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The Right Tool


Ever hear the old saw—even small jobs need to be done right? While the apothegm may not always apply to the lubberly side of life, it just about always applies where boats are concerned. Let’s face it. If something goes wrong on board a boat—even something small—experience tells us there’s an even chance something else will fail as a result. And then something else.

Understandably, the done-right thing holds as much for picking the tools for a job as it does for doing the job itself. Whether you’re reconfiguring a helm station, installing new side windows, or swapping out a set of engine mounts, you’ll get a safer, better looking, and more reliable result if you go with the appropriate tool or tools.

A carpentry project I recently completed on board an older boat illustrates the point perfectly. Although coming up with the best approach—and the exact tool to use—required some research and thought, the result was well worth it. The project, after all, was a small but highly visible one—a rectangular piece of damaged mahogany had to be excised from a shelf supporting the lower helm station’s engine control so a replacement could be fitted. A serious goof here—yikes!

I had lots of power tools on hand for the task but, given the cramped space I was dealing with, nothing seemed to offer the control and spatial flexibility I needed. Not a variable-speed jigsaw, or a mini circular saw, or an oscillating multi-tool, or a palm-type router. Nor did any of my hand tools seem to stack up. Was there nothing capable of working around all the obfuscating stuff, like the engine control assembly, the compass, and some of the other odds and sods that were involved? I had to wonder.

Help came from a boat-carpenter friend of mine. At his suggestion, I tried a so-called “Japanese saw” on the project and guess what—the darn thing worked like Zen magic.

A Japanese saw?

Resembling a meat cleaver in profile, albeit with an almost paper-thin blade and a long bamboo-wrapped handle, it sliced through the shelf (and three inches of solid mahogany beneath it) with uninhibited accuracy and control. And in addition, while cutting slowly and precisely on the pull stroke (unlike the typical handsaw that cuts on the push stroke) against a straight-edge guide temporarily clamped in place, it also generated a helpfully narrow kerf. And hey, I even got a nifty, unexpected bonus—the surface on the sliced mahogany beneath the shelf wound up being so smooth afterwards I barely had to do any sanding.

A job done right? Yup, but mostly thanks to the use of the right tool. Which I purchased, by the way, for approximately $40 from a local woodworking store.