Monday, December 15, 2008

How to make a Bell Rope

Back in the day of sailing ships there use to be a bell rope attached to a bell. Today even the smallest boats carry a ships's bell as required by law, but the average yachtsman generally tosses it into a locker where it lies until the day arrives when he suddenly needs it, then he discovers it has no bell rope.

Now your old time sailor, to whom the making of so common a thing as a bell rope was a labor of love rather than a chore, would have welcomed the opportunity to display his talents and would have proceeded straightforth with care and patience, as though his life depended on it. The result would be a bell rope useful and handsome, and many years and many ships later it would still be doing its duty, a monument to a simple sailor who knew his craft and took pride in the knowing.

So drag that old bell out from under the after deck where it has laid for who knows how long, polish it up, and fit it out with a real old time bell rope, sailor fashion. I'll bet you won't hide it again, but will keep it where friends can see and admire it. Which is as it should be.

The bell rope described here is a rather simple example and easy to make, it took me about four hours. Four 12 foot lengths of white cotton rope were middled and a 20 inch section laid up into a 4 strand flat sennit braid. This was doubled to form an eye or becket and a seizing put on. Then the 8 strands were divided into pairs and a square sennit worked a distance of 3 inches by alternately crowning the 4 pairs of strands first to the right and then to the left. Here the 8 strands were seized and all the slack worked out of the sennit by pulling up each bight in turn with a crochet hook.

The handle required a solid core, for which I used a 4 inch piece of wooden dowel. The 8 strands were continuously crowned to the right around this core and a seizing put on the end. The pattern formed by the crowning had a tendency to spiral to the right somewhat, so it was necessary to twist the whole works to the left in order to get the bights aligned vertically. The slack was taken out carefully until all the strands were tight and the core completely hidden.

To finish off the end, the strands were again paired and made up into a double wall and crown knot. Around the base of this knot was placed a 4 strand Turk's head. A 3 strand Turk's head next to the eye or becket, and a 2 strand Turk's head in the middle completed the job. The finished bell rope was then shellacked and given two coats of semigloss white paint. This treatment fills up the interstices between the strands and gives a weatherproof finish.

The becket was secured to the striker or clapper of the bell by a lashing of marline. You can and I have stained and vanished bell ropes, just use your imagination, make it a work of love.