This paint splattered wooden box was an important part of any boat builder’s took kit. It was essential for the comfort and work of a boat builder. It has a wooden rope at both ends, which acted as a strap so it could be carried over a shoulder. It would contain a number of tools and materials necessary for caulking. And it was also a portable seat for anyone involved in the caulking process – much of which was done underneath the water line of a boat – and sitting was the easier and less strenuous way to caulk.
As with any industry there are a number of specialist tools used by boat builders. Some are widely available and others are constructed according to need and can be quite individual. Many of the wood working tools are used by carpenters and builders.
Caulking is the process of waterproofing a boat. Materials, such as cotton and oakum would be inserted between the planks of a wooden boat, tapped in using a variety of caulking irons to push the materials in with a caulking mallet. There are many different types of irons. Caulking is then covered with putty or pitch. This is a process that will be repeated several times during the life of a boat. With re-caulking the filling material will be removed with a raking hook, iron or implement devised by a builder.
Although modern materials, such as fibreglass are now used in boat building, the need for caulking of wooden boats and metal ships (using different tools and techniques) still remains. A resurgence in the use of wood in boat design will ensure that the traditions of caulking continue.
This particular chest is on display in the Museum’s From the Loft Floor exhibition which features the work of local artist, Anna Cattermole. Anna’s sketches feature Luke Powell, a local boat builder, during the building of his Isles of Scilly pilot cutter, Freya. It combines striking watercolour drawings with a number of traditional boat building tools and a film showing the work of Luke Powell and is on display in the Quarterdeck Gallery until 13 January 2014.
If you’ve enjoyed this Curator’s Choice you might also like The Sailmaker’s Palm, Freya: Building a pilot cutter and A Bench’s Tale.