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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.