lignum vitae

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The hard smooth wood of the guaiacum tree, grown in the West Indies. It had many maritime uses, particularly for the deadeyes and chesstrees of sailing vessels and the sheaves of wooden blocks. It stood up well to the wear caused by ropes, and its smoothness allowed a rope to render through it easily. One principal marine use during the 19th century was as a sea-water self-lubricating bush for the stern tubes of early screw steamships. It was first introduced for this purpose in 1854 by the marine engine builder John Penn, and until the introduction of more modern methods some 40 years later, it solved the problem of leaking stern bearings.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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