What is a steel cutting ceremony?

Did you know there was such a thing as a steel cutting ceremony?  This isn’t for any cut of steel made around the world. It specifically applies to the construction of ships or large water vessels. The steel cutting ceremony has a long and illustrious history, with its roots found in shipbuilding myth and folklore. While the modern steel cutting ceremony has lost its original superstition, it is kept alive and touted as a tradition crucial to the shipbuilding process.

What is a steel cutting ceremony?

The steel cutting ceremony is momentous, as it’s the first tangible step of the construction process and one of the few traditions remaining from the old days, when they used traditional woods. It refers to the moment when the production process starts.

During the ceremony, the purchaser and the vendor of the ship are joined by company executives, employees and media to ceremonially press the start button of the laser cutter. The sheet of steel (which is intended for the hull of the vessel) is cut by a steel profile cutter to the desired shape and could be later featured as a design on the ship or as a simple keepsake of the venture.

The time between the cutting of the steel plate and when the ship is launched and put to work can be up to two years or more.

The traditions and rituals of shipbuilding

The start-of-production steel cutting is not the only tradition that’s still relevant today. The second is the keel laying ceremony, whereby large sections of the bottom of the vessel are placed on blocks and raised from the dock. Before the sections of the ship are laid on the blocks, lucky coins (usually made of gold) are placed on one of the blocks. This ritual is rooted in the times of sailing vessels when a coin was placed under the base of the main mast for good sailing luck. If the mast ever needed to be replaced, an additional coin would be placed with the original.

Gold and coins were significant to mariners, with many of them believing that wearing gold earrings would mean that they’d never go broke. Other lore mentions that wearing gold around the face would improve a sailor’s eyesight.

Once the ship has launched, the coins are put on display for passengers to see. Other variations include placing the coins inside a steel cylinder before welding it to the internal frame of the ship.

Once the ship has been constructed, there is the launching and naming ceremony – which is far more celebratory than the steel cutting ceremony. If you’ve ever wondered why people break a champagne bottle over the bow of the ship, there’s a rhyme and reason which can be found in Viking history. As the story goes, when Vikings launched their long boats, they tied their prisoners to the skids and as the boat slid into the water, the bodies would be crushed. The ancient Greeks were also known to grease the skids of a new boat with blood.

Modern shipbuilders are a lot less gloomy, preferring to tie red ribbons to the skids and use red wine as a substitute for blood. As launching a ship is more of a big deal these days, ship owners/captains opted for champagne because of its festive and prestigious qualities.

About ShapeCUT

We are Queensland’s largest, privately owned steel profile cutting firm, specialising in laser, oxy and high definition plasma cutting. We have a range of steel cutting services for your next steel project, including bevelling, bending, drilling, rolling and machining. To find out more about one-off, custom designs or a bulk order, contact ShapeCUT today.