Blockmaker Steve Whitby tells his story

Blockmaker Steve Whitby 1 Blockmaker Steve Whitby 2

Enthusiastic wooden blockmaker Steve Whitby has been in touch to tell us about how he got into making blocks.

‘My Dad built a boat when I was a boy, and I’ve been sailing ever since. Down the years I’ve made all sorts of rig bits and bobs, mostly racing and cruising dinghy systems, a few sailing canoes, couple of dodgy International Moths… you get the idea. (Though I’m now way too old for International Moths!)

‘Somehow wooden blocks just drew me in – I got hold of a few worn out blocks, took them to bits, copied them, tried to improve them. For me its a chance to create something that I think is actually rather beautiful, but also practical and with a real heritage.

‘There are a few web resources that are helpful – a page on the Duckworks site among others, but the best I’ve found is on Traditional Maritime Skills, which is a terrific site.

‘Learning to make these things has involved quite a lot of trial-and-error too of course – I have a sizable box of rejects that I can’t bring myself to put on the fire. But along the way I have developed my own techniques – my one-piece blocks are routed from a 30in blank that makes up a set of eight, which are then cut off and shaped.

‘Initially I was very taken with a one-piece design, but they use rather a lot of wood (especially making larger ones) and I hate the router.

‘The laminated blocks are made with a template for every part (including all the holes for dowels and spindles), they are glued and doweled (or copper riveted) before being sanded on a big old linisher to get a neat oval. All the blocks are hand carved for profile and to gouge out the score (for the strop).

‘I have made a few with internal bindings, but somehow strop blocks are just so much more elegant an approach.

‘The latest developments have been roller-bearing sheaves (which I am quite pleased with as they are much easier to make than ball-bearing ones, but are better at taking load and still run very nicely).

‘I’ve been making fiddle-blocks with cleats (for mainsheets, kicking straps etc). I have just finished one with a Tufnol V-jammer “hidden” inside the swallow – I was going to just rough it out to test it, but somehow I had to finish it properly and leave it in linseed for a few days… I still don’t know if it will actually work yet but it looks nice!

‘Also in the works are swivels, specially made to take the bottom of a strop (and so make a strop block stand upright) – I will post pictures soon (that might make more sense than my description).

Steve seems to have got a bit carried away… for in September he leaves the day job to join the International Boatbuilding Training Centre to do a full year’s traditional boatbuilding course.

Thanks for getting in contact Steve, and great good luck with the course and whatever comes next!

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