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17 August, 2013

Tools of the Trade - August

August, and our Tools of the Trade tour brings us to Suffolk, home of Footrope Knots and Des Pawson MBE.

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From his workshop, and with the assistance of his wife Liz, Des makes our Rope Doorstop, Rope Keyring and Sailor’s Whisk Brush.

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A founding member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers, Des is known and respected the world over for his knowledge of knotting and ropework, and his enthusiasm and expertise sees him in demand at festivals and boat shows throughout the country. With his bright red cap and bushy beard Des is a popular and instantly recognisable figure, whether demonstrating ropemaking, or tying keyrings, bellropes or fenders. For his Tools of the Trade Des chose to share with us his Heaving Board and Heaving Mallet.

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These tools are used in tensioning rope to ensure the tightest knot; essential in the making of a Monkey’s Fist. Traditionally used to weight the end of a line, allowing it to be thrown, the elegant interlinking rings of the Monkey’s Fist make it an attractive ornamental knot, and the perfect form for our doorstop and keyring.

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Des explains his tools for us: “I cannot recall exactly how old the heaving board is but it is based on one I saw used by a rigger on the Cutty Sark a good few years ago. It is made from a piece of beech that I found floating in the river Orwell, although it has been broken and repaired once.”

“The heaving mallet is also of my own make using some gas pipe with an Oak head. It is based on a Royal Navy Issued item.”
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"These tools must have made something like 1000 door stops over the years, but they get used on other jobs as well such as splicing very heavy ropes. They give me the chance to tighten things much tighter than my body will allow.”
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It is Des’s experience making these doorstops - more than a thousand over the past thirty years - which reassures us that these are the best-made doorstops available. Built around two half-spheres of solid lead, and using 18mm Manila rope, these hefty weights will hold open the heaviest door, and will last for many years. Other lighter, cheaper ( and foreign made ) versions are available, but none can match those handmade by Des in Suffolk.
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Des’s other tools include the large Swedish fid, used for splicing rope, a hammer, for hammering the turns, and a dolly for heaving tight.
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The Swedish fid in action.
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Hammering the turns.
 
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Heaving tight using the dolly.
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The Swedish fid again…
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… and using the heaver to tighten the loop.
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Des trimming the end with his favourite knife, bought 30 years ago in Boulogne.
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The rope keyrings are made in a similar but smaller way by Liz, and based around a wood rather than lead core. Our other product from Footrope is the Sailor’s Whisk Brush.

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Made by sailors from odd ends of rope, this brush was used for swabbing a boat’s deck, although our smaller version is perfect for brushing down your table or worktop. Although simple looking, this brush is very labour intensive, as straightening the strands to produce the distinctive ‘whisk’ involves controlled soaking, combing and drying. Available in limited quantities, this is a great alternative to a dustpan brush, and is a classic Labour and Wait product - timeless and functional.

As well as making rope products and demonstrating knot tying, Des also runs the Museum of Knots and Sailor’s Ropework. A valuable resource of rope artefacts and knot tying history, Des’s tribute to the art of the ropemaker is a unique collection celebrating the prosaic and practical skill, once commonplace, which is now the province of the specialist.

“We believe that the world should recognise the art and skill of knots and sailors’ ropework. Such items that have often not been valued or exhibited by museums. For many years we have collected old and recent ropework and ropeworking tools. We hope to encourage greater awareness by creating this setting to properly display our collection.”

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Des’s knowledge and enthusiasm for rope and knots has also been captured in print, as the author of a number of books and monographs. So if you are inspired to attempt your own monkey’s fist, turk’s head - or footrope knot - Des can be your guide.
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Our thanks go to Des and Liz for their information and photographs, and to Ann Norman for the illustration ( taken from Des’s Knot Craft ). All items are available in store, and the doorstop and keyring are available online. Des’s Museum of Knots and Sailor’s Ropework is open by appointment.

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