Historical information

A serving mallet is a tool to worm, parcel and serve a line and is to apply to the standing rigging multi-layered protection against chafe and deterioration. It is a technique not usually used on modern small boats but is found extensively on traditionally-rigged sailing ships. Worming, parcelling and serving —referred to collectively as "service"— is traditionally applied only to traditional twisted rope, either natural fibre or steel wire-rope, not the braided line almost exclusively used on modern vessels today.
Parcelling means wrapping a rope line in a spiral fashion with long overlapping strips of thin canvas. This is wound from bottom to top, the edge of the progressing strip slightly overlapping the previous wrap to create a shingled effect, to prevent water from entering. Often the strips of the canvas are either saturated with Stockholm tar as they are applied, or painted with tar after the parcelling is complete, immediately before the process of serving.

A serving provides an outer layer of protection and is formed by wrapping twine as tightly as possible around the line, each progressive turn of the twine laid as close as possible against the last, covering the rope completely. Following the rhyme above, it should have course run against the lay of the rope; this alternation helps prevent sideways chafe from opening up the protection. Traditionally hemp "marline" was and still is used for servicing on modern small craft with three-strand nylon "seine twine" often used.
A serving board or serving mallet can be used to help get the outer twine as tight as possible. Despite the name (arising from its shape) the serving mallet is not used to hit anything, it forms a kind of guide and tensioning lever for applying the twine to the rope.
An optional final stage for the permanent protection of "served" rope is to paint the outer layer of twine with a mixture of tar, varnish and black paint. This needs renewing periodically, and going aloft to paint foot ropes, shrouds, stays, and other served rigging is one of the regular maintenance tasks on many tall ships.
The tar or "slush" is a mixture of Stockholm tar, boiled linseed oil, and Japan drier. Many "recipes" for slush exist, but the intent is always to allow a penetrating coat of preservative pine tar that then cures to a harder finish that will not so easily rub off on sails and crew. The term "slush" is also used to describe the grease applied to the masts to lubricate the “parallels” so that the yards can raise and lower freely.


A tool used by sailors on board sailing ships as an aid in the preservation of ships rigging ropes by wrapping the rope in tar soaked canvas and covering the canvas by wrapping twine along the length of the rope. An item that is significant in that it tells a story of what sailors working lives were like onboard the early sailing ships and how these early vessels were maintained and sailed.

Physical description

Serving Mallet, used in Worming, Parcelling and Serving of rope - cylindrical handle with grooved wooden section attached.

Inscriptions & markings