Odds and Ends: The Tiller


If you are planning on building a boat and are looking for instruction on the hows and whys there is no better resource than Off Center Harbor. For a small annual fee you get access to hours of video instruction on all forms of boatbuilding tasks. For todays task I headed over to their three part series concerning building a beautiful tiller.

My tiller started with a blank that I bought from Duckworks BBS. I had roughed out the length and lift that I wanted and ordered a blank that was close enough. At $60 they are not cheap but they are high quality and cut several hours off of the build. Personally it was worth it.


To fit the aft end into the rudder head I needed to build up the back end quite a bit before shaping it to the final size. Making a complex shape like a tiller can be done with hand tools but a nice bandsaw makes it much easier. Fortunately I have an awesome wife!

The big Grizzly

Bam! Look at this big ol bear! Cheryl was kind enough to get this for my birthday and I have to say it made this project super easy. The first task was re-sawing some ash and mahogany to build up the aft end.

With that done it was time to start roughing out the shape of the tiller. The drawings give you a pretty detailed view of the inside of the rudder head but not much on the tiller. That’s pretty much left to you. I started by roughing out the part that fits into the rudder head.

Shaping tiller head

Rudder head shaping

I pretty quickly abandoned the plans as my rudder head was just ever so slightly  different from what John had drawn. After lifting a few measurements and rough eyeballing the angle of the tiller I started cutting.

Cutting rudder head

The Japanese pull cut saw was the perfect tool for the job. The next fiddly bit was getting the tiller fitted closely to the socket in the rudder head. The big deal for this one was to make sure I had the tiller high enough to clear my knees while steering. My top tip for this one is to leave yourself enough meat on the tiller so you can sneak up to it with a plane.

Adjusting tiller height

At this point I had to do a lot of “test driving” to make sure I had everything just where I wanted it. Several cold beers gave their lives to ensure the tiller was in the perfect spot. At this point all it needed was prettying up.

Tiller marked

I went directly off of the how to video from Off Center Harbor for this one and it worked out well. I used my metal ruler to layout my vertical taper and then sawed off the side with the big Grizzly. For the detail on the front end I just played around with some shapes until I got what I liked. It took a little while to get the guts up to cut it but I think the end result speaks for itself.

Final tiller

Not to shabby huh? The black section is the part that sockets into the rudder head. I used epoxy thickened with graphite powder here and in the rudder head where the parts rub against each other. This technique has been showing up on the forums lately and I figured I would give it a try. This particular part turned into my favorite one of the build. Even though the band saw played a big part in the construction process this turned into a fantastic hand tool exercise.   Jack planes, rabbit planes, compass plane, spoke shaves, and hand saws shaped this into something beautiful. It really has set my focus on future projects.

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