Wooden block and tackle

A man once said, “I could lift the world, if I had only somewhere to stand!” We were faced with some original problems in our upcoming timber frame build, namely how could two people move or erect large heavy frame members alone. Timber framing was traditionally a community event with many hands working in unison, and good food for all after the work was done.

We settled on a system of tackle blocks and a capstan to move and lift our timbers, but found the hunt for good quality tackle blocks difficult. So I settled on making my own using reclaimed oak for the shells and a block of antique lignum vitae for the sheaves. If you have never handled lignum, its amazing stuff, hardest of all woods, it also is self lubricating, and smells incredible when worked. Historically most ships had tackle blocks made of lignum, and bronze axles keep rust from spoiling the voyage.


I started by ripping out 1″thick pieces with my 4TPI rip saw.


Then a bit of planing…


and as I have not made a treadle lathe yet, I used my hand crank grinder in a pinch to turn the sheaves out.


now these sheaves need a home!


what better than 100 year old reclaimed oak?


A bit of axe work and a bit of planing…


then some tiny planing…


and grooving with an in cannel gouge…


and the blocks were ready for glue up. I aligned the 1/2″ bronze rod before adding glue.


Then came a bit of crosscut sawing to remove the corners, and some smoothing up with a draw knife (which I didn’t catch a picture of!)


The same gouge made a groove to retain the rope grommet.


Grommets are easily made from four times the grommet length, separated and woven back together…


then seized around the block.


A tight whipping of heavy waxed twine adds a huge amount of rigidity to the whole.


3/4″ manilla rope was seized around the top block then threaded through for use.


A few large S shaped hooks were forged to quickly attach the blocks to log or tripod.


Success! I find it impossible not to fall in love with these blocks, beauty melds perfectly with strength and function as in so many antique tools.

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7 Responses to Wooden block and tackle

  1. msjoy1234 says:

    Wow – see that leather apron is coming in handy! The block and tackle look fantastic!


  2. Jim says:

    A real work of art… did I understand that correctly that you used a copper rod for the sheaves to spin on?


  3. Ron says:

    When I watched you video with these I wondered if you made the block and tackle. They came out real nice! I especially like how you turned the sheaves on the grinder. Someday I need to make me a set.


    • mrchickadee says:

      Thanks! You should make some, its too much fun really! The rope work was a treat to learn, and very practical to know basic splicing and such. Lignum can still be found on Ebay fairly easily, its worth working with as well.


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