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Tarred flannel, where was it used?


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I cannot find anything contemporary and truly definitive on where in the construction of British warships the practice of "waterproofing" with tar and flannel took place.  My understanding is that it would be outboard and below the water line, for the most part.  This would include the boxing joint and at least the nib ends of the keel scarphs for example.  I assume this would not be done on the stern post and inner post as the joint for these two pieces were inboard of the hull planking.  For the stem area, it makes sense that this practice would be used at and below the waterline, but did it continue upwards on the seams where parts of the stem area were joined together and continued above the water line? This may be a pretty basic item but In the words of Albert Einstein, "I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious."

Allan

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The tiller on some ships had waterproofing cloth that was coated with tar. I do not know the name of the material but tarred flannel sounds good for the job.

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A model shipwright and an amateur historian are heads & tails of the same coin

current builds:

HMS Berwick 1775, 1/192 scratchbuild; a Slade 74 in the Navy Board style

Mediator sloop, 1/48 - an 18th century transport scratchbuild 

French longboat - CAF - 1/48, on hold

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Allan,

Would this be the tarred flannel used between the hull and the copper plates?   I can see tarring a wooden hull but not applying flannel as that would increase drag, I think.

Mark
"The shipwright is slow, but the wood is patient." - me

Current Build:                                                                                             
Past Builds:
 La Belle Poule 1765 - French Frigate from ANCRE plans                             Triton Cross-Section   

                                                                                                                       USS Constellaton (kit bashed to 1854 Sloop of War  _(Gallery) Build Log

                                                                                Wasa (Gallery)

                                                                                                                        HMS Sphinx 1775 - Vanguard Models - 1:64               

 

Non-Ship Model:                                                                                         On hold, maybe forever:           

CH-53 Sikorsky - 1:48 - Revell - Completed                                                   Licorne - 1755 from Hahn Plans (Scratch) Version 2.0 (Abandoned)         

         

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

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Sorry for any confusion.  I was only referring to the seams at joints of various pieces such as the keel scarphs and boxing joint, not coating the entire hull below the water line which I believe would have been with "White Stuff" prior to coppering.   In the drawing below of for Litchfield (1695) the joint at "X" would be coated.   I assume the lines "Z" would have no need for the coating thus would not be done, but would Y be lined with flannel and tar from bottom to top.  Below the arbitrary waterline I have drawn, it should be lined, but would it continue to the top?  Thanx,  Allan

227522260_TarandFlannelareas.JPG.474cc0f70f5f3b3bc6b21307953d5ad7.JPG

 

PLEASE take 30 SECONDS and sign up for the epic Nelson/Trafalgar project if you would like to see it made into a TV series.   Click on http://trafalgar.tv   There is no cost other than the 30 seconds of your time.  THANK YOU

 

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Thanks for clarifying, Allan. I got lost.   Line Y.....  wouldn't the flannel have to go all the way to the end as to cut it off just above the waterline would create a problem unless the wood was "notched" or "recessed" for it.  How thick was the flannel? 

 

So "Z" might also have to flanneled as any kind of rolling seas would put water up there.  I hope you get a definitive answer to this.  

Mark
"The shipwright is slow, but the wood is patient." - me

Current Build:                                                                                             
Past Builds:
 La Belle Poule 1765 - French Frigate from ANCRE plans                             Triton Cross-Section   

                                                                                                                       USS Constellaton (kit bashed to 1854 Sloop of War  _(Gallery) Build Log

                                                                                Wasa (Gallery)

                                                                                                                        HMS Sphinx 1775 - Vanguard Models - 1:64               

 

Non-Ship Model:                                                                                         On hold, maybe forever:           

CH-53 Sikorsky - 1:48 - Revell - Completed                                                   Licorne - 1755 from Hahn Plans (Scratch) Version 2.0 (Abandoned)         

         

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

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Good Morning Allan;

 

The contract for Burlington & Severn, 2no 50 gun ships to be built by Sir Henry Johnson at Blackwall, dated 1695, states as follows:

 

Keeles to be of Elme (Not More than in Three Pieces) and to be fourteen Inches Square in the Midships with Scarphs Four Foot Four Inches Long at least and Each Scarph Tabled and laid with Tarr & Hair, to be well bolted with Six Bolts by an Inch Auger.

False Keeles To be Three Inches thick of Elme laid with Tarr & Hair and well fastened with Treenails Spikes and Staples.

 

No other timbers are so described, although the knee of the head is not described at all, so this contract cannot be used to know what happened with those joints.

 

The contract for Swan of 1694 is similar:

 

The Keele to be of Elme (not more than Three Peices) and to be Tenn Inches square in the Midships with Scarphs of Three foot Eight Inches long at least, Each Scarph Tabled and laid with Tarr and haire to be well Bolted with Five Bolts by Three Quarters of an Inch Auger. The False Keele to be Three Inches Thick of Elme laid with Tarr and haire and well fastned with Spikes and Treenayles.

 

This does then describe the head of the ship, but makes no mention of tar or hair:

 

To Build a Faire Head with a firm and Substantiall Knee & Cheekes, Railes, Traileboards, Beast, Bracketts, Kelson and Standarts, and to Finish the Same with Gratings and Stooles of Easement for the Saylors, with a Dead Block Carved for the Tack between the Railes, and with Mortices in the Knee for the Gammoning, and Washboards under the Cheekes.

 

Other contracts of similar date are phrased in an almost identical manner.

 

However, moving forward in time, the contract for Warspite of 1755 is more detailed:

 

Keel. The keel to be Elm, not more than Six pieces, One foot Six ins square in the Midships, sided afore One foot two inches, and at the aft part of the Rabbit of the Post Eleven ins & a half; the Scarphs Four feet Six inches long, tabled one into the other, laid with white Flannel or Kersey, and Bolted with Eight bolts of One inch & an eighth diameter, the lips of the said Scarphs not to be left more in thickness than Five inches and a quarter.

False Keel. To be in two thicknesses, the Upper one Four inches, the lower one three ins thick, so as to make the Main and False keel together one foot Nine ins below the Rabbit, not to have more than Six pieces of each, of proper lengths, to give Scarph to the Scarphs of the Main Keel and each other; to be laid with Tarr and hair, and Sufficiently fastened, the Upper one with Treenails, and the other with Nails and Staples.

Stem. Not to be more than three pieces of good sound Oak, quite free from defects of any kind, sided at the Head (which is to be continued down to the upper side of the Upper Cheek) two feet, below the Hance One foot six ins, and at the Fore foot,  the bigness of the keel; Moulded at the head One foot Six inches, and at the Forefoot the same as the keel, the Scarph Four feet long, tabled one into the other, laid with white Flannel or Kersey, and Bolted with Six bolts of One inch & an eighth Diameter, two of the middle Bolts to go through the false Stem and well chenched thereon; the Lips of the Scarphs not to be more than five ins and a quarter thick.

 

The knee of the head is described thus (note the mention of Canvas, which, with tar, I have seen mentioned as a seal in various places, such as over the tops of the hawse pieces)

 

Knee of the Head. To extend to the Upperside of the Upper Cheeks, to be One foot four inches thick at the Stem; the two Upper Bolts to be Two inches three eighths of an inch diameter in the Knee, and two inches and a quarter diameter in the Stem; the third two inches diameter in the knee, and one inch three quarters in the Stem; the fourth to be one inch seven eighths in the knee, and one inch Five eighths in the Stem; the Fifth to be One inch three quarters in the knee, and one inch Five eighths in the Stem, and all the rest to be but one inch & a half diameter.

All the holes to be bored through with proper Sized Augers, that is to receive the Bolts in the least drift, that no Reaming may be suffered from the Stem in. That the holes be bored before the Canvas is put on, and the knee Swung off to Observe if the holes are all good, before any Bolts are drove; To have throat pieces of Sufficient depth of Elm, tabled and Billed, and well secured with Bolts drove up, with Pluggs.

 

This would seem to indicate that a layer or layers of canvas, presumably tarred, was placed between the fore side of the stem and the corresponding face of the knee of the head.

 

Moving forward approximately 30 years, the contract for Ganges of 1782 is surprisingly similar to that for Warspite:

 

KEEL:  The Keel to be Elm not more than 6 pieces if to be got,  otherwise to have a short piece Abaft of about 22 feet, if required to be of Oak the foremost Piece about 24 ft, and the intermediate Pieces to be as near of a length as can be made suitable to the whole of what remains.  To be 1ft 6 ins Square in the Midships, sided afore 1ft 2 ins,  and at the Aft part of the Rabbet of the Post 1ft 0 ½ ins, The Scarphs to be 4ft 6ins long tabled one into the other laid with White Flannel or Kersey and Bolted with 8 Bolts of 1 ¼ Diamr,  the lips of the said Scarphs not to be left more in thickness than 5 ¼ ins.

FALSE KEEL:  To be in one thickness of 7ins so as to make the main and false Keels together 1ft 10 ins below the Rabbit, to give Scarph to the Scarphs of the main Keel to be laid with Tar and Hair and sufficiently fastened with Nails & Staples.

STEM:  Not to be more than 3 pieces of good sound Oak,  quite free from defects of any kind,  to be thwartships at the head 2ft 2 ins and to diminish from thence to 1ft6ins at the lowerside of the lower cheek and at the end of the Keel or reconciling of the Sweep 1ft 2ins. To be moulded at the head1ft 6ins and at the fore foot the same as the Keel,  the Scarphs 4ft long tabled one into the other,  laid with white Flannel or Kersey,  and bolted with 6 bolts of 1 1/8 Diamr. two of the middle Bolts to go through the false Stem and well clench’d thereon,  the lips of the Scarphs not to be more than 5 ¼ ins thick.  The Rabbit to be taken out agreeable to what is expressed in the Draught.

 

The knee of the head is again described, again mentioning canvas:

 

KNEE OF THE HEAD:  The Knee of the Head to extend to the upperside of the upper Cheeks,  to be 1ft 5ins thick at the Stem.  The two upper Bolts to be 2 3/8 ins diar; in the Knee & 2 ¼ ins in the Stem.  The third 2 1/8inches Diar; in the Knee & 2 ins in the Stem.  The Fourth to be 1 7/8 in the Knee & 1 ¾ in the Stem.  The fifth to be 1 ¾ in the Knee & 1 5/8 in the Stem,  & all the rest to be but 1 ½ in diar; .  All the Holes to be bored through with proper sized Augers that is to receive the Bolts in the least Drift.  That no reeming may be suffered from the Stem inwards,  that the holes be bored before the Canvas is put on,  and the Knee swung off to observe if the holes are all good before any Bolts are drove.  To have a throat piece of sufficient depth of Elm,  tabled & billed,  well secured with Bolts drove up with Plugs.

 

In all cases only the timbers I have listed are described as having any sealing material within the joints.

 

Sutherland may well have something to say on the matter, although Steel will be a bit late for your period.

 

All the best,

 

Mark P

Edited by Mark P

Previously built models (long ago, aged 18-25ish) POB construction. 32 gun frigate, scratch-built sailing model, Underhill plans.

2 masted topsail schooner, Underhill plans.

 

Started at around that time, but unfinished: 74 gun ship 'Bellona' NMM plans. POB 

 

On the drawing board: POF model of Royal Caroline 1749, part-planked with interior details. My own plans, based on Admiralty draughts and archival research.

 

Always on the go: Research into Royal Navy sailing warship design, construction and use, from Tudor times to 1790. 

 

Member of NRG, SNR, NRS, SMS

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On 8/26/2019 at 9:36 PM, mtaylor said:

Would this be the tarred flannel used between the hull and the copper plates? 

Tarred flannel has never been used between the hull and copper bottom plates, as far as I know. The standard material for that is Irish felt which is still made and sold for that purpose, although you really have to look for it. It's very similar to roofing felt. You won't find it at Home Depot!  These guys sell it, but seem to be asking an arm and a leg for it: https://schoonerchandlery.com/shop/vintage-traditional-boat-gear/a-traditional-materials-and-tools/irish-felt-ships-felt-barge-felt/  Admiral Ship Supply in Port Townsend, WA carries it, along with all the traditional materials for wooden boat construction and maintenance, all at reasonable prices.  http://admiralshipsupply.com/

 

Copper Cladding going over Ship's Felt
 
The use of canvas, flannel, or any similar cloth, the weight of it corresponding to the scantlings involved, is used when bedding the faying surfaces of large scarfs and timber joints, as well as fittings, in traditional ship construction. The purpose of the fabric was to hold the tar in place so it didn't run all over the place when the parts were assembled and to provide a bit of cushioning to fill the joint when the faying surfaces weren't perfectly flat and aligned. Irish felt and "Henry's" brand roofing cement is still commonly used to bed outboard ballast to wooden keels, as well as underlayment for copper sheeting and traditional canvas deck and deck house roof covering. In a lot of ways, the old methods and materials work best on wooden boats.
 
In the applications discussed above, the fabric and tar would be applied to the entire faying surface of large timbers. It would definitely not be used only below the waterline. In fact, there's more need for a good joint seal above the waterline than below. Below the waterline, the wood swells and stays swelled, forming tight joints. Above the waterline, the wood moves much more as its moisture content changes with the ambient environment. Open seams above the waterline fill with fresh rain water which causes rot, unlike salt water, which does not cause rot.
 
On the other hand, Irish felt is used beneath copper plating and painted canvas deck and deck house covering to provide a fair and flexible surface with a bit of cushioning between the plate or painted canvas covering. Without it, when the wood beneath the canvas moves, the painted canvas will crack and leak at the deck seams, causing rot, when the deck planking below expands and contracts with the cycling of the wood's moisture content. As for the copper, the tarred Irish felt provides a smooth surface for the copper and holds the tar in place. with a bit of cushioning, the heads of the tacks will naturally depress to be more or less fair with the surface of the plate rather than standing proud. It also cushions the copper and prevents punctures and tears when minor impacts occur. (As can be seen in the picture above, the old stripped bottom above the area being coppered is pretty groaty. A smooth bottom is a fast bottom.)
 
Some seem to think that irish felt and tar, or in the old days, hair and tar, prevented terredos from eating into the wood, but in my experience I doubt that made much difference to the ship worms. They find any small hole or depression they can, bore in and then take a 90 degree turn and eat through the endgrain, creating long tunnels in the wood. That's where they do the damage. A few small holes in a plank often indicates that the whole plank it like a hunk of Swiss cheese, even thought there's little damage visible on the surface.
Edited by Bob Cleek
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Mark T, thank you for your quick comment.

Mark P.  Great information in total.   Severn and Burlington are part of the 130 foot group of 50s which includes Litchfield so quite valuable information for me. 

Thanks Bob, also super information, thank you for your response.

Allan

PLEASE take 30 SECONDS and sign up for the epic Nelson/Trafalgar project if you would like to see it made into a TV series.   Click on http://trafalgar.tv   There is no cost other than the 30 seconds of your time.  THANK YOU

 

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One interesting point:

 

In 1695, the keel of a large ship is specified as to be in not more than 3 pieces.

 

In 1755, the keel of an admittedly larger, but not double the size ship, is specified as to be in not more than 6 pieces.

 

Tells us something about how the availability of large trees changed in the interim.

 

All the best,

 

Mark P

Previously built models (long ago, aged 18-25ish) POB construction. 32 gun frigate, scratch-built sailing model, Underhill plans.

2 masted topsail schooner, Underhill plans.

 

Started at around that time, but unfinished: 74 gun ship 'Bellona' NMM plans. POB 

 

On the drawing board: POF model of Royal Caroline 1749, part-planked with interior details. My own plans, based on Admiralty draughts and archival research.

 

Always on the go: Research into Royal Navy sailing warship design, construction and use, from Tudor times to 1790. 

 

Member of NRG, SNR, NRS, SMS

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  • 3 weeks later...

Revisiting the subject. This paper gives specific examples, use SEARCH for 'tar'. (The pdf was renamed for my own storage, the original title is " THE STRUCTURES OF ENGLISH WOODEN SHIPS ")

HTH

Bruce

TAR in keel construction.pdf

🌻

STAY SAFE

 

A model shipwright and an amateur historian are heads & tails of the same coin

current builds:

HMS Berwick 1775, 1/192 scratchbuild; a Slade 74 in the Navy Board style

Mediator sloop, 1/48 - an 18th century transport scratchbuild 

French longboat - CAF - 1/48, on hold

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In my world, felt is hair, washed steamed and pressed, adding tar would make it impervious to water, My felt hats will eventually soak through and I have washed my work cowboy hats with soap and water in a bucket, pat most of the water out and wear them dry, later using steam from an iron and the iron itself to reshape, hair, tared and used in a joint to waterproof the end grain sounds reasonable to me. Tared felt in the stem above the waterline and coppering makes sence to me, water getting into the endgrain, then drying and wetted again leads to dry rot.

 

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