Tools…or…What Man Can’t Live Without

by Sherwood Heggen

I recall having the desire to build and restore things as far back as grade school age. I remember seeing a steering wheel and column stored high in the rafters of the machine shed on the farm and begging my dad to get it down for me. With it, I had a major hard to find part to build a car. I was full of enthusiasm and had the whole car thought out in my head. It would have a seat to sit on, wheels, and headlights. The items of importance I did not give any thought to were building experience, building materials, and tools, none of which I had. Dad never did get the steering wheel down from the rafters and therefore, in my mind, I wasn’t able to build the car.

This all leads up to a point. Many of us dream to have a beautiful show boat under us skimming across the water that we restored. In the enthusiasm of the dream, little thought is given to materials, experience, or tools. Well, wake up and smell the sawdust. Proper tools to restore your dream are crucial if you want a quality end product. Materials and experience are also important, but in this Gadgets and Kinks we are going to explore tools used to restore a wooden boat.

Many years ago, my first restoration project was a 1948 Chris Craft Deluxe Runabout 17. Woodworking experience and materials weren’t a major problem, but tools definitely limited my ability to do quality work on the project. This all leads to saying that the tools you have at your disposal are the limiting factor on how major a project you should pursue.

Let’s go back and visit the scene in the cramped two car garage when the 1948 Deluxe was getting a new life. The tools I had available were a small, old, unreliable, garage sale band saw, a small bench top model drill press, a block plane, a small, under-powered, household type cordless screw driver, a small drill with a power cord, a couple of clamps from my mom’s quilting frame, and other small hand tools. The specialty tools I had to buy were a Fuller countersink/ plug cutter set and a Frearson drill driver bit. With that equipment, I was able to get my first boat restored and floating. It was a good looking boat, but from the standards I hold now, it was severely lacking.

Over the years, I purchased many tools to make my life easier and the end-product better looking. The first piece of equipment that came into the shop was a quality twelve-inch band saw. Cutting two inch oak became a cinch. Also, a bench top drill press for cutting bungs was necessary. Next, came the thickness planer. At that time, the budget and space could only tolerate a twelve inch bench top model, but it did the job well and I no longer had to pay the fee required to have wood planed to thickness at the lumberyard.

The planer paid for itself many times over. While you are at it pick up a dust collector to catch the mountains of wood chips the planer will produce. Routers were next on the acquisition list. There are three basic sizes necessary. For replanking topsides and bottoms, a trim router is the correct one. For general routing tasks, use a mid-size router. For the big tasks of routing rabbets in keels and chines, the powerful two horse-power machine is the only answer. A quality hand-held saber saw is necessary for a multitude of smaller cutting tasks. Small and large random orbit sanders are important tools when used properly. I have to say here, don’t use it for the final sanding tool prior to staining unless you want swirl marks all over your project. Hand sand with sanding board instead. Here is the major purchase – a table saw. Get the biggest, best and most powerful your budget will allow. A good tip is to get a saw with cast iron table and a high quality, accurate fence and the quality and accuracy of your work will improve accordingly.

Don’t be cheap in the purchase of your power tools. Get the good stuff and you won’t be disappointed with their performance or longevity.

Seems like a big investment, but we are not done. Those were just the major power tools. There are so many hand tools that you will need. A basic list is as follows: slot, Phillips, and Frearson screwdrivers/bits, bar and “C” clamps of all sizes (lots and lots of them), pliers of all types, small and large hammers, ice picks (for removing bungs), drill bits – twist and spade, router bits for all three router applications, hand saws, sanding blocks, boards, and pads, chisels, pry bars, tape measures, rulers, and a dial caliper, block and bench planes, portable halogen lights, extension cords, floor jacks, a large shop vacuum, bench brush and floor broom, a dust pan, waste baskets and bins, a couple of rolling sitting stools, small step ladders, safety equipment of lung, eye and ear protection, and for you older fellows a pair cheater glasses so you can see what you are doing close up.

You will also need many grades of sandpaper from 40 to 600 grit, paper towels, cloth rags, bristle and foam brushes, lacquer thinner, naphtha, denatured alcohol, and small dispensing containers for each.

As you get involved in your project(s), you will realize the need for many other job specific tools and that you can buy or make yourself. The need for special jigs and holding devices will become obvious for which you might have to invent and build on the spot.

You will soon realize that the more stuff you have, the more stuff you need to support the stuff you have. Then there is the issue of storing all the stuff you have. I am still struggling with that one. Much is written in the self-help books found at home improvement centers and wood-working stores to get you through that trauma.

If you are doing a one time, smaller restoration project, it might not be in your best interest to acquire any or all of the major power tools mentioned above. Friends and neighbors who own such are usually willing to give a helping hand. Renting equipment or farming out part of the work may be an option for you. But, if you are like me, one boat restored is not enough; then make the investment in the good stuff. Use your head and good luck.

If the restoration project you so confidently chose turned into a restoration mystery as you got into it, don’t worry. Help is available. Feel free to call me with your questions that have you stumped. You may contact me at  or 715-294-2415. I will find it a pleasure to provide advice to help you restore rather than destroy your dream boat. I look forward to hearing from you.