Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition


One Down…a Lifetime of Imagination to Go…


Flipping the calendar from December to January is always a bittersweet moment.

There is the reward of having survived another 12 months—fingers are still attached and I can now laugh at predictions scribbled in a log that now resides on my phone. (Remember when you wrote things down on paper with a pen or pencil…wow, you’re older than me!  And I admit to being a Baby Boomer.)    As for the flip side of my reward for flipping another calendar page—welcome to a list of unfinished projects.

Oh, we all know what I am talking about.

The shed that was going to get a new roof. The bowl that was going back on a lathe for final polish. The boat that was going to emerge from my garage, right after a new desk for the office and a table top for a friend’s deck.

Guess what, the boat is done!  Perhaps I should add some perspective to this conversation.  Back in early December 2015, I promised you a wagon for the street that appeared to be a rowboat atop a trailer.  Bold gesture, given a tendency to take on eight more tasks than my desire for sleep—however brief—will allow in a day, week or month.  But this time I think we are on the money.

Recall I said this whole venture could not cost more than $100 and had to match the dimensions of an old Radio Flyer red wagon.  Great for hauling groceries, the dog, or tired two year-olds.  I am surprised more of these traditional pedestrian “pickup trucks” still do not ply our sidewalks.  Seems everyone opted for a bicycle or those new-fangled child strollers capable of hauling kids, dog and a week’s vittles.  

At any rate, sticking to budget, my first stop was at the lumber yard for a carefully selected collection of six 8’x1”x6” pine boards, four 8’x’2”x4” and one 8’x1”x12” plank.  The latter, as we shall see, is overkill, but I can always use the off-cut for another project.

Load the goods up in my van and head for the shop.  This is arguably the best part—milling fresh lumber into rough cuts of what will eventually emerge as “fruition of the Fig Newton of my imagination.”   (You will have to look this last phrase up…I suspect it is a family favorite that is now engrained in my vocabulary as common parlance…a better way to state this might be: “Finishing the project I imagined, but forgot to put on paper.”)

Back to my plan.  The 1”x6” collection quickly fell victim to a table saw. I cut them into ½”x6” to ultimately serve as planking or deck boards.  The 1”x12” became bow and transom (stem and stern), while the 2”x4” were halved to emerge as a trailer frame. In other words, I made a lot of saw dust in short order.  Put more bluntly, my black lab started to be called “blondie”… note to self, keep dog out of shop when creating copious sawdust.

Now comes the fun part. Small boats—up to 30 feet in some cases—are all built upside down.  So I needed to figure out how to get the right dimensions (bow should lean forward to cut the water, planking needs to have angles along joinery necessary to provide proper gluing surface—lest we sink—and the entire assembly must be visually appealing.)  No short order.

Angles…please allow me this indulgence, I discovered the answer through trial and error.  Seems the maritime world likes 22 and ½ degrees, 11 degrees, 5 and ½ degrees, and 2 and ½ degrees.  Try it.  The result is a satisfying set of seams for carvel planking that is only surpassed by going to lapstrake for small craft. As for “lining out”—the process of making the ends at stem and stern appear appropriate—well, I fudged until it looked right…please feel free to offer suggestions for the next time I try this experiment.

The trailer was a lot simpler.  All square cuts. The tricky part was a tow handle (don’t tell her, I’ll be in trouble, but my mother’s broom that gave up its previous occupation to serve this purpose).  As for getting wheels, I hit a local hardware store and walked off with replacement lawnmower parts.  

In the end, I think we are on the mark.  A boat, on trailer, ready for the sidewalk, all for less than $100.  (Don’t factor in labor costs, you will never get rich in this profession—it is all about mental satisfaction, not dollars in a till.)

So, we start the New Year with one major project done and many more to come.  Please feel free to weigh in with ideas…I am always game to try something once.  For the moment my imagination is in search of a lapstrake rowboat of similar dimensions—right after I get the office desk done.


Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard.  A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.