How were the Wright gliders assembled? The brothers lashed the wooden frames together with cords not much thicker than kite string, for the most part. Even the metal hardware was tied onto the wooden struts and spars.

Lashing a rib to a spar. The leather gloves help keep the cord from biting into your hands.

The Wrights grew up in an age without the temporary adhesives, tapes,  and fasteners that we rely on. To make something that only needed to last a few months (like their gliders), the obvious choice was to lash it together. And the best material for lashing in 1900 was waxed linen cord. The linen was strong; the wax helped hold the cords tight until you could make your final knot. Wax  also made the lash impervious to weather. This special lashing cord was, in fact, the "duct tape" of the late Victorian age.

Because lashing cord was so widely used, tying knots was a necessary skill in Will and Orv's world. Nineteenth-century boys grew up learning the craft of "marlinship" the same way young people today learn to use computers. The word comes from marline, a tarred jute cord that sailors of that time used for lashing. So important was this skill that when Robert Baden-Powell wrote the book that started the Boy Scouts in 1908, he included a large section on knot-tying. Marlinship has been an important part of scouting ever since.

Lashing proved an excellent method for building experimental gliders. It made the frame easy to assemble and disassemble, cutting down on expense and simplifying repairs. Even though cord was considered a temporary construction material, it actually made the aircraft more durable. Because even the tightest knots have some "give," the Wright aircraft frames were somewhat flexible and better able to absorb the impact of their many accidents. Furthermore, because the cords were wrapped around the wood parts instead of driven through them, the lashes helped keep the wood from splitting.

Although the Wrights probably knew many lashing methods, they used mainly two in their gliders. In this photo, a saddle lash holds a rib to the spar of the 1900 glider. On the end of the strut, a whiplash holds a metal eye in place.


Using Knots, Cords, and Marlinship to Assemble Aircraft