Worm, Parcel, & Serve
a traditional rigging skill
To worm, parcel, and serve rigging is an age old technique that was used to
protect hemp and in later years, wire rigging from the elements of the harsh
marine environment and to help protect against the sailors unrelenting enemy
called chafe.
"Worming"  is made from small diameter cordage, line or you
can strand a piece of old rope and use the resulting yarns.  It is
used to fill in the channels between the strands in order to keep
water out and to allow tighter wrapping of the service by giving
the rope a more cylindrical shape. On 3 strand line, you would
use 3  lengths of "small stuff" that are led along the lay of the
rope between the strands, following the twist so that they spiral
round the main line like a helix.  I do not worm wire or cordage
that is less than 1/2" in diameter.  On larger wire, worming is
necessary to allow the service to go on more smoothly by
eliminating the lumpiness formed by the strands.  This
"lumpiness" is the finished product will appear as ribbing along
the length of the service and is a perfect place for chafe to strike
the proud bumps.

Parceling" is traditionally made from tarred canvas, burlap, or
linen strips that are wound tightly around the tarred wire or rope
and then smeared with pine tar again.  Modern
cloth friction tape
can also be used - just make sure it is not vinyl or rubber style
"Electrical tape" which eventually breaks down into a mild acid
from the sulphur compounds in the tape.  The parcelling is
applied by wrapping it in a spiral fashion with long overlapping
turns beginning at the lower end of the piece of rigging relative to
its rigged position.  On a shroud, begin at the lower or "deck" end
of the sire and parcel up to the masthead.  This forms a series of
overlapping shingles - just like on a roof.  Remember the
parcelling is ALWAYS applied by winding it on the same
direction as the worming, or "with the lay".   - the old riggers
ditty is "worm and parcel with the lay; turn and serve the other

Serving" is applied on top of the parceling.  Tarred marlin or
synthetic seine twine is wound around and around using a
serving mallet, serving board, or even marlingspike for the length
of the wire, leaving no gaps between the turns. Marlin applied in
this way is known as "service" and the process of applying it is
called "serving."  The service should begin where the parcelling
ended and be applied toward the parcelling starting point.  The
service is applied against the lay of the wire or rope and if it is
incorrectly started  where the parcelling began instead of where it
ended, a bubble will form ahead of the service.  This bubble is
from the overlapping turns of the parcelling being loosen.  If the
service begins where the parcelling ended, the parcelling
overlapping turns will be tightened and the service will lay on
much tighter

A final coat of tar is applied after the service is finished.   With all
this tarring going on, is it any wonder sailors from the great age
of Sail were called "Jack Tars"

Despite the antiquity of the tools, methods, and materials, the process goes quite quickly and can be
very contemplative activity - Zen rigging.  Serving remains the most efficient way to accomplish the
task of protecting the rig from the elements and has scarcely been improved upon since the earliest
days of Sail, hundreds of years ago.
Examples of various serving boards and mallets.
Click here for an online tutorial:
Traditional Rigging ~ how to worm, parcel, and serve.
7 Mb file
To serve and protect
Tools of the Trade
click here for more details and photos