Our Most Popular Boatbuilding Tools,
and Why You Need Them 

December, 2022

Great boats are born of great tools. Here are a few small hand tools we use every single day at Chesapeake Light Craft. Could we live without them? Sure, but it would be a dreary, solemn life, empty of that joy that one finds only in working with beautiful, well-designed tools. 

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The “Wood Eraser”

Our best-selling woodworking tool is this Shinto Saw Rasp. Made of carbon steel blades welded in a cross-hatch pattern, these fierce, hungry rasps are better for serious shaping than a power tool, and last longer. Wood, epoxy, and fiberglass are no match.


Shinto_Saw_Rasp_Chesapeake_Light_Craft Shinto_Saw_Rasp_Chesapeake_Light_Craft

The Heirloom Block Plane

Few things give more satisfaction than a sharp, high-quality wood plane. 

If sharp, there is no glory like the long, perfect ribbons of wood shavings made by the Stanley Low Angle Block PlaneIf dull, they make fine doorstops. (Here's how to sharpen block planes.)

This plane design has been around since the 1860's. With a little TLC, 100-year-old versions work as well as new ones. 

Low Angle Block Planes for boatbuilding


Cutting "scarf joints" in plywood is one of the fine joinery tasks at which a sharp block plane excels. If you're apprehensive about scarf joints, it may be because your block plane isn't sharp enough. Once it is, scarfing becomes so easy you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.


Upscale a notch or two is the Stanley SweetHeart™ Low Angle Block Plane

There's a correlation between the weight of a block plane and its quality. Stout block planes give your cutting strokes more momentum, and hold their blades more rigidly at the desired depth and angle, free from "chatter."

When you pick up a Stanley SweetHeart block plane, its two pounds of precision machinery just feels...great. You'll be looking for planing projects.

The One Hand Saw to Rule Them All

Japanese Razor Saws are made of high-tempered steel, as sharp—and as thin—as a razor. In a shop with every conceivable power tool, we nevertheless reach for one of these whenever precision and a clean cut are needed. Give one a try and you’ll see why. 

Japanese saws cut on the pull-stroke. Opposite sides of the blade have teeth for cross-cutting (small) or ripping (large). The long handle gives the saw sword-like balance. They stay sharp for a very long time—many, many years of hard use in the CLC shop—but replacement blades are available. 



Bevel Gauges

There are very few boats that don’t require some “cut-and-fit” carpentry. The bottoms of our tool boxes are littered with crummy old plastic bevel gauges. When we’re fitting inwales or seat components or anything else that requires an accurate angle, we reach for this precise, sturdy, and elegant sliding T-bevel.

Sliding T-bevel by Chesapeake Light Craft

Rosewood Bevel Gauge by Crown

The Rosewood Bevel Gauge

Here's a terrific upgrade, imported from Crown in the UK. A sturdy, functional, brass-bound bevel gauge that's as nice to look at as it is to use. 


Fun with Sanding

Seriously, you’re going to do a lot of sanding when you build a boat. So make sanding efficient and comfortable. 


These beautifully ergonomic hand-sanding blocks by 3M are the world standard. Pair them with adhesive-backed sandpaper like the pros.


This rubber sanding block takes a third of a standard sheet of sandpaper. (Stack up several sheets and tear them off as they get dull.) We use these for wetsanding because...well, they're rubber. Also just the right weight, size, and flexibility for fine finish work.

Here's a deep dive into sanding and prepping a boat for varnish and paint.

Don’t Go Deaf or Eat Dust

The dust made by sanding wooden boats is bad for you. You can't macho your way through a project like a boat. Professional boatbuilders protect their lungs with comfortable, effective equipment, so they can keep at the job—especially the sanding!—in comfort, without getting sick. A great respirator delivers cool, fresh air to your lungs—and nothing else. 


Protecting our hearing is also a priority. Comfortable, high-quality earmuffs like these cut 21 decibels off the whine of a sander. Freed from the clangor, you'll stick with the job of sanding until it's right.

Here's the boss, demonstrating why he was nicknamed "Sandy" at his first boatbuilding job.

Spring Clamps. You Will Need "∞"

How many clamps will you need? All of them. As many as you can get your hands on. John Harris relates that as a teenager, he would knock on neighbors' doors and ask how many clamps they had. Most had five or six, and soon enough he had borrowed the 30+ he needed to glue on a rail.

These days we don't use the powerful C-clamps as much; our current generation of stitch-and-glue boat designs have less bending stress during assembly. Spring clamps are what you need—lots of them.


Different manufacturers describe their spring clamps with a bewildering variety of dimensions. "Three Inches" used to be our default answer to what size spring clamps you need, because that's what it said on the box when we bought the good ones. But lately, to what exactly "three inches" refers in a given spring clamp has been lost to memory. Sometimes that's the jaw opening. Sometimes it's the overall length of the spring clamp—making them much too small for boatbuilding!

Other than that the clamps need powerful springs—they should give your hands a workout—there is just one dimension that you need to know: 2-1/4", or 57mm.

Of the hundreds of spring clamps in bins at CLC, all of them open about 2-1/4", as in the diagram above. In fact, the limits of how much material can be squashed in that 2-1/4" jaw opening are reflected in some design features of our boats. 


The photo above is instructive, with upwards of 500 spring clamps in use while rails are glued onto seven Annapolis Wherries. You don't need that many.

Hard-Milled Cabinet Scrapers

They’re flat plates of hardened steel. What’s the big deal? Sharpen the edges of our cabinet scrapers and they mow down uneven epoxy surfaces, more quickly, smoothly, and with less mess than a power sander. Cabinet scrapers are also a great way to brighten up wood surfaces before applying finishes, because they lift the fine grit of the sandpaper out of the wood grain.

Sharpening cabinet scrapes is quick and easy. Here's how!

Cabinet Scrapers for Boatbuilding

Cabinet Scrapers for Boatbuilding

And a Shipshape Tool Box...

The CLC Tool Box is the boatbuilder's interpretation of the classic "tab-and-slot" type, favored by woodworkers for its ease of assembly and flexibility. As the name suggests, the tool box goes together with mortise-and-tenon joints, with two locking "keys" to hold the whole assembly together. And since it's made of premium marine-grade plywood, just like our boat and camper kits, the CLC Tool Box is rigid and durable.

How you finish your tool box is up to you. Either tab the parts together and call it a day, or coat the assembly with epoxy and varnish it for extra durability. Stain it or paint it if you'd like! Aside from serving as an excellent organizer for your boatbuilding tools, the CLC Tool Box is a great introduction to plywood kit construction.



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