Appendices -- Useful Supplemental Information


(This list is selected from Dabbler Sails’ library of sailmaking and associated books. Many are out of print -- but can be found in libraries, as used copies on, or specialty nautical booksellers like J. Tuttle Maritime Books, Columbia Trading Co., and D.N. Goodchild, whose Shellback’s Library offers on-demand reprint editions of older uncopyrighted books. Internet searches for “nautical books” will open up many avenues. My listing of titles is by publication date --most recent first. The notes will suggest other priorities to the reader.)

SAILMAKER’S TOOLS, monographs by Des Pawson. Footrope Knots, Museum of Knots and Sailor’s Ropework, Ipswich, England, 2003-2010. 6” x 8” stapled pamphlets. Five of the titles in Pawson’s series of monographs describe and illustrate the history of fundamental tools used (even today) by most sailmakers -- palms, needles, marline spikes and fids, bench hooks, and seam rubbers. Of particular interest to anyone curious about or practicing traditional sailmaking. A 6th monograph is a historical reprint of comments by Mathew Orr and Thomas Ratsey on sailcloth and sailmaking back in the days of flax and cotton canvas. Together these little publications illuminate an era when small shops and industries flourished in most maritime countries -- forging needles, fashioning leather palms, fids and other tools for sailmakers, navies, merchant mariners, and ordinary seamen.

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO SAIL CARE AND REPAIR, Dan Nourie. Beowulf Press, Tucson, AZ, 2002. 232 pp, 6.25” x 9.5” Lots of very good information on how sails are made (without giving away any design secrets), and how to care for them and repair them. Most of the material relates to big modern sails, but the principles, and particularly the tricks of the trade for repairs, are adaptable to small craft sails. Excellent section on sewing machines. The author was once director of sailmaking for North Sails US, and shares an amazing amount of hard-earned experience.

CLASSIC SAILS, William Collier. Ratsey & Lapthorn, Ltd., Cowes, England, l998. 160 pp, 9.75” x 13.5”. A lush volume illustrating two centuries of sailmaking with archive b&w photos, paintings, and recent color photos. An education in the look and structure of (mostly) traditional sails on (mostly) big boats, alongside the history of the world‘s best-known sail loft.

SAIL PERFORMANCE, C. A. Marchaj. 1996, Adlard Coles, England, & International Marine, Camden, ME in the U.S.A. 400 pp, 8” x 10.75”. Revised from the 1964 original, Sailing Theory and Practice. Valuable data (from extensive wind-tunnel testing) on sail camber and performance, useful and interesting sections on the principles of cutting sails, and the surprising results of wind-tunnel tests on a variety of rigs: Bermudan, lateen, sprit, gunter, lug, and crab claw.

SAILMAKING -- CHINESE AND OTHER SAILS, Thomas E. Colvin. Self-published in 1995, Alva, Florida. 97 pp, 8.5” x 11”. Colvin is a yacht designer and builder who became the guru of junk rig, designing the well-known Gazelle and other Chinese-rigged cruising boats. He gives very specific, step-by-step instructions for making the traditional full-battened Chinese lug sail in cotton duck -- layout, seaming, hand roping, etc.

THE SAILMAKER’S APPRENTICE, Emiliano Marino. International Marine, Camden, ME, 1994, and later editions. 494 pp, 8” x 9.5”. The best thing on the subject. Heavy emphasis on traditional sails. Wonderful illustrations by Christine Erikson. See our review elsewhere on this Appendices page.

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF SAILS, Tom Whidden. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1990. 371 pp, 7” x 9”. Excellent material on theory, cloth, sail shape. A subtext is the contrast between a technology loft like North Sails (Whidden was president at the time of writing), and a loft still relying on experience and intuition (Hood Sails).

SAILMAKING FOR THE HOME BOATBUILDER, Paul Fisher. Selway Fisher Design, Wiltshire, England, 1990. 54 pp, 11.5” x 8.25.” Directions and hints for making small craft sails, including traditional four-sided ones, with some basic guides to shaping with luff rounds and broad seaming. Doesn’t tell you everything, but fairly good sails could be made with no other reference. The author is a well-known small boat designer in England.

A SAILOR’S GUIDE TO SAILS, Sven Donaldson. Dodd, Meade & Co., New York, 1984. 178 pp, 6” x 8.5”. Good but generalized discussion of sailcloth, design, sail manufacture in a commercial loft, sail trim, repair & alterations, etc.

MODERN SAILMAKING, Percy Blandford. Tab Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA, 1979. 320 pp, 5” x 8“. Pretty good info on techniques for making sails. The assumption throughout is that someone else has designed the edge rounds and panel shaping. No useful numbers or formulas.

SAILS, THE WAY THEY WORK AND HOW TO MAKE THEM, Derek Harvey. England, 1977. 192 pages, 6” x 9”. A 1997 Sheridan House edition includes rules of thumb for seam tapers and edge rounds, and an offer of a free sail design software (floppy disk), for mainsails, jibs and spinnakers.

SAILMAKING MADE EASY, Bill Schmit., Water, Wind, and Sail Publications, Tacoma, WA, 1974. 135 pp, 6” x 9“. This is a “cookbook” with designs for typical small sails -- including Bermudan, gaff, gunter, lateen, etc. No panel shaping, but edge rounds specified to give reasonable shape in the softer Dacron of the period. (The first loft I worked in, in the early l970’s, was still using edge rounds only for shape!)

THE SAILMAKER’S LIBRARY, Jim Grant. Sailrite Enterprises, Inc., Churubusco, IN, 1970. Individual 5.5” x 8.5” booklets covering mains, jibs, spinnakers, stormsails, and staysails. The first books to reveal useful edge round and broadseam details. Mains’l booklet includes gaff and lateen designs. Still in print, and the cheapest way to learn to make your own sails.

SAILS, Jeremy Howard-Williams. Adlard Coles, Ltd, London. Original edition 1967, fifth edition 1983 by John de Graff, Inc., NY. Simplified coverage of sailcloth, sail “flow,” etc., and a once-over-lightly about design and construction. No rules of thumb, but a good chapter on correcting faults and creases, and thorough section on Chinese Lug (Junk) sails.

MAKE YOUR OWN SAILS, R. M. Bowker and S. A. Budd, MacMillan & Co. Ltd, London, 1957. 142 pp, 5“ x 7.5”. Instruction for laying out cotton sails, with details on roping, making rope cringles, splicing, etc. Later editions include an appendix on working in Terylyene (Dacron), but it is not too useful. For working in a very soft cloth like Oceanus, however, and for traditional handwork, the little “Bowker and Budd” still has value.

YACHT SAILS, THEIR CARE AND HANDLING, Ernest Ratsey and W. H. de Fontaine. W. W. Norton, New York, l948. 258 pp, 5.75” by 8.75”. Beautifully-reproduced b & w photographs of traditional hand-work on cotton sails, and still-valid details about rigging and deploying sails. No sailmaker’s secrets -- Ernest Ratsey ran the New York branch of the famous Ratsey loft in England, and wasn’t sharing any.

SAILMAKING SIMPLIFIED, Alan Gray. Rudder Publishing Co., New York, 1940. 134 pp, 5“ x 7.5”. Cotton sails only, accent on practice, with hints on shaping. First-class drawings and photos of traditional details -- narrow panel layouts, patches, cringles, etc. Nothing on gaff sails. The author says they are “a thing of the past.” Never say never.

YACHT SAILS, Terence North. Charles Scribner’s Sons, Ltd., London, l938. 168 pp, 6“ x 9“. Beautiful illustrations by Harry Ethridge, full of inspiration for the traditional look. The introduction warns “no reference will be found to the methods by which allowances are calculated . . . for the broadening and tapering of the seams. . .” Covers all the typical sails of the period -- including gaff, tops’ls, sprits’ls and lugs’ls, trys’ls, etc. I often open this book when I want to produce authentic-looking sails with traditional panel arrangements and corner patches.

MARCONI RIGGING AND SAILMAKING, Alan Gray. Rudder Publishing Co., New York, 1934. 143 pp, 4.75” x 6”. The predecessor to Gray’s Sailmaking Simplified, above. One of Rudder’s series of mini books. Very rich, well-illustrated (photos and drawings) info on wood spars, wire rigging, and sailmaking in cotton. Sharper photo reproduction than many modern books.

HOW SAILS ARE MADE AND HANDLED, Charles G. Davis. The Rudder Publishing Co., New York, 1931. 160 pp, 4.5” x 6”. Originally published in 1922. My later copy is one of the little canvas-bound books published by Rudder Magazine before WWII. This one is by a man who was their design editor for several years. It has a nice description of how sails are made, but not how to make them. In spite of that, it contains some interesting insights; it has the earliest reference I’m aware of to “broad seaming.” Davis shipped aboard square-riggers a few times, and wrote a book about it, with “several hundred accurate drawings “. I hope someday to come across that. It sold in 1931 for $4.00.

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF SAILMAKING, Samuel B. Sadler. Crosby Lockwood & Son, London, 1906. 141 pp, 7” x 8.5”. The author is described as “Late in the employ of Ratsey and Lapthorn, of Cowes and Gosport,” but it is not specified if he retired, quit or was let go. Many tables of dimensions for cutting out various commercial vessel’s sails, and drawings of typical sail shapes, with curious geometry superimposed on them.

YACHT SAILS, And How to Handle Them, Captain Howard Patterson. New York Nautical College, New York, 1901. 4" x 6", 96 pp. One of a series labeled Patterson's Pocket Yachting Series, described as "A comprehensive treatise on working and racing sails; how they are made; their gear; the way they are bent and unbent, etc." Despite the diminutive size, there are some beautiful engravings showing traditional rigs and panel layouts of various sails. On page 43 is a precious illustration of an old fashioned gaff mainsail, showing every cringle, eyelet, and reef point, including the once common balance reef, designed to bring the low-peaked gaff more nearly vertical when the sail is deeply reefed.

SAILS AND SAILMAKING, Robert Kipping. 1st edition 1847, London. Many later editions and reprints in different formats. My copy is a 1936 reprint, 200 pp, 5“ x 7.25“. Details on sails carried by 18th century square and fore & aft rigged vessels, w/ tables of gores. Much of the material is based on the prime source for 18th century sailmaking, Steel’s Elements, listed below.

STEEL’S ELEMENTS OF MASTMAKING, SAILMAKING, AND RIGGING, David Steel. First published in London in 1794, with several reprint editions since. Mine is an undated copy of a 1934 edition. 300 pp, 6” x 9”. Original copies of the Octavo first editions cost thousands, and reprints are scarce, but the entire section on sailmaking is available online at A rich and explicit source for every detail needed to make replicas of 17th & 18th century square sails, and all the small-boat sails of the era as well, when all sailmaking was done by hand, without any metal whatsoever -- cringles worked into the boltropes, sewn grommets, etc. etc. Not out of print, because reprint publisher D. N. Goodchild has it listed in his Shellback’s Library, in the original elephant folio format -- 11“ x 17“.

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