A treasure trove of shipwright tools: putting the pieces together

Hi, my name is Roxi Truesdale and I am working together with Candice Witton on an internship project within the Registration department of the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Interns with shipwright tools

Interns Candice (left) and Roxi (right)

Our project involves registering a collection of shipwright tools that belonged to a father and son, Thomas and William Higham, which curator Stephen Gapps has previously written a wonderful post about.

When I first set eyes upon the collection I had no idea where to start. The extent of my knowledge of tools was being able to tell the difference between a flat head and Phillips head screwdriver. However, after a couple of weeks with the Higham collection I am now relatively convinced that I could build a boat. (It would probably sink once it got into the water but at least it would resemble a boat.)

It would be safe to say that Candice didn’t know much more than I did about tools and so this has been quite the learning experience for us both. While we have been educating ourselves on which tools do what, we have had to resort to coming up with a few nicknames in the meantime. So, at the risk of truly exposing my ignorance I will share them with you now.


A tube spanner

Tube spanner

This tool had us completely puzzled. We could not find it in any of our shipwright tool reference books. Before learning the name of this incredibly common tool thanks to some handy friends on Facebook we referred to it as a ‘flute’. This might have been in part inspired by the fondness for dancing and music that we had discovered in shipwright documentaries from the mid-20th century.


A spokeshave


While we were able to find this tool eventually within our reference books we did give it another name previously and it continues to be known fondly as the ‘space invader’.

A spoke shave that looks like a space invader

However, despite its otherworldly appearance this tool is not an alien from an 80’s videogame and was used by shipwrights to smooth out and shape pieces of wood.


A multi wrench


And finally there were the tools that we had a pretty good idea of what they were but couldn’t help letting our imagination get the better of us.

A multi-wrench with a triceratops drawn over the top

We knew that this tool was some type of wrench but until we found out its exact name it was the ‘triceratops’, despite it looking less prehistoric than some of the other tools in the collection.

But for now I must get back to working out what the rest of these shipwright tools are. Keep an eye out for more posts from myself and Candice over the coming weeks.

Registration Intern.

3 thoughts on “A treasure trove of shipwright tools: putting the pieces together

  1. I agree, my favourite is the Triceratops as well, tho the dancing shipwrights are pretty cool too!

  2. Pingback: A treasure trove of shipwright’s tools: exploring the Higham collection | Australian National Maritime Museum

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