19th Century Wooden Fishing Floats
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
For many beachcombers, the first introduction to maritime decor are glass fishing floats. The shape and color are beautiful and really are a source of joy for the collector. It was in search of glass fishing floats that I first encountered these wooden floats. With that came more curiosity and eventually some answers.
Glass floats and wooden floats were used for many kinds of nets, but these elongated wooden floats were mainly used for gill nets. For these gill nets to work and stay upright, they needed floats on top and weights on the bottom.
Prior to the cost effective technology of glass manufacturing being introduced to Japan, wood was the main material used for these floats. The choice of wood was paulownia wood which is naturally light weight and buoyant. In addition, it is naturally hollow or has a vain running through the trunk and each branch which allows for rope to be easily passed through.
But like any new cheap technology, it was gradually replaced by glass which was much more buoyant. One fishermen explained to me that for every 3 wooden floats attached to netting, only one glass float was needed. They also lasted much longer. So glass turned out to be far more efficient and cost effective.
But the wood still had one advantage. Fisherman could easily brand their floats with their custom branding irons. Each float often has burn marks of the fisherman's name, and/or company.
Unfortunately, after WW2 we entered the space age and naturally the material for floats were replaced by a much cheaper, even more buoyant and nearly indestructible material that we have today - plastic. With all its efficiency, it has come with a cost. And perhaps, as we become more environmentally friendly as a whole, one day these wooden floats may have a come back. But until then, they make a great decoration and hold a place in my ever expanding collection of maritime flotsam.
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