What sort of oaks should we use to build the Sutton Hoo Ship?

Whilst we do not know where the oak for the original ship came from – there were only a few traces left on the oxidised iron nails that fixed the planks together – we do know that the wood was still green. That means it was felled just before the build and was much easier to work. Tools would need to be sharpened less often.

Today we know that the oak from ancient trees is not suitable for planking up a clinker built boat.  We need younger but mature oak that is straight and true, with few knots or the likelihood of finding problems with “shake” in the grain when a tree is felled. Equally the keel for the Saxon Ship must be straight, with no twist in the grain. The curved frame timbers will come from pieces that might otherwise have been used for firewood because they are too curved for carpenters or furniture makers.
The best oak will come from sites where the trees are regularly harvested and re-planted, so that overall we are not taking anything away from future generations. That means that the timber selected for the project comes from sustainably managed woodlands where either, new oaks are planted for any used or existing naturally seeded young trees are protected to replace any used for the project..  This is because it is the right thing to do for the environment and the planet and therefore exactly what the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company will procure.

By Damian Goodburn PhD