Deciding if a component of an old wooden boat is original or a repair/replacement is not always straightforward.  What may initially seem original can turn out to have been the result of a previous reconstruction, enhancement or a repair job.  My purpose in trying to ascertain what is original is not just to decide if materials should be retained – but more importantly – if the material can be used as a pattern or template for what it should be replaced with.

The project now has a ‘restoration plan’  the key sentence of which encapsulates the purpose of this restoration.  I quote:

“The objective of the restoration programme is to restore Katydid as a racing sailboat to look and sail in the way that she did when launched in 1892”

To this end – establishing what is and is not original is an important issue.  Doing so has caused me (already) a fair bit of head scratching.  The primary construction material, wood, can if poorly maintained – decay very quickly and give an impression of great age.  I have been finding, in this project, that fastenings have been providing me with the key clues and evidence to support judgements about the age and originality or otherwise of various components.  The originality, or otherwise, of the deck is the best example.

During my initial investigation I removed material that was obviously not-original.  In the case of Katydid this included the internal accommodation, cockpit lockers, canvas deck covering and coachroof structure.  Once this work was completed I was faced with the question – what, of the remaining material, is original.  This is what I started this phase of work with.

katydid's semi swept deck

A semi swept deck in pretty poor condition, sags and dips and caulking and paint and rot and all the rest. But – is it the original deck or a deck by a previous reconstruction exercise?

The material, yellow pine and moulding dimension (5/8″) are consistent with the construction plans for Fife 17/19 Clyde Luggers (Fairlie Restoration did not hold the construction plans for Katydid but did provide us with construction plans for other Fife designed Clyde 17/19 Luggers). The deck also looks very like Hatasoo’s, already known to be unrestored.

At a first guess it looks and may be original – But – a lightly built racing dayboat 116 years old still with its original deck? Everyone knows that decks don’t last. I can already hear the questions and see the raised eyebrows.

Firstly, the deck does pre-date the conversion of Katydid to a cruiser and the addition of the canvas deck covering. When the canvas deck was laid the covering board (and possibly sheer strake) were replaced as the canvas was laid over the deck planking and UNDER the covering board. A pretty good way to ensure that there was little motivation for replacing the canvas deck covering!

underneath the covering board

I am of the view that Katydid’s deck is original. The evidence, for me, is provided by the fastenings used for the deck structures, beams and beam shelf, lodging knees and breasthook. Here is how my thinking goes.

The deck planking is fastened by a combination of hidden ferrous cut nails (fine brads) holding the edge of each plank to each deck beam and cuprous nails with heads removed (square in section) pinning each plank to the  next between each deck beam.

The ferrous nails pulled through the planks as the planks were removed

deck beam 15 - with 'hidden' nails

The ferrous brads may have once been galvanised but are now heavily corroded.  However, if they are 116 years old – they have done very very very well.  Are you sure about them being original?

deck planking fastenings
The cuprous pins are on the left!

The deck beams, once scraped clean, show no signs of old fastening holes so can be assumed to be the same age as the deck planking.  The deck beams are fastened to the beam shelf with heavily corroded  ferrous nails.  No signs of old fastening holes so the deck beams can be assumed to be the same age as the beam shelf.

The sheer strake has been re-fastened through the beam shelf with with a mixture of bronze bar and ‘modern’ copper boat nails but shows lots of holes and old fastenings as well for the various generations of chainplates that have been attached to Katydid at various points.  Additionally there is no evidence that the lodging knees, transom knees or breasthook have been replaced. So…..

If the beam shelf is original then the deck beams must be original then the deck planking must be original….

And it is the fastenings that tell me all this rather than the timber!

Having worked all this out and measured up the deck in detail and set the port side deck planks aside in case they are needed for reference I have a cleaned out boat on which restoration can commence.

stripped out

Caution:  The lifebouy in the background is probably not original

I am not posting Katydid’s restoration plan online but if you would like to see it just drop me an email and I’ll be happy to send you over a copy.

I still have lots of questions running around in my head about the cuprous alloys that were available to Fife in 1892 and how well they lasted.  This cut boat nail, used to fasten the planking, is now very brittle and clearly not a very noble form of bronze. I broke this 2″ nail by hand.  Were screws made of the same alloy?  How do I find out facts like this?  – back to the library I guess as there this is a matter that probably pre-dates Google.

brittle boat nail

Comments on any of this stuff are, as always, welcome.


  1. Charlie,

    Michael here, was reading through your website and thought I might be able to help or possibly miss guide on the origin of this square nail. I have a book called “Ships Fastenings” by Michael McCarthy, It is USA published. It has a few pages about a material called “Muntz metal” produced in England from around 1830’s onward, its an early form of brass. A bit about this chaps history can be found on wikipedia.

    Good luck with the restoration.


    Michael Gill (ex BBA student to avoid possible confusion)

  2. Mike. Thanks for the suggestion. It looks feasible that the boat nails used in Katydid were made of Muntz metal. Not sure how you positively identify an alloy once an element (zinc) has presumably leached away… Will update you if I get any further with this matter.

  3. Friend of JG, ( members together at LESC in His ’15’ days) , metallurgist and Trustee of Scottish Maritime Museum.
    Muntz metal is a brass ( Copper/zinc) but the zinc would not be in a ‘free’ form which would ‘leech’ – except perhaps from the surface. Brass, being relatively soft, was used for deck fittings rather than construction in the 1890s. Bronze ( Copper/tin) is a bit ‘harder’ but more brittle – hence the ease with which you snapped a nail? Copper is of course softer than either alloy. Get the nails tested for composition?
    Contact me, if you like, with detailed queries.

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