The Sea Chest  

by David Nichols - Austin Texas - USA



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In earlier columns, I've talked about eye splices, seizing line and marlinspike skills but I have failed to talk about the one tool that is a must for eye splices and general marlinspike work- the fid. Oh, you can make an eye splice without a fid but it is so much easier with a fid that you will always have at least one in your marlinspike kit.

Now, if this were the 1800’s and we stood before the Queen’s Mast or the Mast of American ship we’d probably have at least 5 fids in our marlinspike kit, ranging from small to large, so we could work on a wide range of rope sizes. We would have made them ourselves and put a Turk’s-Head knot or some other fancy knot work on them because there was a lot of spare time and Sailing Masters didn’t like seeing idle hands.

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Figure 1 - homemade Maple fid

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However, this isn’t the 1800’s, none of us stand before the mast, and most of us are desperately trying to find some spare time. This, of course, is why most of us buy our fids rather than make them. That being said, I did make the fid in Figure 1. I chose rock maple or hard maple and squared up a piece about 24 inches long. The 24 inch length was so it would go through the table saw safely. I made each side about 1 ¼ inches and then, using a taper jig, cut each side on the table saw. I did leave extra at the back end so it would fit into the vice while I shaped it with a block plane. The point on this fid was made fairly sharp because I planned to use it on small rope and rope up to ¾ of an inch (the point should be rounded or dulled so it doesn’t hang on the individual fibers of the rope). It was time consuming and while it was satisfying I doubt that I would do it again. I don’t seem to favor it over any of the other fids in my marlinspike kit, in fact just the reverse. Still, I’m glad I spent the time to make it.

Figure 2 - a scratch awl can be used as a fid

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At the other end of the time spectrum is the fid in Figure 2. It’s a scratch awl I had laying around my shop. This makes it technically an awl rather than a fid but I use it for a fid. I like this little awl for small rope and it doubles as a hole punch for leathering oars. I did dull the point slightly so it wouldn’t hang on the rope fibers.

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Figure 3 - a cast bronze fid

Figure 3 is a cast bronze fid (available from Duckworks) that will work with small rope (not as small as the little awl) and still handle a fairly hefty rope size. You use this fid a little differently than the fids in Figures 1 and 2. This fid is pushed through the strand and twisted to hold open the space while the appropriate strand from the splice is passed under and through. The “T” shape of the handle gives some leverage and the maximum width of the fid is about an inch. That means that rope with a very hefty diameter could be spliced with this fid. That takes care of the small boat owner and then some.

Figure 4 - this one has a trough that allows the splice strand to pass though the opening

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The next fid in my marlinspike kit (Figure 4) is a relative new addition (also from Duckworks) but it may turn out to be my favorite. You use this fid like the one in Figure 3 by pushing it under the strand on the standing part of the rope but this one has a trough that allows the splice strand to pass though the opening. It’s small, only 7 inches long, but it will handle any rope that I might want splice.

I think if I hadn’t spent so much time making the wooden fid I would just drop it from my marlinspike kit all together and just rely on the fids in Figures 3 and 4. I’d keep the scratch awl because it works well with little rope and having a punch for leathering is a must.

Alright, I’ll admit that 3 and 4 don’t have quite the romance that the wooden fid has but the romance factor only goes so far….. Maybe if I added a lanyard with a Eight-strand square sinnet, a right crown sinnet, with a running Turk’s-Head all done in tarred hemp rope…… Tomorrow…. I just may start on that tomorrow but until then 3 and 4 will work just fine.

More columns by David Nichols