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Deadeyes were used on sailing ships in the 16th – 19th centuries to secure the fore and aft main stays and lateral shrouds that held the main mast. They were made of flat round wood with 3 holes for lanyards to hold the stays and shrouds taut.
Deadeye First.jpg

You can easily make these deadeyes to give your Halloween pirate ship or pirate theamed party a little more realistic appearance. While deadeyes were traditionally circular in shape I made mine elongated just because I liked this shape better. The build for a round one is the same except rather than cutting a retangular wood blank you would cut a square blank.

While they might look time consuming to make deadeyes are really quick, easy, and cheap to make. To make a set of four deadeyes all you need is a little wood, some paint or stain, some rope, a few tools, and about 2 1/2 hours in an afternoon. Here is how to do it.

Tools and Materials needed:

1. 3’ of 2" x 6" wood – you may also use 1" x 6" thickness lumber if you choose and you may have to buy a 6 ‘ long piece
2. A can of spray paint or stain
3. A brush if you are using stain
4. Something circular with about a 6” diameter or a carpenters compass for marking the radius at the ends of the deadeyes
5. Some small circular items or carpenters compass for marking the diameter of the deadeye holes
6. A saber saw and blades or other similar tool for cutting out the deadeye
7. An electric drill or other similar tool for drilling out the deadeye holes
8. Wood spade bits of the size you choose for drilling out the deadeye holes
9. A sander and sandpaper to smooth out the deadeye surface for stain or paint
10. A router and bits or small wood rasp to smooth the edges of the deadeye and holes
11. A small carpenter square
12. A measuring tape
13. A pencil
14. Some rope
15. Ear protection - if using power tools
16. Eye protection - if using power tools
17. Respiratory protection – mask of some type to prevent breathing in any wood particles
Deadeye Materials and Tools.jpg

Step 1:

Using the pencil, measuring tape, and carpenters square mark then cut 4 retangular deadeye blanks 8 1/4“ long from the 3’ x 2" x 6" wood. You can use the saber saw or some other similar cutting tool to cut the blanks. The carpenter square will give you a good straight line across your wood piece to reference your cut. If you are making round deadeyes you will need to cut square deadeye blanks which will be about 6" square.
Deadeye Step 1.jpg

Step 2:

Using the 6” diameter circular item or a carpenters compass mark a radius at each end of the wood deadeye blanks. rather than use a carpenters compass I usually just find something that has the right diameter and use it to mark a radius. In this case I used an old bowl. If you are making round deadeyes rather than marking just a radius at the ends of the wood blank you would scribe a full circle on the 6" square wood blank.
Deadeye Step 2.jpg

Step 3:

Now using the measuring tape and the carpenter square mark the center line lengthwise and the center line crosswise on the wood deadeye blanks. This will give you reference lines for the location of the deadeye holes. This photo shows the end radius cuts already made. Unfortunately I did not take a photo of this step prior to cutting the radius curves so I showed this step on a blank that was alread cut.
Deadeye Step 3.jpg

Step 4:

Now using the saber saw or other similar cutting tool cut along the radius lines at each end of the wood deadeye blanks. A band saw makes this go a little faster if you have access to one but it is not necessary. If you are making a round deadeye cut out the full circle scribed on the blank.
Deadeye Step 4.jpg

Step 5:

Now, using a carpenters compass or small tube (I used an aspirin bottle) mark the location of the deadeye holes. I decided that my deadeye holes would be about 1 1/4 " in diameter but you can determine what size holes you want for your deadeyes. You should use the pencil lines you marked on the center lines of the wood deadeye blanks earlier for reference points for the location of the deadeye holes. You can place these holes anywhere you wish but they should be somewhat symmetrical on the wood blank. Note – it is important that you do not mark or drill out the deadeye holes until you have first cut the radius curves at each end of the deadeye. Otherwise if you mark and drill out the deadeye holes first they may end up too close to the edges of the deadeye once you have cut the radius waste away and the deadeye may not look as pleasing or realistic.
Deadeye Step 5.jpg

Step 6:

Using the drill and spade wood bit drill out the deadeye holes. When using a spade bit be careful to not drill completely through the wood as these bits tend to split out the exit hole as they come through. A better way is to drill out the hole until the point of the bit comes through the other side of the wood then turn the wood piece over. Now finish drilling out the hole from the exit side using the small hole created by the point of the bit as a starting point. This will give you a clean cut hole. I used a bench drill but an electric hand drill will work very well for this.
Deadeye Step 6.jpg

Step 7:

Now it’s time to clean up the work. Using a sander sand the flat surfaces of the deadeyes to smooth them out then using a wood rasp or router bevel the edges of the deadeye and the deadeye holes. I used a router and a roman ogee bit for the outside edge and a 1/4” radius bit for the edges of the deadeye holes. You can do a good job of smoothing out these edges with a rasp and some sandpaper as well. It just takes a little longer. You actually could skip this step and the deadeye will look just fine. But by smoothing out these edges it just gives the deadeye a little more finished look. But keep in mind we are not making furniture here. We are just making Halloween props for cryin' out loud.:D
Deadeye Step 7a.jpg Deadeye Step 7b.jpg Deadeye Step 7c.jpg

Note – If you don’t want to do a lot of hand shaping with a rasp and you don’t have any power tools don’t despair. Many times you can call on a friend, a neighbor, the local school shop class, or a local wood working shop to help out with some minor routing or cutting. I have done this many times.

Step 8:

Once you have the deadeyes formed the way you want them it is time for the finish. You can either paint them or stain them, whichever is your preference. I chose to stain mine so the wood grain would show.
Deadeye Step 8.jpg

Step 9:

At this point all that is left to do is install the deadeyes on your pirate ship or on a wall for a party. I’m in the process of converting the grandkids fort from a temporary pirate ship at Halloween to a more seaworthy and permanent pirate vessel but this photo will give you an idea of how the deadeyes will look after they are rigged with the rope.
Deadeye On Ship.jpg

That's all there is to it. You can make 4 deadeyes in about 2 1/2 hours including paint or stain drying time for a total cost of around $12 which is the cost of the wood, and paint or stain. If you have some scrap wood and paint or stain laying around this project becomes cost free. The cost of the rope will vary depending on the size you wish to use. I used 1/2" sisal rope which cost about $14 for a 50' roll.
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