On the Mark: Boatbuilding Tools - Part 2


For this project, it s took a bit of guessing / estimating up front, but now we have some actual numbers.

For the Riviera I used 65 pieces of 10 foot strips for the sides and the non-painted part of the bottom. For the top I needed 25 more, plus the walnut for the edges. This comes to 900 linear feet of mahogany strips. Thus, I needed to be able to beat the price of $800 plus shipping. This had to cover the raw material purchase as well as the new tools.

I bought mahogany planks 2" thick (8/4) x 13-16" wide x 10 feet long. I used ~$300 of this wood in cutting the strips. I initially thought I could rip the strips on my band saw (12" Sears). With a skip tooth blade, I thought it would have a nice thin cut for minimum waste and best possible feed rate. At a rate of 10-15 minutes per strip and a horrible looking cut, this was not going to cut it (sorry for the pun, but it is getting late…). I then switched to the table saw. It is a contractor's type saw, equipped with a thin kerf blade. In 4 hours, we had cut the first 65 strips. Every so often, we had to stop and plane the edge straight. So, by cutting the strips at home, in a reasonable amount of time, without destroying the tool, I justified the cost of the saw. This could be a new contractors saw or a used cabinet saw.

Can similar thinking be applied to other tools? Sometimes, and it depends on local resources. I can get my rough lumber planed at the mill for 12 cents per board foot extra. With ~400-450 board ft of lumber in the boat, this certainly won't pay for even a portable planer. I also had very little planing to do after getting the planks initially planed to thickness. Conversely, I used my 6" jointer a lot, even with edge ripped boards. If you cannot get edge ripped stock, then it is an easy choice - get the jointer (<$350). Can I quantify the savings? Justification of the jointer based on this analysis is hard, as with a large jointer plane and more time, I could have replicated the results. But it was a major time saving device (probably 20-30 hours).

As it has been pointed out, I am lucky to live near a friendly northern sawmill. For many, the choice is a lumber yard specializing in hardwoods (rough sawn), the local home center (planed, squared off, lousy selection of the wrong woods), or mail order (rough sawn). Locally, the price range for white oak or ash per board foot is: ~1.60-1.80 at the mill, ~3.50 (rough sawn) at a lumber yard or the outrageous $5-6+ for planed rectangular stock at the home center (don't even ask there about 10-12+ foot long pieces). Many lumber yards will not plane or edge rip for you. In this case, the choice is easy: 400x$3.5 = $1400 for wood at the lumber yard. 400x$5.50=$2200 at the home center. This does not include the extra trips, since in either case you may well clean them out of a particular type of wood (at least the good stuff). With the $800 savings, you can just about pay for a portable planer and a 6" (Taiwanese import) jointer. A quick internet search yielded a 80 cent per board foot savings for rough sawn vs. S3S (planed and edge ripped) lumber. This is still significant and can pay for the planer or jointer, but not both.

The stationary tool I used the most of all was the combination belt and disk sander (9" disk, 6"x48" belt). EVERY piece of the frame (other than the stringers) was run on this machine. It probably saved over 100 hours of sanding time with hand held belt and random orbit sanders. This was a $300 investment that paid off handsomely (even with consuming ~$80 in belts and disks). I bought it specifically for building the boat, and now wish I had gotten one years ago for furniture building. The justification for this is a bit different. Any time you are working at the equivalent ~1/2 of minimum wage, you should seriously question the sanity of NOT getting the tool.

Part of the stationary tool purchase plan needs to be dust collection. This can range from a large shop vac to an elaborate permanent dust collection system. I cannot put a dollar trade-off figure in place, but it has substantial health, safety and convenience benefits.

As you can see, there are generally, real tool versus material trade-offs that can be made. Check your local prices and availability of lumber. Depending on your locale, prices may vary by a factor of two or three from what I have stated.

Remember, when checking prices, lumber is heavy and expensive to ship (often over $1 / board ft). Based on my internet purchases of large items (Plywood, engine, trim parts), once you need to have a common carrier do the shipment, the minimum shipping charge will be ~$125 for the first ~100 lbs.

There is also a big advantage to being able to pick through the piles and carry it home versus "take what you get" delivered. All of these factors should figure into your justification.

So run the math, look at the trade-offs and then present the argument to your significant other (just make sure not to jeopardize the entire project in the process), and happy shopping.

For tool reviews and articles, my personal favorites are Fine Woodworking and American Woodworker. Check out the rec.woodworking newsgroup for pointed, largely accurate, commentary and real user tool recommendations (just don't mention you are even considering a Craftsman tool).

Next month: Measuring tools and techniques

We are very pleased to have Mark sharing his expertise with his fellow boat builders. If you would like to comment on this article to Mark, he can be reached at "builders at bronkalla.com". Replace the at with @. (Just trying to dodge a few spammers). See Mark's great web site for information on his Riviera project.