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A step-by-step guide to fashioning traditional blocks.

Tuition: $875

Materials: $122


Anyone who sails knows how instrumental blocks are to maintaining control over sails and helm. They come in many sizes and configurations—singles, doubles, fiddles, tiny blocks, large blocks, huge blocks—and serve different purposes, from topsail sheet blocks on square-riggers to flag halyards.

Blocks were so important they were one of the first commercial processes to be mechanized at the end of the 18th century. Until then, blocks were constructed by hand. In British Navy yards in the mid-18th century, entire buildings were dedicated to blockmaking. In this course, RJ will convert WoodenBoat School’s East Bay classroom to become the school’s very own blockmaking shop.

Photo of blocks

Students will begin with the basics—cheeks, swallows, spacers—of traditional block construction, including creating the templates for individual blocks, and choosing and preparing wood for the process. RJ will guide students through making two single 6” blocks intended for use with rope stropping: one a “made block” where individual elements of the block are fashioned and then fastened together, and the other a “cut block” where the block is formed from a single, solid piece of ash. Students will also make a third block, a 5″ single block fastened with metal stropping hardware, which will become part of WoodenBoat School’s rigging inventory used to maintain the school’s fleet.

Photo of blocks

Like all woodworking projects, blocks need to be finished. RJ will show students where to cut stropping grooves, drill holes for reinforcing threaded rod and sheave pins, and work through choices about staining and finishing. To varnish, or not to varnish, that is the question, but students will be varnishing at least one of the blocks.