SEACHESTS
AND
BECKETS
Last rev. Aug 12, 2010
Pictures with
YELLOW boxes are
clickable  to produce a
larger picture:  with
WHITE boxes are
full-sized already.
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 shew 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:
(1) and (2): 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.

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

(4) and (5) 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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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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