A sail is a device used to harness the power of the wind. They have been around for centuries, and are still used today for a wide variety of sailing activities. Whether you’re looking for a calm day on the water or you’re trying to compete in a race, learning how to make a sail can be a valuable skill.
A good sail needs a lot of planning and work. First, you need to determine the shape of your sail. Then you need to figure out how to make it in a way that’s compatible with the materials and hardware at hand.
You’ll need to use a sailplan, which is a simple drawing that illustrates the basic shape of a sail. This will help you see how the material is going to behave, and will allow you to make changes to the design as necessary.
If you’re using a fabric that has ‘depth’ built in, such as dacron, you can’t just cut a straight line through it to establish dimensions. The sail will have curved edges, and you’ll need to fold those edges in, establishing the luff, foot and leech points of the sail.
Once you’ve established the luff, foot and leech, you need to measure the length of the sail in order to get the tack and head points. Getting these points correct can be important, and if you’re not sure where to start, you can find some helpful formulas in sailmaking books (see References).
To measure the tack point of the sail, lay a tape along the luff at the forward end of the luff. Extend this tape past the luff until you have an imaginary line that intersects where the luff and foot normally meet, this is your tack point.
The tack point can be tricky to measure with just a tape measure, so if you’re having trouble, you can ask a friend who has experience doing this for advice. Once you have your tack point, measure the length of the sail on the foot side of the tack as well.
Another technique for establishing the head point is to place a skewer down the forward edge of the sail and snip it in half. This will provide a clear line of sight for the tack, and will also help you mark where the halyard goes.
You can use a hotknife or scissors to do this, though it’s better to use a knife, which uses a metal blade to seal the material in one fell swoop. This keeps the fabric from unraveling, and helps you cut it out straighter.
Once you’ve determined the head, tack and foot points of your sail, you need to determine the camber of each of these areas. A sail with a fair camber will have quarter-points that connect together in a smooth curve.
Ideally, you want the camber of each quarter-point to be a bit more than the amount that connects them together; this will give your sail a flatter profile in use. You can use some formulas in sailmaking books to figure out the amount of camber that will need to be added at each quarter-point.