Copper Grommet Fairleads

Grommet Attempts, Worst to Best


(to start of project)

I keep thinking of more things to do before the decks go on. Which is good – some of these would be a real pain to do later. Even so, putting on the decks will be a huge milestone I’m anxious to pass.

The lines for the centerboards need to run smoothly to the back, without catching on things. Best way to do that is run them through fairleads in the framing, where they’ll be out of the way. A friend gave me a tip on a good way to do that. Last year at St. Michaels, Terri and I went for a sail with Timmo Schlieff in his gorgeous Coquina. Unbelievably, this was the first boat Timm ever built, and it launched his professional career. Here are some photos from that trip:


Timmo Schlieff’s Coquina, St. Michaels 2009






 Timm at the helm. We had a great sail that day, and came
back with some good stories to embarrass him with later.


Timm told me how he ran the control lines for the rudder around the perimeter of the hull, through a block in the bow and back. He used soft copper tubing in the holes, and flared them by working a screwdriver shaft around the inside. Sounded like a simple and elegant solution to me (Thanks Timm!). I decided to do the same for my centerboard control lines.

I tried, but couldn’t make it work. Apparently, Timm’s screwdriver flaring technique is far better than mine. Not surprising. Timm does incredible work, as you can see. In fact, he just got a terrific write up in the July/August 2010 issue (#215) of Wooden Boat magazine, a feature article and the Editor’s personal letter in front. This is like winning a Pulitzer Prize in the boat building world. As if his skills weren’t already good enough, he’s postponing fame and fortune to spend two years learning to do it better at the prestigious North Bennet Street School of woodworking in Boston. I’m a wood butcher by comparison.





After several pathetic attempts on a scrap piece, I retreated, licked my wounds, and cogitated on it a while. A few trials later, I found a couple of drawer pulls with a nice flare to the stems. Clamping those into the wood to shape it, then into the ends of the tubing, made a smooth copper grommet fairlead. Nice. And I can actually repeat it.


A learning experience. First on lower left, last on upper right. Repurposed drawer pulls, lower center, finally clamped in a vice to press and form the good one.


Can you tell which one worked?


If you’ve ever turned a boat over, you know that every single thing of value, anything not tied into the boat, will float away. Or sink. This much I can tell you: everything has to be tied in, because at those moments you definitely have other things to worry about. So, while the decks are still off to the side, I’ll make tie-down holes in numerous places through the beams and frames, and line those with copper, too. Tomorrow I’ll start making the holes and getting them ready.


Update with details per Jeff : January 17, 2014

I tried a half dozen drawer pulls, hacking the base off several, until settling on a pair that seemed to have the right size and flare.


Definitely experiment. The real trick is to get the length of the copper tubing just right – too long and the tube splits or crushes, too short and it doesn’t round over smoothly or grip well. And use very thin, soft tubing. I used the kind used for refrigerators and gas lines. Cheap, flexible, and easy to find.

Here’s what worked for me:

  1. Drill the hole in the wood for the tubing, allowing for a snug fit.
  2. Place the drawer pulls into the hole on each side in the bare wood first, without the tubing. Use a bench vise to press the pulls into the wood. This compresses a flare into the opening of the hole on both sides of the wood to match the flare of the pulls.
  3. Cut the tubing to extend about ⅛” beyond the surface of the wood on each side. Getting the length right is critical. Try some on scraps until you find what works.
  4. Insert the tube into the hole, insert the pulls into the ends of the tube, then compress the whole assembly in the vise. Use a lot of torque.
  5. Finish off by tapping the copper ends on both sides with a hammer. This drives the ends of the tube into the wood for a firm grip and gives a fully rounded grommet effect.








melonseed skiff, mellonseed skiff, melon seed, mellon seed   


4 Replies to “Copper Grommet Fairleads”

  1. These look fantastic! I can’t quite visualize how you employed the drawer pulls. Is there any way you could provide pics of the pulls from a different perspective so I can get a better idea what I need to look for and how exactly they would be used? The pic you have leaves it fairly ambiguous in my mind. Thanks!

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