Wooden shoe ahoy!

Fragment of the painting ' Kinderen der Zee' (Children of the Sea) by Jozef Israels, 1872

Fragment of the painting ‘ Kinderen der Zee’ (Children of the Sea) by Jozef Israels, 1872

Perhaps the most gratifying haven of your old wooden shoes is to rig them up as a sailing ship. Back in the days that wooden shoes were common practice, it was almost inevitable that one clog of a pair fell to bits earlier than the other. The remaining clog was often condemned to end up in the fireplace, jointly with its broken companion. The lucky ones, however, were given the chance to resurrect as a true sailing vessel. Using the wooden shoe as a hull, all it needs is the assembly of a rudder, a keel, a mast, a set of sails and additional rigging to make it float and sail. A wonderful sight!

Building your own

Revising a wooden shoe into a sailing boat is a great activity to embark with your children, grand children, nephews, nieces or pupils. For children, it is an amusing introduction to the craft of carpentry. Just a few simple modifications are needed for giving the wooden garment a new and satisfying existence. With a little help kids can create their own admirable toy. And when the clogs are ready to set sail, what more can give such joy as competing each other in an actual regatta at a nearby canal, river or lake.

How to?

No longer is it necessary to build your sailing boat of an old clog. In The Netherlands, kits are available that provide the basic components such as a straight wooden shoe, a keel and stem, lead and cloth for the sails. When you cannot get your hands on one of these kits, a regular clog will do the trick. If you do want your ship to be symmetrical, you can saw two (right and left) clogs in halves and glue the inner or outer parts together.

For the bulb keel you can use timber not thinner than 12 mm. This improves the buoyancy of the ship. For ballast (the weight of the keel) you can use rolled sheet lead. Depending on the size of the wooden shoe, the appropriate weight lies somewhere between 325 g. (≈ 11.5 oz.) and 800 g. (≈ 28.2 oz.). Whether you fixed the right amount of lead can easily be checked at the launching of the shoe. Does it capsize, just increase the weight. When it goes under, dry out and slim.

For the construction of a mast, gaff, boom, bowsprit and sails it is best to take a close look at the building plan. Nylon tent cloth or a bit of an old spinnaker suits well for the sails. A hot nail will do for making holes. By threading cords through these holes you will be able to tighten the sails properly. For attaching the rigging you can use small screw-eyes. Then, after you finished your ship with a beautiful paintjob, it is time to trim the sails!


By carving and smoothing the end grains of the timber, you can make a teardrop shaped keel. This will reduce drag compared to plain plywood and looks finer.

To avoid the ship from flooding you can close the ‘bilge’ by making use of a thin sheet of timber.

The wooden shoe will probably sail best upwind or with the wind blowing at right angles to the boat.

A small wooden shoe, that usually can be bought at Dutch souvenir shops, looks great as a ship’s boat.

A casting rod is an ideal tool to retrieve your wooden shoe. Fish wire is thin, strong and bears little drag. Therefore, it barely slows down your ship whilst sailing.