It was so long ago that I can’t recall which of us came up with the idea. I think it was my buddy and woodworking coworker at the time, Rolf Peterson. We were both employed at my father’s and uncle’s professional woodshop — Rolf between college classes, me between life stages, figuring out what to do next.
I had a few little kids at the time, so I regularly made small wooden toys for them. Rolf didn’t have children, but he did have a strong interest in boats. He and his dad were sailors. Rolf decided that we should make some toy boats, and I said why not. I should preface this by saying that we were doing production work at the time — so it was not too surprising that after an evening’s work, we had about 50 wooden boats: a fleet that included both the precursor to this little tugboat, plus a flotilla of small sailboats. When it came time to select a simple-to-make toy, that little boat drifted forth from the dark reaches of my memory. It is a sweet little craft that’s kid-tested, and as I have indicated already, you can make a pile of them in no time. So if you have a few little ones that might enjoy a tub companion, or who might want to sail them across the carpet, this toy is for you.
Making the Hull
To look their best, the hull, cabin and smokestack (pieces 1, 2 and 3) should be made from different species of wood. We chose Douglas fir for the hulls that we made so many years ago, because we had it on hand. This time, I used birch lumber. Start making the hull by tracing its shape on a properly sized piece of 1-3⁄4″-thick stock. Step over to your band saw and set the table to a 30° angle. I recommend a 1/4″-wide or narrower band saw blade for this cut. Any wider and the shape at the stern (back of the boat for you landlubbers) would be harder to cut. With a slow, controlled pace. If you are going to make a few of these toys, line them up and cut them out one after the other. Your next stop is at a power sander of some sort. I have a 4 x 24 oscillating belt sander that worked great for this task. A vertical disk sander would likely work just as well. Get busy and remove all the saw marks from the cut you just made. If your saw blade cuts similar to mine, the stern of your boat will need a little extra attention to clean things up.
After the hull is sanded smooth, you need to shape the top edge of the boat. A 3/8″ bearing guided roundover bit chucked into a router table will do this job nicely. Set the bit high enough to cut into the “deck” of your toy boat. Be careful here, because the angled shape of the hull will exaggerate this cut. Work up to it in steps. The result of this operation is that you will clean up the edge and form a shape that looks a bit like a boat’s rub rail. As just makes sense, when you complete each component of the boat, take a few minutes and sand it smooth, removing any machine marks or defects. I used a palm sander for this task.