Author: Terry Williams, Conservator
As work continues uncovering the mysteries of our concretions (we have broken down 645 to date), more and more hand tools are being added to the inventory. Sailing vessels sometimes spent months at sea, and carpenters would have needed a wide range of tools to keep these vessels afloat. A vital ingredient of a ship’s success, tools are often assumed to be part of the kit requirement when a ship is first launched.
Even in the 18th century there were hundreds of tools available to select from when outfitting a ship – space would limit just how many would be practical. A single tool with several functions would be like having a Swiss army knife in your back pocket. The lathing hammer in our collection is one such tool. A lathing hammer has a small hatchet blade on one side of the head and a typical hammer head on the other. Often, the hatchet blade has a small nick for removing nails.
The lathing hammer in our collection is made of a wrought iron tool head with long straps securing it to a well-preserved wooden handle. The striking face is round and about 2 inches across with an incised, cross-hatched pattern. The opposite end of the tool is a narrow cutting hatchet blade.
In general, the striking face would drive the fasteners to secure the wooden lath to the structural timbers. The reverse side could be used to cut wood to size. Our example lacks the notch in the hatchet end used for pulling nails. Designed to be lightweight, the straps secure the tool into position but result in making it a less efficient driving tool. This multi-purpose tool could have been used either as a caulking, sheathing, or lathing hammer. When used for caulking, the hammer was used to make the seams in wooden ships watertight by driving fibrous, malleable materials such as hair and pitch into the seams between boards. Lead strips would be nailed on over the caulking for further waterproofing. Overall, it was most likely used for light carpentry.
Several crew members aboard La Concorde’s final voyage could have used this tool: the carpenters, the coopers, and even a dedicated caulker. Interestingly enough, the carpenters and the caulker were all kidnapped by the pirates in the course of taking over the ship. This tells us how critical their skill was to the continuation of the ship’s journey.
-Harris, Cyril M. 2006. Dictionary of Architecture & Construction. Fourth edition. McGraw-Hill, New York.
-Lawrence, K. 2020. Tools of the Trade: A Material Culture Study of Hand Tools from Queen Anne’s Revenge. MA Thesis, East Carolina University, Department of History.
-Rôle d’armement de La Concorde, voyage de 1717, March 24. Archives Departementales de Loire-Atlantique, Nantes, France. 120 J 337 Folio 53.
Carpenter’s hammer/lathing hammer from site 31CR314. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
Lead strip from site 31CR314. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.