View Full Version : When did frames become ribs?

08-03-2000, 08:44 PM
Every time I read something someone writes about a wooden boat lately they mention that it has oak ribs. If they are steamed would you use Bar-B-Q sauce? I wonder if they taste good. I can't find ribs in any of my reference material. I woudn't think much of it but it is everywhere. In this forum and in the boat adds. Did I miss something or am I just being anal?

Don Danenberg
08-03-2000, 09:00 PM
No, you are not being anal. Proper terms, like commands underway, should be followed.
I was taught early on that "vertebrates have ribs, boats have frames". I correct my crew when they stumble. It lessens confusion. Don

08-03-2000, 11:01 PM
[shrug] I was taught that ribs were grown and frames were made to shape, by sawing or bending; thus, small canoes and very small boats might have ribs, but most other craft would have frames.

I think that there are two verbal traditions in how to refer to those parts of watercraft is just that this country absorbs lots of words and traditions from other lands (and from our own native people), and mixes them up rather freely, and now we try to think that there's some more complicated reason for there being two ways of talking about the same thing.

John R Smith
08-04-2000, 03:50 AM
Well, taking a chance and ready to put my big foot in it, over here in the UK ribs are usually called timbers. Timbers are the steam-bent ones. Frames are either grown or sawn. We don't seem to have ribs. But then ACB might tell me different . . . and I will of course bow to his superior wisdom. http://media4.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/smile.gif


08-04-2000, 05:04 AM
At least as far back as 1879 no less an authority than Dixon Kemp was using both terms for these structures. In "A Manual of Boat Sailing" appendix he states viz.,

RIBS.--The frames or timbers of a ship or boat.

The terms are used interchangeably in several other dictionary collections from this era and earlier.

Cedar Hill Boatworks
08-04-2000, 07:36 AM
I like the vertebrate quote. The correct use of the terms of the trade is something that we should all encourage at all costs. Correcting the misinformed at every occasion is the method to keeping the language pure and our minds clear.

08-04-2000, 07:43 AM
Sounds like an anal concern to me. "Proper" terminology depends upon where you are or where you came from.
We once had a gang of kids from our church (N.E. industrial Rust Belt Ohio) down in western rural Bible Belt Virginia for a work project. An unstated aim of which was to dilute their provincial outlook. It took some time for them to get it that in Appalachian Virginia WE were the ones who talked funny.
Language never has been "pure", cannot be pure, never will be pure. The French Academy notwithstanding.
Language is the property of the speakers and naturally evolves over time or it dies whether or not we approve or disapprove of the directions it takes.
The inclusion of words, meanings, and ways of thinking from different traditions does not dilute our language, it enriches it.

[This message has been edited by TomRobb
(edited 08-04-2000).]
I sure wish this thing had spellcheck!

[This message has been edited by TomRobb (edited 08-04-2000).]

08-04-2000, 08:45 AM
Here, here.

08-04-2000, 01:09 PM
Please, let's not lose sight of the forest by looking at the trees. Ribs vs. frames vs. "every person for himself" is getting a bit off subject.

This discussion has absolutely nothing to do with language and regional variations on such. This has to do with specific terminology of a particular profession, and shouldn't be diluted for any reason, especially those who just don't give a hang.

Please, no quotes from Jimmy Buffet here.

I would hate like hell to hear my surgeon asking for that "thingamabob" over there instead of specifically naming the instrument required. Ditto some dimwit on a dark and windy night shouting for someone to untie that line over there on the right side of the mast - nevermind there may be several attached there - just because he didn't believe in learning nautical terminology.

C'mon, guys - next you will be referring to yourselves as "boaters."


08-04-2000, 02:14 PM
Frames, ribs, timbers, whatever they're called in China, Germany, or any other place is ALL about language. No one culture invented the boat. No one culture gets, or can get control over the language.
And it isn't every one for themselves either. Language changes but there is obviously enough common understanding that we occasionally figure out what the other guy is saying. If this were a subject for scientific investigation some committee would have to give the ribs and the rest a Latin name as in medicine, physics, etc.
WWW it ain't "your" profession in the sense that you or anyone else owns it. Specific terminology, here, depends on the cultural tradition doing the speaking.
Try barking orders in English on a Chinese ship and see how far it gets you.

[This message has been edited by TomRobb (edited 08-04-2000).]

08-04-2000, 03:26 PM
Logically, the distinction would seem to be whether or not they were joined pairwise across the backbone or keel; frames and floors are fitted together and to the keel, while ribs end at the backbone, attached to it or not, and are independent of their mate on the other side.

My other grandfather said that the difference was when they were put into the boat; frames were built into the boat before it was planked, ribs were put in after it was planked.

Should we argue about distinguishing between yawls and ketches next? http://media4.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/smile.gif

08-04-2000, 03:44 PM
Gee, Since the discussion is terminology--Where did the term garboard originate and why?

08-04-2000, 03:44 PM
Not that it means anything, but aircraft wings (traditional cloth covered or aluminum skinned) have "RIBS".

I also seam to remember reading about a boat that had both "Frames" and "Ribs" as if they were two different groups of parts.

How much does language play a role in re-naming components as a result of mixing traditional design and construction meathods with new designs and materials? A cold-molded hull with structural bulkheads may have additional "Frames" for distributing loads, compared to the lateral running (not connected to the keel?) supports in a cedar strip canoe which I would be inclided to call "Ribs".

-YF Scott

[This message has been edited by scottek (edited 08-04-2000).]

08-04-2000, 04:11 PM
Other questionable terms:

Tiller vs. tiller - is it the thing you use to steer the boat or to cultivate the garden?

Gas pedal (automobiles) - (excluding deisels) shouldn't it be called the "Air Pedal", because you use it to regulate air, not gas. Maybe "Throttle Pedal" or "Accelerator" is the proper term?

Ship - If a three masted vessel with all three masts square rigged is a "ship". Why do people call large schooners, "Tall Ships"? Shouldn't the term be "Tall Sailing Vessels"?

Cat vs. cat - Is it "cat" as in cat-boat, or is it "cat" as in catamaran?

Sheet Bend vs. Becket Bend - Same knot, which name is proper? (same goes for clove vs. chimney hitch)

Supper vs Dinner - I know that they are both meals, any way I can have both in one day and not loose out on lunch?

-YF Scott

[This message has been edited by scottek (edited 08-04-2000).]

08-04-2000, 09:15 PM
Air IS a gas. Make more sense now?

Bruce Hooke
08-04-2000, 10:36 PM
It seems to me (at least at the moment) that a language could be said to have "deteriorated" if a word becomes less precise or expressive in its generally understood meaning or if a word or group of words is replaced by a less precise or expressive word. For example, we have clearly lost something by the substitution of the term "tall ships" for a myriad of specific terms for different types of large sailing vessels. [OK, in this case the specific terms haven't vanished, but their use has certainly diminished substantially.] Conversely, adding words to the language that improve clarity or expression could be seen as a gain, and multiple words for the same thing could be seen as simply adding richness as long as everyone still understands what is being said. So, to get to the point, since I think we all understand what part of the boat someone is talking about whether they say "frames" or "ribs" I don't think we need to worry about being misunderstood, in which case the worst we are doing by using both terms interchangedbly is simply adding richness to the language. However, if there is in fact some distinction in meaning between "frames" and "ribs" then the important issue here should be to determine what that difference in meaning is so that we do not loose the clarity that comes from having that distinction. With that in mind, the distinctions htom lays out sound right to me but I have nothing to back up that opinion so I will leave it at that. - Bruce

08-04-2000, 11:32 PM
I don't know if we should listen to the Brits on this. After all, in their electrical systems they have "earth" whereas we (on the left side of the pond) have "ground".
Then in a recent building article in "Classic Boat" they kept on referring to "grounds", that I finally figured out actually were "lands" (i.e., cleats on in the inside of a hull that horizontal pieces of wood attached to).
This same publication continually refers to "Canada's Great Lakes"! I suppose they are substituting Lake Champlain for Lake Michigan.


08-05-2000, 11:39 AM
One knows one has stepped on someone's toes when one is singled out by name on a forum for speaking one's opinion. In defense, I didn't refer to "my profession" as I don't have one - always been a white or blue color worker, myself; more's the pity. And, I don't remember saying anything that would lead to a reference of Chinese or any language other than the one usually used on this forum.

So - have a nice weekend, all! Me, I'm going to barbeque some ribs.


08-07-2000, 05:16 AM
"Air IS a gas" - Duh, that makes perfect sense...
Too bad my truck doesn't run too well with "Air" in its tank.

-YF Scott

08-11-2000, 04:37 PM
Consulting the Oxford Universal Dictionary, the first use of "rib" in writing about watercraft seems to be from 1553, while the first use of "frame" is from 1536.

Don't all cheer or groan, though, whichever side you were on --

The very brief descriptions, however, used "rib" as a part of a boat while "frame" was a part of a ship!

Mike Field
09-18-2000, 06:50 AM
And one of my beefs is about writers of articles in boating magazines talking about "side stays." Where the hell did they learn about matters maritime? From boating magazines?

Gary Bergman
09-18-2000, 07:22 AM
Don't know about becket bend, but becket hitch for tying the becket to a set of falls is quite different from sheet bend used to tie two lines together.

09-18-2000, 09:05 AM

I got my term Becket Bend from the NY State Firefighters Instruction Book. The describe the Becket Bend identicle to the Sheet Bend.

-YF Scott

Ian Wright
09-18-2000, 12:25 PM
"When I use a word it means what I think it means. No more, no less."
HMQoH (?)

09-18-2000, 12:41 PM
So much testiness over this! That was more interesting than the question.

I was taught that frame is the proper term, rib kinda' the folksy equivilent. I've known some old timers who used 'rib', and I couldn't hold a candle to their skills. Ya' know what, I never tried to correct them either. Lapstrake, lapstreak, clinker anyone? Best all http://media4.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/wink.gif

Alan D. Hyde
09-18-2000, 01:01 PM
When I was a boy, several old-timers explained me to me that in a lapstrake boat, there will normally be a few sawn frames in the bow, and at the transom.

The other transverse reinforcing members (usually steam-bent white oak)are typically referred to as ribs, at least around here.

They'd make tough eating, sauce or no sauce.


09-18-2000, 01:21 PM
Loosely related... W. Churchill, when corrected for ending a sentence with a preposition - "This is the kind of pedantic pedagogory (sp?) up with which we will not put!

[This message has been edited by Andrew (edited 09-18-2000).]

09-18-2000, 02:20 PM
I'm probably the guilty party who's been mixing the words. As I understand it (in my mind - what little is left) the frame is a major structural member used to define the shape of the hull ( i.e. 1x4). A rib is a stiffening member (i.e. 7/8x1/2). Thats my take on the subject, now if you want to interchange the terms like I do sometimes (in haste) go ahead, I'd enjoy the company.


09-18-2000, 08:58 PM
ok..that does it..my 14' rowboat has ribs..they are 1/2" X 1" steam bent white oak and I've heard plenty enuf' to call them such...don't matter much if they're full or half ribs (got plenty of each) but here on my property they're RIBS!!...the rest of Y'all can take your FRAMES and hang whatever kind of epoxy encapsulated, CPES impregnated, poly-razzmatazz coated stuff you want on 'em http://media4.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/smile.gif....I'm refastening the old girl as close to the old fashioned way as possible and if she don't float shame on me http://media4.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/frown.gif

Gary Bergman
09-18-2000, 09:24 PM
Scottek, meant no offense, just a despairity in terms. Do they call a double sheet bend a double becket bend? A becket hitch for securing to a block is like a figure 8 with thetail passing thru the eye at the becket so it jams or as we riggers call it 'New Yorked' against the becket. Easier to take apart when changing the reeve-up of the block.

John B
09-18-2000, 10:18 PM
My old boat ( 1907) hasn't got any ribs or frames.
but if there were, I think my expectation would be to call them ribs.I'll always stand corrected though.
(o.k., o.k. there is one ring frame at the mast step and one around the samson post area but no others, honest...)
Now jackyard topsail v club topsail.... there's one I could get my teeth into.

09-19-2000, 01:10 AM
Well, I'm from the land which calls the gas pedal the accelerator, so don't listen, but
the use of mixed grown (aka sawn) frames and bent (aka steamed) frames, was normal practice in wooden yacht building in Britain for boat over say 7 tons TM (aka say 30ft LOA) and the reason is dead simple - it's quicker and cheaper that way.

Building with all steamed frames requires the use of station moulds, which are scrapped at the end of the building, unless the builder is series building a one design (note that the Herreshoff Mfg Co did exactly this - series production of one designs - and the Herreshoff Method is a series production method).

Building with all grown frames requires a lot of work cutting out, assembling and bevelling the futtocks.

Using a grown frame on each one, two or three bent frames into place between them allows the grown frames to serve as moulds, then remain in the boat.

The disadvantage of the method is that the grown frames crack before the bent frames take their share of the strain.

In my part of the UK at least, we seldom speak of ribs, but bent aka steamed frames are often called "timbers" whilst grown frames are always "frames".

09-19-2000, 09:19 AM
An' as my ole pappy used to say, "Son," he'd say, "son, ya gotta take a Dutchman fer what he means not fer whut he says."


Jim H
02-12-2004, 12:31 PM

George Roberts
02-12-2004, 12:44 PM
And here I thought it was all in the engineering.

Frames were stiff enough to not bend under load.

Ribs were light enough to bend under load.

Lots of "stuff" in between.