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Monkey Wrench

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Brian Macartney
1021298.  Tue Sep 10, 2013 10:55 pm Reply with quote

My sailing friends tell me that the expression: "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey" was a nautical term. The brass monkey was then any of the circularly indented brass plates that would hold a pyramid of iron cannon balls on 18th century Naval vessels when preparing for action. Because the plate would contract in extremely cold weather more than the balls, they would fall off and roll about the deck. This was not a good thing to happen, hence the expression. It is entirely possible that the monkey wrench was the tool used to bolt the monkeys to the deck and, presumably tighten them down on regular occasions, this being the nature of boats even now.

1021308.  Wed Sep 11, 2013 2:24 am Reply with quote


Cannon balls on naval vessels were never piled in pyramids (this was only done in land batteries) for the excellent reason that ships move around and the pyramid would be EXTREMELY dangerous. Pop down to Portsmouth and look around HMS Victory - you'll see that the ready-use cannon balls were stored in runnels along the centre of the gun decks while the general stock was stored in the lower hold decks in crates.

Also cannon balls varied hugely in diameter - as much as half an inch for a 6" ball (because they were manufactured by dropping blobs of moulten iron from the top of a shot tower into a pond) and they would never fit that closely to a ring that the differential expansion would tip them out.

Many sources on this (including direct observation) but a general starting point is snopes.


1021367.  Wed Sep 11, 2013 7:44 am Reply with quote

What PDR was trying to say was "Welcome!"


1021401.  Wed Sep 11, 2013 9:25 am Reply with quote

Welcome Brian :-) If you do a search on 'brass monkey' on this forum, sadly you will find that that theory has been well and truly debunked.

Brian Macartney
1023394.  Thu Sep 19, 2013 8:59 pm Reply with quote

I take correction. I have spent too many years listening to sailor's stories in bars in the Caribbean, where I live. My only excuse is that, at least, I was the one selling them their Rum.


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