Repair and Maintenance of a Drascombe Lugger

Making New Belaying Pins

If you need new belaying pins they can be purchased from the current builders of the Drascombe or Devon Luggers or else from Classic Marine

However, there are also ways of making your own belaying pins either by adapting existing pieces of wood (such as hardwood tool handles), or, as described below, by using a small woodturning lathe to make them from scratch the traditional way! This is perhaps the one project on this site where specialised equipment in the form of a woodturning lathe and associated equipment is required. The opportunity for me to do this came in February (2009) when I received a woodturning lathe as a 60th birthday present. Then a fellow Lugger sailor at my sailing club mentioned that he had broken his belaying pins - and in a rash moment - I promised to make him two new ones! So what follows is an account of how the pins were made - starting with a log of Ash wood - and ending with the two completed pins.

What are Belaying Pins?

Photograph of the two belaying pins which pass through holes in the wooden mast thwart

Here is a photograph of the mainmast supported by the wooden mast thwart with the two belaying pins inserted into their respective holes in the thwart, one each side of the mast. Usually the left (starboard, looking aft in the photo) pin is used to secure the mainsail haliard whilst the right (port, looking aft in the photo) pin is used for tying off the mainsail downhaul.

What are the pins made of?

The pins have to securely hold the mainsail haliard and the mainsail downhaul and need to be made out of a strong, tough and resiliant hardwood which will not easily mark when rope under tension wraps around them. European Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) has just these properties and is commonly the wood of choice for belaying pins.

Step by Step Guide

Ash can be purchased from a timber merchant, or else another source is an Ash log from a firewood supplier or tree surgeon. If freshly cut, the log should be slowly dried out (seasoned) before it it can be worked as 'green' wood will shrink unevenly and distort with cracking if it is dried out too quickly.


I am most grateful to my woodturning tutor Andrew Hall who kindly gave me a suitable log of seasoned Ash. Andrew is a professional woodturner based in Weardale, Co Durham. As well as an excellent and very patient teacher, he is a superb woodturner specialising in full-size wooden hats which are light enough to be worn! These have to be seen to be believed and are masterpieces of skill and craftmanship. Have a look at Andrew's website for more information.

Ash log before cutting The Ash Log before cutting

This photograph shows the log of Ash before it was cut and shaped ready for turning on the lathe. There is enough wood for about 6 pins in this log.

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Power planing a flat surface Power planing a flat surface

The first stage is to use a power plane, shown behind the log, to produce a flat surface on one side. This is to give the log stability on the sawing platform. A hand-plane can also be used but be warned that Ash is a very hard and tough wood to plane!

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Cutting the log on a bandsaw Cutting the log on a bandsaw

Here the log is on the cutting table of a bandsaw which can be used as a 'sawmill' to accurately cut the log into rectangular strips with a 30 mm square profile.

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End result of the sawing End result of the sawing

This photograph shows the end result of the bandsaw cutting. The six blanks of Ash are ready to be turned on the lathe to make six belaying pins. Each blank measures 253 mm long by 30 mm square

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Making a Marking Stick

Before the wood can be turned on the lathe, a full-scale drawing showing the dimensions of the belaying pin has to be made and printed out. This is then glued on some stiff card or thin ply to make what turners call a Marking Stick. To enable you to make your own marking stick, a full-scale drawing of the belaying pin has been reproduced as an Adobe pdf document (see below).

Belaying pin full-scale drawing The Belaying pin full-scale drawing

On the left is a thumbnail photograph which links to a full-size drawing of the belaying pin in pdf format. You will need the free Adobe Reader software to view & accurately print out this drawing. To make your own marking stick you need to print the drawing at full-scale, by following the following instructions:

  • Install the Adobe Reader software (if it is not already installed)
  • Click on the thumbnail (displayed left) to open the drawing in Adobe Reader
  • In Adobe Reader, on the top menu bar, click on File and then from the drop down menu click on Print Setup.
  • In the Print setup dialogue box, ensure that paper size is set to A4 and that paper orientation is set to Landscape.
  • Click the OK button to close the Print setup dialogue box.
  • Next click the Print button to open the Print dialogue box.
  • Ensure that Page scaling is set to none in the drop down list of options.
  • The document dimensions (shown on the right side of the dialogue, beneath the preview image) should be 9.9 x 4.0 in and the paper size (for landscape A4 paper) should show as 11.7 x 8.3 in. Other sizes of paper can be used as long as the paper dimensions exceed those of the image, otherwise the printed drawing will be truncated by one or more edges of the paper.
  • When all has been verified, click the OK button to print the drawing.

After printing, check with a ruler that the coloured dimension lines on the printout are full scale. The drawing can then be trimmed and glued to stiff card or thin plywood ready for use with the lathe.

(Click on image for pdf view)

Using the Lathe

The next stage is to use the lathe to turn the rectangular pieces of wood into finished belaying pins.

Ash blank mounted on the lathe Ash blank mounted on the lathe

This photograph shows one of the rectangular pieces of Ash which were cut from the log using the bandsaw, mounted on the lathe - ready to turn.

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Turning a cylinder Turning a cylinder

Once the wood has been securely mounted, the lathe is switched on and a the Roughing Out Gouge is used to progressively remove the edges of the wood to convert it from a square-edged plank to a near perfect cylinder. The picture shows work in progress with the wood almost cylindrical at the right hand side of the lathe, but still square in section to the left.

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Marking out the pin dimensions Marking out the pin dimension

With the conversion to a cylinder completed, it is time to lay the full-scale drawing on the Marking Stick next to the wood (supported by the lathe tool rest) and transfer the dimensions from the drawing, by means of a pencil, to the rotating wood.

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Making sizing cuts Making sizing cuts with a Parting Tool

The next stage is to use a chisel called a Parting Tool to make the initial sizing cuts. The chisel is deployed in one hand whilst callipers set to the correct dimension are pressed gently against the cut from the other direction. The cut is continued until the callipers can be pushed gently across indicating that the cut has been made to the correct diameter. Note that for the purpose of photography the lathe has been stopped.

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Cutting the pin shaft Cutting the pin shaft

In this photograph the Roughing Out Gouge is being used again to shape the shaft of the pin. The un-shaped head of the pin is shown on the right.

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Shaping the pin head Shaping the pin head

Here the Spindle Gouge is being used to shape the head of the belaying pin.

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Using a cheesewire to burn a decoration Using a cheesewire to burn a decoration

A cheesewire is a handy way of burning a black decorative band on the handle of the pin. The point of a skew chisel is used to cut a groove where the decoration will be. The speed of the lathe is then increased and the wire held within the groove. The friction causes the wire to become so hot that it scorches a neat line in the groove.

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Removing the completed pin from the lathe Removing the completed pin from the lathe

After the turning has been completed, the whole pin is finally sanded smooth by holding abrasive paper against the wood whilst it is rotating in the lathe. The pin is then ready for removal from the lathe. The waste wood at each end of the pin is thinned down (but not cut through completely) using the parting tool. The lathe is then stopped and a small hacksaw (or a coping saw can also be used) is used to cut the pin from the waste wood at each end. The ends can then be sanded smooth to blend in with the rest of the pin.

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Checking dimensions with the marking stick Checking the dimensions

The completed pin is shown next to the marking stick which acts as a check that the overall dimensions are correct.

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Two completed belaying pins Two completed belaying pins

Two completed belaying pins, ready for use.

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Project started September 2009 and completed October 2009