Making a net needle

Loaded with cordage ready to create a net

With the start of a new year upon us I’ve been thinking about the new skill sets I’ve acquired over the last year. While I’m happy with the knowledge I’ve gained and the progress I’ve made it got me wondering if I was thinking about the situation the wrong way round – by focusing on what I do know and have learnt rather than trying to pin down areas where my knowledge isn’t as good and finding new areas of learning. This change in my way of thinking resulted in me tumbling down the rabbit hole of all things net making so for this blog I’ll be going into some of the history of net making and use by our ancestors and showing you how to create one of the most important tools in net making, the net needle.

History of nets and net making
Fishing nets are one of those game changing innovations that allowed massive population expansions along both coastal areas and inland waterways all across the globe from northern Europe to the south pacific, and have been playing their part since the Mesolithic.

The oldest surviving fishing net was found in what is now the Russian town Kamennogorsk although the net is referred to as the Antrean net as it was found before the end of World War two when the area still belonged to Finland. The net itself is made from willow fibres and was found in an area of swamp meadow along with a number of floats and weights and has been dated to around 8,300 BC but even this could be considered fairly modern when compared to net sinking weights found in Korea which are believed to date from around 27,000 BC.

Antrean Net
The Antrean Net.

Making a net needle
So, before you can make your own nets you’ll need a net needle, these can be bought but where’s the fun in that? I started off with a piece of spruce because it’s an easy to carve soft wood and it’s also what I had lying around. Start by splitting your piece of timber down into a fairly flat rectangle about half an inch thick by about three inches wide and eight inches long. I used my hatchet but you could also use a froe or your knife and baton (I know shock horror) to create your blank. You then want to draw an elongated U shape about two thirds of the way along your blank as well as an area at what will be the back end of your needle about a quarter of an inch deep to hold your cordage in place. These are the areas you are going to remove to allow your cordage to be loaded onto the needle.

Creating the template
Creating the template.

Now it’s time to start removing material, I found it easiest to use an awl to create holes along the U-shaped section which you can then join together using the tip of your knife being careful to follow safe knife handling and use techniques to avoid accidents or injuries. Keep removing wood, turning the piece over to work from both sides until your carved channels eventual meet in the middle giving you a hollow area

Starting to carve
Starting to carve.

Once you’ve cut your U-shaped channel it’s time to carve out the cordage area at the back of the needle as well as taper and point the front end, depending on the neatness of your knife work it can be well worth giving it a bit of a rub with some sandpaper to avoid having rough areas that can hinder you during the net making process.

While you’re working with your knife it can be worthwhile making a net hole gauge as you’ll need one later this is a simple flat section of timber that’s a minimum of half an inch wider than your needle, think of an old wooden school ruler and you won’t go far wrong.

Carved and ready for use
Carved and ready for use.

Now it’s time to load your needle, start with a clove hitch over the spike in the centre of your U-shaped channel and bring your cordage down round the base of the needle flip the whole needle over and bring your cord back up over your central spike and repeat until the needle is full. In terms of cordage, you can use pretty much any fine cordage either from natural fibres or synthetic bearing in mind that a net that is going to be used will last far longer made from synthetic cordage due to the constant soaking and drying it will go through. I used jute as again it’s what I had to hand at the time.

Loaded with cordage ready to create a net
Loaded with cordage ready to create a net.

So now you should have the start of the equipment you need in order to start making nets from large gill nets for fishing to purse nets for catching rabbits and even hammock nets for hanging gear or sleeping in, in my next blog I’ll explain the process of using your loaded net needle and gauge to actually craft functional net.

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