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Traditional Maritime Skills :: Splicing in natural-fibre rope with rigger’s thimble

Splicing in natural-fibre rope with rigger’s thimble


How does a boatswain splice natural-fibre rope and strengthen this with a metal rigger’s thimble?

Where great forces will be exerted on a spliced eye in a rope and chafing damage can be expected this eye can be strengthened using a metal rigger’s thimble. The boatswains have the tools required for this. All necessary ropes and other requisites are present onboard. To achieve the required break strength the splice is ‘tucked’ back into the standing end five times.

We shall first look at the implements, machines and tools that are required. The splicing will then be explained in successive steps.

Tools and implements required for undertaking a splice using a metal rigger’s thimble...

A distinction is made between rope made from natural fibres and synthetic rope.
Natural fibres: manila, sisal, cotton, coir, hemp, flax…
Synthetic: polyamide, polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene, …
The example discussed below uses natural-fibre rope as shown in the photograph on the right.

Leather hand palm with thimble
The hand palm protects the boatswain when working with needles and sharp fids/marlinspikes. A metal thimble is fitted to provide extra protection when sewing with a needle. This thimble has an upright edge to prevent the needle from slipping.

Whipping twine
Whipping twine or spun twine is used to whip the strands.

Metal rigger’s thimble
The metal rigger’s thimble protects the rope against chafing or from becoming wedged.

The needle is used to draw the whipping through the strands. The needles have a slight curve so that they go through the twisting strands better and easier.

This hard tallow is used to grease the rope and the fid to make it easier to push through the strands.


Successive operations for making a splice with a metal rigger’s thimble.

  • Determine the size of the eye. If an eye is to be spliced into a rope without using a metal rigger’s thimble then the size of the eye can be freely determined. When using a metal thimble for splicing it will be the metal thimble that determines the size of the loop.

  • Apply whipping to the part of the rope from where the strands are to be unravelled. The whipping is applied in such a way that the rope can be unravelled over a distance of four twists (image 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6).

  • A mallet is used to drive the rope into the rigger’s thimble.

  • Tension the rope around the rigger’s thimble using whipping twine or tape

  • Unravel the strands so that they can be whipped. Before the strands are unravelled up to the whipping in point 2.2, each strand has to be whipped in order to prevent it unravelling.

  • Now unravel the strands up to the whipping on the rigger’s thimble

  • Starting the splice. Spread the strands so that the middle part is beside the splicer. The other two strands are on both sides.

  • Making an opening in the rope using a fid

  • ‘Tuck’ the first strand using a fid. The first strand is ‘tucked’ using a fid. It is ‘tucked’ in the opposite direction and pulled through up to the end.
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Tools Required

  • Needle
  • Tape
  • Hand palm
  • Thimble

Materials Required

  • Spun twine
  • Tallow
  • Synthetic rope
  • Natural fibre rope
  • Metal rigger's thimble
  • Whipping twine
  • Seizing twine

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