How do you judge the skill of a sailor? By his rope work. And what tool does a sailor use to perfect this skill? A fid, also referred to as a marlinspike.
So, what is a fid? A nautical fid is a tool that's typically conical in shape with a taper point on one end. It's used when knotting or splicing rope.
Traditionally, Fids were carved out of wood and bone. In the 18th and 19th centuries sailors spent months at sea; to entertain themselves on their voyages, they would carve decorative motifs and scrimshaw into the handles of fids. These tools are beautiful artifacts that tell the sailor's story. Some are even collectible antiques that sold with price tags exceeding $500. They are the inspiration behind our men's and women's Fid Cuff Bracelet and Slim Fid Cuff Bracelet.
Today, fids are used to splice through newer materials, like rope cable made of metal fibers, so they are made out of stronger material like steel and iron. Technically, these metal fids are referred to as marlinspikes.
Fids can range in size from just a couple inches with a pin sized point on one end to 18" long with a taper point 1" in diameter. The size of the taper point is determined by the size and type of rope being used. Think about it, the rope used to secure a sail is much smaller than the rope used to dock a 1,200 ft shipping vessel.
Fids have a number of purposes aboard a boat. The taper point on the end of the fid can work between the strands of a knot, this lessens the pressure so that a knot can be untied or held open. The fid also aids in splicing rope. Splicing is the practice of forming a joint between two points in the same line using only the fibers from said rope. One of the most useful knots that uses a fid is the Marlinspike Hitch. This hitch creates a temporary opening within the knot to insert a handle. It's often used when creating a rope ladder.
Being skillful with knots and rope work is still a necessity for boat safety. The fid maintains it's functionality for marine purposes. It's a tool every sailor should have ready to use.