Wood & Leather Bailers

The Urban Oarsman Makes Wood & Leather Bailers for Gwragedd Annwn.

The Urban Oarsman makes wood & leather bailers

I have made bailers before, out of plastic four litre/one gallon jugs.  The plastic jugs only last so long before sunlight degrades the plastic and they break.  All the bailers that I had have made met this untimely, vampiric death…I have decided to make some Wood & Leather bailers more suited to a wooden boat.  I did like the way the jug bailers worked, as the forward lip of the bailer conformed to the bottom of the boat and they felt balanced when bailing.

Rose midsection and handle plan transferred to the plank using carbon paper

A Philip C. Bolger fan, I decided to use the mid-section of his sailing ship, “Rose” as the pattern for the bailer base.  I decided that the bailer should be about the same size as the plastic ones.

Cutting out on the bandsaw

I had an old piece of cedar door sill hanging around the shop so I used it.  I cut out the base and the handle.

The roughed-out handle

I then cut a notch in the base and attached the handle.

Marking the notch

Cutting the notch

Handle fitted.

Rough fitting done…time to sand and shape.

I used the top wheel on my 1″ belt sander to shape and sand the handle.

Getting a good fit for my hand

I cut a slot into the handle to put a wedge in to help keep the handle in the base.

Glued up, wedge in

When the glue was dry, I sanded and shaped the handle and base to fit my right hand (I am right handed and bail with my right hand).  I took off all the sharp edges.


I next marked out the leather scoop/lip on a leftover oar-leathering piece.

Marking out

I determined the width by measuring the distance from the gunnels of the base using a tape measure.  I wanted to insure that the scoop/lip would go come up a little on the base, imitating the plastic bailers shape.  I used sharp scissors to make the cut.

Dry fit

With all the pieces assembled, I final sanded the base/handle to fit my hand and did a final dry fit.

Final test fit

I marked and pre-drilled the holes in the leather.


The holes are drilled, time to put the leather on.

Lining up the first copper nail

All the nails are in, time to seal the leather.

Leather attached

I use “Snowguard” on my oar leathers so I decided to use it here too.

Ready to seal

The leather turns much darker after you put the leather seal on.  I put the bailer in the oven on 200° to melt the sealer into the leather and wood.

Fresh out of the oven

Because it is hard to source leather, I made another bailer using an Ikea cutting matt instead of leather using the same techniques I used to make the leather one.  The cutting mats are easy to find.  I did pre-drill the holes in the cutting mat.

Wood & Ikea cutting mat bailer

Finished product:

Finished wood & Ikea cutting mat bailer

I took the bailers and the plastic jug one down to the sailing club and bailed out all of the boats.  The plastic jug bailer performed as expected.  Good balance, lip conforms to boat’s bottom and no spillage.

The “Standard” bailing jug

The scoop on the Ikea cutting mat bailer is too long…the water in the scoop tends to slop over the handle while scooping, wetting the hand of the person bailing.  The scoop/lip did conform to the boat’s bottom, but the leverage of the long scoop made the bailer feel unbalanced.  The plastic cutting board cracked along the nail line.  I guess the Ikea cutting board is not the right material for the job.

Cracks in the cutting board material

The Wood & Leather bailer worked well.  I found that it was easier to bail when I put my thumb over the base of the bailer.

Best hand position

The Wood & Leather bailer did not scoop as much water as the plastic jug one, but in all other respects it performed just as well.  Good balance, the leather lip did conform to the boats bottom and very little spillage.  I am going to use the Wood & Leather bailer and see how long it lasts.


It does look much better than the plastic jug one.

Dry rowing,




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1 Response to Wood & Leather Bailers

  1. Rob Isenberg says:

    Thank you for publishing the information on the wood/leather boat bailer. I’m going to make one for my aux. Sail, rowing craft Shearwater by Joel White. Mine was built by an English Yacht Captain waiting for the new boat with time on his hands, hence “Key Lime”. What came about was construction supervision of Expedition Yachts in Turkey. “Key Lime” was left with friends to care for and use, twice yet both did neither! His wife mentioned me and so it was done. After the first year all the burn from sun in the oak thwarts, etc I’d bleached out and all varnish redone. With other projects finished, the owner was very happy and at the end of the boat show was back to Turkey. Next year I had traveled her up the east coast to Beverly, MA and my Family. I entered her in the Boston Antique and Classic Boat Rendezvous. A lot of people voted for her as a write in as she was in none of the judged categories. The Committee created for her the Marco Polo award for the greatest distance traveled to the show! On my return trip I launched and sailed State by State down the coast beside Beverly I spent a good long while in Beaufort, NC. Friends I’d made cruising in the Keys years before had swallowed the anchor ⚓️ there and bought a house. Through many conversations I decided I would move to NC. When the builder came to FL for the boatshow and saw “Key Lime” she now had a fine fitted cover and her Marco Polo Award! Next year upon return I’d taken 2nd overall in the Washington’s Birthday Regatta at the Barnacle, the Munroe Estate in Coconut Grove/Dinner Key, Miami. This race was an annual event in Biscayne Bay before gas powered motor Yachts became popular. Commodore Ralph Munroe and Cap’n Nat Herreshoff were friends and collaborators. The Herreshoffs spent much of the winter with the Munroes at the Barnacle. The sons and sister of Wirth Munroe donated the estate to the State solely as a Park. Worth the visit. Wirth Munroe and L. Francis grew up as friends and continued the friendship like their dad’s including winter hosts at the Barnacle. William Munroe, Halsey and Robert Herreshoff carried the design tradition on, a friendship as well. I don’t know if there was much time spent in leisure like in previous days. With her cosmetics in top shape, all her awards and the improvements before leaving he says to me “If I want another small boat I will build one. This one is yours!” Being a builder, owner, user and maintainer of wooden boats you know as well as I, the gift of a wooden boat is like giving someone a Saint Bernard Puppy!”
    I’ve just completed a total restoration on her and she is looking fine. She’s going to be in the Woodenboat Show at the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort on May 6th. A fun event at a great museum. A big exhibit of artifacts from “Queen Ann’s Revenge”, Blackbeard’s ship. Scuttled just outside the inlet.
    There are also two rowing groups in Beaufort on both Gigs and single scull. Maybe something you may consider for future shows or even this one. Exhibit space still open. The Biggest Woodenboat Show in the South!
    Thanks again for the plans for the bailer, I’m sure it will work just fine.
    All the Best. Reef Early! Rob ⚓️

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