A  kind and longtime friend recently sent me a bank cheque, along with a written instruction to buy something you need – or else, something you may not necessarily need, but definitely want.

Those who have been following this Boatshed commentary won’t be surprised  to learn that I felt more inclined to the second half of the instruction – and as it happens, I had for some weeks been admiring a not really essential block plane at the online shop of  Fine Tools Australia.


Having persuaded my Credit Union to accept such an unfamiliar, and possibly criminal currency, I secured the diminutive Low-angle Block Plane, made by Qiangsheng Tools Co. China – and as you will see in the first photo (with the dollar coin), it is an adorable and handsome and irresistible woodworking tool.

I can’t understand how I have managed without it for so long.

Already it has proved useful for a range of unnecessary jobs, and I am certain there will be more.   It can get into difficult corners; it can plane smoothly across the end-grain; it is a joy to hold and cherish.

And it has settled in comfortably with the little family of Boatshed Block Planes, which grow in number if not size….



Slow going, as I cut the native cypress with Dad’s Japanese Ryoba saw.

The kerf is minute: approximately 1 mm – so there is little waste. A truly amazing saw-blade.

These rough-sawn ribs are 3 mm thick – I will plane each of them down to 1.4 or 1.5 mm, using the  Luben Low-Angle Block Plane.

(see my commentary: A Tale of Three Planes – March 2018).



I have been trying my hand at cutting, planing, scraping, bending and shaping a lute rib, using an off-cut of native cypress….

The rib is 1.5mm thick. After a bit of trial and error – chiefly error – I managed to bend it to the required curve, using the heated bending iron (which is maintained at an even temperature).

So far so good….


Often enough Dad remarked that the hardest thing about building a boat was the first step: the starting.

Of course,  the building of any boat involves the initial ‘dream’ of boats in general, and thereafter the choosing  of a particular boat – and then the gathering of appropriate materials, the assembling of tools, the clearing of a space etc…but the real start, to my way of thinking, begins on the drafting table – and I well remember a sense of exhilaration, as we watched him draw the first pencil line on a thin sheet of plywood.

That simple pencil mark represented the baseline, and above it would grow (bit by bit) the heights, breadths and diagonals signifying the various moulds of our boat: the chosen and particular boat of three dimensions.

Without the initial pencil line, there could be no boat – and once it was drawn, we knew a wooden vessel had begun to take shape, and that in due course it would  be completed and launched and sailed, according to a sort of irresistible logic and momentum.

I was reminded of that mysterious process recently, while reading our dog-eared copy of Skiffs and Schooners, by R.D. (Captain Pete) Culler.

Pete Culler was first and foremost a craftsman; he was better suited to shaping wood than words – but even so, he wrote a number of inspiring books, in which he combined practical (and uncompromising) advice  with the many plans of small wooden boats for sail and oar: all of his own design; all of them beautiful and alluring.

Here is what he says about Starting.

Any man who wants to can produce a good boat. It takes some study, some practice, and, of course, experience. The experience starts coming the minute you begin, and not one jot before. I sometimes hear the wail, ” I have no experience.” Start. Start anything, and experience comes. Some say building a boat is one of man’s nobler efforts. Maybe so; it’s a lot of fun, anyway. As one of my builder friends says, “It’s only a boat; go ahead and build it.” If the first effort is a bit lumpy, so what? There will be another less lumpy later on.

I like that. It strikes me as an encouraging paragraph for a novice, and  could apply equally to any project: be it the creation of a boat, a lute,  a stone wall,  a manuscript, a song – you name it.

After the dreaming and the planning – start.

Mind you, when it comes to my Renaissance Lute  project, there are times when I feel I have bitten off more than I can chew; there are times when I wish I had ‘learnt the ropes’ in my more youthful days; there are times when I really haven’t the faintest idea what I am doing.

I can only hope that the first pencil line on the drafting table will carry me through, irresistibly,  to an acceptable conclusion.

But more of that anon….


Quote from: Skiffs and Schooners, by Captain Pete (RD) Culler
International Marine Publishing
Camden, Maine  1994




Khing, the master woodcarver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”

Khing replied, “I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit. I did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise and criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.

“By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

“Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
And begin.

“If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.

“What happened?
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits”.



”The Woodcarver” by Thomas Merton, from THE WAY OF CHUANG TZU, copyright ©1965 by The Abbey of Gethsemani.

Use by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.