Great Core Removal Drill Bits

I think pretty much everyone knows that when installing new fittings on a cored boat we should first remove the core before filling the void with thickened epoxy and then re-drilling for the fastener(s).

There are a bunch of different ways to do this, but the set of Alfa Tools Forstner bits I just bought myself, while far from inexpensive, are the quickest, neatest, and generally best way I have found to make a suitable hole in the outer skin, and remove most of the core, without penetrating the inner skin.

Way better and more controllable than a hole saw.

Highly recommended.


Wire Routing Hack

I have been running a bunch of new cables up to the instrument pod on our new-to-us J/109 while installing a better on-deck navigation system, including radar.

The cables run through the head under some trim in a very tight space with no room for wire ties, and they needed to stay put while I got the trim back on.

The answer was a hot glue gun. Worked a treat as you can see in the above photos and only took a few minutes.

I bought a low-temperature gun (100c) to avoid any risk of melting the insulation on the cables (105c).

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Invaluable Measurement Tools

I have a couple of tape measures (one metric, the other imperial) in my tool bag, and even have a really nice digital calliper for when dead-nuts measurement is required, but the two measurement tools in my kit that get the most use are a cheap pocket calliper (top photo) and an even cheaper metal rule (below) .

Both are dual metric and imperial.

I recommend both for every cruiser’s tool bag. Buy two of each…they don’t float.

Lots more on maintaining a cruising boat.


The Perfect Mallet

I pretty much never use a hard-headed hammer on a boat; in fact, I don’t even have one in my onboard tool kit on our new-to-us J/109.

But I use a mallet often to move something stuck without damaging it, or drive a punch or chisel.

This one from Lixie is just the right weight for most things around a boat, has replaceable plastic faces, and, best of all, it’s what’s called a “dead blow mallet”—the head is loaded with lead shot.

It’s simply amazing how much better and more effective that last feature makes this mallet.

I got mine from McMaster-Carr and it’s the aluminum-headed (no rust) 14 oz model.

Highly recommended.


A Good Hacksaw

Since I let all my old tools go when we sold our last boat, I have been upping my standards as I buy new tools for our new-to-us J/109.

One of my best acquisitions has been this premium hacksaw from CK Tools.

It’s quite amazing how much easier this saw is to use with its stiff frame, padded handles, and cool high-leverage blade-tightening mechanism that gets the blade ringing-rigid (it’s an engineering term if you didn’t know), without bursting a blood vessel turning a butterfly nut like on cheap hardware store saws.

I got mine from McMaster-Carr and chose the one that’s a little longer to get a blade storage compartment.

Highly recommended.


Good Wire Cutters

Normally I’m reasonably good at keeping track of my tools, but there is an exception: Every few years I lose my wire (diagonal) cutters—I’m not talking misplaced, but rather gone forever.

How this happens, particularly on a small boat like our new-to-us J/109, is beyond me, but nonetheless it’s true.

In the past I have tended to replace them with a cheap tool. But these days I’m enjoying my high-quality tools so much that I decided, when the wire cutter demon spirited away my last pair, to go up in quality and spring for a Knipex Vanadin-Super.

Highly recommended. Super-sharp high-quality steel blades, plenty of leverage for most jobs around a boat, other than battery cables, and a comfortable contoured handle. And maybe the bright red colour will help me keep track of them!

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Credit Where It’s Due: McMaster-Carr

Phyllis and I have been buying tools, fastenings, and half a hundred other things from McMaster Carr for decades, and are such fans that I often say that if the company goes out of business I’m selling our boat and taking up golf…and I hate golf.

Over all those years, and hundreds of orders, I can only remember McMaster-Carr making a mistake twice.

The second time was two weeks ago when I ordered a 5mm tap and got a 1/2″ drill bit.

I emailed them with the photo above and in less than half an hour they replied:

I apologize we delivered the incorrect item. We will issue a replacement for the material you didn’t receive. We will deliver a replacement on Thursday between 2- 4pm.

There is no need to return the drill bit to us. Feel free to keep or discard as you see fit.

And two days after that, I had the tap in hand. No fuss, no excuses, no requirement to return, no RMA bureaucracy, no customs clearance hassles (they always deal with all that), and zero cost to us.

All companies make mistakes, what differentiates good companies from bad ones is how they handle their mistakes. It don’t get no better than McMaster-Carr.


Dripless Shaft Seal Bellows Adjustor

Ever tried to get the bellows perfectly compressed to specification on a PYI dripless shaft seal, or similar, while at full-arm stretch in the bilge, and then get the little set-screws tight before the stainless steel rotor slips back?

Sucks, right? But if we don’t get this adjustment right think sunk boat.

Our friend Phil, he of the amazing salvage, made this gadget up for our friend Hans, he of the great in-boom furling tutorial.

Very simple, very clever, and easy for a machine shop to make.

And, after getting the bellows adjusted right, we could even take the jacking screws out and leave the tool clamped down against the rotor for added security against slippage.


Cruiser Tools—Jesus Pliers

Years ago, when the world was young, I worked as a mainframe computer technician for NCR Corporation—yes they made computers, great big ones.

In the workshop, which I shared with a bunch of techs who fixed mechanical cash registers and accounting machines—fiendishly complicated contraptions that it took great skill to work on—a common cry was “where the blazes are my jesus pliers”.

A name that was, I suspect, conferred on the tool because if you needed to get a circlip off, praying to a deity was the only alternative without the pliers.

Point being, it’s not a tool we often use on boats, but when we need it (look at your steering gear) you gotta have it.

Yes, I know you can get them off with two small screwdrivers. Good for you.

But sooner or later we will damage a vital clip that way, or drive a screwdriver through a tender part of our hands.

I buy the combo ones that will remove a clip inside or outside.

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Cruiser Tools—Files

On our McCurdy and Rhodes 56 I had a whole bunch of different files, but that was a 25-ton boat where weight, while important, was less of an issue.

Since selling that boat, along with all my tools, I have found that the three files shown above will do most things, and while I have a few more at home in the workshop, these live in my tool bag on our new-to-us J/109:

  • Fairly fine metals file flat on one side and curved on the other
  • Four-in-hand
  • Rat tail file, quite coarse

I use the middle one by far the most. Makes short work of removing a lot of fibreglass, epoxy or wood, and will even work on aluminum. One of the most common tools I reach for with a lot of functionality for its size and weight.

More Tools:

  • More recommended power and hand tools for voyagers.
  • And here are four more that most cruisers don’t have, including me up to a few years ago, but should.


Tools: The Little Details Matter

I just took the Edson steering system on our J/109 apart to service it. A fiddly job that requires undoing a bunch of fasteners in awkward places only accessible through the top of the steering pedestal after removing the compass.

This job was way easier and probably took half as long using my new Wera tools than it would have with my old less feature-rich tools.

The picture above shows just one of the cool features: the sockets are knurled to make it easy to spin off a nut by holding the socket. Particularly useful at that awkward point where a fastening is too loose to activate the ratchet in the handle and too stiff to turn by hand without the added leverage of holding the socket.

You can read more about these tools and what I bought here.

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Killer Dyneema Scissors

I have been doing a bunch of splicing of single-braid Dyneema (AmSteel) lately—lots of storm preparation.

The stuff is seriously difficult to cut without making a mess of it, particularly when cutting single strands to taper the bury, but these scissors from D-Splicer do a lovely neat job and will even cut through a full 12mm with a single easy snip, even though mine are only meant to go to 10mm.

I have had a couple pairs of scissors that purport to be for Dyneema before, but these are way better. Highly recommended and worth every penny of their admittedly eye-watering price.

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Brion Toss Splicing Wand

I have owned this great tool for at least 25 years. I don’t use it that often, but when I do, it saves so much agro.

The photo to the right shows the way I was using it locked in a vice to Brummell splice 1/2″ Amsteel.

No way my little D-splicer was going to work to get 40 inches of tail threaded through.