Glossary Intro and Glossary Annexes


a) A term used in both Carpentry and Shipbuilding, a scarf is a joint where two or more timbers are connected longitudinally into a continuous piece, the ends being halved, notched, or cut away so as to fit into each other with mutual overlapping.

b) scarf-timber (noun) timber in short lengths for scarfing.

c) scarf-jointing (noun) the process of joining timbers by means of a scarf.

image of hewett's figure 78

Image on left is Hewett's Figure 78

Link to Hewett's Appendix 1 "Table of Scarfs in Evolutionary Sequence"

Scarfed joints -- historically used in heavy construction situations where timbers are intended to carry a cross strain, but which also requires these timbers to be uniform in size along their length -- are the most difficult to construct. All types of construction employ a large variety of scarfing techniques. The two pieces in a scarfed joint are cut and fitted to each other, so that the timber's breadth and thickness are retained. Scroll down to the 1826 account by Peter Nicholson

Sources: Thomas Corkhill, "Joints, Fastenings, and Fixings", in Joinery and Carpentry: Practical and Authoritative Guide Dealing With All Branches of the Craft of Woodworking; edited by Richard Greenhalgh, Volume 1, London: Pitman, 1929, page 166; Cecil A. Hewett, The Development of Carpentry, 1200-1700 Newton Abbot, England: David and Charles, 1969

In the quotes directly below, my strategy is to show how early in British history the concept of scarfing comes into that nation's technology, both in building construction and in ship building. Scroll down to the section dated 1826, where a selected quote shows Peter Nicholson expounding in detail on the state of the art for scarfing in the early 1800s. Further below is a brief history of the pracice of scarfing, beginning with ancient Egypt, through the Roman period, the British, and the Japanese.

1497 in Michael Oppenheim Naval Accounts and Inventories of Henry VII Navy Records Society, 1896.

Certeyn Scarffe Tymbre price... .

In the image on the right -- a page from an 1896 reprinting of the original book -- see the term "Scarffe" (sic) in the page's bottom line.

The image on the right -- adapted from Google -- is from volume 2, page 312. Also see these notes below from the Google e-version of this book:

Rather than simply the reign of Henry VII, more accurately this two-volume set covers the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII. The two books give of accounts of successive Clerks of the Kings Ships; Thomas Roger's for 1485-88 and Robert Brygandyne's for 1495-97. They present a detailed picture of naval administration, ships and their equipment at the end of the Middle Ages.

use of scarf in 1497

1580 Henry Smith (c.1560-1591), in Richard Hakluyt, The principall navigations, voiages and discoveries of the English nation London: G. Bishop and R. Newberie deputies to C. Barker, 1589, volume 2, page 475.

Wee halled a ground to stoppe a leake, which we found to be in the skarfe afore.

1626 John Smith, An Accidence or the Pathway to Experience. Necessary for all Young Sea-men, or those that are desirous to goe to Sea, briefly shewing the Phrases, Offices, and Words of Command, Belonging to the Building, Ridging, and Sayling, a Man of Warre; And how to manage a Fight at Sea (London: Jonas Man and Benjamin Fisher, 1626), 8

Next your Nauell timbers, and bind them all with sixe foote Skarfe at the least.

1691 Thomas Hale An Account of Several New Inventions and Improvements Now Necessary for England, in a Discourse by Way of Letter to the Earl of Marlbourgh, Relating to Building of Our English Shipping, Planting of Oaken Timber in the Forrests ... . London: printed for James Astwood, 1691, page 47.

... in a discourse by way of letter to the Earl of Marlborough, relating to building of our English shipping, planting of oaken timber in the forrests, apportioning of publick taxes, the conservacy of all our royal rivers, in particular that of the Thames, the surveys of the Thames, &c. Herewith is also published at large the proceedings relating to the mill'd-lead-sheathing, and the excellency and cheapness of mill'd-lead in preference to cast sheet-lead for all other purposes whatsoever .... The Scarfs of her Keel and Stern.

1826 Peter Nicholson Practical Carpentry, Joinery, and Cabinet-Making; Being a New and Complete System of Lines for the Use of the Workmen ... London: Printed for Thomas Kelly, 1826.

In box below are the title page for Nicholson's Practical Carpentry, Joinery, & Cabinet-Making ... and a passage from page 17ff.

SCARFING is the art of connecting two pieces of timber together, in such manner as to appear like one piece, and possess sufficient strength to answer the purpose which renders this connection necessary.

In scarfing timber it is not requisite to pay particular attention to the Corm of the joint, as that can be altered at pleasure, to meet the views of the mechanic.

In each piece of timber to be joined, the parts of the joints that come in contact are called scarfs.

Scarfs are formed either by a slanting joint, or by notching the two parts together; and, sometimes, by a third short piece, which has a mutual connection with the two.

The projecting parts of a scarf are called tables.

When the scarfs are put together, they are usually firmly secured in that position by bolts passing through the joints.

In each piece of timber to be joined, the parts of the joints that come in contact are called scarfs.

peter nicholson title page practical carpentry, etc., 1826

additional sources not yet examined and incorporated

the book below cites a 1935 study by "everett" 1934-35, pp 170-1. on scarfs

Julian M Luxford The Art and Architecture of English Benedictine Monasteries, 1300-1540: A Patronage History Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 2005.

Laura C Lambdin and Robert T Lambdin, Chapter 14, "... And a Carpenter", contains references to creating scarfs", in Chaucer's pilgrims : an historical guide to the pilgrims in The Canterbury tales Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1996.