Patuxent Naval Air
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I got a call from the folks at NAS Patuxent (nee Cedar Point NAS) to come and do
a stairwell for them which was going to be the "quarterdeck" ladder...
I made up a sample of several coxcombs I thought suitable on a piece of PVC and
they chose the "St. Mary's Coxcomb" from among them.
1: ALWAYS do a dummy run to get the actual amount of line needed to cover a
specific length of rail. You can do all sorts of mathematical calculations, read
crystal balls, consult the auguries and you'll STILL screw it up without a dummy
run! In THIS case, it turned out that it was 19 inches of line per inch of rail to be
covered... and even then, that was cutting it a leetle fine...
So: This is the dummy run partially done. I took 10 yards per line (three lines) and
just did the rail until I ran out of line, then measured how much I'd covered and
figured it out from there.
2: Coiling up your line and keeping it in either a canvas bag, an old sock or these
very useful little "no-see-um" bags from The Northface is definitely the way to go.
When coiling line, remember that you want your line to feed from the CENTER of
the coil, so start with your working end free and coil to the bitter end. You may find
it helpful to have the bitter end just sticking out of the neck of the bag to prevent it
tangling the coil as it feeds out. EXPECT to have to re-coil the line at LEAST twice
per rail... no matter how carefully you coil up, tossing the bags around in the
process of doing the coxcomb will inevitably result in a tangle or two. It's the price
we pay for art and beauty. Just take the line out and re-coil it.
3: The finished dummy run. This gave me a good idea of how much time it
would take as well... something I totally ignored because it didn't fit with my
"pre-job" estimates... another case of trying to make the result fit the expectation. I
had figured 6 nine hour days for about 54 hours total work to do the rails. It was
12 days, some of which ran to 14 hours straight for about 140 hours total JUST for
the rails alone. The turk's heads will follow at a later date.
To say that I vastly under-quoted the job is an oxymoron, as am I.
4: "DId someone call my name in the previous paragraph?"
5: A roughly applied turk's head just to see how much room it will require and how
it looks. I favor the "5X4" square turkshead for this, but some like the "3X5" or
"boyscout" turk's head for the work.
6: In any job some tourists must fall. I forgot that I'd be waylaid by questions,
comments and just plain curiosity, all of which really eats up time, no matter how
welcome the momentary diversion.
This gentleman even dressed the part of tourist!
I must say that all the personnel at the base were extremely enthusiastic about the
work and only one had anything other than complimentary to say about it.
(Ain't that a WONDERFUL shirt?)
7: Seriously, this is what the finished work will look like: outboard rails spiraling
to starboard and inboard rails spiraling to port. There will be turk's heads at the
ending of each run of line and the pattern continues thru all three levels of stair.
In this and several other pics you'll note that some of the work appears to be
wrapped in shiny stuff. ALWAYS wrap your completed but un-treated work in
SOMETHING to keep the fingers and their concomitant smudges off your line.
This is all going to be painted with a thin coat of white paint and then a coat of
polyurethane clear finish when that's dried, but until that gets on there, "Gladwrap"
or "Saranwrap" will definitely save your bacon!
8: Some things just can't be coxcombed successfully: the 45° bend in the wall rail
simply would not cover correctly so it was decided to stop at the end of the straight
run and leave the bottom portion unflemished. A personal defeat for me as I'd
forgotten that almost all rails I did in the Navy had had a very large radius turn
which covered nicely, not sharper 45° and 90° bends.
9: A closer shot of the inboard third-level rail, showing the wrap going to port and
giving a fair amount of detail. I took these using a Kodak EZ-Share personal
camera. Apparently, my photographic skills aren't even on THAT level!
It would seem that as a photographer, I'm a pretty good cook.
10: Same place, just a bit further along in the process. The wrap is looking
rather nice and the detail produced by the precession of the overlapping
half-hitches is looking pretty good and regular.
11: Again, the inboard rail, 2nd landing... all flemished up and wrapped in plastic
awaiting the finisher's brushes.
(I have NO idea what the "W" is for!)
12: The result of trusting your own arithmetic: I finished this rail with my heart in
my mouth as I thought I was going to be short of line... If the job had required five
more passes, I would have been two passes short! That's the closest I EVER
wanna come to running out of line just short of the finish.
13: And, the bottom outboard rail flemished out and ready for plastic. This and
the bottom inboard rail were the worst of all as I was under the gun to get done
and out of there but I dared not "rush" things or they'd look like I had done so.
Finally, as with all things, all was flemished and plastic-wrapped and I decided
that the turk's heads would wait for another day (in a couple of weeks!) to be done.
14: The easiest way of doing a turkshead on top of completed coxcombing is to
use a collar of heavy paper (80# on up cardstock paper, or 8.5 x 11 "poster- board"
paper, but NEVER index card paper... the blue lines will come off on either the
work or the turkshead!) as a base. This allows you to cast the turkshead and then
move and rotate it to it's final position. Trying to do this on
the coxcombing is damn near impossible due to friction. TRUST ME.
Use a small piece of tape to hold the collar LOOSELY to the coxcomb and
(DAMHIKT) tape at the OTHER end of the collar from where you'll be finishing the
DON'T tighten the whole turkshead up on the collar, however... You'll never get the
paper out from under the turkshead! Do a few passes lightly to get the turkshead
in final position and then winkle the paper out from under... THEN fair it up tightly.
15: Another turkshead slightly tightened and ready to move into final position for
fairing up. Note that the turksheads are "mirrored", so positioning is crucial for
the overall appearance of the job.
16: Here we have a couple of "nice" little details: The turksheads are finished and
faired up and have been placed so that the "mirroring" is most readily apparent.
Mirroring is not necessary to the job, nor is it to be expected by most customers.
The number of people who can tie a 5 x 4 square turkshead is fairly large, but the
number who can then tie a "left-handed" 5 x 4 to mirror the first is vanishingly
small. It's a P.I.T.A. to do and fair, but all it takes is one "Old Salt" or experienced
fancyworker who gets that "AHA! moment" look when they realize what they're
seeing to make it all worthwhile. Finishing off with all the same turkshead is just
Another "nice" detail is to try to make the coxcomb look lie it was tied continuously
and then a section was cut out to allow the wall mount/stanchion connexion/
corner angle/ whatever... Here it didn't quite work correctly.... a bit too wide a gap,
but I DID try.
17: And so, as the sun sinks slowly into the West, we bid a fond farewell to this
job. The turksheads are in place, all has been plasticated and awaits the
finishing touch of the professional painter. The customer has promised me that
they will be sending me pictures of the job once it has been painted and
They also promise that there's another set of stairwells to be done in the Spring...
until then, like Blanche, we shall "have to rely on the kindness of strangers".
If you have any interest in doing this sort of thing, let me suggest a visit HERE or
Thanks for visiting!!!
These are snaps of the finished work as coated by the painting contractors
engaged by the maintenance company that hired me to do this silliness, and - to
my great disappointment - I found that the "Powers That Be" had opted NOT to
repaint the rails and had also opted only to do a light-coloured "Blonde" shellac
coating on the rails, rather that doing a "Garnet" shellac and then a clear varnish,
or doing a "Spar Varnish" (traditionally dark-coloured) coat.
Don't misunderstand me... I'm VERY glad they did ANY coating at all on the
ropework, but I do wish they'd have repainted the haze-gray rails.
At any rate, here are the pics he sent, trimmed up a bit to fit the page format.
As I understand it, the contractors put on two coats of Zissner's "Blonde Shellac
1/4 cut". You can see where the shellac pooled a bit on the underside of the
rails, but all-in-all, it'll keep things going for a few years.