Leathering the gaff jaws

Every season, when I renew the varnish on the mast, I notice that it is heavily worn where the gaff jaws sit. The stainless fitting has some covering in the form of plastic pipe sections, so the metal does not test directly against the wood.

It has been in my mind to leather the jaws, as this is the traditional remedy, but I was unsure how to accomplish this. The extended layoff ties spring has given me the time to research and the urge for some vicarious sailing. I have many ideas for the boat, but usually not the time to execute them.

So after some digging around, I found a supplier for the materials and had some guidance in the method from the Solent OGA supremo, so took the plunge. My first time effort is not perfect, but it was a satisfying job, and when I’ve had a chance to see how well it works with repeated use, I’ll probably repeat the job (and hopefully make a better job it!). I struggled to find explicit instructions on this task, so I am posting this in case anyone following finds this useful and so that I can remember how I did it when the leather needs repair or replacement!

Starting point, leather piece cut to size

The first step is to cut the leather to the correct size. The curve of the gaff jaws caught me out and, even though I cut it oversized and then trimmed to size, I cut it a little small. Next time, I will have a template to work from!

The leather piece prepared, before soaking

Having cut the basic shape, I marked even spaces for the stitch holes and then used a fine drill to pierce the leather (because I didn’t have a suitable awl, which would probably have been easier). I made the holes 1cm from the edge and at the same interval. The spacing was good, but ideally the stitches would look neater (and have been easier to lace) if they were several mm closer to the edge.

A lock stitch. From right to left, over, under, pick up the loop.
Working the free end back and forth pull the leather tight

Before lacing, I soaked the leather piece in cold water to make it flexible and then I stitched it using waxed polyester twine, following a lock-stitch pattern I found in a YouTube video ( The stitching was easy enough, but finishing off was tricky to get both neat and secure. Time will tell if I succeeded.

The finished article

3 thoughts on “Leathering the gaff jaws

  1. Great job Charles. I had the gaff jaws leathered a few years ago. I paid £75 to have it done professionally and was pleased with the job. It looks the same as yours! I was recommended to use something to protect the leather and use Nikwax (for waterproofing hiking boots) after several years it still looking good. I need to have the sculling oar leathered and may have it done for me, but I see I should really do it myself.

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