Friday, December 19, 2014

Laminating a tiller

One of the things I've been working on between other jobs is creating a tiller.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, I decided to use an existing pattern created by Dale Simonson.  You can see the details of the layout here: Dale Simonson's tiller pattern

I drew out the pattern on a piece of scrap plywood, and glued down blocks that I could clamp to. Then it was just a matter of cutting the strips and planing them down to about 5/16" thickness. The thickest part of this lamination took just over 6 strips, and not all of the strips needed to be full length, since the profile of the tiller is not constant.  I used walnut and a contrasting strip of maple the second one down from the top.

Before gluing I put packing tape down on the form so the glue wouldn't stick. Glueup was then straightforward, using regular wood glue.  The curves are gentle and easy to achieve.

After the glue dried, I cleaned up  the squeeze out and then planed it down to a thickness that matches the opening in the rudder head.

I then glued up a smaller blank for the hiking stick.  I put packing tape on the tiller and laminated the hiking stick right on top, so that the curves match.

Then it was a matter of removing any wood that didn't look like a tiller.  The profile changes from square at the end that inserts into the rudder head, to roughly round at the hand end.

I used my Shinto rasp, a spokeshave, and sandpaper to shape this part.  I think it feels best when there is a little increase in diameter towards the end, like a pitchfork handle.  In this photo from above you can see that curve a bit.

I also like a bit of a knob at the end so your hand can tell where the end is.  Axe handles are like this.  I ended up glueing on another thickness of wood at the end so I had enough to shape.

I also found I didn't like the feel of the handle when it was completely rounded, so I put a little flat on the bottom side.  This also helps your hand know where it is on the tiller shaft.

I also rounded off the hiking stick and reduced the diameter on the end to fit into the Ronstan universal joint that holds these two parts together.  Here's how that looks.

To finish this off I need to drill out the hole at the rudder end and epoxy in a bushing, then epoxy coat overall and varnish.


  1. Dave, I love the laminated tiller. This took some patience and time. Hope I can find the same amount at this stage.


  2. Brent - I thought it was pretty important to have a nice tiller, since it's one part of the boat that will be in constant use and directly in contact with me.

    I was glad that Dale had come up with the design and documented it. It was really not that difficult to make, and I worked on it in between other things. But you're right that as I approach the finish I'm anxious to be done! -- Dave