Small Projects:  2003

August 14, 2003
Tiller Damage and Repair

For some time, I had been aware that my tiller--a laminated mahogany/ash stock tiller manufactured by H&L Marine that I purchased new in 2001--was not in the greatest shape.  The glue used in these manufactured tillers tends to let go between the laminations over time, and I had seen signs of this.  Also, the glue failure was exacerbated by the fact that I had drilled a large hole into the tiller in order to install my tiller extension housing., which of course allowed water in through the top.  I wasn't too concerned about it, as I planned to build a new tiller over the coming off-season anyway.

At some point, I replaced the screws holding the tiller extension, since the originals were stripped.  (The tiller extension puts a fair strain on the tiller when in use, especially on aggressive beats where the weather helm is significant.  I always steer with the extension--it just feels wrong without it, to me.)  The larger screws seemed to be the kiss of death, and a small split began to form shortly thereafter.

damagedtiller-o.jpg (28684 bytes)During  a spirited sail one day, I noticed with some trepidation that the tiller was splitting right down the middle, in essence, from top to bottom.  Yikes!  I abandoned the tiller extension's use for the rest of the day (which made me unhappy...I missed it) and had no trouble; the split was not catastrophic yet, but could easily have become worse had I continued to use the tiller extension.  

I didn't want to replace the tiller, since I wanted to build my own during the winter.  But I needed to be able to use the extension, so obviously I'd have to do something since the current situation was unworkable.  I didn't particularly care about the existing tiller--it could make a decent second spare (I have the original, too), so the type of repair was not important as long as it worked.

Back on the mooring, I removed the tiller from the tiller head and replaced it, temporarily, with the original solid oak tiller that came with the boat.  This allowed me to tie the rudder securely, as I always do.  Plus, I could still use the boat, though I'd enjoy myself less with the old tiller.  I brought the "new" tiller home with me for a quick repair.

tillerpatch1-o.jpg (45095 bytes)First, I removed the hardware in the way, and then sanded the varnish off the wood in an area all the way around the tiller at the damaged spot--about 6-8 inches in width.  Next, I cleaned the surface all up, and mixed some thick epoxy, which I forced into the hole where the tiller extension housing had been to fill and seal it.  (Later, I'll red rill the hole from scratch).  I cut two strips of fiberglass cloth--one about 3-4" in width, the other a couple inches wider.  After soaking them in epoxy resin, plus one smaller scrap of cloth that I applied to the split portion of the tiller first, I wrapped the pieces around the tiller, building up a relatively heavy band of fiberglass reinforcement.  I rolled the material smooth and left it to cure.

tillerpatch2-o.jpg (58098 bytes)

tillerpatch3-o.jpg (52925 bytes)The next day, when the resin was cured, I sanded the patch smooth, faired in the edges, and redrilled the holes for the tiller extension hardware as needed.  Then, as a final touch, I applied a coat of varnish to the whole tiller--including the patch.  The patch may not be particularly elegant, but it is strong and effective.  

tillervarnish-o.jpg (30920 bytes)

To see the process involved in designing and building a new tiller, please click here.

Glissando, Pearson  Triton #381

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