$5,000 D.I.Y. dorade boxes (aka Roger learns to build stuff)

Pelican Bob is 30 years old this year  ( Happy 3 Decades, Bob! ) so a lot of things need maintaining or replacing.  I have a spreadsheet – a very long spreadsheet.  But sometimes your carefully devised schedule is re-prioritised by outside forces. Like when they explode.

My friend Michael and I were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon sail last January. It was a perfect day for sailing and one of the last before the old engine went gurgle. Passing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the way home we encountered a wind shift which threw us into an accidental jibe. The mainsheet caught one of the dorade (ventilation) boxes as it went by and ‘boom’ it went.  Yes, that’s why it’s called a ‘boom’.  It seemed to have exploded as bits of paint, wood and dust flew into the air.


The old dorade box

The old dorade box

It seems that the paint had hidden the underlying wood rot  – and it seems there had been quite a bit of wood rot!  Thick cardboard held together with paint would have been stronger; you could brush the wood fibres away with your finger.

Dorade bottom of old one smallSo I set about the process of building replacement dorade boxes.  First obstacle?  I hadn’t done any woodwork since making a pencil case in high school in 1982.  I asked a guy I used to skate with who is a wood turner if he’d make them for me.  He said he would and gave me ‘mates rates’ but he reckoned it would be good for me to do it myself.  I agreed.  I had no idea what wood to use so he recommended I head off to a timberyard and to source the timber and get their advice.  I came away with some lovely looking jarrah which is durable, hard, and heavy.  Weight is kind of a bad thing on a boat but I’m not racing so I don’t really care.


Bench with dorade timber in vice

The next obstacle was not having any tools. Looking at some basic woodworking texts it seemed I needed a planer.  I scoured the local weekend markets and found a couple of old Stanley hand planes; a number 4 and a number 5.  I also found a few old chisels and some other bits and pieces.  I also lacked a workbench.  I have a garage but space is at a premium so Em found this wonderful fold-down bench with shadow board on sale at the Big Green Shed.

Needing to sharpen the plane blades I bought a Stanley honing stone and guide. Then I realised that honing and sharpening are different things so I bought a wet grinder.  Then… ah, that satisfying sound of a blade shaving paper-thin curls of timber!

Dorades new and old small

Dorade box – old and new

I realised that these boxes were quite complex tasks for first forays into woodworking.  I wished I was making a pencil case!  They sit on a deck that slopes away to the side and front so every side is a quadrilateral without parralel sides. Also the sides are not 90 degrees to the top (they slope out making it easier for the mainsheet / green water to slide over them) making angles which must fit in with the adjacent sides. They may not look too complex but my geometry knowledge is long gone, if it ever existed, so I decided to copy the old one as best I could in pine and then work from that model.

Dorade boxes: The whole set

Dorade boxes: The whole set

So I sawed and planed and sanded and drilled. I learned a bit about working with grain and endgrain and working with a variety of hand and power tools. I made so many mistakes I can’t recall them all.  These three boxes took me a huge number of hours because everything I did was new; if I costed these based on my usual earnings per hour I’m sure they would have cost me over $5,000, maybe twice that!


Roger installing dorade box adjAnyway, in the end they seemed to have turned out pretty well; the jarrah is such a lovely colour. I decided not to bother with gluing the sides since any small gaps wouldn’t hinder their functionality. I simply drove decking screws into counter-sunk holes and reckon they’re bomb-proof.  I also decided not to cover them in polyurethane or varnish but to simply treat them with wood oil.  Yes it will need reapplication but according to my guru, Don Casey, there seem to be issues with PU on external timber, plus I can always decide to redo them in PU later if I find the oil lacking.

Dorade in place adjHowever, the biggest outcome of my 6 month woodworking project was vastly increased confidence in my ability to build, repair, and generally have a go at things I haven’t tackled before.  This project required me to use a circular saw, jigsaw, hand plane, electric plane, drill, driver, sanding block, electric sander, tap and die set (when I put the bench together incorrectly) and pick up that old childhood nemisis – the paint brush.  To install it I had to fill and redrill holes in the cabin top and discover, source, and use butyl tape. Then there’s the satisfaction of fashioning an object of beauty and utility with your own hands.  Since then my boat repair To Do list is quaking in its boots!  That’s money well spent, I reckon.



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2 Responses to $5,000 D.I.Y. dorade boxes (aka Roger learns to build stuff)

  1. Sue Williamson says:

    What a great thing to do even if it did take so long. Bob will be so much more precious for all the love involved. And anyway you like a challenge.

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