Ships Fastenings

Ships Fastenings


As Wreck Inspector for the Western Australian Museum I came across many ships fastenings and in trying to provenance and correctly describe them studied those from the well-documented 200-year period after the advent of the underwriters, Lloyd’s of London around 1760. It revealed nearly 100 English-language terms in European-tradition wooden boat and shipbuilding alone. These and other encountered later appear in the list taken form my latest (2005) work on the subject.

My first work on the subject appeared in 1983 in the pages of The Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA) and went out to an international audience three years after in the pages of The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 25(3): 177-206. My 2006 work entitled Ship’s Fastenings: from sewn boat to steamship expanded on those works and was based on hundreds of sources. An overview spanning millenia and many boats, it remains but a pointer to a myriad of deeper studies by expert others past and present who, though far to numerous to list here, appear in the references to the 2005 work. Clearly I defer to them in their respective areas of expertise.


Drawing of a typical yatra without a skeg or gripe from Hornell (1920) by Tom Vosmer.

Notwithstanding the alarmingly long list appearing below, the fastenings used to secure craft ranging from the sewn boat through to the steamship can be divided into two main categories, the metallic and organic forms. These in turn can then be distilled into surprisingly few major subsections.

Organic fastenings can be divided into ligatures (i.e. anything used in binding, or tying) and wooden fastenings.

Ligatures of rope, cord or threads were made of organic substances like papyrus, reeds, coconut fibre, grass, coir, hemp, reeds, grasses, vines, rattan (a form of climbing palm), root, animal sinew and leather, ‘withies’ i.e. young shoots or thin branches of wood. This ‘cordage’ can appear in the form of ‘stitches’, lacings, ligatures, and lashings.

Wooden fastenings, which can appear in the form of dowels, pins, treenails (trunnels), pegs, tenons, ‘keys’, mortise-and-tenon joints, and coaks were constructed of an equally wide variety of timbers.

Treenails, can be found ‘short’ i.e. not passing completely through the timbers being joined, or ‘through’, and are generally ‘wedged’ and/or ‘pegged’ to help secure them in place.

Types of Organic Fastenings

a) Wood



double dovetail clamp

dovetail key


draw tongue

free tenon

ligature peg

locked draw tongue


loose tenon



pegged tenons

plug treenail






tenon pegs



treenail wedge

treenail plug

treenail peg

unpegged tenons



b) Natural fibre








Interior of Plains Indian hide boat, showing a "lashed" frame. Sketch by Chris Buhagiar, after Phillips-Birt 1979, 251.

Metallic fastenings generally comprise iron, copper and copper alloys like bronze, Muntz Metal and others similar. These can be divided into nails, bolts and miscellaneous forms, with the last category including keel staples, dovetails and other plates.

Some types e.g. the large square-sectioned nail (or spike) have been in use for thousands of years. Large circular sectioned nails that do not project though the timbers being joined are called short–or blind-bolts. These (and occasionally spikes) were often ‘ragged’ (with barbs) to provide greater holding power.

While often appearing on the boat or ship as ‘straight nails’ to finish with their ends ‘short’ or ‘blind’ within or beneath timbers; large nails—that pass ‘straight’ through frames and strakes—can be found with the projecting end bent once, to become ‘turned nails’ (single-clenched) or twice to become nails that are ‘hooked’ (double-clenched), back into the timbers. Sometimes nails are hooked over quadrilateral washers called roves. They also appear in the lapstrake or clinker form, though this tradition exhibited a once unique form of clenched fastening, the lapstrake rivet. This was a nail with its projecting end nipped off after it passed through the strakes, to be peened or deformed over a rove.

As boats, ships and timbers evolved becoming progressively larger, the forelocked bolt, appeared. This type with its cotter or wedge secured over a quadrilateral rove, or ring, was followed by another form of through bolt, the clinch bolt. Its end was closed over a rove and later over a clinch ring. Sometimes a ring is found at both the head and end. All bolts that pass completely through the timber being joined can also be class as 'Through Bolts'.

G.F. Muntz’s 60:40 alloy of copper and zinc, also called ‘yellow metal’, being more durable and easier to drive, soon replaced copper as the preferred sheathing and fastening medium. Sometimes (as with the copper form) the heads of Muntz or Yellow Metal bolts were ‘clinched’, ‘upset’ or ‘peened’ over circular clinch rings to become ‘clinch bolts’, or were clinched at both head and end, to become double-clenched rivets. Large circular section copper alloy nails—or short bolts for they are both—eventually came to called ‘dumps’ and while these too could appear ‘ragged’, they were often ‘plain’.


Types of Metallic Fastenings

bilge bolts

blind fastening

blunt bolts

boat nails

boat spikes


breast hook bolts

butt bolt

butt through bolt


carriage bolt

clamp bolt

clamp nails



clinch (clench) bolt

clinch (clench) nail

clinch (clench) ring

clinker nail

clinker rivet

clout nail

chain bolt

chain plates

clout nails

copper nails

coppering nails

coopers flats

crutch bolts

cut nail

cast nail

deadwood bolt

deck bolt

deck nail

deck spike


double deck nails

doubling nails

dovetail plate

deck bolt

drift bolt

dump nail

dump bolt

edge bolt

eye bolt

fender bolt

filling nails

fish plates

fish tackle

fish tackle eye bolt

fishtail plates

flat nails

fore and aft bolt

forelock bolt

frame bolts

furring nails

garboard bolts


gripe irons


hook bolt


horseshoe clamps

holding down bolt

in-and-out bolts

keel scarph bolt

keelson bolt

lag bolts

lag screw

large nails

lead nails

limber strake bolt

lost point bolts

medium nails



nut bolts

'P' bolt

penny nails




plate nails

port nails

pointer bolt

pound nails

preventer bolt

preventer plates

pump bolts

pump nails

rag bolt

ribband nail

ring bolt

rod bolt

rivet clinker

rivet (lapstrake)

rivet (industrial)



round headed nails


rudder hangings

rudder irons

rudder nail

rudder pintle bolts

rudder brace bolts

saucer head bolt

set bolt

scarph bolt

sham bolt

shackle bolt

shelf bolt


screw bolt

screw pointed bolts


scupper nails

sheathing nails

sheathing tack

short bolt

shoulder bolt

single deck nails

sister keelson bolt

span shackle


spike nail

short driven bolt

square bolt

standard threaded bolts


stemson bolt

sternson bolt


stopper bolt

stud bolt

threaded bolts

threaded rod

threaded short bolts

threaded through bolts

throat bolt

through bolts

through bolts with nuts

through fastening

through fastening drifts

through screw bolts

toggle bolts

up and down bolts

water way bolt

weight nails


wire nail

wood screw

wrain (or wring) bolts

wrong nails

Metallic fastenings based on the Album Marques de la Victoria by Chris Buhagiar.

Composite frames by Chris Buhagiar.

Notwithstanding that the holes for all fastenings, organic and metallic, both short or through, were drilled with a modicum of ‘drift’ i.e. with slightly smaller diameter than the fastening to be driven into it, long, ‘blind fastenings’ with tapered ends have come to be known as ‘drift bolts’ in many shipbuilding circles.

While they are late in arriving on board, screws and nut-bolts became common on wooden and composite ships and in the decks of iron and steel vessels. This period was followed by the decline of the iron ship and the advent of the steel hull, with its rivets of steel or iron. Then the weld in the modern sense came into being such that by the end of WWII it was recognised as the most appropriate form of fastening in the steel steamship.

While the steam-powered ship formed the terminal point for my 2005 work it is noted that modern clinker and carvel craft are still fastened with clenched (i.e. deformed) turned, or hooked, copper nails, or with clinker rivets closed over roves or burrs of copper.

Looking for more information? Check out Ship’s Fastenings: From Sewn Boat to Steamship, you can find a preview on GoogleBooks here.


Dr M. McCarthy | Curator | Maritime Archaeology | Western Australian Museum-Shipwreck Galleries | Adjunct Professor |University of Notre Dame | School of Arts and Sciences | Adjunct  Associate Professor Texas A&M University | Editor:  The Great Circle  | Cliff Street, FREMANTLE  WA  6160 

[email protected]

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