Caulking Chisel Physical Object

Accession Number
Creation Date
circa 1620
An unusual iron chisel from the wreck of the 1622 galleon Santa Margarita. It is squat and wide with a flat, squared edge. The piece 10.6 centimeters tall, and the working edge is 6.7 centimeters wide.


10.7 cm L , Item (Overall)

10.7 x 6.6 x 2.7 cm.

Exhibition Label
Case Caption (2023):


Wooden ships leaked all the time, and it was unlikely that a ship was ever entirely dry after the first moment it was launched. Major repairs would be made in port but, as a voyage progressed, the hull would be pounded by heavy seas and teredo worms would bore into it, creating small but deadly holes.

It was the caulker’s job to check the ship’s seams, maintain the pumps, and do everything he could to hold back the seawater. He would scrape away damaged wood, using a rave, and fill any gaps with horsehair and caulk. Horsehair not only helped to stuff holes but also deterred the worms.

A small amount of leaking was to be expected but more than that might contaminate the fresh water supply and food. It would also damage vulnerable cargoes such as leather, fabric, or rare woods. In battle, the carpenter and the caulker would work together, patching holes in the hull made by enemy fire. Any large hole that was not quickly sealed could sink the entire vessel.
Object Caption (2023):

Caulker's Chisels
Iron (c.1620)
Gift of Jamestown Inc.