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Easy Woodworking Project ⛵️ Our DIY Tiller

Deciding the ideal way to steer our boat was a big step in our sailboat restoration project, which started off on the wrong foot. But after some trial and error, we landed back on using a tiller steering system, so now we will be crafting our own custom tiller and extension arm that will be one of the most important parts of our boat.

Watch our full video of how we built our very own handcrafted tiller:

What to consider when choosing the size of your sailboat tiller:

The length of your sailboat tiller is crucial for a few key reasons:

  1. Control and Maneuverability: When your tiller is longer, you have more leverage. This means you can steer your boat more easily, even in tricky conditions like strong winds or choppy waters.

  2. Comfort and Ergonomics: If your tiller is too short, you might find yourself hunching over or straining to reach it, especially during long sails. But with the right length tiller, you'll stay comfortable and relaxed, even on extended journeys.

  3. Clearance: It's important that your tiller gives you plenty of room to move without bumping into anything else on your boat, like the boom or rigging. That way, you can steer confidently without worrying about accidents or injuries.

Choosing the perfect length for your tiller is all about ensuring you have the best possible experience on the water—smooth, comfortable, and safe sailing every time!

The shape of your sailboat tiller matters!

When it comes to sailing, the shape of your tiller is pretty important. Here's why:

  1. Comfortable Grip: You want a tiller that feels just right in your hand, making it easy and comfy to steer. Think about those long days out on the water – a well-shaped tiller means less strain on your hands and more enjoyment of your time sailing.

  2. Good Visibility: Picture yourself at the helm, scanning the horizon for the next adventure. A tiller that's shaped just so won't block your view of what's ahead. That means smoother sailing and fewer surprises along the way.

  3. No Obstructions: You don't want your tiller getting in the way of things like your mainsheet or other gear on deck. A well-designed shape ensures that you've got plenty of space to move around and handle your boat without any awkward bumps or snags.

  4. Better Performance: Believe it or not, the shape of your tiller can even affect how your boat handles. A good shape means smoother steering and more responsive control, so you can sail with confidence and precision.

So, when you're thinking about your tiller, remember – it's not just a stick, it's your connection to the water. It plays a significant role in the comfort, safety, and performance of the sailboat. Choose wisely for happy sailing!

How to make a custom wood tiller for your sailboat:

First off, its important to know that for this easy woodworking project, big machinery is not necessary. You will need to be able to cut strips of hardwood and having

Minimum Tools Required:

  1. Table saw

  2. Hand drill

  3. Jigsaw

  4. Sandpaper

  5. Serrated Putty Knife

Optional Tools:

  1. Angle grinder with sanding flap disc (for curved surfaces)

  2. Sander (for flat surfaces)

  3. Bandsaw (instead of jigsaw)

  4. Clamps

Other Materials

  1. 4mm strips of wood

  2. Block of wood for base

  3. Epoxy Glue

  4. Screws

To start, Sergio created the mold based on the desired shape of the tiller. Ours was a simple over aching curve in which the extension rod would be resting on top of it. This was simple enough to make with 6mm plywood arching over a base of vertical scrap pieces. Note: this was also firmly attached to our table to make it even more stable.


We took our time to apply packing tape to all the surfaces that would be in contact with the glue. That goes for the top of the mold as well as all surfaces of the braces. This creates a surface that the glue will not adhere too, making it easy to remove from your mold after the glue dries. This glue is NO JOKE and will stick forever if you let it. Since we were creating our tiller and extension in the same tight mold, we also applied tape between the both pieces. This however did not work out well and since they were pushing up against each other in the mold. The glue ended up adhering to the tape as well and we had to cut them apart. We recommend making a mold that has a better separation to avoid this step. Or making your pieces separately. Though it was simple enough to separate them with our multi-tool.

He then took our strips of 4mm teak hardwood cut to size. Together we mixed the epoxy glue together and applied it to both sides of the strips that would be in contact using a serrated putty knife. Less is more in this instance. It might seem like a little quantity of glue, but when pressed together it will run out the sides and not only be wasted, but it will add added work later when you have to sand it off.

Since we did not have many clamps, Sergio used this clever technique using hand cut wood braces from scrap wood that drill down into the mold. He then inserted small wedges of wood under each braces to apply the maximum amount of pressure on each section. Then we left it for 24 hours to cure entirely.

The next day he removed the dried laminated wood, separated the tiller from the extension rod and then cleaned up the pieces trying not to remove any wood necessary since we had cut ours very close to size already.

This next step really depends on your taste, shaping the laminated wood into your desired handle is a bit of an art form that you should take your time doing.

You should consider the handle, and making it comfortable and easy to grip for long periods of time. Also consider the ascetics and how it looks as it is also the centerpiece of the cockpit and if you spent all this time making it already, it should look good so that everyone who enters your boat can see what a great job you did!

If you had extra wood, you could laminate the butt end of the tiller handle in one go. For us, we were working with scrap wood and our strips were already very narrow. Because of this we made our handle separate and added a solid wood end using dowels to complete the length and width we wanted on our tiller. Check out the full video to see the fun technique Sergio used to create our own dowels and insert them in seconds using a driller!

Finishing Touches and Fittings

A wood piece that will get so much wear and tear from the sun and sea water will need to be varnished then sanded, then varnished and then sanded again several times. This is to get the varnish to penetrate completely and give the wood the maximum amount of protection possible. At this point we just varnished ours once to see the color and now we are on to trying to find the fittings for not only the tiller head but also the extension arm. This turns out to be a bigger challenge than we thought since they are so specialized and specific – that means there are fewer options and suppliers out there.

We are unable to reuse the original tiller head fitting because it functioned differently from our new tiller. The base was attached direly to the long end of the rudder and operated directly off the transome of the boat.

Our new tiller will be attached to the rudder stock which will pass though the lazarette. Because of this we are in need of new fittings.

We are in search of these two items below to complete our project, So if you have any suggestions on how we can create them or where we can purchase them, let us know!


Tiller Head Fitting:


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