope over the boot heel and instep. It’s best to use line that is not slippery, such as nylon, so the knots don’t loosen.

Back-Country Baking

These peanut butter-chocolate rolls were baked using a pot-in-pot method. Three rocks in the larger put elevate the smaller pot to keep boiling water under the smaller pot. Not shown is the pot lid. The rolls aren't browned, but they're fully cooked.

I once looked forward to camp sweets just as much as our young daughters do now. Pineapple-cherry dump cake baked in a Dutch oven was a staple of my Boy Scout troop campouts. The recipe was easy: dump a can of pineapples and cherry-pie filling in the Dutch oven, top with a cake mix, put the lid on and cover oven with coals. Dutch ovens can be used to make a wide variety of cakes, pies, and casseroles.

A Simple Tiller Tender

The bungee doesn't need to be removed to use the tiller. Just push it or pull it and it will hold the new rudder angle.

In my years of solo cruising in small boats I’ve found that there are many times when it’s helpful to have both hands free while sailing. I can free one hand by securing mainsheet with a cam cleat or slippery hitch, and then I just need something to hold the tiller in place so I can grab a bite to eat, take a compass bearing, or pull on a jacket.

Mizzen Staysails Add Power

The author's red mizzen staysail was designed and made for WAXWING, his François Vivier-designed, lug-yawl rigged Ilur.

My camp-cruising boat is rigged as a lug yawl, with a powerful and well-behaved pair of sails that is ideal for solo sailing. My cruising grounds tend to have very light morning winds during the summer months, and despite my boat’s ample sail area I have looked for ways to improve light-air performance. Enter the mizzen staysail. I first saw one in use on the Maine coast, where Harris Bucklin and his wife Barbara were flying one in ghosting conditions on their Ian Oughtred-designed Caledonia yawl. The blue sail was not only eye catching, it was also a demonstrably effective bit of sailcloth, providing a notable gain in speed over several other Caledonia yawls sailing in company with them.

Water-based Wood Dye

The Vintage Cherry dye transformed the very light mahogany—a cut-off is shown here— into a rich dark color that enhances the grain.

The outboard runabout, WORK OF ART, often stops people in their tracks when they see the deck with its beautiful, natural-looking wood color with sparkling grain highlights. No one has guessed that the wood under the varnish has been dyed.

Trim and Ballast

Some years back I was rowing in a race with my good friend Bill Gribbel in his tandem wherry, DONOGHUE. She was a copy of a circa-1870 pulling boat found, restored, and documented by the late Westport, Massachusetts, boatbuilder and designer Bob Baker. The wind was up and for 4 miles we pulled into it. . .


Four blades on a single arbor increase accuracy and dramatically shorten working time.

When I was getting ready to build a cedar-strip kayak, just the thought of ripping about 900′ of 1/4″ x 3/4″ cedar strips was daunting. Pushing 18′ planks through the tablesaw 50 times was not how I wanted to spend my time—I’m rather impatient and like getting jobs done quickly. I started playing with the idea . . .

A Norwegian Tiller Keeper

A push-pull tiller requires a different kind of keeper than one for a conventional tiller.

Solo sailors of small open boats have a problem: While we’re sailing we’re stuck minding the helm. Occasionally there’s a need to go forward to adjust the downhaul or centerboard, use both hands to steady the binoculars, change a setting on the GPS, or eat lunch. Some boats can hold a course on their own, . . .

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