Building a Mahogany Boathook

This page was last updated on 20 November 2003.

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A proper boathook is a pleasing addition to the exterior of any boat.  A boring, lousy aluminum or plastic boathook, as commonly seen, is not a pleasing aesthetic addition, though these units do the job for which they are designed.  I had one of the standard telescoping aluminum hooks, which worked fine, but was ugly.  As tends to happen, the telescoping feature began to fail, locking the hook into a set position.  To keep the hook out of the way, yet ready for use, I stored it along the starboard lower shroud, where it did little to enhance the overall look of the boat.

Wooden boathooks with bronze tips are much more attractive, of course,  A pre-made version is advertised in the backs of sailing magazines for the ridiculous price of $150 or so, which of course is far too high for consideration.

A couple years back, I purchased a bronze boathook tip on a whim while wandering through the store.  It was only around $25 or something.  Almost comically, creating a pole to go with the hook became one of those "I kept meaning to" projects.  Many people use wooden curtain rods or dowels to secure the hook, which is OK--but the solid wood of the rods tends to bend and warp, and just doesn't hold up that well.  I looked into purchasing dowel material from a company that I used to once buy teak dowels, but their prices were high, and to prevent damage to the material they would only ship a minimum order of two lengths, though I only wanted one.  And it was too expensive for that.  

After some thought and discussion with fellow sailors, I decided to laminate up a wooden blank out of mahogany and build the pole myself.  Because I don't have a lathe--and even if I did it wouldn't be long enough to turn a boathook--I, after consultation with others, decided that a square blank with widely rounded corners would be not only sufficient, but even preferable.

boathookblank1.jpg (37746 bytes)With mahogany on hand, I finally turned to the boathook project after about two years of looking at my bronze hook end and tolerating my junky boathook on the boat.  I planed a rough mahogany board till it was smooth on each side, not worrying about the final thickness (it ended up at about 7/8" in thickness).  As it happened, the board I pulled from the rack featured tight, dense grain and a very pleasing deep mahogany color--unlike some of the other stock I have that is lighter in both color and texture.  The board featured a deep split along one edge, but there was plenty of material even after ripping off the damaged section.  I cut the remaining piece into two lengths approximately 2" in width, which is more than large enough for the boathook (the ultimate diameter will end up as somewhere around 1-1/2").

I glued the two pieces together on their flats to create a blank that was about 2" in width by well over 1-1/2" in thickness.  I glued the boards with resorcinol glue, which, with its red color, is a good choice for use with mahogany.  It's also very strong and waterproof.  I like using it instead of epoxy for many smaller projects.  I applied a coat of the glue to each board, then clamped them together, trying to keep the edges flush on one side so as to make final sizing easier.
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After allowing the glued-up blank to cure overnight, I unclamped it and continued with the fabrication.  With one straight edge, it was easy to saw the blank to the proper width (1-1/2"), and then to square it off in the other direction.  I ended up with a blank that was 1-1/2" square and over eight feet long to hooklength.jpg (32608 bytes)tart.  When sawing the blank in the direction parallel to the glue line between the two boards, I sawed equal amounts off each side, so the glue line remained in the middle of the blank.

Next, I mocked up the hook end to determine how long I wanted the boathook to be.  I finally settled on six feet of exposed handle beyond the hook, and an overall length of about 80".  This seemed to be plenty long without being overwhelming or awkward to handle.  On a 28' boat with only 8' of beam, I think this is about as big as a one-piece boathook can get without being ridiculous.  I cut the excess off with my miter box, leaving me with a 2' blank with which to practice ultimate boathook shape.

bhgroove.jpg (34897 bytes)I continued by working on milling the blank into the shape I wanted.  Using the scrap from the end of the blank, I set up my large router table with a cove bit and adjusted the fence till it cut down the center of one side of the blank.  I set the depth so that the bit left a shallow groove in the side of the blank.  When I was satisfied with the settings, I ran the actual blank over the router table, plowing out the groove on one side.  I stopped the groove short of each end.  When installed, the hook part of the bronze end will be in line with this groove, so it will be easy to tell which direction the hook is facing even in the dark.  And the groove helps with a sure grip on the pole, too.  (The pencil is there to help show the groove.)

mockup.jpg (15864 bytes)With the groove milled, I changed the bit in the router to a 3/8" roundover bit and, after some adjustment and trial runs with the scrap, ran the main blank through, rounding over all four corners.  The end result was a beefy squareish-roundish handle with smoothly rounded edges and a pleasing finger groove.

taperedend.jpg (16588 bytes)To fit the hook on the end of the blank, I sanded the profile into roughly the right shape, tapering the wood down evenly on all sides so that I could insert an appropriate length into the hollow hook end.  I left a small shoulder on the top end of the taper, so that the hook fit more or less flush and tightly with the exposed part of the handle.  With that done, I sanded the entire blank, smoothing all the rounded corners and creating a rounded top end opposite the hook.  There was a worm hole or something that was exposed on one of the cut edges, so I mixed up some epoxy thickened with mahogany sawdust and a bit of cabosil, and pressed it into the opening, and set the handle aside to dry overnight before finish sanding it and beginning the varnish application.

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Work Remaining:  10 coats of varnish.  Photos of the completed boathook will follow in due time.

Glissando, Pearson  Triton #381

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