Set your Creativity Adrift


If you like the beach like I do, here’s a way to literally bring a piece of it home… and not look like a packrat. Also, you can make a nice decorative piece for your mantle, coffee table, or end table.

Like many newly-married couples, my wife and I are working on dressing up our home. We’ve decided that the front room should reflect the lifestyle we admire and enjoy (and secretly wish we had); beach houses. We really enjoyed seeing driftwood sailboats and decided that they were a décor element we wanted to include in our living room. There are innumerable variations of driftwood sailboats all over the internet, interior design magazines, and in high-end beach décor stores. In those stores, they charge as much as $35 each for a large one. Obviously, I’m not going to pay so much for a decorative bauble, so I decided I’d give making some a shot before I shelled out so much cash. I also couldn’t make only one because a single boat would be a show-piece, so every flaw I didn’t cover (and couldn’t because I’m using raw natural materials) would be obvious, but several boats would be a collection and the flaws on one piece aren’t so obvious.

I based my design on the basic and most common features of the sailboats I’ve seen: Driftwood hull, simple mast, and cotton cloth sails. My designs started with some driftwood I had collected from the beach (just waiting for the right project). Rather than make a boat design and then try to make the driftwood fit the design, I figured it would be much easier to make the driftwood look like a boat if I used the features of the wood to imply boat-like features. Allowing the shape of the driftwood guide the design of the sailboats is a very straightforward concept, but if you, my reader, aren’t familiar with planning out projects before just going for it, then this might be an important detail that gets overlooked. Driftwood for the hull will probably be the hardest material to get, but it’s also the cheapest if you live on the coast. Finding some wasn’t so hard for me because I had a small collection I made while beach camping last year. I decided that, for simplicity, the masts would all be the same diameter across the three boats, but the position and angle would distinguish them from each other. I also didn’t want the design to be too complicated, so I gave them all triangle sails with holes reinforced with eyelets and held up by small screw eyes with craft string rigging.

Sanding Facets in the End of the Mast

The build process was actually pretty straightforward. I started by cutting and preparing all three mast-dowels. I sanded the tip of the mast that you’d see in such a way that it looks roughly faceted with the intention that it would make the wood match the driftwood better. Next, I drilled the holes in the tops of each driftwood hull for the mast and the pilot holes for the screw eyes. The masts were then glued into place with Elmer’s wood glue and after it dried, I used the mast as a handle to help me sand the bottoms of the driftwood flat so they would sit upright on a table. It took a few tries to make them sit upright well enough, but save yourself some time and don’t worry if they don’t sit perfectly, the angle will change when you add the weight of the rigging string, screw eyes, and sail. Putting one screw eye at each end of the boat, on the tip of the mast, and at the base of the mast finishes the boat.

Masts and Screw Eyes In Driftwood

I made the mistake of trying to trace the outline of the sails directly to the cloth by laying the boat on top of the cloth and marking the corners. If you try something similar, I recommend you trace the shape of the boat on a scrap of paper, make the sail shape there, and use the paper as a stencil for the cloth. Also, the lack of stitching in the sail means that as soon as you start cutting the cloth, you’ll need to be very wary of unravelling, so try to handle the cloth as little as possible. Immediately after cutting the cloth, I set it down on some scrap paper and laid a small bead of fabric glue around their perimeters to keep the edges from fraying. After the fabric glue dried, I cut slits in the cloth, cutting between threads to (you guessed it) keep the unravelling to a minimum. Seat the eyelets and you’re done. I had to tie and untie the rigging without the sails many, many times before I could figure out what looked right, so don’t give up until you get it just right. After you get the whole thing assembled, don’t forget to sand the bottom a little more so the boats sit upright. Honestly, you can’t forget because the boats will probably fall over.

Making Sails

I had a lot of ideas about how to assemble the hull, rigging, and sails, so rather than try to figure out which version was the very best and make all three identical and boring, I made each one unique. For example, one boat has no sails. On another, the sail is secured to the mast by the screw eyes instead of by the rigging. The third has the rigging sandwiched between the sail and mast unlike it’s counterpart which has the rigging in front. Also, on one I decided to set the mast at an angle in the assembly stage, just to make it different.

None of These Boats is Quite Like the Other

So, in summary, you get some driftwood, pop a hole in it, then glue a stick in the hole, drape some cloth on it, and you’re done! The fun of this project is figuring out how YOU want to make it.

That was my project day, how was yours?

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