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He'll kick up a storm at any kitchen party this season, giving the nutcracker a spin for his money.

The high seas once sounded with the beat of drums and the whistle of pipes, marking the changes of watches, the mess time, even the church service on Sunday. But come evening time the off-duty watch would use music to find fun in dance. Hornpipe Billy recreates the scene by dancing on a platform-imagine him kicking up heels on the foc's'le (where the crew has quarters) to a tune on a tin whistle; his mates keeping time clapping hands and stomping feet.

Bill Langan, John's father, was in the navy during the Second World War, and his dancing man was the inspiration for Hornpipe Billy, whose toes will tap and arms swing in rhythm with your rapping on his foc's'le platform. Use the design provided on page 80, or create your own-maybe even a Reeling Polly to dance with Billy when he's ashore. Have fun, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Billy is fashioned from a scrap of pine, so it's easy to make replacement parts.


Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

Step 6

Step 7, 8 9

Step 10

Step 12


  • Pine board, 12" to 15" long and 3/4" thick
  • Dowel, 1/4" diameter, 12" long or so
  • Plywood, 1/4" thick, 5" square
  • Lath, 1 1/2' to 2'
  • Finish nails, a selection of lengths, 1", 1 1/2", etc.
  • 2 screws, 1" long, #6
  • Washers to fit the screws
  • Wood glue
  • Primer
  • Acrylic paints, various colours


  • Pencil
  • Graph paper
  • Bandsaw or jigsaw
  • Coping saw
  • Rasp
  • Wood files-various shapes are useful but not essential
  • Detail carving tools-or a sharp pocket knife or whittling knife
  • Drill
  • Drill index with a selection of small bits or pilot and clearance holes, plus a 1/4"  bit
  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Bench vise or alternative clamping device
  • Sandpaper
  • Artist's brushes

Step 1 Draw Billy out on a board. The technical minded will fist draw him on a piece of graph paper, creating a pattern that you transfer to the board using carbon paper. Others will approach it more artistically by drawing freehand on the board. There is no right or wrong way.  (Note: draw his feet on the long grain.)

Step 2 Using a bandsaw, jigsaw or coping saw, cut down the length of his sides.

Step 3 Clamp Billy sideways in a vise, and drill pilot holes for the nails at thigh and knee; drill pilot and clearance holes for the screws at his shoulders. Flip him over and repeat for the other side. The deepest holes will have to go through the sides at the thighs, so make sure your drill bit is long enough.

Step 4 Cut Billy fully apart. Using a bandsaw with a 1/4" blade works well. Plan your cuts carefully, especially around the feet, so your fingers are well away from the blade at all times. A jigsaw or coping saw are other good options-use a coping saw for the tricky joints at thigh and knee. Cut as close to the lines as is safe, and remove the rest of the wood with a rasp or knife.

Step 5 Carve, rasp, file and sand all the pieces, taking off the square edges and the saw marks. Pay special attention to the edges of the mortises and tenons of the thigh and the knee joints, allowing for free movement of the limbs when Billy dances. There's no need to be too careful with the final sanding; leaving the marks of the carving tools adds to his folksy charm.

Step 6 Clamp the feet into a bench vise and drill a 1/4" hole, 1/4" to 3/8" deep, in the centre tops of each of the feet. Be careful not to drill through the heel. Clamp the lower leg sections and carve corresponding "dowels" in their bottoms. This can be done by hand with a chisel or by using a plug cutter on an electric drill. Alternatively, drill corresponding holes and insert pieces of 1?4" dowel into the joint. Once the feet and legs fit together, glue them in place, toes forward; put tape around to hold them together until dry.

Step 7 It's time to add some expression. Using the detail carving tools, or even just a sharp pocket knife, carve Billy's face, giving him eyes, nose, lips, teeth and a beard-if you wish. Add some details of clothing or musculature on his torso. You can augment with paint later, to finish.

Step 8 Screw the arms in place. Placing washers between shoulder and torso will reduce the friction and allow Billy's arms to swing wildly while dancing. If you have the time and inclination, make wooden washers to use.

Step 9 The feet and shins should be dry now, so you can attach the legs. Use a pair of pliers to "drill" or push the finish nail through the pilot hole in the thigh. (Note: using a hammer might split the wood.) It should not be too tight a fit. If it feels so tight that the leg will not swing, pull the nail out and drill a slightly larger hole. Reinsert the nail. Alternatively, if it feels so loose that the nail is going to fall out, dip the point of the nail in wood glue and reinsert. Attach the lower legs following the same method with the pliers.

Step 10 Drill a 1/4" hole 3/8" deep in the centre of Billy's back, and glue a 12" piece of dowel in the hole.

Step 11 Remove his arms and paint the T-shirt sleeves with a coat of primer. (It's always good practice to dry fit things before applying finish.) Prime the rest of him excluding the face and neck. Let this dry and paint him with your choice of colours.

Step 12 Time to make Billy's dancing platform. Use a scrap of 1/4" plywood and a piece of flexible lath. Cut a 5" square of plywood and an 18"to 20" length of lath. Nail the plywood to the end, and either nip the ends of the nails off, or clench them over on an anvil or metal vise. Paint the platform.

It's time for Billy's first performance. Sit on the lath with the platform sticking out to your right-hand side. Hold Hornpipe Billy with the dowel in your left hand, and place him so that his feet just touch the platform. Tap out the rhythm of the hornpipe on the piece of lath between your thigh and Billy's platform; the "music" will make his feet tap, his legs pump and his arms swing. Applause is bound to be forthcoming, for you have now entered the realm of the entertainer.

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