The Off Cut Life

Not only do I not live on the cut but I have also spent most of my life surviving on off cuts. I was talking to someone the other day who asked me what the budget was for the restoration of my boat and aside from “as little as possible” I didn’t really have an answer. Later that day I was mulling over the
conversation and looking around at everything I own and came to the sudden realisation that almost all of it was either pilfered, made of off cuts, found at a bargain price or donated by a friendly face.

I like to think that most boaters/like minded folk live this way. There is something satisfying about getting something for nothing.

I have well n truly learnt my lesson when it comes to buying new stuff. The electric bicycle has been nort but trouble! My ass has suffered terribly, as have my shins and my pockets. I finally got used to the dam thing and then it broke, completely bloody out right fucked itself. The chain came off and ripped all the wiring out so I spent this weekend fannying around with a battery powered soldering iron trying to rewire .5mm wires, as you all know I have no care for electronics and it didn’t go to plan, I just wasted 3 hours and still have to cycle 8 miles to work every day, I don’t think it helped that I couldn’t get the soldering iron hot enough coz it was too bloody cold n windy. Whereas the rag taggle collection of old vintage rust buckets I pick up for a fiver at the boot sale have never caused me an ounce of trouble and I don’t need a bell coz the various rattles are enough to let you know I’m coming.

With this is in mind I’m gunna stick to what I know and carry on the way I always have. I’ve now attached my bicycle trailer back onto my rust bucket and will continue to impersonate the modern day version of the big smokes rag n bone man. Someone needs to do it. Today I cycled home after work with a hand made copper coal bucket hanging from my handle bars, a coal shovel protruding from the top of my rucksack, a bag of kindling and 3 bottles of cider tied to the rack. Not a bad haul. Oh yeah I forgot to mention, I got given a wooden burner hence the coal bucket so I’m now toastier than ever but visitors must knock as I am rarely wearing more than my pants nowadays. I’m currently drying my soggy work clothes which is a novel feeling as I used to have to put them on wet the next day.


I think this way of life is pretty engrained in me, I’m definitely my parents daughter. They popped up to visit a little while back and we thought we’d treat ourselves to spoons for breakfast one morning, on the way over Chertsey bridge, which might I add has no crossing or stopping points, my pop got all excited and his eyes lit up coz he’d spotted a ginormous adjustable spanner in the middle of the road. We drove for another mile or so and then it got the better of us, we stopped the van, walked back to the bridge, nearly died dodging the traffic but we had a new spanner! We dined out on the excitement of this for the entire Christmas period. That van is by far our best find though, bought for 500 quid and we’ve just hit 200 thousand miles on the clock. I’m amazed its survived this long, it’s a proper old work horse. It’s a giant blue thing, covered in rust and gaffa tape with big white doors on the back that came from the van we had previously murdered. A while back we were in Essex and my sister was about to give birth down in Devon, we all piled in, hit the motorway and rushed down there. Nothing ever goes right for us though and low and behold the exhaust fell off. I spent half an hour in the service station car park trying to find an old coke can in the bins (buying a full one and emptying it seemed wasteful) whilst pop jacked up the van and mum made the tea. An hour later we were back on the road with the exhaust reattached with the trusty coke can and a bit of wire. My folks haven’t always made the best decisions though, the van was a good find but they once bought an old estate car in the auctions when I was a wipper snapper, they drove it to the nearest petrol station to fill up, took the fuel cap off and discovered there was no fuel tank…just a Gerry can n a hose…it later blew up.


The following statement might offend a few people and forgive me if it does. The off-cut life is not about making a shoe rack out of an old pallet or painting something and then sanding off the corners. It’s a way of life and a means of survival, to know ya can do almost everything for nothing is a reassuring way to live.  Just because you’ve grown a beard and bought an expensive saw it doesn’t mean ya can do it. Not only are these people really irritating they also cause a huge price increase in everything that was previously considered junk, all the stuff the old die hards have been relying on finding for free for years suddenly becomes “desirable” and therefore unaffordable. The only way I’ve stayed dry this winter is by building a 30ft high tent over my boat, which I made out of a load of 2×4 that I knicked from a skip down a lane where the rich folks live.  Saying that I do have a few things on my side, my job helps enormously, the stuff people chuck out from boats is insane and it always goes in my trailer n comes home with me…underneath my boat looks a lot like a junk yard but it will all be useful at some point. Patience is always a virtue when you’re doing something on the cheap though, I’ve spent the last 2 months buying up machinery and trying to acquire a shipping container, I waited n waited and I’ve finally got it all on site. The whole lot has cost me next to nothing but I will now have an on site workshop so once the weather improves I can start work on my boat again and everything will be ready n waiting for me. It’s proper satisfying to have a rusty old container full of man machines and tools…can’t tell ya how happy that makes me, its been a long time coming! Most girls dream of ponies and white weddings, I’ve always dreamt of having a workshop


There wasn’t a lot of point to this post really, I guess it would be nice to know if everyone else is doing it too and I suppose I want it to give everyone else who is struggling a bit of hope that it does all work out in the end. Leave a comment with ya best finds and we can all compare notes and keep the hope going.


A brief update on Pegotty for those who are curious:


She is now approaching the finishing line with only 1 more plank to go! I thought I would be excited about this but in actual fact I’ve spent the last week a bit down in the dumps coz when she’s done she’s done and this is the most fun I’ve ever had. When am I ever gunna get to rebuild a 37ft clinker Dunkirk Little Ship again…I think I may have peaked too soon. I will be doing a blog on the finished article though so stay tuned for that one 🙂

11 Replies to “The Off Cut Life”

  1. Thank you Abbey for reminding me as to how I’ve lived most of my life, coming by stuff on the cheap or finding it and sometimes just moving it closer to my spot from where it is and eventually laying claim to it as my own ehheeh.
    Once built a small 10 X 10 shed entirely out of old doors, reclaimed and straightened nails, screws, bolts, and then a few old rusty sheets of corrugated iron over the roof for a modicum of waterproofing.
    So keep up living of the cut and also posting great tidbits on and of your life.
    Best regards
    Ps we women can do anything.

  2. sorry about the poor grammer and spelling mistakes but I don’t use spell check, my back aches and I’m tired,
    Have a great day I’m off to bed

  3. Charles Austin says: Reply

    The “off cut life” can’t be everyone’s or you and I would run out of that great find.
    I recently began building a canoe, I figured I’d do it as per the plans and bought in some fancy marine grade 4 mm ply all Loyd’s certified, and while my last little boat was a scrappers special made to my own design and out of found wood and a limited amount of bought in supply the new one is 500% more expensive. Will it be as nice. Probably but certainly not as pretty.
    I think it’s fantastic that there are scroungers on your side of the pond.
    Thanks for yet another great blog post.
    As always I look forward to the next one.

  4. Peter Van Sickle says: Reply

    Even if one can afford to go out and buy the needed item, it is much more fun to go searching for a “find”. There is great satisfaction in the search for something off cut. You may find that once you have your boat finished and begin using it, there will be many changes you think of that will keep you exploring for the next off cut. Good luck and have fun.

  5. This is how I got “Lilith” and “Forget me Not” restored. “Hazel” was a bit more ‘professional’ as we had some funding and were working o a deadline (which we missd by a mile). I love making use of the things that are found or donated. People call me a horder because I save stuff for future use. They’re always pleased when I pull just the right thing out of the back of a shed though. You can see the boats at or contact me at Chris.

  6. After living like a ‘normal person’ without much concern for budgets. And Man toys purchased on a whim, bad series of setbacks in health, and economic realities of last decade has caused me to shift my priorities.
    Lost my house but not homeless. Lost my business but have more time to live. Lost my wife but we remain friends. God has blessed my life and family in amazing ways that I was just too blind to see it when I was younger. It’s sort of funny how things turn out when we are humbled. It’s not so bad living the off cut lifestyle. It is strange when you write a topic you feel may be offending, but to me it just validates what we do in the name of survival. I find the post rather uplifting, thanks Abby!
    Cheers, Boston!

  7. Simon Palmer says: Reply

    Well done Abbey. Donald Longmore told me what a wonderful job you are doing on Peggotty. I am writing an article about it for the Dunkirk Little Ships Restoration Trust magazine so am looking for information. I think your blog is inspiring to a fat 55 year old solicitor, who has it all too easy. I have Hilfranor a 41 ft Dinkirk Litle Ship, hence the interest. Do you know about the film called Dunkirk, coming out this summer?
    Thank you. Simon

  8. Maria bonita says: Reply

    After squatting for 10 years (where every one of your possessions is found in a skip) and a brief stint renting (tiny, mouldy rooms that would take all my salary) i moved onto a boat. I can say that I’m pretty good at making do with findings and on the cheap. Got broken into twice in the first year living on the cut and had all my more expensive possessions taken (by all, i mean all!). Second time my treasured and necessary bike was taken and i had absolutely no money to even get a second hand one after spending more than i expected on the boat (doggy plumbing!). I was given a bike by another very kind boat lady and use it every day. I strongly believe that the stuff that comes cheaply or for no money at all, definitely gives you less hasle. I’m heavy handed and not too careful with things and therefore tend to get stuff damaged, lost or broken in the first month. Love your blog!

  9. Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It’s always useful to read articles from other writers and use a little something from other sites.

  10. If you are anywhere near Watford and have a day to spare to help a newbie fix a plumbing nightmare on a narrowboat I’d happily let you take all extra bits and can hook you up with a wood recycling co.

  11. Really love your writing style. Motorcycles, travel and boats. What could be better.

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