Power tools in boat building are usually required and there is no way around that as the plans compel you to use them, deviations from these plans will usually create problems down the line. Boat building with hand tools can be used without any significant deviations only if you are a skilled boat builder and know exactly what you are doing, which is usually not the case for most of you amateur enthusiasts. However if you are interested in a hand tools only boat building project, then what you need to do is buy plans which are specifically designed to be used in conjunction with hand tools only. Be warned that this type of woodworking project will require you to learn and master a very different type of skill set than you might be used to, however it will also be very rewarding if you really are a boat building enthusiast.
Firstly the disadvantages of power tools
When building any type of boat such as a sailing boat, fishing boat, a canoe or even a little dinghy you are always going to spend more money on a project when power tools are used over hand tools. You might think that the bulk of the extra cost comes in purchasing the electrical power tools. Usually this is only half the cost, the other comes in the maintenance and repairing. This usually unforeseen cost can be greatly decreased if you are an experienced tradesmen or otherwise have some experience in repairing electrical goods.
Another disadvantage is the health and safety aspect which goes unnoticed by the majority of woodworking amateurs. Most of you might not have had a serious accident involving power tools so you might be inclined to just simply ignore this but not all people are or will ever be suited to use high performance power tools such as is required to cut wood for the hull of a boat. They might go months or even years without accident or injury but all it takes is one moment of lack of concentration and they will wish they would have never taken up woodworking or boat building in the first place.
Why use hand tools exclusively in a boat building project?
Hand tools have been used for centuries before electricity was discovered to make anything from boats to mansions. The skills and techniques required to successfully wield hand tools such as a chisel or hand saw are slowly being forgotten as our circular saws and mechanical sanders are able to do the jobs much faster and at a fraction of the effort. However hand tools increase our communication to the wood we are working on, as every bit of change in the grain is felt and heard more effectively.
Another reason is simple economics, if you are building a boat out of your wooden tool box filled with hand tools it will be a whole lot cheaper than if you used power tools for the reason discussed previously. However you have to consider the fact that the project will go a whole lot slower, especially if you are still in the process of learning how to use your newly acquired quality hand tools.
In my opinion it is best to learn the craft that comes with hand tools on a boat building project that is relatively easy such as a little dinghy made completely out of wood. Pilgrim Tools You can get such boat plans from your local hardware store or even at specialized online retail store.
More character and personality
Working with the machines requires you to be very accurate with any cutting or sanding that you do. All joints must fit exactly as planned with virtually no room for error as it will be seen as poor craftsmanship. Building a boat with hand tools on the other hand is perceived different, when irregularities show up they are put down to the uniqueness of the tool and the method used. This is looked upon my the community as adding character to the boat and uniqueness as each one will be built slightly differently. This is one of the main reasons why some people will pay substantially much more money for a mahogany hand built boat than an equivalent one made using generic specifications and power tools. From this you might be able to see that building a boat using hand tools might be slower but can also provide a better return in the end for the overall time spent, as in all business decisions it is a balancing act as time is money.
Wooden boat kits
There are some wooden boat kits packed with basic hand woodworking tools that are specifically designed to help you build a boat using hand tools only. This is done by giving you very detailed and thought out plans and drawings which takes into account that the craftsmanship level is very low. Also the wood is pretreated and worked on which means that all the traditionally tricky parts of the project are either done for you or made much easier. Such wooden boat kits however do not come very cheaply and if you are looking to sell boats on as a regular hobby then it should only be used as a learning stepping stone, since it is still reasonably cheaper than getting a mentor to guide you through a project.
Where to buy quality hand tools?
The best place to buy them would be at your local hardware store and not some major retail store. The reason for this is that you can bargain and often get good discounts, whereas at chain stores the staff typically do not have the authority to reduce any prices. Generally it is a bad idea to buy online because you cannot get a feel for the tool that you are buying, when it arrives you might find that the size and grip is not at all what you require.