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
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
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
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 fine.
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
If you have any interest in doing this sort of thing, let me suggest a visit HERE or
Thanks for visiting!!!
me to do this silliness, and - to my great disappointment - 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, they 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.