Full Chisel Blog

September 20, 2009

“I see you are a sailor”

Filed under: Historical Material,Nautical,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 10:39 am

is a line from a 1970’s Comedy album, can you name the group?  I have always wanted to use that line, so there it is in all its humor.

Well, I have been a sailor, I have crewed on an M-16 Scow, 23 foot Aquarius, both a 27 & 37  foot Erickson, a Flying Dutchman, a catamaran and an Olympic class Star to name a few.   I have made pulleys, snatch blocks, cleats and deadeyes as well as a sewing hook, netting needles, fid and bodkin and marline spikes.  I made parallel rulers and compasses used in navigation.  I can work a sextant/octant (with or without an artificial horizon), theodolite, read a map, take celestial observations and still get lost.

Just give me a piece of string (twine, marline, rope, &c.) and I can be amused for hours.  I mastered my first knot at age 11 in the Boy Scouts, a reef knot (square knot) and mastered the Turk’s Head Knot about a week ago and made this Thump Mat, the round one is a flattened out Turk’s Head knot.  The oblong one is an Ocean Plat Mat or a Sailor’s True Lovers Mat, which I mastered yesterday.

I have mastered the wall knot, the crown knot, of course the sheep-shank, bowline (even with a bight), I can tie a manrope, a dogleg and a Matthew Walker knot.  For you land lovers a knot is tied in a single piece of rope and a bend is when two ropes are tied together and a hitch is a knot tied on something else.  There are several good books on seamanship is D’arcy Lever’s Young Sea Officers Sheet Anchor, for sailing Hervy Garrett Smith’s The Arts of the Sailor,  for rope and knots Percy Blandford’s Practical Knots & Ropework.  And of course the bible of knot work Clifford Ashley’s Book of Knots, with several thousand knots I should be busy for a while.

I have been working on cockscombing, coachwhipping and needle hitching which has some applications to woodworking.  I can add fancy coverings to tool handles and cover glass bottles with protective hitching.  I have used some hitching on the ink pens I make and will add the leather Turk’s Head to the ends of a couple of chisels when carving without a mallet.

There is an old saying ‘if you can’t tie a good knot, tie a lot.’  I think it is quite possible to learn how to tie a proper knot.  At least a timber hitch.  And the terminology is fun, I will learn to make a baggy-wrinkle, do some fender hitching, try and remember the Carrick Bend and have become a fan of toggles.  Toggles are interesting devices, it is like a button with a handle or lever and is made of wood.  I have several on my haversacks, my rigger’s bag has one and I find them handy for other applications.

I have plans to sew up my own ditty bag, but don’t know if I will invest in a pair of slops.

I have read a couple of Patrick O’Brian’s works, Master & Commander was great.  Moby Dick by Herman Melville is a classic, with some fine humor. Then there is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Richard Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast are a must read.

Sailing and wooden ships played a significant roll in exploration and subsequent exploitation of the New World, it can also provide us with a lot of information about woodworking.  The Great Ship Vasa lost during its maiden voyage to the ship wreck of the Dutch ship in Nova Zembla in the 17th century show the ship’s carpenter tools used to keep these ships afloat (well the Vasa sunk because of its design).  Also our ancestors all arrived here from Europe in wooden ships.

“We have got the Weather Gage”, “Ready about, helm’s a lee.”



  1. Cool looking fid!

    Comment by Alan — September 20, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

  2. Smothers Brothers? (My old man’s a sailor) 😉

    Comment by Dan — September 20, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  3. Now, THAT was a lot better than “Talk like a pirate day.!”

    Someday, if you happen to think of it, it would be interesting to see the toggles on your haversacks. I need some, and would be more inclined to plagiarize yours than figure them out on my own.

    Very neat mats!

    Comment by Bob Easton — September 20, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

  4. I’m sorry, I don’t think I caught it. When did you say your knot making video is coming out again? Can I pre-order? 😉

    Comment by Luke Townsley — September 20, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

  5. Stephen,
    I can see you like to fiddle about! (grin)
    When you say you have “mastered” a knot, does that mean you can make it behind your back, on the weather side of the ship in a full gale? Hmmm?
    G,D,&R (on shore)

    Comment by Mike Holden — September 21, 2009 @ 5:56 am

  6. Stephen,
    Clifford Ashley is best known for “The Ashley Book of Knots” he also wrote “The Yankee Whaler” Lee Valley has it in there book section..Arrrrrrr

    Comment by Joe — September 21, 2009 @ 7:40 am

  7. I’m going with Firesign.

    Interesting post – you actually made me wish I’d learned even the first thing about knots (I was a sailor – but on a boat without sails). If/when I have time for a new hobby, though, I may just consider it 🙂

    Comment by Raney — September 21, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

  8. Alan,

    Thanks, the fid is made of dogwood, I plan on making a larger one some day.


    Not the Smothers Brothers but good guess.


    I will post those pictures of toggles soon.


    No video in the near future.


    By master I mean I can tie them without looking at the book. When the wind is blowing like that I am holding on with both hands.


    I have the knot book and need to pick up his other work.


    You got it right Firesign Theater, I think it was from ‘Don’t crush that Dwarf, hand me the pliers’


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — September 21, 2009 @ 6:28 pm

  9. Raney wrote:
    “I was a sailor – but on a boat without sails”

    Wow, that got me to thinkin’…how could one sail without sails? Is it even possible?


    Comment by Alan — September 22, 2009 @ 12:48 am

  10. Alan,

    Some terminology stays the same when the technology changes. A dash board originally kept the ‘dash’ from the horses hooves from hitting the driver. We ‘dial’ phone numbers, we listen to ‘records’, etc. Even terminology changed in Historic times. Originally it was ‘star board’ for steer board the wooden rudder used to guide ships was placed on the right hand side of the boat or ship. The other side was called ‘lar board’ but that was too confusing as it sounded like star board, so it was changed to ‘port’ as that is the side that came up to the dock or port, so the steer board was not in the way.

    And I think the USS Constitution is still a commissioned ship so the US Navy still has ships under sail.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — September 22, 2009 @ 5:55 am

  11. A record never was a good word, just a short-hand for recording, which is still what we listen to — though the physical nature of the recording is dramatically different.

    I was reading a magazine article the other day, a reprint from the UK magazine, ‘the Strad’, March 1923.

    “The violinist (Jascha Heifetz) had risen to fame in America, and by April, 1921, seventy or eighty thousand records of his playing had been sold in England. Assuming that each record was put on ten times, and that each reproduction was listened to by an average of three individuals, Heifetz had been heard more that two millions of times in England before he sounded a note here in public. The brain goes dizzy at the thought…”

    All of us now hear far more recorded music than we do live. We get to know musicians first, and often only, through recordings. Interesting to think that less than 100 years ago this was reversed, as it was since the beginning of time.

    This doesn’t have anything to do with knots — well except that Heifetz certainly knew how to tie them on the end of his strings, another skill that is no longer needed on a routine basis — but we do accept change far easier than we acknowledge. How many of us are getting to know each other here, and will probably never meet in person?

    My grandfather told me it was a dashboard because in a crash, you dashed your brains out on it. But I think he was teasing me.

    And if it makes you feel better about it, all the nuclear submarines are steamboats.


    Comment by Ken Pollard — September 22, 2009 @ 10:00 am

  12. Firesign Theater. Last line…”I see you are a sailor”.

    Comment by Larry — September 28, 2010 @ 7:06 pm

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