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Many of us Boatbuilders like to work alone. We head for our garage or shop on a Saturday morning long before the family is awake, and we have sweet time for ourselves. Working alone often is a great way to unwind, collect one’s thoughts and just quiet one’s mind after a stressful week. You alone decide how something is to be built, and you alone choose when to take a break. It’s satisfying to know, isn’t it, that the success of your day depends on you and on no one else?

Of course, building boats without help can have its downside; after all, most of us have only two hands (if you have more than two please send photos).  You can, however, overcome some physical limitations of working alone by using a few tricks and tools.

Here are a few that many have found valuable as they worked on their boats; maybe they might seem too obvious to bother writing about, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. A little ingenuity often can replace a call for help and keep your project moving forward.

After reading our suggestions, please add your comments, tricks and ideas at the end of this article – we’re really anxious to learn from you, too!

Belt Clip

When working alone, I’m sure we all know just how frustrating it can be to finally get a workpiece in exactly the right spot to be fastened, only to realize that you’ve left your screw gun on your workbench or on the floor just beyond arm’s reach.  Avoid this by wearing a tool belt with a belt clip that holds your screw gun at the ready at all times. There is a multitude of cool belt, vest and apron accessories designed to keep your tools within easy reach. Get yourself a basic tool belt, vest or shop apron and use it just once and it’ll be the first thing you grab the next time you walk into your work area.

Store Lumber Vertically

When you’re alone, it’s a real chore to unearth boards from the bottom of a horizontal stack. Boards stored upright against brackets are easy to see and sort. Just flip through the boards and tip out the ones you want. You don’t have to lift anything.


Duct Tape

Need I say more than “Duct (or Duck) Tape”?  I don’t think there’s a do-it-yourselfer alive who hasn’t found a multitude of uses for this wonderful invention. That basic tool belt/vest/shop apron mentioned above should also have a spot reserved for a roll of duct tape; you’ll find it invaluable.

As a matter of fact, according to NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill, duct tape had been stowed on board every mission since early in the Gemini days.  NASA engineers and astronauts have used duct tape in the course of their work, including in some emergency situations. One such usage occurred in 1970, when the square carbon dioxide filters from Apollo 13’s failed command module had to be modified to fit round receptacles in the lunar module, which was being used as a lifeboat after an explosion en route to the moon. A workaround used duct tape and other items on board Apollo 13, with the ground crew relaying instructions to the flight crew. The lunar module’s CO2 scrubbers started working again, saving the lives of the three astronauts on board.

Ed Smylie, who designed the scrubber modification in just two days, said later that he knew the problem was solvable when it was confirmed that duct tape was on the spacecraft: “I felt like we were home free,” he said in 2005. “One thing a Southern boy will never say is, ‘I don’t think duct tape will fix it.’”

Duct tape was also used aboard Apollo 17 to improvise a repair to a damaged fender on the lunar rover, preventing possible damage from the roostertails of lunar dust as they drove.

Of course, it’s more likely you are working on a boat rather than on a spacecraft, but you’ll still find duct tape handy for things like temporarily holding a piece of work in place, picking up fasteners which have dropped onto the floor, using it as an emergency clamp when all of your other clamps are already in use, or even as a baby-sitter if one of your young-uns wanders into your workshop!

So, what are your tips for working alone? We’d love to hear them!


Your Thoughts?

One Response to Shop Talk: A Few Tips for Working Alone

  1. Rod Hughes · My own boss , what i say goes yeh !!!! at Retired/Disabled
    I have found that movable extension tables handy when using the large shop equipment so I don’t have to have some body catch the material as it comes out of the machine.

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