SEACHESTS
AND
BECKETS
Last rev. Aug 12, 2010
Click on most
pictures for an
expanded view
.
Among some of the most personalized and idiosyncratic of all a sailor's possessions,  the seachest was not only his storage locker,  it served as table, seat, workbench and was often
decorated lavishly in his free-time aboard ship.  

The one thing on a chest that was almost always made by the sailor were the handles at either end  (the "beckets"),  used for carrying,  hoisting aboard and securing to a bulkhead or
batten.  Beckets are considered by many to be the absolute epitome of a knotter's art and the more ornate were constructed over the course of much time.  It is not unusual for a pair of
really ornate beckets to have cloth or canvas sewn onto the strands which make up the 'knobs' securing the becket to the cleat,  highly ornate and complicated hitchings on the barrel of
the becket (created over an equally complex 'pudding', or filler which gives the becket it's characteristic "chubby-in-the-middle" silhouette) and turkshead or footrope knots,  matthew
Walker knots, ring-bolt hitching (Spanish  Hitching) around the "Bails" (the round portions where the "axle" passes through the becket and which are ended by the "knobs" referred to
above, leathered axles, needle-hitching... there truly is no end to the sorts of beckets that a sailor would make for his chest, and all depended solely upon his skill and knowledge.  

Information on fancy knots was, surprisingly enough, QUITE rare among most ordinary seamen, the majority of whom might know five or six knots, bends and hitches by heart and
would require instruction in the more esoteric by an experienced shipmate... at - I ASSURE you - some cost to themselves. It was not unusual for a sailor to have a half-finished piece of
fancywork in his ditty bag just waiting for further instruction.

                                                   The page(s) for the seachests themselves may be found
HERE.
                                                                 A tutorial on MAKING beckets may be found
HERE.
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Interesting old box I found on a
commercial auction site, made  of
mahogany... probably an equipment box
for binoculars or another instrument...  
the becket was described as "woven" but
it is actually a simple grafting out of a
very small twine or large codline.  

The axle on the becket is listed as having
been "replaced" which is probably
correct, but if so, it was done quite some
time ago by someone who wanted to at
least maintain the appearance of the
original rope axle but who had not the
skill to make a new one.  Did a pretty nice
job, though.
Here's an OLD becket constructed of linen parcelled over small
cordage and then braided over a puddinged core.  The becket was
then painted (probably a dark blue which has suffered the ravages
of time) and was very well used.  I believe the view you see would
have been the underside of the becket, judging from the wear on the
bight where it would have rubbed against the seachest.  

The axle of the becket is probably similar to what would have
originally been on the box to the left and you can see how the
woodcarver there tried to indicate the knob knots.  

The individual ropes would have been encased in a linen fabric
which was sewn into a tube (Note the wear points which show this)  
then the braiding and turksheads done so the seams stayed invisible
to the eye... no small feat! The leather washers are "pinked", or
notched in the traditional manner.   Ringbolt hitching and coach-
whipping on the bails.
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Over on THE WOODEN BOAT FORUM there is a gent who contributes... a LOT, not only to the forum as a
whole, but to seagoing tradition and it's preservation, and his name is HUGHMAN.  Never met him, don't even
know his real name, but he can have a berth on my vessel any time he wants one.  He knots, sails, sings (in
private)  and is generally a credit to the seafaring nation.

Some of his work:
A lovely set of traditional beckets and the chest he made with them attached.  Colours are spot-on and you
couldn't want better workmanship.

Nicely done traditional leathered beckets  (I wanna be him when I grow up!)

Parcelled, wormed and leathered beckets with the copper nails used to attach the cleats (they get 'clinched' over
inside) and the chest he and some friends made.   Parcelling refers to wrapping (in this case, sewing-on) a linen
cover over the "pudding" (or base construction) of the becket.  Hughman, in typical modest fashion refers to the
basic beckets as "just a pair of grummits..nothin' special."  Worming refers to the small ropes sewn into the lay
of the grummit OVER the parcelling.  In this case it is so done for visual effect, although when doing this on
rigging, the steps would be worm and then parcel.  (I'd use the technical name for that crack in the rope, but then
some spam-blockers would list this as a porn site... S'trewth!)   Worming was done when covering standing
rigging with small stuff (serving) to protect it from the elements...  One would worm the rope to achieve a level
surface for parcelling, or wrapping the whole in tarred linen or tarred light canvas strips,  then serve or wrap
them both in a tarred marline or small cordage, then tarring  or "slushing" the lot again.   The result was fairly
impervious to seawater and sun.    

"Worm and parcel with the lay,  turn and serve the other way."
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While the beckets on this chest HAVE seen better days,  I include them here just to see the cleats,
which are just wonderful.  Assuming that this is at least 170 years old, the fact that the decorations
have survived in such fine condition is a real blessing for Naval historian-types.  As worn as they
are,  the beckets were excellently done and probably would still pick up a loaded chest!
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Counter
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The beckets (1) shown are modern, made for sale on a Nautical website and are quite nicely made.  (2) and (3) are by a lady in New England named Erika Hamer.  
EMAIL me for price and availability!  The last pair are by another gent,  hight "RedVolvo."  Erika's beckets are classically constructed with leather washers, covered
knobs, leathered axles and very nicely done coachwhipping on the bellies and ring-hitching on the bails.  RedVolvo's work is quite nice as well, but not nearly as
'accurate' in its construction.
A pair of English chest beckets, unusually done in leather instead of fibre ropes.  These are in the collection of Ron Robinson of Hamble, near Southampton in the
U.K., who is a compass adjuster and an antiques dealer.  He has much to see on his
website and I highly recommend it to you.
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A pair of "wrapped" bail beckets of
simple construction: the knots are
painted and, while the bails are a
simple concentric wrap of another line,
the axle is made up of two covered
"tack" knots and the bail has quite
nice turksheads.
Wire-core beckets.  These are unusual as the
centre of the bails is of a metal rod or heavy
wire, rather than the fibre "puddings" normally
used.  Un-wrapped knots and a simple
coachwhip.
A nicely done pair of vintage beckets built onto a grommet with coachwhipped gripes, simple wraps, some 4-lead turksheads and six-lead turksheads
and with a canvas chafe at the cleat. (you can see where the paint from the cleats has worn onto the chafing pads.)
This is a MOST extraordinary set of beckets.  When I first saw them, I thought them not all that wonderful until I looked at them more closely...then
I was astounded.  Not only are the knob-knots canvassed, but each of the lines comprising the steam-gaskets (8-line square sennits) is also canvassed
along the entire  length, the bails are done in a most precise Spanish ringbolt and the pointing at the throats of the handles is also most impressive.  
The whole was then painted a blue colour (typical of things done in the mid-1800's).  I cannot stress how unusual it is to find something like these
with so much fine canvassing work.... the individual larger lines which comprise the steam-gasket were probably made up of old rope ends and such,
then a strip of canvas was cut, folded and sewn to cover the entire length of the lines, the steam gasket was woven and then they started the pointing
and finally made up the ring-bolt-hitched bails.  Not only that, but the axles were laid up and then the knob-knots on each end were similarly
canvassed and tied.  Note that no seams show on any exposed portion of the beckets where there is Canvas.  These are the work of a true master
craftsman  and I am privileged to bring them to your attention.
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Older editions of "The Ashley Book Of Knots" (known affectionately in the ropework community as ABOK) had pictures of sea chests and their
beckets, presumably taken by Mr. Ashley, hissownsef, but later editions do not include these for some reason

Mr. Jimmy Wiliams was kind enough to photograph those endplates from his 1944 Doubleday edition and send them to me, and I post them here
for your perusal.  
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