Caulking refers to the method used to make wooden decks on ships watertight, and involves a variety of unique tools. Strands of oakum, a fibrous material derived from jute, are driven between the wedge-shaped joins between the timbers and then covered with tar or pitch to make the deck watertight. This process took a lot of skill – not enough oakum and water could get between the cracks, too much and the planks could split apart. Shipwrights would take great pride in their mallets, and would tell you that a good mallet, property cared for, would not only make work easier, but would be a pleasure to listen to.
Portable caulking boxes like these would have held the shipwright’s most important tools like mallets and irons. The iron ring would have allowed the shipwright to have the box attached to him when working on the sides of the ship so it was accessible at all times, and the curved top allowed him to sit on the box when on deck.
An English shipwright once recalled…
‘The old shipwrights liked to hear the mallet sing; the slots caused the singing. All these things were done for a good reason – If several men are caulking on deck together and they used ordinary mallets, they would deafen one another.’
(Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, R. A Salman, 1989 ).
A tactile, attractive and evocative box that could now be used in a variety of ways, and a rare find, too.