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Blacksmithing, Whaling and Sailing

I took a trip to a local Marine Museum. They have a lot of great stuff about Maritime History and my intention was to look at their ships in bottles. This is because I am going to be making another ship in a bottle.

But, while walking around and taking pictures something struck me:

During the 17-19th c enturies blacksmithing was an important part of the sailing industry. They needed a lot of stuff made by and maintained by blacksmiths.

Kind of interesting. I never had thought about the maritime needs of the smith. We picture the blacksmith as making stuff for horses and making swords. But the blacksmiths craft touched on so much of the various aspects of life including whaling and sailing.



Here is the museum. One thing to note here is the enormous anchor on the left. Compare that to the szie of my car. And it most likely weighs fifty times more than my car.

Let's take a look at some of the iron and steel objects in the museum.

On the upper left is a two fluted harpoon. The upper right is a single fluted harpoon. And the lower two harpoons are toggle iron harpoons.

Whaling Harpoons


Easy to see a blacksmith making harpoons and they are clearly influenced by the making of spears, lances and arrows from previous centuries. And harpoons were a whole technology unto themselves. In the early years were the single and double fluted harpoons but later were the development of the toggle irons which would toggle upon penetration and were much more difficult to come loose.

And, you might think that harpoons were made of very strong steel. But actually they were made of very soft iron. This is so they could bend easily while remaining attached. A harder material would snap, losing the whale.

And being a softer iron meant the tips could easily be sharpened with a file right on board the ship.

These harpoons, I would say were made pretty much the same way as forging an arrow. You have the tip, the shaft and the cone that fits it to the wooden handle. I have a tutorial with video if you would like to see some forging in action: Forge medieval arrows


Ship Nail

This is a nail from the Whaling ship Charles W. Morgan. Oer the centuries I would imagine that a whole lot of nails were made for the ship building industry.

The Charles W. Morgan is the only remaining whaling ship from that era.






Here are some tools. For the museum the fact that the handles are whale bone is the interesting point. And that is true. But for me and you the big thing is the tool points. A blacksmith was at the center of tool making. His making of tools allowed all the other trades to ply their craft. Although. I would be pretty proud to have some tools that actually had whalebone handles.

I would imagine they are illegal to own.



Ship Rigging

Ships from centuries past had a whole lot of rigging and a whole lot of rope. That meant a whole lot of iron and steel bands, rings, pins, nails, fasteners and fittings. A blacksmith had to make, repair and maintain all of these things.

And as ships got larger and were needed to haul heavier cargo ships were also fitted with iron strapping inside the hull for strength.



We think of these old sailing ships as being enormous jigsaw puzzles made from wood. And we are right. Tons of wood were used to make these ships but the blacksmith's role in all of this was very important.


ARailroad spikes

Railroad spike forging - They are excellent for blacksmithing, typically medium carbon steel which means they heat easy and evenly and are easy to work with. You can get them pretty cheap too. I also have projects using them right here: Railroad spikes for blacksmithing




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