The Two-Hour* Galley Box
by John C. Harris
(*Your results may vary)
I had a four-day cruise in PocketShip lined up and a lovely little butane stove without a proper place to sit while in use. The stove works fine perched on a cockpit seat or even the cabin sole, but I wanted a more ergonomic solution.
"Galley boxes" for small boats have been found in Bronze Age wrecks, so this isn't breaking any fresh turf. Think of these like a neatly laid out toolbox for cooking on a small boat. Small boat cruisers have devised ingenious solutions for their cooking rig, ranging from extremely elaborate many-drawered chests to the simple stove- and drink-holder I'll show you here. This one drops securely into PocketShip's companionway, equally convenient to crew sitting below or in the cockpit. Remove the stove and it becomes a handy place to keep your drinks and sandwiches under sail.
Having arrived at a stage in life where every waking hour is in harried demand, and I must shave minutes into seconds to get everything done, I budgeted just two hours to put the thing together in time for the 2015 Shallow Water Sailors Spring Cruise. It's just a box with a flange that slots into PocketShip's companionway. I was in too much of a hurry to be very fussy, though I did snap an iPhone picture at intervals to share with you here. This is the sort of thing you can make as fancy as you like, and it's a good "bench project" to stimulate your brain between sanding sessions on your PocketShip. Add additional compartments, dovetailed corners, inlays and so on to suit your chops and patience.
Here are the general specs for the box and the flange. (Click images to enlarge.)
The stove in question is a 15,000 BTU butane job by Iwatani, which will boil a quart of water in a minute and burn your eggs even faster. The same idea here will work with any single-burner stove. Begin by instructing your CNC machine to mill the shape of the stove out of a piece of 6mm plywood to form the top of the box:
Okay, okay, you can use a bandsaw or whatever. But if you happen to have CNC machine in the back shop, that's helpfully quick... I added two 3-inch holes to form cup holders. The bottom of the box has the same outer dimensions, minus the cutouts.
From mahogany I bandsawed corner blocks into which the box sides will be glued.
Be careful! If you're thoughtful with the cut sequence, you can arrange it so that you need only hold the large piece of wood, keeping your fingers far away from the lethal blade at all times.
Four corner blocks ready for the side pieces.
I found some reasonably attractive mahogany for the sides of the box. Note that I've marked "outside" on the face with the prettiest grain. Wanting to keep the weight down, I used 1/2-inch thick material.
Trim the sides to match the dimensions of your plywood top and bottom, then glue the corner blocks to the long sides. I elected to use Titebond glue, not because I think it's better than epoxy---it's not---but because I was in a hellfire hurry. And I planned to seal the whole box in epoxy later. And the box will live indoors almost always, anyway.
Do a quick trial assembly with your stove. I needed a notch in one side for access to the control knob. Here, I'm marking the side of the box for the notch.
I made a half-circle pattern and traced it onto the wood.
The notch excised on the bandsaw.
Now, before the box is assembled, is the only chance you'll have to give both sides of the notch a neat round-over on the router table.
One more quick check of the fits before we glue everything together.
Bar clamps are helpful at this stage. If you don't have bar clamps, you could screw strips of wood to your bench top and use wedges to clamp the joints tight.
To guarantee that your box is square, glue it to the plywood bottom of the box, immediately after assembling the sides in the step above.
When the glue dried, I removed the clamps and cleaned up everything with a sander. Then I mixed clear epoxy and bathed the interior of the box. I was thinking of the many occasions that would arise when a pot boiled over, or the box was left out in the rain. Maybe drain holes would be a good idea; I was out of time for that.
After the epoxy cured, I glued down the top. I seemed to have forgotten to snap a photo of that step, other than the spreading of the glue. The top was glued down the same way as the bottom: with lots of clamps.
Here, the glued top has cured. I'm giving the corners a generous radius on the bandsaw. No sense in having sharp corners on a boat to scrape your ankles or snag on gear.
I smoothed the sides and corners with a belt sander.
Then I gave all edges a generous round-over at the router table.
Time to mount the companionway flange to the box. Obviously I wanted my galley box horizontal when captured in PocketShip's sloping companionway. Gluing the flange on at exactly the right angle is tricky, and I needed to get it right---in a hurry. Since PocketShip's bridge deck is horizontal, I cut a rectangle of wood exactly the same height as the flange. You can see the unfinished plywood flange resting in the companionway.
The finish-sanded box rests atop the flange and the block of wood, ensuring that it's horizontal. A spare dumbbell weight helps keep the box from sliding around during this delicate step.
I pulled out the CA glue (also known as super glue) and "tack welded" the flange to the box.
The CA glue is strong enough to hold the flange rigidly and at the perfect angle.
Yes, I can think of more elegant joinery solutions for securing the flange to the galley box, but with my two-hour time limit nearly exhausted, I mixed wood flour with epoxy to bond the thing with a strong epoxy fillet. It was quick.
For some reason, in between the CA glue step and the filleting step, I coated the exterior of the box with epoxy. Probably I had another epoxy-coating job going and just wanted to catch the box while I had a chance. Looks like some rough sanding was done, too.
A careful fillet, with about a 3/8" radius, on both sides.
Another view of the epoxy fillet securing the flange. Time for sanding!
After some patient sanding through the various grits, the box came out with a mirror finish. I just had time to brush on a coat of marine varnish to protect the epoxy and give the box a yachty glow.
The galley box in use.
A shot from the cockpit.
- This lightly-built box isn't strong enough to be a step, so if you plan a lot of coming and going through the companionway, either at anchor or under sail, lift it out and stow it away in the cabin. The Iwatani stove came with a nice compact case, and I always stowed the stove and the galley box separately. Likewise, the butane cartridge pops out in a second and I was careful to stow that with its cap on.
- No, I did not have a problem with the stove heating up the adjacent wood. All the heat goes up, not sideways, and after many uses the wood never got more than lukewarm.
- Note there are no "fiddles" or keepers for the pot. Yes, in a rough anchorage the pot could surely slide off the stove and ruin your day. However, PocketShip's small size and shallow draft mean that calm, protected anchorages are always on my itinerary. Throughout three hot dinners and three hot breakfasts last week, not once did I worry about the pot sliding off. It would not be difficult to rig sturdy metal pot holders sufficient to keep a pot in place if a powerboat disrupts your anchorage. But if you really need to cook in rough conditions, common sense dictates something like a gimballed "jetboil" stove.