Sunday, March 14, 2010


Today I am trying to remember the name of the craftsman in the UK who described the markings of a plane in the finishing of a table top as ligature. This is related to the notion that every tool leaves its mark that can be read, by someone experienced in its use. If any of my readers can help, please respond. Perhaps one of my UK readers can help. Is there a relationship between the markings of tools used in creating crafted work and ligature, a word that has a variety of meanings in other human endeavors?
Pronunciation: \ˈli-gə-ˌchur, -chər, -tur, -tyur\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin ligatura, from Latin ligatus, past participle of ligare to bind, tie; akin to Albanian lidh I tie
Date: 14th century

1 a : something that is used to bind; specifically : a filament (as a thread) used in surgery or b : something that unites or connects : bond
2 : the action of binding or tying
3 : a compound note in mensural notation indicating a group of musical notes to be sung to one syllable
4 : a printed or written character (as æ) consisting of two or more letters or characters joined together
While it seems that cutting away a hand planed surface would be completely unrelated to tying loose ends, in essence the carefully laid markings of caring craftsmanship can create a surface as deeply expressive of human attention as finely woven cloth... as expressive of emotion to some as ligature in music. The interesting thing is that we take objects for granted, seldom exploring the story they tell and failing to see the depth of their meaning. But if objects did not relate the narrative of human history, we would be content with having libraries alone as the expression of human culture. No museums would be necessary.

The image above is a diagram of the joggled hull construction of an Egyptian boat with the ligature locations, where the planks are stitched to each other marked in the straight lines.
All boat-builders solve similar problems, and some of the worst problems are weakness and leaks generated by planks moving against one another along their edges (longitudinal slippage) (Coates 1985). To combat slippage, Mediterranean shipwrights used locked (pegged) mortise-and-tenon joints as seen in the late fourteenth century BC Uluburun ship (Pulak 1998). In Egypt, however, the only use of locked mortise-and-tenon joints is in prefabricated panels on the Khufu ships’ cabins, a repair to a plank on the Carnegie Dashur boat, and in a repair to a mortise-and-tenon joint in a Lisht plank (Ward 2000: 67, 98, 112). Rather than locking joints, the Egyptian boat-builders fastened planks with symmetrically placed ligatures, single ‘stitches’ connecting adjacent planks, and used joggles, small notches cut along plank edges to fit precisely into a recess on an adjacent plank, to effectively stop slippage (Figure 6).
The quote and images above and below are from Boat-building and its social context in early Egypt by Cheryl Ward. Click title to download pdf.

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