Making a Scorpion Tailed Bench Hook
By Bob Booth - Warwick, Rhode Island - USA

For those of traditional bend, intent on working in historically accurate modes, the bench hook a.k.a. sail maker’s hook may be a familiar object in theory but not in practice. Through the years I have been involved in various traditional rigging and shipwright endeavors and have intermittently sought a source for hooks only to stumble blindly into stone walls, give up, and employ an alternative means of securing items.

With the coming of a new project of this fall, building a traditional natural fiber sail for my 10’ dinghy—the lead project to the building of a historically accurate “sea boat” to plans dating from the late 19th century, the fires for locating this tool were again stoked. Fortunately the search on this occasion bore fruit: a commercially available version of this ancient artifact rendered in stainless (retail sources include Duckworks and Sail Rite). The photograph (above, right) shows the modern variant.

In comparison with traditional hook design of the late 1800’s (an example of a working hook from the turn of the 19th century, reprinted with permission, from The Times and Tools of A.P. Lord, From 1868 to 1957... The Working Life of a Maine Coast Sailmaker, G. Gambell, 2005 is offered at left) one finds the configuration of the new hook consisting of heavier wire with a steeply angled bevel at the point. The point is blunter than that of its counterpart and in use offers neither purchase on nor penetration into canvass fabric.

What to do? Enter the shouldered “scorpion tailed” point of Emiliano Marino.

In his book, Sailmaker's Apprentice, Mr. Marino introduces a species of hook heretofore unheard of in my experience; the scorpion tailed hook. On close study, it seems this design offers a viable alternative to regrinding since the shoulder of the commercial hook, as Mr. Marino states, provides a positive stop thereby preventing the inevitable elongation of the hole by over penetration.

Unfortunately nowhere, it seemed, did such an object exist, though it does; it is after all pictured in Marino’s book. It was time for a trip to my workshop.

If you are, as I am, enthralled with the availability of a stock hook but would like a bit better performance from it, here is how to make it into your very own shouldered scorpion tailed sail hook.

You will require the following: (1) one commercial hook, (2) one #15 needle—I used a standard round needle, (3) a vise, (4) propane torch, (5) 5/64” drill bit, (6) electric hand drill, (7) paste flux, (8) small coil of rosin core solder, (9) mill bastard file, (10) water in container for quenching, (11) small triangular mill file. (12) approximately 12’ of small line—I used 1/4” manila, (13) fire extinguisher—in close proximity to hot work.

Clean your bench and prepare for hot work.

Anneal the hook’s point: clamp the sail hook in the vise, with approximately 1” of the point extending above the vise jaws. Using the torch, heat the hook’s point until it attains a dull red color. Let cool without quenching.

Using the mill bastard file, file a flat on the point large enough to accept the diameter of the #15 needle while leaving a flat shoulder around the needle.

With the drill bit mounted in the hand drill, drill a hole, centered on the flat, straight into the stock of the hook. Make the depth 3/16” to 1/4”. (If the drill will not cut into the stainless, anneal again). Once drilled, set the hook aside.

Clamp the #15 needle in the vise and cut/break off the point for a length of approximately 1/2”. Dress the broken end with the file.

Again clamp the hook in the vise. Insert the 1/2” long needle into the hole drilled in the hook. Prepare the solder and flux--dip the end of the solder into the can of paste flux and pick up a small amount of flux. Heat the hook/needle, apply the flux to the needle/hook joint and then touch the solder to the joint—adjust heat so the solder flows gently into the hole around the needle. When the solder firms, quench the hook by dipping the hot end into the water. Smooth and dress the solder around the base of the newly installed scorpion tail with the triangle file, splice on your lanyard and you have Emiliano Marino’s Scorpion Tailed Shouldered sail hook.

Bob Booth