Monday, December 10, 2012
Tools of the Trade: Making Sails
The sailmaker's bench
A bench hook to hold the sailcloth taut while sewing seams
Needles of different sizes, and a small case - usually of leather or cloth - to hold them
Stabbers and spikes used to make holes in the canvas for fitting eyelets, cringles and so on
Knives, scissors and sharpening stones for both
A seam rubber for smoothing seams, working the rope into the surface of the sail to reduce chafing when the sail was being hoisted up or taken in
Seam gauges and a tape measure
At least two sailmaker's palms; one for seaming and the other for roping. The former being more delicate and the latter having at least two layers of leather at the thumb to guard against the sailmaker being cut by the heavy rope or twine.
Wax for lubricating the ropes. This had the added benefit of waterproofing the rope or twine as well.
Here is an early 19th century recipe for sailmaker's wax from Peter H. Spectre's A Mariner's Miscellany:
4 pounds of beeswax
5 pounds "slush" or tallow from the galley
1 pound turpentine
All these ingredients should be melted together in a double boiler, and then turned out after the congealed for use in the form of small cubes or chunks.
As Robert Whyte wrote after his experiences at sea in the mid-19th century:
I was surprised at the expedition and neatness with which [the sailors] sewed with their coarse needles and long thread.
The art is still alive and well today and will hopefully be passed on to the next generation, and the next, and the next.
Header: Toy Ships by John Thomas Peele via American Gallery