G L O V E S!
You DO want to buy a GOOD pair of gloves to protect your dainty little epidermis! I favor the 3/4 finger sailing gloves as illustrated (as they
permit one to use the fingernails to neaten up the turns), but not that particular brand. They should have a good NON-STICKY
leather palm and finger surface but still be light weight.
One thing to note: when getting gloves be SURE that (unlike the gloves
in the photo) there is a good covering on the LITTLE FINGER: Most of
the force of coxcombing is applied by the side of the little finger and
the glove either must protect that or you need to tape it as per the
You will be doing some heavy pulling and will tend to wear out the
border between the fabric and the leather on the outside of your
little fingers, so I take some "Celotex" or "Transpore" by 3M, which is
a plastic medical tape, and tape wherever I see a wear point
developing. Its not expensive, it doesn't really interfere with your
flexibility and a $3.00 roll of tape from which you'll get thirty uses is a
WHOLE lot cheaper than several pair of new gloves!
It also helps to run a piece of tape down the outside of the little finger and
onto the side of the palm BEFORE you put the gloves on: This helps keep
the line from creating a pressure point and eventually bruising the flesh.
Of course, if you're one of Robert Service's loggers "what stirs his
coffee with his thumb", you'll probably sneer at such "milque-toastian"
precautions, but : Lissen up, kids.
I been doing this stuff longer than some of youse has been breathing, and I USE GLOVES.
As always, your suggestions and critiques of the tutorials are encouraged!
|Click on any
picture to bring
up a larger
"COXCOMBING" refers to any sort of fancy work applied to a tubular surface to "dress" it up, provide a
handgrip, act as a chafing guard or just to pass the time while at sea whit nothing else to do. At one time in
the Navy, every rail would be coxcombed with varying patterns and putting it on, keeping it painted and
repaired and replacing it at intervals was a large part of the apprentice deck-seaman's life. It taught precision,
patience, and gave a knowledge of laid rope that would have been unobtainable otherwise for the average
Sadly, with the geometric diminuition of ship's crews in the modern Navy, there is little if any time for the sailor
to indulge in this pastime and so it is slowly passing from knowledge, except as a curiosity.
On the following pages, I will show how to do the basic coxcombings and (if I can remember) some of the more
esoteric types of the art.
Supplies: Many people will head for their local "Servi-Star" or Ace Hardware, Home Despot or Lowe's and look for line to do this..... Don't
Bother. The best you'll find is Mason's Cord and it is neither consistent enough, tightly-laid or the same colour throughout a single ball at
Contact MARTY COMBS for cotton and some hemp lines in a myriad of sizes. He also has MANY wonderful books and tools on his
site as well... damage to your wallet is NOT my problem, d'ye ken?
For radially-woven lines in MANY colours, some excellent hemp (tarred and un-tarred) and a stunning selection of tools and knowledge,
Bob Dollar at R & W Rope is an excellent resource for the knotter.
TOOLS AND REQUIREMENTS:
Some are basic and you've already thought of them or bought them in the past, but there's a few....
See below for line suggestions. The quality of your work is directly proportional to the quality of your
A sharp ( !! ) single-edged knife
A spool of sail or whipping twine for stropping the line to the work.
A sharp AND a dull pointed awl.
GLOVES (see below).
A few old pillowcases... seriously!
Saran Wrap (or any clear wrap), to cover the completed work until you can get it varnished / painted /
whatever. This will protect the work from the many handprints and smudges that come when the General Public (or the owner of the
vessel) comes along after having shoveled coal, eaten greasy fried chicken or applied hair pomade to his four remaining strands and
wants to "see how it feels". Strop the saran wrap to the work at six-inch intervals and use the sharp knife to cut hands off at wrists if
necessary. (Bloody civilians!)
The pillowcases (or old socks or camping "no-see-um" bags) hold the line as you
are using it. Elsewhere I allude to "hanking up" the raw line to make it easier to
pass around the work (probably already in place...) and what I normally do is to
take the requisite length of LAID cotton or nylon line, secure one end to a door
or ladder and then, holding the line semi-tightly in one GLOVED hand, "walk" i
t out the length and let the extra tightness in the lay unwind as I do so. If the laid
line is (as is usual) somewhat over-laid and has a tendency to kink up, this will
relieve the tightness in the lay and make the next step much easier to accomplish.
Once the line will lay smoothly and not curl over on itself, take one end, stick a
bout five inches under your watchband and start doing a hand-coil of the line,
walking along it as you do so. This will produce a nice coil of line which you then
will put a rubberband around and stick into the (sock)(pillowcase)(no-see-um bag)
with the end under your watchband sticking OUT of the container. Secure the
open end of the container with something that will close it off but not constrict the motion of the line as is
pays out and you have an essentially non-tangling hunk of line you can pass and re-pass around the work. It
will occasionally tangle up inside the container, but if it does, just repeat the process from that point and you
should be able to do a long rail with only one or two repeats of the operation.
BUT!!! I got a great suggestion from IT2 Tim May USN,
to wit: do a CANNON-CHAIN of the line and then stick
in your deployment container. (#2868 Chain Sennit)
This is actually a good improvement!
Whatever you do, be sure you can (if doing a bulkhead-
mounted rail) get the container between the rail and the
bulkhead! If you can't, either consider doing a doubled container (half in one bag connected to a second bag
so you can pass sufficient line to allow you to do the entire stretch in one shot), or doing a two part job (NOT
preferred!!) and splicing the coxcomb with the splice on the lower and inner facing part of the rail to hide it.
This is (again) NOT a preferred way of doing things as you have to splice well in advance of the need and it's a
bugger getting it to look right.
The ONLY ways I know of doing an interrupted coxcomb are to long-splice the line or to cover the transition
point with a turkshead.
Before we go further, I should tell you that I know in advance that many of you will want to coxcomb some part
of your boat, your car, your girlfriend (Girlfriends done at a discount.... usually...) or yourselves but simply won't want to
spend the time, effort and skin to learn this.
I do this for a living, and I travel the East Coast of the U.S. I can be tempted to other locales and climes but I
will probably refer you to someone who works (on the West Coast)(in Canada) (Somewhere cold and nasty).
IT IS NOT CHEAP. Please email me for a quotation if you so desire or just to talk about the possibility of
getting this done for your (whatever) and have "Kleenex" handy.
WORK BY READERS!
Now, when you're as old as I am, sometimes the choice between "pretty girls" is a bit blurry, but here we have BOTH my favorite types
and they're BOTH winners!
AnaDilia Firestein and her hubby own the wooden F/V FORTUNE in the Pacific
Northwest and she had asked for some assistance in getting the rails on FORTUNE
done up in a "French Bannister"
After I confused her totally with
my drivel, she and hubby went
to town on it and came up with
a top-notch job that I thought
I'd share with youse lot...
That's FORTUNE on the LEFT,
just in case you're older than I
am and need reminding.
Note how nicely she has gotten the turkshead up to the vertical stanchion and the tightness and regularity of the coxcomb. Here it's been
coated with some clear polyurethane in the second and third pics.
Expert supervision and advice is ALWAYS Full rail almost finished up... nice work! Ah, but there's ALWAYS something else
a necessity! that needs changing.... and in this case,
it was the color scheme!
The finished rail.... very nicely done! Not much detail lost in the painting, either!
(I think she must have just read one of my emails!)
bag in use