Preview: How to Make a Herreshoff Tiller, with Alec Brainerd

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The tiller is the conduit for a sailor’s intentions and a boat’s response; delicacy is an asset.

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34 Responses So Far to “How to Make a Herreshoff Tiller, with Alec Brainerd

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    Stephen Brown says:

    Just finished an Ash tiller using your video as a guide. I don’t have a bandsaw so I used a saber saw. Because the far end of the saber saw blade can I stayed a bit, I stayed a full blade thickness away from the line then planed and sanded back to the line. I took my time and it took three evenings after work each night… Probably 9 or 10 hours. The result was rewarding and looks great.

    There is one addition to Alec’s instructions. When the tiller is still in the “four sided” phase (before drawing on the guidelines for “octagonizing”) be sure the cross section is a perfect square all along its length. Not doing so will result in an oval and the octagon will turn out wonky.

    This was enormously fun and very rewarding. Thank you so much Alec!

  • John Holscher

    John Holscher says:

    Hey Alec, thanks for the great video! Lots of good tips and inspiration.
    I’m about to make a new tiller for my sea sprite 23′ daysailer and am on the fence about round or egg shaped. I’m curious if you have a preference for the round vs egg shaped end and if so why.
    One comment on the 8 siding for those without a dial caliper. I’ve laid out the 8 siding using a ruler oriented diagonally across the face of the workpiece so that there are 24 units from edge to edge; eights, sixteenths or whatever works best for the size of the piece. Then come in 7 units from both edges and you’ve got your marks for 8 siding. I’ve used this method for oars, paddles and spars up to 4″ in diameter and it works fine.

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    Ed Spooner says:

    Thanks for the layout details. I was trying to make tiller in WBS course by eye. Now I know how to layout and work on the details of the tiller.

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    John Mark Connolly says:

    This video (watched multiple times) inspired me to draw out and create my own tiller. I found a piece of old growth oak at a local yard and using the most rudimentary of tools (a wobbly table saw, a couple of planes, a spoke shave, vice, sandpaper and a jig saw) was able to create something that in my eyes, while not perfect, is the most beautiful piece of art I’ve ever made. If I could attach a pic I would — after three coats of varnish — it looks amazing. Planning several more coats for good measure. Without this video, I would never have attempted such a thing. I am nowhere near the artist that Alec is, but I’m just as proud of this piece as anything I’ve ever done. Thanks for the constant inspiration!

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    Suhitha Edirisinghe says:

    Great video, but eight siding is not that difficult. There is a simple tool that does it; I don’t know what it’s called but i’ll describe it. Take a piece of wood and drive in four nails, with the ratio between the gaps be 1:√2:1. The two middle nails should protrude from the other side much less than the two outer ones. Now you can run the thing down the wood between the outer nails, and the inner ones will scribe the line. You can turn it to any angle as the piece gets thinner, but the ratio will still be correct, so I think you can use it to go from 8 to 16 sides as well. Idk if that makes sense…

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    John Wujack says:

    An absolute joy to watch. Thank you. I loved what you said about the thin end of the tiller “amplifying” the feel. I’ve tried to explain that feeling to the uninitiated with difficulty. Amplification is great word.

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    peter strietmann says:

    This video has left me feeling like the biggest hack in the world! Awesome job and awesome reference for those of us to aspire too.

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    Bill Theurkauf says:

    Every year I head to the Maine Boatbuilder’s Show, and one of the amazing boats from Artisan stops me in my tacks. They are always beautiful, simple, and elegant from every angle. Everything just looks “right”. This video begins to show why. Clearly, every part of the boat gets this treatment. I’m digging into a pretty major restoration, and this video is really inspiring. Thank you!

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    David Hubbard says:

    Alec does a great job narrating as he goes. I could never work with that detail and talk at the same time! (Nor walk and chew gum I suspect!) I found those little tips on switching between the different tools and directions really educational! I was thinking of making an ’emergency tiller’ myself this winter, great timing on this!

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    Tom Beaman says:

    Although I never expect to need to make a tiller, this video will send me back out to the woodshop with new inspiration and attention to detail. Thank you so much for producing this!

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    Jim Hansen says:

    You guys are really getting good at this! Perfect shot angles, impeccable continuity shot to shot, and not a wasted word. Shooting and editing as good as one always hopes for. Thanks so much for caring so much.

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    Howard Sharp says:

    Great video. I’ve made several rough and ready locust tillers – everything by eye. Now I see it’s no accident those Herreshof tillers look as good as they do.

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    malcolm kerstein says:

    Wow ! A wonderful video.It was a pleasure to watch a great craftsman working,

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    Peter MacLearn says:

    Fantastic! Great video, great instruction! Perfect!

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    Allen Sawyer says:

    Beautiful work using traditional woodworking! Excellent, clear commentary from Alec Brainerd. Well done. Inspirational . . . so much so, that I’m heading to the workshop once done here! Thanks OCH!

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    Walter Allan says:

    Beautiful job – The incredible care and technique shows in the finished tiller but seeing how it was done is special. Great job by Alec and the crew at OCH.

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    David Jorgensen says:

    WONDERFUL, INSPIRING VIDEO. In fact, it inspires me to burn my carefully hoarded wood and give my tools to charity. It is a revaluation to watch the process though…

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    Lynn Watson says:

    Very good video; thanks for taking the time to talk about proportions and grain matching in the stock. I like the various templates too. I wonder, though, why he laid out the 8-siding with measurements and battens instead of a spar gauge. Not accurate enough?

    Looking forward to more lessons like this in the future.

    • Avatar

      Hi Lynn,
      I have never had great luck with spar gauges on pieces that taper more than half their diameter. When you reverse the orientation, the lines don’t always match. I’m a stickler for accuracy and the spreadsheet method ensures the best result everytime.

  • David Tew

    David Tew says:

    Fantastic! Inspiring! His clear commentary really made the video. And yes, as Carolyn asked, assuming interruptions and delays for videotaping, how many man-hours did Alec commit? And is the wood honey locust or black? Thx-

    • Avatar

      Hi David,
      It’s rare I can stay focused for more than fifteen minutes without a phone call or some other distraction – so on average they take me a month or so, but with Maynard filming, that one was done (with Black Locust) in six hours.

      • David Tew

        David Tew says:

        I know just how that is (with the constant interruptions)! More power to you.

      • Avatar

        Ben Mendlowitz says:

        Hi Alec, this was a grata lesson in a very difficult process.

        If you usually make these over several weeks, how do you prevent the checking that you dealt with on this one day project with a quick coat of thinned varnish?

        • Avatar

          Good question Ben – I seal up the end grain at the end of the day, regardless of where I’m at in the shaping process. The dryer the wood, the more difficult it becomes to work – so there’s a price to procrastination. Wood also also gets stronger as it dries.

  • Avatar

    Mark Steffens says:

    Wonderful! I’m glad I watched it. Alec, where can I get (make?) a copy of that eight-siding decimal chart?

      • Steve Stone

        Steve Stone says:

        Yep, Alec was kind enough to send us the pdf. It’s below in the Nav Further section at the bottom.

  • Avatar

    Carolyn Harrington says:

    We have a Doughdish that needs only cosmetic work after the last three years of fun.
    With your experience, how long did it take you to make this tiller,and how long would it take a beginner?

    • Avatar

      Hi Carolyn,
      I made this tiller in 6 hours, and I suspect it might take a beginner slightly longer. Having said that, it’s a noble and rewarding undertaking, no matter the time commitment.

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    terry brower says:

    Very pleasing to watch. No less precise than a machinist with a cnc machine.

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    Weaver Lilley says:

    Fantastic video. Hats off to the craftsman.


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