Monday, July 30, 2012

Making Parrel Beads

Parrel beads are wooden beads strung on the retainer cord on gaff jaws, like the example shown from my PRIVATEER’s mizzen gaff. They prevent chafe of the cord against the mast and facilitate raising and lowering. The retainer cord is necessary so that the gaff spar won’t come away from the mast when lowering or luffing.

Of course, you can still buy parrel beads from at least one supplier, the Pert Lowell Company in Newbury, Massachusetts. I have bought parrel beads and other traditional wood and metal hardware from them and the quality is superb. But I also enjoy making things myself from time to time.

Step 1, select a piece of black locust wood. That’s the kind most usually used for parrel beads. It is dense and strong and rot resistant. I ‘liberated’ this piece from a favorite hiking trail with the help of my trusty little hand saw. It was from a fallen tree that had been dead for a couple of years and had not begun to rot. The tree was down, but the section I chose was not lying directly on the ground.

Step 2, remove the bark and square off the log in a table saw or band saw. This has to be done very carefully to prevent injury. Then cut the corners so that you end up with a straight octagonal piece of wood.
Step 3, position the wood in the lathe. You want to balance it quickly, so I use a grinder while the wood is turning to get it down to ‘round’ as quickly as possible to prevent vibration that could shake it out of the lathe.

This is my set of Freud turning tools. Each one has a different shape for a different cutting effect. I keep them very sharp using a water wheel sharpening stone.

Step 4, we use our turning tools to quickly take the wood down to the diameter that I want for the beads. Then I will smooth it with a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a flat block of wood. Don’t wear loose clothing or long sleeves while turning. I hold the sanding block against the wood while the lathe is spinning. I want a smooth cylinder of uniform diameter.

AdStep 5, I start to separate the beads by cutting away notches between them. My spacing isn’t perfect? What???? Oh damn. Guess I won’t be able to charge full price for ‘em.

Step 6, I have them shaped and sanded. Now remove them and simply cut them apart with the band saw. 
Step 7, drill out the center of each one and countersink the hole slightly so that there is no sharp edge to chafe the retainer cord.
Step 8, soak in boiled linseed oil and a little Star Brite teak oil mixture for a week. Then they come out and dry for a few days, and are ready to use.
 Lastly, my friend Dave asks why I didn’t let the wood dry out first before machining it. First of all, I didn’t use ‘green’ or live wood. I would have had to wait a year or more before shaping it. However the moisture content of the dead wood was a bit higher than I would have liked. But I  was afraid that if I waited too long and let it dry out too much, it would check (split) so I went ahead anyway and it machined and sanded just fine. The beads are soaking in linseed oil now anyway and I expect the oil to replace the moisture in the wood.

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