Preview: IMPERFECTION AND THE WOODEN BOAT, A guest post by Larry Cheek


At every turn in the building or renovation of a wooden boat blooms a pivotal question: How good should I make it?

For a good example, take the approximately 350 linear feet of epoxy fillets in the 14′ lapstrake Clint Chase-designed Deer Isle Koster daysailer that I’m currently building. These coe-like fillets strengthen the joints where the planks overlap each other as well as where the bulkheads meet the hull. They also seal the plywood’s end grain and smooth the angular crannies where grime loves to gather.

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14 Responses So Far to “IMPERFECTION AND THE WOODEN BOAT, A guest post by Larry Cheek

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    Ants Uiga says:

    In a few weeks, I will be the 3rd owner of the DKI you built. Rest assured that I will look forward to more time sailing rather than looking in the access ports with a flashlight.

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    Jerry Zitterkopf says:

    Building my Song Wren 21, and born a perfectionist, I’ve had to accept that as hard as I might seek after perfection things rarely attain perfection. I loved your thought. Hand made can have a beauty, a superlative value, in it’s own right and perhaps it is not necessary to work so hard and then in the in end live on as my own worst, miserable, critic. As always, enjoyed your writing and appreciate your friendship.

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    Doug Heisler says:

    Here at the Rock Hall Marine Restoration and Heritage Center on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where we build and restore traditional upper Chesapeake Bay wood working boats, our head shipwright, Cap’n Scratch Ashley, often tells me “We ain’t building a submarine” or “we ain’t building a Chris Craft” – get it built as fast as possible by rack of eye and get it on the water – “you make money catching fish – not building boats.”

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    Thaddeus Lindsay says:

    I try to keep this in mind: a boat is a vehicle and a vehicle is a tool… Tools are meant to be used. Marks on tools are to be expected and tell stories of the tool’s life.

  • Richard Greenway

    Richard Greenway says:

    You will have to find them for yourself!

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    Arthur Maroney says:

    Stradivarius upon recent examination has various signs of questionable workmanship,but rumor has it that his product does work.

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    Dave Johnson says:

    Great dissertation on attaining perfection. Now building my third boat I have learned to use the 10′ rule. If it looks good from 10′ away its good. Your discussion bring to mind a comment a good friend told me. While installing cabinets his boss would comment if he was taking too long “Remember you’re not building a piano.” I agree fully that structural integrity is paramount. I also agree that paint is the boat builders best friend. So lets keeps things in perspective and enjoy our hobby without letting it create more frustration than pleasure. You can view my latest frustration at

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    Michael Naumann says:

    A wise piece of advice. Pursuing perfection with lots and lots of work and countless re-working can have strange results: Those whom you might want to impress have no idea how many hours went into your efforts. They marvel at your work and go away with the notion: “Oh, what a talent he/she has. And it comes to him/her so easily…” So, better leave a mistake here and there. Many great painters, they say, can’t do hands. Wrong. I guess that they prefer to leave a mark of imperfection so that we appreciate the excellent rest of their art-work….

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    Chip Evans says:

    When I finished building my boat 20 years ago I could point out every flaw. Now I cant remember most of them, but I still enjoy the boat every summer.

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    Andy Reynolds says:

    Nice treatment of the dilemma every craftsman faces on nearly every project. If we kept trying to achieve perfection in every detail of a boat, or ship, none would ever see the water! I know a lot of excellent cooks who will place a beautiful and delicious dish on the table, all the while apologizing for all the imperfections…things no one would have noted otherwise, and no evidence of those remain after the meal.
    I will pass along a tip though, that can save a lot of sanding time, especially on glued lapstrake boats, although to give credit where it’s due, I learnt this right here on OCH from Geoff Kerr, in the Caledonia series. A heat gun and a sharp scraper with the right profile can take out a huge amount of the epoxy that needs removal in a situation like the one you describe. I’ve tried it and it works.
    Just a couple more reasons why OCH is such a great service. Thanks!

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    Tom Williamson says:

    John Welsford, New Zealand designer of many boats, has a short passage in the instructions that comes with his design package. In so many words he says his favorite varnish is paint, and finish the boat and sail. One can easily spend many hours perfecting flaws no one but the builder will ever know about and never get on the water.
    I love the building process as much as the sailing experience but much of that enjoyment is in the anticipation of getting out and enjoying the result of my work. Each of us has to set a standard of what is acceptable and what will do, and as Welsford says, get out on the water.

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    Tom Roderick says:

    I enjoyed the wisdom in this article very much. I have taken on many projects in my life and have always placed a high priority and sense of pride on the “fit and finish” of my work, but there definitely comes a time to understand when your work is perfectly complete. Many years ago my elderly neighbor, who painted his house, was watching me up on the ladder painting my house and remarked approvingly at how carefully I feathered out each and every brushstroke. I hollered down to him that there were a few spots up here that weren’t so smooth and he hollered back, “Don’t worry about it, nobody ever looks up!” I never forgot his words of wisdom.

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    Peter Heuken says:

    What a great article.
    It describes exactly my own dilemma. There are a few lousy spots on my boat (B.B. Crowninshield Camden 28′, built after WoodenBoat plans) along the beams of the cabin roof, which I will attack in spring. And there are as many in the closed off forepeak that I will leave as they are – now with excellent reasoning.
    I will print your article put it into a plastic bag and hide it there for my descendants to find.
    This will give me a few extra sailing days in the coming season and them a grin sometime.
    Thank you!