Building a Nautical Table and Bookcase
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by Jack Panter - Victoria B.C. Canada

I notice a lot of folks simply can’t build a boat. No amount of encouragement or even good books like Harold Payson’s “Instant Boats” or Jim Michalak’s “Boat Building for Beginners and Beyond” (which I recommend) …nothing will help those of us who are simply not ‘boat builders’. However, all is not lost. Just because you can’t build a boat does not mean you can’t get out on the water in your own creation. I came across a picture of a fellow who obviously was not a boat builder but he managed to get his creation up on plane ….. I am sure I can do as good a job and so can other non-boat builders!

Here we see how making a table can get you out on the water with what is obviously great performance with a small horsepower engine. This is important as it appears that only people with a lot of money can build boats. I am told ‘BOAT’ is an acronym for ‘Bring On Another Thousand’. On the other hand, a table wouldn’t cost as much to build as your average hydroplane …and besides it only takes straight cuts with a saw… none of those hard curved parts that boat builders make.

Now some might wonder if this craft is all that seaworthy. After all a lot of spray would kick up and it would be a fair weather table at best. I suppose one could tie some tarps between the legs to keep the spray out but it would be simpler and probably cheaper just to nail some plywood to the legs. Trouble is when you go to the boat launch you would run into some ‘boaty’ type know it all who would likely point out to everybody that you were going to sea on a dining room table! So it might be best to disguise the table as a boat. How, you might ask, is this possible? I was at a loss myself but I accidentally came across plans for a ‘book case’ that will work well. I found the picture on the right at: which gave me an idea how to disguise the table as a boat!

Now it can be seen that the back side of this book shelf is flat like a table …in fact, if you stood a table up on end with its legs sticking out you could see how the two ideas could be combined so your planing outboard powered table could easily be disguised as a boat! But you don’t have to know anything about boatbuilding to do this. If your table had six sets of legs and an extra one for the pointy end, you’d have something to nail the shelves to and the sides as well. Notice how the book shelf has a floor (bottom shelf) …boat builders would call this a “transom” which would likely require boatbuilding skills of some kind. Personally I would find building a bottom ‘shelf’ easy. Next you will notice four shelves …Boat builders call these things “bulkheads”; makes no sense at all. They are obviously shelves and even non-boat builders can make them. It’s pretty clear that this bookcase could go over and through the water better than the table as it has a pointy end on it and those sides will make it dry compared to the table without the boatlike disguise.

Now some may object that boat builders always have a bend in the bottom of the boat, something they call “rocker”. Well….maybe a sailboat has to have some of that …a rowboat goes easier if the bottom edge of the transom (bottom shelf) is out of the water. But!!! Well known boat designers don’t always have this “rocker” in their table tops …I mean boat bottoms.

Here we see a boat design from GlenL (see: This boat is his Sweet Caroline dory skiff. Nice boat. Now you can see how tricky these boaty types are. You’ll notice he put the shelves in sideways and called them “thwarts”. If you are a book case builder like me you can see immediately these are in fact shelves! The other trick is to put the bottom shelf on at an angle and call it a “transom.” Now you are likely asking yourself what about the table legs? Well Glen-L is very clever and he hides the legs pretty well, but they are there. You can see two legs nailed to the bottom shelf (transom) in the picture. It is easier in the case of the Spira Carolinian dory to see the table legs. See :

Here you can see the legs nailed to the bottom shelf and there are 8 sets of legs on this table. Now a boat builder will refer to these as “frames” and make a fuss about them but they are actually the same as sawhorse legs. The legs angle out from the top. This helps to keep your sawhorse right side up on land …it will help keep your table (boat shaped book shelf) right side up in the water. Boaty types refer to this as “hull flare” and will drive you crazy arguing about how much of this ‘flare’ is needed for either appearance or sea worthiness or both. This is actually not all that important as Phil Bolger, a great designer, has proven with his Sneakeasy among other designs …no flare is needed if the book shelf is long and narrow. See:

Now you will notice another thing you can do to disguise your table as a boat. This is the shape of the front edge of the book shelf (becomes the top when laid on its back in the water). The pointy end, boaty sorts call this the “bow”, is high …the middle is low and then it gets a bit higher at the bottom shelf (transom). Boaty people call this the ‘sheer line’. As you can see there is a lot of variety here so you can decide what looks best to you.

Some book shelf and table makers might wonder about making the curve in the sides. Now it is apparently pretty simple to build a table and fill in the sides by nailing plywood to the legs …to get the bend for the book case is easy. All you do is make the bottom shelf and the middle shelf first. At the top of the book shelves as seen in the picture above, there is only one ‘leg’ at the very top centre and the sides bend in and get nailed to it. This makes a curve and you just nail the other legs to the sides and nail the shelves (cut to length) to the legs! Combine that with flipping a couple of the shelves on their sides and referring to them as “thwarts,” if anyone is listening, and you can likely use the boat launch without anyone noticing you don’t know diddly about boat building!

Now I have to point out that cosmetics are important in the boaty world. If you log on to some of the internet sites noted above you will see what other people have done to make their boats look very nautical. You can do that too but beware it will cost a bundle. Building a table and book shelves won’t set you back more than a couple of hundred dollars …..if it was a boat it could cost way more because they have “fittings” ….These are small expensive bits of polished brass or chromed metal that boaty people fasten all over the place to look very nautical. You’ll notice the planing table in the first picture did not have any “fittings” and apparently performed very well. Your book shelf/table won’t go better with lots of fittings either. Money could be better spent on accommodations.

Accommodations are merely the number of people that can be seated at the table. This determines how long the table has to be. Now when it comes to building a sea going table the problem gets easy as plywood comes in four by eight foot sheets and why cut any more than needed? The table/shelves will be four feet wide on the bottom! So how long will it be? Well, you need six feet to lay down and maybe three feet to sit and steer, three feet for an anchor locker and storage up front, five feet for a cockpit, and about three feet for an engine well (I recommend this latter item especially if Jim Michalak and Max Wawrzyniak have been a bad influence on you and you have a collection of old outboards in varying states of operability) An engine well as pictured above in the Carolina dory boats lets you remove and replace an engine or do minor repairs without hanging precariously over the bottom shelf of your bookcase …I mean table …disguised as a boat. So I suggest about 18 to 20 feet is a good length ….mainly because that’s as big a table or book case I’d ever want to build! ….and that’s all that will fit in my shop with the door closed.

Accommodations might also refer to staying dry and warm out on the water. Boats have decks and trunks and pilot houses and standing tops. This is all hard stuff to make and requires boat building skills. Fortunately, none of this is needed if you are a table and book shelf builder! You’ll notice in the picture of the book shelf above, that the very top part is covered over. This, on a real boat, is called the “fore deck” If you want your boat to be dry make this part bigger and longer. The ‘pilot house’ is basically another table set right side up on the deck …only fill the space between the table legs on the front and sides with windows made of plastic. So basically if you can build a box or a table you can have a snug cabin on your boat. You don’t have to build this right away …add it later.

Must go now. Have to buy plywood and nails and glue. I told my wife I am going to build a big table and maybe some book shelves. She is sure a lot happier than when she thought I was going to be building a boat.…. I’ll let you know how it turns out.