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History of harpoons


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I have been struggling my way through Moby Dick for the last several months.  While I am generally enjoying it, I will freely admit that I probably had to be darn near 50 years old before I really had enough life experience to truly appreciate the book.  I'll also admit that it is a struggle to keep reading it at times.  My own personal analogy for Ahab's quest for the whale is me finishing the book.

 

Anyway, (you can see Melville's influen on my writhing already) I just finished the chapter where Perth and Ahab forged Ahab's new harpoon.  It made me thing that if I finish this book, I should forge myself a harpoon to sit on the shelf as a reward.  In the book Ahab brings perth a collection of iron and steel to essentially pattern weld a special harpoon.  While I don't thik I'll make it from shoeing nails and razors, I could see a pretty cool project with some 1084 and 15N20.  It would definitely catch the eye of my PETA co-workers :rolleyes: 

 

The catch is that I don't know waht a typical 1830's Nantucket harpoon would have looked like.  I'm also not finding the "Knifemaker's guide to Harpoon Styles" out there on the interweb anywhere.

 

I think Moby Dick is probably set a touch too early for the toggle harpoon that came out in the 1840's, but that's about all I know.

 

Does anyone know of a resource for harpoon history?

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Wiki has a little... Harpoon - Wikipedia, looks like it should be the "one flute" design. As you say, predating the toggle.

 

There is also a decent article here: Lewis Temple's Real Innovation | New Bedford Whaling Museum: while it covers the toggle, it does spend some small time describing what the toggle replaced.

 

There are quite a number for sale on Ebay you can go look at (they made lots of them once upon a time, quite a few have survived)

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It looks like the one flute design would be most appropriate from a chronological perspective.  However, in the book Ahab makes multiple references to the "Barbs" which he insisted be forged from his old razors.  At this point I am betting that Melville had the older two flute design in his mind.

 

The whole episode is pretty interesting to read as a bladesmith. (Chapter 113 "The Forge")  They forge 12 rods out of used horse shoe nails, then twist the rods together and forge weld them into the shank.  Then they use Ahab's razors to create the barbs.  Ahab welds the shank himself, but asks the blacksmith to weld on the barbs.  I'll let you discover for yourselves how they quench the barbs...

 

I already have too many projects, but I could see a socketed shank made out of twisted 15N20 and 1084 with barbs made from less contrasty steels to show a subtle hada as if the steel was folded a few times to consolidate the razors.  It would look interesting hanging on the office wall...

 

 

Edited by Brian Dougherty
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I wouldn't be surprised if Melville was thinking the older design - his own whaling "adventure" had been earlier.  But the two stories the book is very loosely based on were not that old...

 

Mocha Dick - Wikipedia

Essex (whaleship) - Wikipedia

 

I have a lovely, ancient, crumbly completely unabridged version that I have read a number of times. I loved the strange, miscellaneous (and honestly kinda pointless) technical details especially in the "preface". If your copy doesn't start off with a chapter titled something like "Notes from a sub sub librarian", then I recommend you try an unabridged version.

Edited by Ted Stocksdale
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1 hour ago, Ted Stocksdale said:

I have a lovely, ancient, crumbly completely unabridged version that I have read a number of times. I loved the strange, miscellaneous (and honestly kinda pointless) technical details especially in the "preface". If your copy doesn't start off with a chapter titled something like "Notes from a sub sub librarian", then I recommend you try an unabridged version.

 

I'm reading a free kindle version.  I only get to read about 30 minutes a day while I am eating my lunch.  To make it even harder, the crappy kindle version I got is a terrible scan job. (you get what you pay for)  Just about every line in the book has at least two words that are run together because the character recognition algorithm missed a space.

 

When you couple the somewhat unfamiliar vocabulary with passages thatlooklikethis, it makes for a challenging read.

 

I decided to attempt Moby Dick again after reading Two Years Before the Mast.  Melville conferred with that author to get some of his nautical terms correct.  If you are not familiar with it, but like old sea tales, you should look into it.

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Worthwhile project!:)

 

I like Moby Dick,and am struggling through it for the 3rd(maybe 4th) time.

 

The possible trouble as far as balancing the historic link and the visually-appealing/striking pattern-weld is that the nature of those older harpoons lay in the great Malleability of the shank...

 

Couple of old examples:

twisted_harpoon.jpg

 

Harpoon-iron.jpg

 

 

 

https://www.scran.ac.uk/packs/exhibitions/learning_materials/webs/40/the_

https://nha.org/the-winter-show/whaling/

 

 

Separately from all of the above,was surprised to hear the "toggling harpoon" referred to as the "later" technology.

Read a bit on the subject and consoled myself,as in the context of Europeoid whaling it was indeed the case.

(Whiteman,as usual,a bit slow on the initial learning curve(in reality the toggling,5-part harpoon has existed in the Arctic for a...goodly number of years:)).

 

Toggling harpoons are first associated with the Red Paint culture of New England and Atlantic Canada (c. 5500 BC to c. 4000 BC). The earliest known toggling harpoon head was found at a 7000-year-old Red Paint burial site in Labrador, at the L'Anse Amour Site.[1][2] They were probably used to harvest swordfish and seals, the bones of which have been found at Red Paint sites.[3] 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toggling_harpoon

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Yes, indeed!  The "inventor" of the iron toggling harpoon was emulating the bone harpoons of the earlier cultures.

 

When I do this project, I think I am going to do something along the lines of the two-barbed tips that you show.  I don't anticipate using it or bending it up so I imagine I will heat treat it to bring out the pattern weld colors, and then temper it back pretty soft.

 

I'll have to practice forming sockets.  I've done about a dozen bodkins, and know that I am not very good at the sockets yet.  I've never hammered any of my pattern welded material out that far either.

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Not to disparage the technological advances of an culture that vanished 7000 years ago, but blacksmith Lewis Temple did indeed invent his Toggle Harpoon. In mid 1800's, there could have been no way for Mr. Temple to have be aware of anything anyone had done outside his own immediate area. That someone else had already applied the concept, just shows that there's nothing new under the sun

 

Here's a article from the Bedford Whaling Museum on Mr. Temple and his harpoon. In it, the comparison to “ancient Eskimo-style harpoons” is made and it has  couple of nice photo's of the Toggle Harpoon.

https://www.whalingmuseum.org/learn/lewis-temple

 

 

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I had to go back and read that article again Gerald.  When I saw it last week I got the impression that Temple was trying to achieve something similar to what "Eskimo's" used.  After just going back and reading that part again, I think I misinterpreted the article.

 

However, I suspect the whaling industry in the 1830's was probably aware of what Inuit people had used which would have been quite similar to prehistoric technology.  I would assume Temple had seen some older tools, and realized that making something similar in iron/steel would be an improvement over both bone toggles and the existing steel points.  

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