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Making Belaying Pins

This project came about because I used to own a small sailing boat called a Drascombe Lugger which has two wooden masts and carries three sails. The traditional gaff rig of the boat includes a method of attaching the haliards (the ropes holding the sails up) by making them fast (attaching them), to specially shaped pegs of wood. These pegs of wood are named Belaying Pins, and they have been used to secure ropes on traditional sailing boats for hundreds of years.

Photograph of my Drascombe Lugger sailing on Loch Ken, Scotland.

Sailing my Drascombe Lugger on Loch Ken, Scotland, 5th May 2008.

A fellow Lugger sailor at my sailing club mentioned that he had broken his belaying pins - and, having recently purchased a lathe, in a rash moment - I promised to make him two new ones! So what follows is an account of how the pins were made - starting with a log of Ash - and ending with the two completed pins.

Belaying Pins in Use

Belaying pins in use Belaying Pins in Use On My Drascombe Lugger.

Here is a photograph of the wooden main mast supported by the Teak mast thwart with the two Ash belaying pins inserted into their respective holes in the thwart, one each side of the mast. The right (starboard) pin is used to secure the mainsail haliard (white rope), whilst the left (port) pin is used for tying off the mainsail downhaul (white coloured rope with flecks of green).

(Click on image for larger view)

What are the pins made of?

The pins have to securely hold the ropes attached to them, and need to be made out of a strong, tough and resiliant hardwood which will not easily mark when the rope (under tension), wraps around them. European Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) has just the right properties and is traditionally the wood of choice for belaying pins.

Step by Step Guide

Ash can be purchased from a timber merchant, or else another source is an Ash log from a firewood supplier or tree surgeon. If freshly cut, the wood must be seasoned before it it can be worked.

Ash log before cutting The Ash Log before cutting

This photograph shows the log of Ash before it was cut into blanks for turning on the lathe. There is enough wood for about 6 pins in this log.

(Click on image for larger view)

Cutting the log on a bandsaw Cutting the log on a bandsaw

Here the log is on the cutting table of a bandsaw which can be used as a 'sawmill' to accurately cut the log into rectangular strips with a 30 mm square profile.

(Click on image for larger view)

End result of the sawing End result of the sawing

This photograph shows the end result of the bandsaw cutting. The six blanks of Ash are ready to be turned on the lathe to make six belaying pins. Each blank measures 253 mm long by 30 mm square

(Click on image for larger view)

Making a Pattern Stick

Before the wood was turned on the lathe, a full-scale drawing showing the dimensions of the belaying pin was made and printed out. This was then glued on some thin ply to make, what turners call, a Pattern or Sizing Stick. If anyone wood like to make a belaying pin, a full-scale drawing of the belaying pin has been reproduced as an Adobe Acrobat Reader pdf document (see below).

Belaying pin full-scale drawing The Belaying pin full-scale drawing

On the left is a thumbnail photograph which links to a full-size drawing of the belaying pin in pdf format. You will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software to view & accurately print out this drawing. To make your own pattern stick you need to print the drawing at full-scale.

After printing, check with a ruler that the coloured dimension lines on the printout are full scale. The drawing can then be trimmed and glued to stiff card or thin plywood ready for use with the lathe.

(Click on image for pdf view)

Using the Lathe to Make the Pins.

The next stage is to use the lathe to turn the rectangular pieces of wood into finished belaying pins.

Ash blank mounted on the lathe Ash blank mounted on the lathe

This photograph shows one of the rectangular pieces of Ash which were cut from the log using the bandsaw, mounted on the lathe - ready to turn.

(Click on image for larger view)

Turning a cylinder Turning a cylinder

Once the wood has been securely mounted, the lathe is switched on and a the Roughing Out Gouge is used to progressively remove the edges of the wood to convert it from a square-edged plank to a near perfect cylinder. The picture shows work in progress with the wood almost cylindrical at the right hand side of the lathe, but still square in section to the left.

(Click on image for larger view)

Marking out the pin dimensions Marking out the pin dimensions.

With the conversion to a cylinder completed, it is time to lay the full-scale drawing on the Pattern Stick next to the wood (supported by the lathe tool rest) and transfer the dimensions from the drawing, by means of a pencil, to the rotating wood.

(Click on image for larger view)

Making sizing cuts Making sizing cuts with a Parting Tool

The next stage is to use a chisel called a Parting Tool to make the initial sizing cuts. The chisel is deployed in one hand whilst callipers set to the correct dimension are pressed gently against the wood from the other direction. The cut is continued until the callipers can be pushed gently across indicating that the cut has been made to the correct diameter. Note that for the purpose of photography the lathe has been stopped.

(Click on image for larger view)

Cutting the pin shaft Cutting the pin shaft

In this photograph the Roughing Out Gouge is being used again to shape the shaft of the pin. The un-shaped head of the pin is shown on the right. A skew chisel can be used to plane the shaft to a flat finish.

(Click on image for larger view)

Shaping the pin head Shaping the pin head

Here the Spindle Gouge is being used to shape the head of the belaying pin.

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Using a cheesewire to burn a decoration Using a cheesewire to burn a decoration

A cheesewire is a handy way of burning a black decorative band on the handle of the pin. The point of a skew chisel is used to cut a groove where the decoration will be. The speed of the lathe is then increased and the wire held within the groove. The friction causes the wire to become so hot that it scorches a neat line in the groove.

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Removing the completed pin from the lathe Removing the completed pin from the lathe

After the turning has been completed, the whole pin is sanded smooth by holding abrasive paper against the wood whilst it is rotating in the lathe. The pin is then ready for removal from the lathe. The waste wood at each end of the pin is thinned down (but not cut through completely) using the parting tool. The lathe is then stopped and a small saw is used to cut the pin from the waste wood at each end. The ends can then be sanded smooth to blend in with the rest of the pin.

(Click on image for larger view)

Checking dimensions with the pattern stick Checking the dimensions

The completed pin is shown next to the pattern stick which is used as a check that the overall dimensions are correct.

(Click on image for larger view)

Two completed belaying pins Two completed belaying pins

Two completed belaying pins, ready for use.

(Click on image for larger view)

Project started September 2009 and completed October 2009

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