Tote Baskets and Rigging Buckets

When you conjure up images of old-time cabinetmakers or joiners trundling about with their tools, you most likely think of them as carrying a heavy wooden chest or a handled open box. But this was not always the case. There is much evidence that these tradesmen often used soft, bag-like baskets when transporting tools to a job site (much like the carry bags of contemporary plumbers). In fact, it's likely that many, if not most, itinerant woodworkers carried their complete tool collections in a basket hung from the shoulder on a carrying stick.

While the baskets of the Middle Ages (called "frails" or "tool basses" in England) were probably made from rush or willow shoots and fitted with a rope handle, versions appearing by the 18th century were often made from sail canvas with leather handles and linings. Linings were needed to reinforce the baskets against the increasing presence of metal tools.

In the marine trades, another version of the carpenter's tool basket was in common usage: the rigging bucket. Featuring numerous internal pockets and carrying straps that automatically close the bag into the shape of a cylinder, rigging buckets were designed to carry many different hand tools and various supplies aloft into the ship's rigging. The pockets made tool access quick and easy—a welcome blessing in a situation where often only one hand is available "for the ship* (the other hand hanging on for dear life).

The rigging bucket is particularly suited to the nautical environment: First, :t is pliable. Unlike a wood tote with its rigid external structure, the soft cylindrical bag can be fit into the smallest amount of shipboard space possible—the shape of the fabric tote

A tool tote basket from C. Lasinio's engraving of the late 1300s fresco entitled 'Building of Noah's Ark" by Piero di Puccio. The joiners who modeled for this fresco carried their tools to the work site in baskets. Engraving courtesy of Norman Muller.

A Ship Rigger's Bucket

Rope grommet around top ol bucket

Internal pocket

Rope grommet around top ol bucket

Internal pocket

Turks Head Knot And Tools

"Turk's head" knot slips down to close bucket for storage.

Rope eye for attaching haul rope

"Turk's head" knot slips down to close bucket for storage.

Rope eye for attaching haul rope conforms closely to that of the tools contained within. Second, the soft, non-abrasive bottom makes the bag safe to set down upon varnished decks and to carry around delicate topside brightwork.

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