Sunday, November 22, 2015

A tiller for SEI

Laminating a curved item such as a tiller is one of the more rewarding jobs. A gracefully curved and very strong tiller with the gluelines accentuating the curves can add a nice touch to the boat, and its not hard to do.
Heres "me" making a tiller for SEI.

A tiller for SEI.

Now SEI being a double ender has the rudder a little further away from the skippers hand than is usual in a transom sterned boat so needs a longer tiller than would otherwise be the case.  That’s consideration number one, consideration number two was the shape, then consideration number three was what to make it from.
I didn’t have a suitable piece wide enough to cut the shape from in one piece, and friend Bill Simpson had given me an interesting piece of wood that had come from a big shipping pallet.  Who knows what it is, but its light, tough, is close grained and glued well.  It is not so easy to work with a hand plane, the fibers being long and tough don’t cut so well, but wood like that generally machines well, so I figured that being much too narrow, I’d laminate the tiller.

The tiller slot in the rudder stock ( rudder head in some languages ) being 27 mm wide I sliced up the wood with the sawbench, cutting first to make two 35 mm pieces out of the 70plus wide piece to give me room to plane it down to the 27mm width, then splitting that into 5mm lamells.

I took a piece of scrap ply down to the boat, propped it in place and drew the shape of the tiller thereon.  Reproduced that on the plywood floor in the boatshed, screwed the laminating clamp blocks into place and mixed up some glue.

There is not a lot of curve in this tiller, I like the “hand end” to be about 100mm above the knee when sitting at the helm, and the final position will be set by shaping the haft end where it sits in the tapered slot in the rudder stock.  So with only a gentle curve to accommodate this was an easy job to lay up and clamp.

The shape drawn on the plywood boatshed floor, and the clamping blocks screwed in place, the lamells are laid out in order. Note that the tiller is much deeper at one end and finer at the handle end, so there are more layers at the "thick" end, no need to have it the same depth all the way.  I'm read to start applying glue.

Glue applied, priming the one and laying the glue on the other for each layer, the whole set was layed on the supports, then clamps with little pads under the clamps feet were fitted, just lightly, then gradually tightened to bring the 12 lamells into the curve. Easy peasy, a little at a time but with that many layers in there the amount of force applied between the many clamps is considerable, so it pays to just be patient, a little at a time works well.

All glued, and clamped up. Its time to go and do something else for a day or so.

Next day with the glue all set, the first job was to plane it to the correct thickness, so it was with a scrub plane, that’s an ordinary block plane, in this case a Stanley number 4, with the blade sharpened with a round in the edge so the corners don’t dig in, that I cut all the glue squeeze out away and scrubbed that side down to fairly flat.
The edges of the layup don’t match perfectly so there is a bit of material to remove, that’s why the lamells are 35 mm for a finished thickness of 27 mm.

All good, now its time to get all the bumps off and the blank planed down to the correct thickness.

With one side fairly flat and the bumps of glue removed I put the blank through the planer, flat side down and the other side getting planed down.  Three passes got it down straight and true, then flipped it over and trued up the side I’d hand planed.

In action with the scrub plane. Note that I have a heap of these Stanley number 4s, 9 I think, and several have their blades ground for particular purposes such as this.  I watch the shelves down the back of a couple of favourite junkshops and if I see one at under $20 I'll buy it, do a little work on it it if needed, and put it on the shelf with its brothers and sisters. You'd be surprised at how often I use more than one on a job.

Careful measureing, still well over the 27 mm I needed, so more passes through the planer, taking care to remove a few little defects on the way, and when it was close, I tried the fit in the tiller slot, a couple of very fine cuts in the planer and I was happy with that.

Then the shape was drawn on one side of the tiller blank, and the shape cut with the bandsaw, in fact careful use of a jigsaw would have done it, or even a Japanese razor saw using the ripsaw side of the blade
Either  of these would do fine as long as attention was paid to keeping it perpendicular to the surface being cut through.

Action with the router, that edge near the power tool is now nicely rounded over, it took about 30 seconds.  Note that I was given that old beast of a router by my elderly uncle, he thinks its probably 40 years old, today you'd get one like that for $10 or so and it works just fine. Its much simpler than todays flash harry ones, and I much prefer it for heavier use. I've a little laminate trimmer for very light work but this is the workhorse when there is serious stuff to do.

With the shape cut, the edges were trued up with a random orbit sander,  the piece clamped to the edge of the bench then a router with a 12mm radius bit employed to round the edges. Remember not to round the haft where it fits into the tiller slot, that just needs a very small round with sandpaper.

With some light sanding, its done.  Looks sweet, looks much harder to make than it really is.

Just a few finishing touches to be added. I cant wait to use it for real.

I’ll varnish it, apart from the oarlock support blocks it’s the only varnish on the boat, it adds a nice finishing touch.

I’m not so far away from sailing SEI,  have to finish the rudder assembly, turn some wooden end blocks for the carbon fiber boom and yard, then rig it, and I’ll be at the mercy of the winds.


  1. Just for interests sake, I was asked about the saying "flash Harry" everyone knows what it means but not where it came from, so I looked it up.

    'Flash' has meant showy, gaudy or swaggering since the 1700s. Also since those days, the name 'Harry' has been applied as a general name for a man, as in "He's a country Harry".
    The earliest recorded use of the phrase combining the words 'flash Harry' dates back only to 1960, when it appeared in 'Custard Boys' by J Rae.
    Harry Flashman first made his appearance in 'Tom Brown's Schooldays', published in 1857 and later - as a marvellous anti-hero - in the novels of George Macdonald Fraser. Basically, there doesn't appear to be any basis for believing he and the phrase have a connection at all."

  2. @john you done a great job using industrial tools and trimmer on sparenparts, thanks for the post.