View Full Version : Black Mesquite Mallets

gary porter
12-13-2001, 07:25 PM
I'm looking for some information on the old Drew calking mallets and of the Black Mesquite they were made of. I'm having trouble finding info on black mesquite, what it actually is and where it comes from. I obtained some from Yuma but its a very different color than the old mallets. Perhaps the old ones were treated with something???
The ones I've seen look more like Ebony. I plan to make one or more myself but would also be interested in buying one as well. I know some of you oldtimers have this info so thanks ahead for any help.......gary

Bob Cleek
12-13-2001, 09:18 PM
Well, what do you want to know? LOL Mesquite is mesquite. It is a pretty gnarley shrubby kind of tree that grows in the desert areas, or so I'm told. The folks in the Southwest and Mexico cut it up for firewood and it makes good charcoal. Apparently, Drew and some others turned calking mallets out of it. I understand these mallets were soaked in linseed oil to keep them hard and tight and so they wouldn't dry out. This gave them the distinctive "ring" that we keep reading about in romantic articles about wooden boat building, but which, as far as I've ever been able to ascertain, nobody's ever actually heard! LOL (My old time sources say the stuff about mallets ringing is crap. In my experience, it is the iron that rings, not the mallet.) Anywho, I suppose if you oiled up mesquite a lot it would get pretty dark. I've heard tell of mallets made of ebony also, and that may be what the black ones are made of as well. My mallet, obtained from a forumite who found a stash of Navy surplus ones left over from the War (WWII to you youngsters), is made of oak, presumably live oak, which was considered the best material of all for caulking mallets. If you want to buy a store boughten mallet, there's an outfit that sells them, and decent irons in just a few models, called Lost Foundry (or something catchy like that). They are on line and I think they advertise in the classified in WB. Anyway, their mallet runs about $150 last time I checked. Their irons run around $50-75 bucks each. Wanna have a contest? Who's got the most different irons? (You can count reefing hooks as an iron, okay...) I've got 29 different ones... do I hear 30?

Bob Cleek
12-13-2001, 09:23 PM
Scratch that... I just counted 'em. I've got 31. I missed a couple of reefing hooks made out of old files. About two thirds of my irons are Drews. The rest a mixed bag, but all old. There is a difference in the iron, that's for sure. A good iron will ring the same way a real silver fifty cent piece will ring when you flip it with your fingernail and one of those cupronickel ones won't. Fun to collect them. God knows I'll never use them all! LOL

12-13-2001, 09:55 PM
There's a lot of mystique about caulking and caulking tools, probably because it does take a lot of experience and skill to do a proper job. Over 90 percent of caulking is done with four or five irons. The rest sit in the box waiting for that very special application that comes once in a blue moon, or for some caulkers, never. The company that Mr. Cleek refers to is probably The Genuine Forgery, which indeed makes good irons, somewhat on the pattern of Drews but with larger heads. Several companies sell mallets, including Elisha Webb & Son and The Genuine Forgery. They are oak, probably live oak, with properly tempered rings. Mallets indeed don't "ring," but you can often tell a good one by the sound--a classy "clack" instead of a dull "thud." There are many hardwoods that make good mallets, and I have never seen much difference among them, assuming that they are well made and well ringed. Some swear by black mesquite, others by live or white oak, still others by various tropical hardwoods. It seems that the best wood is the one that went into the mallet you own. I doubt that the black ones are ebony--I would think they would shatter, as ebony is very brittle. I made my heavy one from a block of Bubinga, a hard, resilient reddish wood. The one for light work I made from Zapote, the tree that yields the raw material for chewing gum. Both woods are springy and take a shock without acting like a dead-blow hammer. I can't claim that either wood is the best, it's just what I had around the shop when I got the urge to make the mallets.

12-14-2001, 08:15 AM
IRT to your question, there are two very different typres of wood that are called mesquite, both from Texas and Mexico. The first is Mesquite, quite hard, dense and very stable. It has a reddish tint and is frequesntly used to cook with, as the astute Mr Cleek brought out. Another wood, also form the sam general are, though more difficult to find, is known as Texas ebony or black mesquite. It is very much darker in color and finishes very differntly than mesquite. Most of the small wood yards in the Texas Hill Country, or San Antonio area can point you in the right direction.
OTH, there are a vast number of wood species, probably some local to you, that have similar densitites and would work for your particular application. As with most boating questions, it really comes down to how bad you want to have it like someone else did it as opposed to using you own resources and ingenuity to do it differently, and perhaps better for your application....
Best of luck

12-14-2001, 09:49 AM
Interesting discussion.

Now tell me why a calking mallet is shaped like a fence post on a handle, if you please. What does one weigh?


Tom Lathrop
12-14-2001, 11:19 AM

Being from the right coast, I have little knowlege of mesquite. Around here many barbeque restaurants claim to use mesquite for fuel and it is available in bags for the same use. In travels in the west and Mexico, I've run into some hard, heavy and very dense woods sold in carvings, etc. The stuff is nearly black and might be what the mallets are made of. I have been told that it is manzinita(sp), but I have no clue.

I cut a green manzinita branch about 3 inches diameter near Nevada City this September on a friends property. To my surprise, it was very light colored and pretty wet inside. By the time we got home, it had developed several large cracks and has since pretty much destroyed itself.

How might a green branch be dryed so that it could be useable?

Adam C
12-14-2001, 03:48 PM
I recaulked a substantial portion of my 44' boat when she was hauled out the last three months. My irons were $17.99 each, from Jamestown distributors.

My mallet? Let me describe her...Beautiful, shiny black head, lovely slender light colored wood handle...

You guessed it, the $12.99 rubber "deadhead" available at Home Despot.

After being hauled out for three months, she took less than 48 hours to fully take up, and now I have a truly dry bilge.

I know, I'm classless.

Bob Cleek
12-14-2001, 04:15 PM
Right on, Adam. You really don't NEED a caulking mallet or a slew of Drew irons to do a good caulking job. In fact, as said, most of the old irons were pretty esoteric. To answer Norm, though, there ARE reasons why the caulking mallet and various irons evolved. The mallet is oddly shaped with a long head so that you can whack irons in tight spaces that you might not be able to get a regular mallet (or God forbid... a hammer) head into. The slots cut into the caulking mallet give it a resilience so that it bounces back easily and reduces fatigue when used all day long. The rings keep it from splitting apart at the slots. The handle, which is narrower than one would expect for the size of the head, is designed to be held at various points on its length in order to vary the intensity of the impact. You choke up on it if you want to reduce the impact strength. It also pulls out of the head hold easily so it can be stored side by side with the head in the rigger's bucket or box. The rigger's box is a small stool with storage underneath for the mallets and irons. They would sit on them when working under the turn of a bilge or on deck seams. As riggers were itinerant workers, moving from yard to yard and job to job as boats reached the point where they needed caulking, their tools of the trade were portable. Curiously, all other things being equal for the times, many of the best old time rigging gangs were African Americans and it seems they had something of a corner on that end of the boat building trade in the late 1800's. Dunno why, but researching that would make a good master's thesis for somebody someday.

I had manzanita growing on my last place some years back and cut some from time to time. It is really beautiful and very hard wood, but as said, it seems to split and fall apart like crazy when it dries. It grows very slowly and is really almost a big bush. It has a wierd grain structure. The trunk is sort of almost like a number of vine-like segments that twist and turn and grow together. The branches are bushy and skinny. (They sell manzanita branches in pet stores for perches in parrot cages because it is hard enough to resist the parrots chewing on it.) I used to take it and let it dry and then cut it up and see what happened. I would get small hunks of it that would stay together fine, but nothing big enough to be useful for my purposes. I used to give it to friends who were into pen turning and lathe work and they would make pen and pencil sets out of it which polished up incredibly well. I expect it would make nice knife handle and pistol grip blanks, too. It's sort of like lignam vitae in that you kind of have to machine it more like metal than wood because it is so dense and hard. If you find a piece of it longer than a foot and bigger around than a couple of inches, you'd be lucky... at least that's how my manzanita was.

Jim H
12-14-2001, 05:54 PM
I have made knife handles out of mesquite. Good hard wood, usually with interesting grain patterns and small tight knots. I also have some "Texas Ebony", the sapwood is a bright yellow and the heartwood is a very deep brown, it finishes really well. It too is a very hard wood. I have been told that it is from the persimmon tree. I wish I had more of it, it makes a really nice knife handle.


12-14-2001, 07:49 PM
Thanks Bob. There is a reason tools evolve to certain shapes.

I understand persimmon is in the same genus as ebony and was used to make the heads on golf drivers. I bought a couple of persimmon boards a while back to make those very same pen and pencil sets Bob mentioned for golfing friends. These boards are either all sap wood or the head on a golf driver is stained red. Most uninspiring grain pattern so that project fizzled.


Tom Lathrop
12-14-2001, 07:50 PM
Thanks Bob,

I will chop up my manzanita and let it dry completely and see what happens. Persimmon is in the same family as ebony and very nice stuff. Our eastern persimmon is kind of yellow/green and not very dark.

gary porter
12-14-2001, 08:13 PM
Some real good info here...I have found that there is some differences in Mesquite and that a Black Mesquite used in at least some mallets comes from Paraguay (Algaroba negro) not easy to get and that another good substitue is one called Swartzia (Gombeira).
I realize I could repair my boat and build others with alternative tools but for me thats not the point. I do have a mallet but like the idea of making my own while still desiring to have others that are known good tools...Its a tool thing, a bit of a sickness my wife will tell you. I own lots of them some of which are close to 100 years old and I use them on a regular basis. The tool by no means makes a craftsman but sure can make him feel good about useing it. I now have wood coming from three different places that I will turn for mallets and have one mallet coming, I believe from the same place you got yours Bob..... Thanks for all the help and info from all of you.

Dave Fleming
12-14-2001, 08:24 PM
Pssst Mr Cleek, ya mean corkers not riggers doncha?
I have both a couple of Black Mesquite Drew Mallets and two of those Oak things.
IIRC, the Oak things came from Navy surplus and the word was they came off WW II lifeboats. I got them to use as boat mallets for thinner planking NOT a good idea, McGee!
They are duds and have no bounce what so ever.
The rings on my Drews are IMOOP tempered steel and I had the machinist make a stepped ring to fit over the end one in order to set it back using a hydraulic bench press, works slicker 'n snot.
As for as irons go I have two full or what seem to be full sets( about 30 to 40 irons), from the last two corkers in the San Francisco Union. There are a ton of corking irons, reefing irons, and horsing irons all in big canvas bags with a sleeve for the roll a round. Roll a round is the folding wood and canvas seat on roller skate wheels handy when doing miles of deck seams.
But for me working on the garboard or there abouts a knee pad was much more convenient than using a stool.
Further seems to me the original poster contacted me about Black Mesquite after visiting my humble web pages, no?

Stan Derelian
12-14-2001, 08:36 PM
If your're into trying other woods, you might consider arbutus---madrone to the Californios. It is hard like manzanita, but much thicker. I am about to make a regular mallet with it.

gary porter
12-14-2001, 08:49 PM
Dave, I did look at your website and did enjoy it. I don't recall contacting you but I know there is another from the Washington area with the same quest. I would like to get on your list if you ever decide that you might be able to part with one set of those irons etc..... http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/smile.gif I'll look into that wood Stan, but for now I think I'm covered. We don't have much in the way of hardwood here except birch which makes great furniture but not known for its boat building qualities...

12-14-2001, 09:49 PM
Luther Burnham, July 1938, working on his knees.
Photo credit; John Clayton

See "Building the Blackfish"
by Dana Story


Bob Cleek
12-17-2001, 11:09 PM
Yea, Dave, I meant corkers, not riggers.

It never occurred to me that there was a corkers union in SF, but, of course, why not? My family was big in the unions there in the old days. Not much going on now. I heard somewhere the Pacific Coast Seamen's Union was renting their union hall for parties to make ends meet. Sad, but I guess times change. The old Longshoreman's Hall (not THAT old, built sometime in the early 60's as I recall) is now called "Maritime Hall" and I don't think there's been a longshoreman in there in some time.

Now, wouldn't it be fun to resurrect the old SF corker's union local? Just for a hoot? I figure if a few of us became "members" being as we cork a boat now an then, we could apply for all sorts of US Dept. of Labor grants and subsidies and stuff like that. Heck, we could even picket the local boatyards and demand they hire "union corkers!" LOL

Thaddeus J. Van Gilder
12-18-2001, 08:15 AM
out here in Jersey there is a couple of pro corkers around, but very few.
are there really any in california?

Dave Fleming
12-18-2001, 01:52 PM
Bob Cleek, a clarification on my part.
The Shipwrights Boatbuilders Loftsman combined with the Corkers sometime after WW II. My retirement pin from Local 1149 shows
crossed Broadaxe and Adze with smaller corking mallet and iron in the corners.
We, shipwrights et al., had two halls at one time. The original in San Francisco just up the street from the old Beth Steel yard and the other over in 'jokeland' near Jack London Square. The 'jokeland' hall is gone now and the land is IIRC, leased out for a very handsome price to commercial interests.
In the time I was an active member in No Cal and Seattle it was an eclectic mix of trades under the umbrella of the Shipwrights Union.
The above stated trades and the Marine Carpenters aka Cargo Shorers. Cargo Shoring was the best paying segment of the lot.
Very busy in the days before containerization. When wife had twin boys there was a sudden need for some extra money and I worked for some little time as a shorer. Lots of 'round the clockers' at straight time for the first 8 then time and a half for the next 6 and double time for the rest, plus portal to portal time.
Those shifts usually were grain or ammo fittings. It was not unusual to have a paycheck for the equivalent of 140 hours straight time for a 40 hour week! That bought a lot of baby formula and Pablum, ya folla?

I have no idea what yards in the Bay Area are still Union but it would be a hoot to resurect the old trades Hall and all.
Thad, when last I talked to the Business Rep in San Francisco he stated that there were no Union corkers on the books and as I stated in this thread I got my tools from the last two Union corkers retiring. That was in the 1960's. Now that does not say that there are not some good mechanics still corking on the Bay but probably not Union. Ross Sommers, son of Harold Sommers of Wanderbird fame, was a fine corker when I was acquainted with him.
Billy Linderman knew which end of a mallet to hold back then too. Don MacIntire was no slouch either but he went up coast to Mendocino in the 1970's and was never a card carrying corker rather a shipwright, though he did cork quite a bit. See as time went on and the old timers faded away there was still a need for corkers and some fellows in the yards who had worked with the corkers and picked up a bit about it sorta took over and filled the gap. So for small to medium jobs there was usually one or two in each yard that could step up and take on the job. When I read about that outfit over in Alameda doing the re-deck on the Balclutha I wondered just who they got to do that job. Just a "few" seams to be done on that project,to be sure. When I looked at the work in May of this year I was not too impressed with what I saw but, lets face it, I have a very critical eye about such things.

Bob Cleek
12-18-2001, 02:47 PM
Jeeze, Dave, what are you doing in San Diego? LOL You really ought to come up here and give one of those cute Smokette-the-Bears at the Maritime Museum an oral history or two. They aren't any good for maintaining stuff that floats, but they could at least be put to use preserving some of the old info from times past. My old man was with Dollar Steamship, the War Shipping Admin, and APL for some 50 years or so all told. He was a shore office guy... their accountant. When I was a kid he put me to work summers filing bills of lading... what a BORE! I wanted to work the tugs and got my wipers papers and all, but another kid got killed on his dad's tug (Figari, know him?) when a steam line blew and that was the end of my seagoin' career as far as the old man was concerned. I had to content myself with hanging out and working on playtime boats (yachts.) I do remember when you guys were swarming all over the Embarcadero... the Belt Line was running and there was the smell of copra and coffe roasting at Hill's Bros. and the stink of hides farther down towards Pier 80... I was just a little kid, but I guess I sort of can say, "Those were the days..." LOL Hal Sommers and his son are still around. Same for Billy Linderman, I believe. Harry Dring is gone, of course, but his son is still driving his own independent tug out of Richmond last I heard. Babe Lammerdin passed away a couple of years ago or so, just when he finished his boat and WB put her on the cover. The guys at Alameda's Bay Ship and Riggers are doing heavy stuff, like Balclutha's decks, but I don't think they have any old timers on their payroll. You guys are getting on, you know... LOL Bill Garvie, retired at about 82 or so, is still building up in San Rafael... a 38' sharpie for his own entertainment. He's about the last of the old time master builders that I know of who are still putting on their overalls every day. Time for you to write a book, Dave, and pass on what you know. Or at least video tape it or something.

12-18-2001, 02:58 PM
Dave, maybe it's time to try to teach it to a few likely lads (or lasies) before it gets forgotten & needs to be reinvented someday. Or do a video or some such to record the stuff for future marine archeologists.

Dave Fleming
12-18-2001, 03:25 PM
Youse Guys is sumptin!
I have gotten several may I say quite a few similar comments re, passing on stuff to new people via my web site. It is a tempting thought but ya talkin' time and money here Laddy Bucks.
Time I got but money is kinda scarce on the ground if ya folla?
Got a friend, Guy Lautard, him who writes for the Home Shop Machinist crowd and he tried to get me interested in writing some how to's also. I tried it with the web site and it gets about 20 hits a day. Problem now is that I have forgotten how to upload stuff to the web site. Had a mentor/web tutor but he lives about 60 miles from me and he is on to other things these days, sigh.
Ayup,can ya belive it? Web pages have been up about a year and a half or so and, still that many souls wander in each day to read my scribblings, bloody amazing or so says I.
I watched as I have posted before, the goings on down at Hyde St Pier last May and was very upset with the chaos and mis-information being passed around in a class there.
Recall my comments on the corking exercise?
If some group with organizational skills and at least some travelling money gets it together, I would be willing to come up to the Bay to 'shoot the ****e' with folks and perhaps test the waters for a return to NoCal. for some sort of seminar/teaching how to's type of thing.
BUT and this is a big but, I have NO patience with the dilletante type. In other words ya gotta be focused and not just wanting to get together and waste my time and your money, folla?

[This message has been edited by Dave Fleming (edited 12-18-2001).]

Alan D. Hyde
12-18-2001, 03:49 PM
Dave, the famous English common lawyer, Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634, whose books were the basis for educating most of this country's founders in the law) liked to say: "the knowledge of diletantes is ignorance diluted."

I agree, but also like to add that "the knowledge of specialists is ignorance distilled."

There's a happy medium, somewhere. The person who's only done one thing all of his or her life, and hired everything else done, is often not possessed of much common sense.


P.S. What happened to David Goodchild? Haven't heard from him here for awhile. Could not some publisher offer you a decent advance, and help you put together a book? How about it, WB people? Surely you came out OK on McIntosh: how about Fleming? Do it along the lines of "Building the Blackfish:" lots of photos, only as much text as needed.

Whadduya say, Matt?

Dave Fleming
12-18-2001, 03:54 PM
Bob, being in San Diego was a decision made at a time when sons future was major priority. Turns out not so good a move after all for SWIMPAL and I that is.
I will have nothing to do with the National Maritime Disgrace at Hyde St. Pier thought the WAPAMA thread made that clear.
Ayup worked shifts at APL, PFE, Matson etc..
Nope, can't recall Figari.
Belt Line and the old Eagle Cafe remember it all very well. Hill Bros and,wasn't Folgers along there too? Hides, please please don't mention hides. One of the hottest days in a particular summer and we worked a hide loading alongside China Basin near the old slaughter houses. God help those poor seamen sailing across the Pacific with 5 holds full of wet, dripping, stinking hides in the summer time! And heavy too...
Knew Harry was gone,that was some time back now.
Babe is gone too now? Didn't know that.
Wish I had a camera when the Wanderbird restoration was in full swing. It was a who's who of the saltiest characters in the Bay working and gamming on her and in the parking lot at the pier head. You shoulda seen Cap Linderman and his friends working on those sticks donated by Ernie Gann in memory of his son washed overboard from one of those Alaska crude carriers in the Gulf of Alaska. That was some huge collection of shipwright and rigging knowledge working on her.

12-18-2001, 11:31 PM
As I recall, during the 1930's, 40's and 50's not very many of the boatyards around The Bay (SF) were union. Maybe some individuals were members, but I don't remember a "union shop" among the smaller yards. Over in Richmond we were somewhat isolated from the yards in Alameda and San Francisco. Once in a while a union recruiter would come around. But when we told him how much we were making he would leave quietly. The owners/bosses of the two yards I worked at made sure our wages were more than union scale.
Dave: does the old SUP, Sailors' Union of the Pacific, still exist? Just after WWII an oil company was dolling up a 110' subchaser at Treasure Island to give to an Arab prince. Among other frills she had a goat pen just forward of the house, gold-plated fixtures in the heads, and thick carpets all over the place. The company was looking for a captain to get a crew together and take her to Arabia. I applied for the job and got it, but a couple of days later when I went to sign on the agent said "no dice--we've got to withdraw the offer because you don't belong to the SUP." So no trip to Araby for me.
When the Wisconsin Lake Schooner Education Association was building the Denis Sullivan (100' 3-masted gaff schooner) we hired a 3-man caulking gang from Nova Scotia, one of the few gangs left on the right coast.
I wish I could have been around during Wander Bird's re-fit. I sailed aboard her a few times just before WWII when Warwick Tompkins had her at Berkeley. Soon afterwards he downrigged her and laid her up at Sausalito.

[This message has been edited by Bayboat (edited 12-18-2001).]

12-19-2001, 10:46 AM
Ok Murphy, O'Brien, Jackson, et.al., here's another oportunity to participate in making a written history out of oral history and help the bottom line.
What's involved? What's next?

Dave Fleming
12-19-2001, 01:14 PM
Bayboat, I can't say for sure just when the yards I worked at went Union but I would guess quite some time before the 1930's.
W. F. Stones
Anderson and Christofane
Bowes and Andrews
Sausalito Marine
Arques Bros
Pacific Drydock
Alameda Ship
All were Union when I started in 1962.
When you say smaller shop are you talking a place with less than say 5 or 6 Journeyman types?
I dunno if I would call Richmond isolated from Union access recall Willamette and Richmond Ship were just down the road on Cutting Blvd and they both were Union.
Shipwrights were a low key type of Union, not militant or obnixious to my recollection.
That is why when discussions of Unions and their activities come up I have to preface my comments bye saying...Based on my experiences both in San Francisco Bay and Seattle, I have no problems with the way the Locals acted.
I have no argument with non-Union shops.
As to wages again at that time it was not the most important thing to me until the twins were born and I talked to the Business Rep, Ted Knudson and he told me about Cargo Shoring aka Marine Carpenters. I could have gone and worked Uptown as there was a cross over agreement with the Uptown Carpenter Locals. We all are members of the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners etc...
The SUP and the Longshore Unions I have no knowledge of except bye exposure on the job.
But if IIRC, Harry Bridges kept a tight hold on who shipped out on the left coast.
The refit of the 'bird' took some time as most of it was donated materials and labour.
Not to say the Harold and Anna Lisa were not grateful and gracious about it all. I recall many a night having a pot luck dinner in that big saloon with the red velvet bunk privacy screens along both sides. The red AGA cooker keeping the damp of a San Francisco night at bay.
I have some photos of wooden ship/boat building in Nova Scotia just after WW II and if I could get to my Photopoint albums I would post them there for all to see, sigh.
Interesting, one photo shows a gang of men of colour adzing a long timber. I just never thought of people of colour being way up in Nova Scotia. http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/redface.gif

[This message has been edited by Dave Fleming (edited 12-19-2001).]

Art Read
12-19-2001, 02:29 PM
More than you'd think, Dave. A lot of my ancesters game from thereabouts. I remember my grandfather talking about this very subject. His observations: It was the terminus of the "underground railroad" for many, and for a lot of so called "freedmen", their best "opportunities" were before the mast. Hence, they tended to travel more than most other folk of any race who stayed ashore. Upon going ashore to settle down themselves, many found the "outports" up in the maritimes more than "weloming" towards ANY able bodied worker. There's a lesson there somewhere... I guess we only care what someone "looks" like when there's enough of us around so as not to particularly "need" everybody.

Bob Cleek
12-19-2001, 03:00 PM
Dave, I remember when Gann sent down the spars for Wanderbird and Hal had them on the dock at Madden's. Somebody told me (but not Hal as I remember) that they had been cut on Gann's island property up in Washington and then turned on the big lathe they had at Hunter's Point. They had lathes there that could turn stuff bigger than anything anywhere else... no doubt sold for scrap when Hunter's Point went under on the "base closure" baloney. Not that anybody wants a list of who's died really, but since you mention it, Donny Arques passed on about eight or ten years ago. I knew him pretty well at that time. Big pissing match over his estate, since he owned half the Sausalito waterfront. The Arques (Boatbuilding) School was created so Don could reach out beyond the grave and keep some of the waterfront working instead of taken over by the tee shirt vendors. Frank Olivera, who worked for years at Sausalito Marine, is long gone. Same for Lester Stone, of course. And for sure, Folgers coffee was down there too. The whole South of Market waterfront lost something when they shut down the coffee roasting plants, same as it did when Ghirardelli shut down and you couldn't smell the chocolate anymore! Couldn't agree with you more about the NPS and the Maritime Museum. The "pot collectors" as I call them in polite company, ran Roger Olmstead, Harry Dring and Karl Kortum into early graves, that's for sure. Only a federal bureaucrat would come up with the theory that "deterioration is part of the natural history of the artifact" as a rationalization for letting a vessel rot! (Not even I am that much of a traditionalist! LOL) Those guys would let a boat sink because they didn't have a line item in last year's budget saying "for pumping out sinking boat..."

As for sharing your skills, damn right... a man's entitled to sell what he spent a lifetime learning. Don't blame you a bit feeling as you do about dillitantes. Those that can DO and those that can't TEACH, as they say. Still, there are ways to publish information profitably. That at least insulates you from the "sea chantey singers." Maybe we can scout around and come up with a way you could make a few more bucks at your trade yet!

Dave Fleming
12-19-2001, 03:33 PM
Whew! Art after I posted that comment about people of colour I was holding my breath that someone would ***wrongly*** accuse me of prejudice.

Dave Fleming
12-19-2001, 04:03 PM
Bob, IIRC the sticks were turned up in Washington State at a utility pole maker. Where they came from I have no idea. What I can recall is Cap Linderman and his 'gang' working on those sticks for days. I have never seen so many spar planes in use in my life and then they finished up with inside out sanding belts and then one last scraping.
They were/are georgous. RGM what posts here works at a yard in Seattle and he ran a repair job on the 'bird' not too long ago.
Wonder what he can say about the condition of those sticks and the 'bird' in general?
RGM where art thou????

I too recall reading about the bru-ha-ha over the Arques property. At least a part of it did not get too yuppie-fied.
I remember working some months at Sausalito Marine under Frank. Lester has been gone for some time now. Anybody know what happened to Jack Erehorn the foreman for many years. A really swell fellow, in my book. How he tolerated Billy Linderman's antics http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/biggrin.gif for so many years I don't know!

Oh don't get me wrong. I am NOT interested in making money based on what I may know.
I would much rather share it with appreciative folks. Saw too much of that crap in the yards. F***Y** kid, it took me years to learn what I know and I ain't passing it on to you just because you are an apprentice.
For everyone of that ilk there were others who would take time to share and show what they knew and always with a smile or wink, ya folla? Fellows like Alec Davidson, Jack Erehorn, Al Christofani, Les and Alf Hanson and many others.
That dilletante business is one reason why I or should I say we, SWIMPAL and the boys and I, did not spend much time down on the 'bird'. Too many hangers-on would congregate on her particularly on weekends, which is when I had the time.
The backbone of the work was borne, In My Opinionated Opinion, by Harold, Anna Lisa, Ross Sommers, Cliff 'the corker' Neiderer and the old timers. The rest would dip their toes in the work for a bit and then want to sit around and drink 'dirty dago red' and mooch a supper off Anna.

Back to teaching, I just want to be reiumbursed for expenses nothing more.
Of course if it were to come to writing, what is fair is fair. I recall Jim Krenov and I having a converstation about writing books and his first book, HE paid all expenses and then the publisher took it on! Thats right one of the most influential woodworkers of our time and he paid for the photo layouts and galleys of his first book. And he commented that he made not a dime from the first printing. It got a bit easier as time when on but, I find that initial experience amazing.
Perhaps that is why Guy Lautard self publishes. But also it could be Guy is a bit of a Luddite! http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/biggrin.gif

So anybody got an idea of a sylabus(sp) for my first class????

12-19-2001, 06:04 PM
Hi Dave, I've been reading/lurking/watching you and Bob Cleek recall the days gone by down around S.F.. It's a shame how some things die and go away, never to return. Some might call it evolution, survival of the fittest. Some of it appears to die a natural death I guess, some of it appears to get murdered by bureaucrats and committee jockeyes. Many of us are fortunate in that we worked in or around the colorful trade of shipwrighting or corking when there seemed to be more call for that work. I was talking with a corker (union) friend of mine at work this morning about his trade. He and another fellow might be the only two corkers in the Shipwright Union in Seattle that just do corking, they've been talking about trying to get some type of apprenticeship program going but he doesn't know if it will take off. They're working steady most of the time. Each one of these guys works/roosts at a separate shipyard close to Fisherman's Terminal in Seattle. These yards value these guys so they take care of them and try to keep them employeed (they have their pick of side jobs if needed). These yards also sub-contract the services of these two corkers out to other shipyards in the area that need legitimate corkers for jobs. The shipyard where I'm located has shipwrights that can cork (and some that think they can cork) when the need arises. But we'll frequently call in one or both guys for bigger jobs. Up here we call a shipwright that occassionally corks a "two handed shipwright". They are definitely more shipwright than corker. But it can work out in a pinch if they know what they're doing. There's alot of wood boats in the Pacific Northwest, so there's a fair amount of corking that's always going on. Most of the yards up here that are considered "wood boat yards" will have a separate "corkers shack" with all the necessary pitching gear, horsing irons, beetles, etc. Corkers provide their own mallets and irons, though we do have some "company" mallets and irons here. And we do occassionally turn mallets and sets of rings. As some folks have indicated the rings are a key component in making a good corking mallet. We duplicate the Drew rings in that the end rings have a tapered outside diameter. They aren't straight, it makes a difference. The rings have to be the proper hardness and the slots in the mallet head have to be the right length and width also. Various hardwoods have been used successfully for the mallet head, some guys prefer one type of wood over another. However, Black Mesquite is unequalled if you ask the pros or have had the opportunity to test drive different corking mallets for any lenght of time. I've heard of people getting Black Mesquite, Texas Ebony out of old fence posts (not necessarily abandoned) in the Texas/Southwest area. If a mallet doesn't have a good "ring"(distinctive clack as previously described) to it when you bounce an iron on the end of it then it won't have any "blow". "Blow" is what drives the cotton and/or oakum well into the seam and provides the rebound to the mallet that lets you swing one of these things all day long without turning your arm into rubber and destroying your joints. As for the WANDERBIRD, it certainly is a beautiful boat, especially for being 114+ years old. It will probably be heading back to Germany, Hamburg I believe, to be owned and cared for by a maritime heritage/museum group. The masts looked to be in good shape if I recall. The hull definitely needed some new planking and there was evidence of some decay in the stem. But all-in-all she looked great and it was a pleasure to have worked on a significant piece of maritime history. Dave, I think I e-mailed you some pictures of the WANDERBIRD, feel free to post them if you wish, I believe that you are set up for it, I'm not, I should be. Additionally, for you California guys I've got an old (1950's I believe) picture of the THAYER drydocked at Lake Union Drydock Co. in Seattle getting some corking repairs. I'll try to get it digitized and posted. Talk to ya later.

Bob Cleek
12-19-2001, 09:56 PM
Yea, Dave, those "hangers on" when Sommers was rebuilding Wanderbird were sure something, but I kind of think Hal would have told them to get lost if he minded. I think he had fun joshing them. Like you, I was a "respectful watcher," and I learned a bit on the sly. I figured the guys with tools in their hands knew what they were doing and the ones who didn't were in the way. I wasn't working, so I stayed out of the way! LOL

Funny you should mention the dilletantes. It's become a "thing" now. I don't know if it helps the wooden boats or not. Certainly, their money is welcome. I was one of the original, or nearly original, guys who worked up the Master Mariner's races. Bill Vaughan and Roger Olmstead got the idea and really ran it single handed for maybe the first eight years or so, just a few guys with old boats. Then Bill got just too overworked and he set up a real corporation and organization and that's when I came aboard with Kermit Parker and a few other guys you probably know. We ran it just fine for a few years off our kitchen tables and then wooden boats got popular and all of a sudden there were rich people owning wooden boats! Things changed. They started complaining about how we did this and that and what color the party favors on the dinner table were supposed to be, who was gonna be "commodore" and all that political ****e! It stopped being fun for me, except as an opportunity to get together with some old friends. It still serves its purpose well and is a great organization, but there aren't as many dirty fingernails among that crowd as there used to be. LOL I guess it is the same all around.

I can't go into the whole ball of yarn about Arques, since I was his lawyer for a while, but I will say that the original intent he had for the "Arques School" was an honest to God VOCATIONAL apprentice school for traditional boat trades. Suffice it to say that there's no nastier fight than one over what's left in a dead man's sea chest, if you know what I mean. I waded ashore when the sharks started circling! LOL The resulting Arques School seems more geared to paying customers who want to soak up some hobby skills than a trades apprentice program, but that's just my take. I never got involved in it beyond working up the concept with Arques and haven't nosed around down there at all. Just the scuttlebutt. Still, they have a good reputation and Gene Laducci and what's-his-name (LOL) who run it are good guys and always have been. Probably not much call for a real apprentice program anymore anyway. They are probably doing as much as they can with the market they have to work with. Arques was more of an incurable romantic than anybody. He had whole warehouses down there piled high with old fittings he'd salvaged off of old sailing ships, scow schooners, and so on. Big stuff like cast iron capstans and windlass gears and rigging fittings. Eight inch diameter deadeyes... stuff like that. He and his father before him had been breaking up old ships down there and it seems he saved anything he thought he could sell. He even supposedly had some big old Hicks engines still in the crates and stuff like that. Pretty amazing. Figured "he'd need it some day." I don't know what happened to it all. You could rig a ship or two outta there at one time!

Dave Fleming
12-19-2001, 10:25 PM
RGM, took ya long enough to get into this thread. http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/wink.gif
I recall that Fishermans always kept a crew on but didn't know how it all worked.
I like that 'two handed shipwright' description.
Seattle has not escaped the 'changing times'.
Nelson Hanson, Riverside Marina, Delta (now a yuppie put put builder), Dave Lequrke(sp) and Marco, does Marco do any wood work these days? Blanchard is a shadow of its former self since the fire in the 1960's.
What alloy are youse guys using for mallet rings?
Now if ya wanna see a real woodenboat desert come down here to 'insane Diego', on second thought don't bother. http://media5.hypernet.com/~dick/ubb/rolleyes.gif

[This message has been edited by Dave Fleming (edited 12-19-2001).]

gary porter
12-20-2001, 01:00 PM
RGM, What are you making your rings out of?
I was thinking of making some from 4130 but am open for suggestions and like the idea of making them tapered like the drews. How are you doing the taper? I do appreciate any of this info that you can help me with, I think I'll print out all these replys to this post just for future good reading. Very interesting history from all of you....Thanks again....gary

12-20-2001, 01:00 PM
Like many others, this thread has wandered all over the place after having started with caulking mallets. Although I have had a good life elsewhere, I have always at least slightly regretted not staying around The Bay. As a kid and youth I knew many of the "old-timers" mentioned by Dave Fleming and Bob Cleek, and I worked with a few of them. But all my memories of that pre-date 1962.
Dave, yes I was referring to small non-union shops; usually there were only three of us at Richmond Boat Works. But one could work temporarily at the larger ones without joining a union.
Some overworked cliches never die the death they deserve, e.g., "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." That's so wrong-headed, if we are talking about effective teaching. How do you suppose good teaching occurs without the prior ability to do? Take the example of a guy like Dave. I think it would be great if he can find a niche in teaching others what he knows. He certainly won't be teaching because he can't do, and this is true of all good teachers.
Back to caulking mallets and irons: unless you are a professional caulker, it doesn't make a lot of difference what tools you use.
The tools professionals use are the result of long experience, designed to do the best job possible without crippling the caulker. A mallet or hammer without bounce or "blow" can be used for a while, for one job. But for the long haul, day after day, a proper mallet is critical. By the same token, a cheap iron will do the job for a while, but a good one stands the gaff for years. It is nice to own good tools, like mallets of the "right" wood and Drew-type irons, but too often they constitute "collectors' items" instead of integral parts of one's tool kit.

Bruce Taylor
12-20-2001, 02:18 PM
I just never thought of people of colour being way up in Nova Scotia

There's a strong black community in Nova Scotia, but they were there long before Harriet Tubman. The original community was made up of British Loyalists who came over during the American Revolution. The British govt. offered American blacks free land, provisions, political freedom and religious liberty if they'd move behind British lines. Must have seemed like a good deal, 'cause something like 3500 souls took advantage of it.

Alan D. Hyde
12-20-2001, 02:34 PM
Too bad the British government hadn't earlier offered those same things to the colonists, for, as Burke and Pitt both anticipated, the ministry's high-handedness produced the opposite of the consequences allegedly intended...


[This message has been edited by Alan D. Hyde (edited 12-20-2001).]

Art Read
12-20-2001, 02:58 PM
Actually, most of "ancesters" I refered to above were displaced "colonials" from Massachussetts... Torries... Seems we've always been a bit "conservative..." (At least some of the "black sheep" amoungst them remained home to spread "traitorous rot and blasphemy" and not inconsequentialy, our branch of the family tree.) Don't know what kind of mallets they used though...