Why is the Sutton Hoo Ship fixed with rivets?

Some of the earliest boats known were made from hollowed out logs. As technologies developed these hollowed out logs were extended by adding planks, or strakes, sewn to the upper edges of the log to give more freeboard (the height of the side of the boat which sticks up above the water).
Eventually boats and then ships were made entirely of strakes of planking. To join these planks together a variety of methods were employed. Our Saxon shipwrights decided to overlap the plank edges and nail them together. This entailed the use of an iron nail and a diamond-shaped iron “rove” – simply a piece of iron with a hole punched through it. The nail was passed through both pieces of planking and the rove, most of the excess length was then cut off. The protruding section of nail was then hammered over the rove to secure the joint. To ensure the joint was watertight, a spun strand of fibre, in our case wool, was laid between the two layers of planking in a compound of pine tar. The distinctive “clink, clink, clink” of the nail being hammered over the rove gives us the name for this type of construction – Clinker!

Sutton Hoo Ship’s Co. ‘Make’s Ship Happen’

7th August 2019 – Press Release

A national fundraising campaign is set to “Make Ship Happen” for a £1 million project to build a full-size reconstruction of the 7th century Sutton Hoo ship.

The scheme has been launched to pay for the venture, which will bring together archaeologists, historians, experts in construction and shipbuilding and many other skilled volunteers to reconstruct the mysterious ghost ship buried beneath the sand of Sutton Hoo across the River Deben from Woodbridge, Suffolk, for 13 centuries.

The first phase of the donation programme will allow people to sponsor one of more than 3,500 numbered metal rivets that will hold the ship together. It is hoped this will raise enough money to contract a master shipwright to oversee the build.

Different parts of the ship – the keel, the planks and the stem and stern – will then be offered up for sponsorship to pay for the rest of the build, which is likely to take about two years to complete.

Philip Leech, chairman and director of the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company, which is responsible for the build, said: “Back in 1939 an excavation of Sutton Hoo revealed an early medieval burial ground that included the grave of Raedwald, an Anglo-Saxon king.

“The impression of the rotted-away ship’s timbers in the trench of sand showed the ship to have been a mastless, clinker-built rowboat about 90ft long – an impressive 27 metres.

“In the burial site there were 41 items of solid gold now housed in the British Museum, but although the site has been thoroughly examined by historians and archaeologists for the last 90 years, nobody has ever attempted to rebuild the full-size ship to see exactly how it worked before it was buried with the King.

“This is precisely what we plan to do.

“The build is a serious scientific endeavour and an example of experimental archaeology which is carried out by replicating or approximating the feasibility of ancient cultures.

“This is done by employing a number of methods, techniques, analyses, and approaches, based upon archaeological source material – in this instance raising a ghost ship based on the indent left by the original vessel.

“Everything will be carefully recorded so we can learn from the construction.”

The team will be using plans produced digitally from the measurements taken at the excavation. The first stage will be to complete a fifth size model before building the full size vessel.

The ship will be created using wood supplied by the Crown Estates and involve a number of volunteers who have been taught traditional building methods.

Once built, it will be tested at sea with a full crew of up to 40 rowers. If it looks possible, the team will erect a mast and see how well it sails.

Mr Leech said: “At the end of that time we will all know much more about Anglo-Saxon skills, trade and seamanship. And after the trials the ship will become a movable exhibition piece which is expected to be rowed and used for educational purposes worldwide.

“We cannot wait to watch this magnificent vessel slide down the slipway into the river, before making the maiden voyage. The beauty and dignity of this King’s ship, tied into a serious scientific programme to learn more about our past, makes for a magnificent and worthwhile spectacle.

“We hope as many people as possible get the chance to be part of making this project a reality.”

The ship will be built inside the Longshed on the site of the former Whisstocks boatyard in Woodbridge.

The workshop, which boasts a large mezzanine gallery that will host an exhibition about the project, is run by Woodbridge Riverside Trust (WRT) which is responsible for a half-length replica of the Sutton Hoo ship called Sae Wylfing.

Chairman of the WRT Bryan Knibbs said: ““We are very excited to officially get the fundraising off the ground and bring people together to Make Ship Happen.

“What this project hopes to do is give people a tangible link to the past and we need to get everyone involved – young and old – to make this a possibility.”

To sponsor one of the rivets for £20 or buy Make Ship Happen merchandise which helps fund the build visit www.makeshiphappen.co.uk

 

 

Holly mallets and nailing dollies for the Saxon Ship

In recent months Damian Goodburn has introduced us to working with a Holly Mallet which is made from the natural branch growth of a holly tree.

When making a Holly mallet the tree is chosen because of the way it grows. The thing to look for is where side branches appear in several places at the same point around the trunk. The turmoil caused from several branches growing from the same point creates a great deal of strength at that point.

Holly is a wonderful wood to work when fresh cut. It seasons to a very tough material and has often been used for rowing thole pins, a tradition often seen at  Mersea Island.

Cutting the trunk just above and below this knot region, retaining one side branch as a handle, produces a mallet. One tree will produce a whole set, of varying weights. David Pryer, a volunteer at the Sutton Hoo Ship’s company has just made a set of five Holly Hammers of varying sizes and weights. These will be used when splitting the oak needed for the many planks required.

The particular tree selected comes from an ancient nuttery which is shown on old maps, and could well date from the late 14th Century when hazel trees were grown to make the wattle and daub infill in our timber-framed house.

David has also made a nailing dolly out of another (seasoned) piece of holly, which will be used  when we come to nailing and riveting.

Sae Wylfing at the British Museum, London

On the 13th July, Sae Wylfing set off at five o’clock on Saturday morning for pride of place at the opening of the British Museum’s contribution to the Festival of Archaeology. Organised by the British Council of Archaeology, the festival runs from 13 to 28 July across the UK. An unintended detour via Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross Road notwithstanding, we were well on track before 0800.

The crowds flocked to see the ship and our reenactors. Several Ship’s Company volunteers were on hand to talk about the larger ship and how the replica was being brought to reality in Woodbridge, Suffolk.

The video below captures the day and gives an idea of the crowds that formed.

Excitement in the Longshed as the Saxon Ship progresses

This might be a case of whatever turns you on, but we are about to start prepping the Longshed to receive the tree for the keel. This will mark the start of our re-creation of the Sutton Hoo ship later this year.

Whatever possible we try to reproduce what the Anglo-Saxons would have done but in a modern world this can be challenging so we are doing the best that we can.  They would have built outside, probably not doing too much in the short winter days.  We are blessed with our giant purpose built shed and can work all the year round.  They would have built on an earth foundation, we are less blessed in having a shiny, smooth concrete floor.  You might ask, ‘is that not better for boatbuilding?’ Well, actually not always.  First of all, it’s quite slippery for moving massive heavy logs around, and even more slippery if there are oak chippings everywhere – they are just like banana skins. Secondly, it’s very harmful to axes and other tools if you accidentally drop them on a hard surface. Our tools are being purpose built and will be one of our most precious possessions.

Our biggest problem is how to secure the keel as it mustn’t move around whilst we are working on it and we have to find a way of making sure it stays straight and doesn’t warp as time passes.  The Anglo-Saxon shipbuilders would have been able to drive a set of heavy poles into the ground as a foundation for a frame to fix the keel.  The Ship’s Company team have seen a similar approach at the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in Denmark, where they build outdoors (in the Danish summer).

Remembering that this is experimental archaeology we need to experiment, so what is our solution?  We could cover the Longshed floor with a foot (30cm) or more of compacted soil but this is not realistic and wouldn’t be deep deep enough.  We could build a false floor of wood that can have heavy wooden scaffold screwed into it?  Thi is unaffordable and would take too long. We could screw large steel bolts into the concrete?  Well….we might have to, but the solution we are working on is a more traditional compromise.

Many boats are built on a set of wooden blocks about a couple of feet (60cm) deep.  You have to raise the keel (backbone of the ship) off the floor in order to work on the lower face of it and to drive rivets in from the underside through metal roves to fix any joints.  About a dozen blocks are placed between where the ribs will go later.  Think of old railway sleepers as a model, although we could use sections of tree.  A set of blocks this size is big and heavy enough to not require securing to the floor. But the key is to ensure that the top surface of these blocks are absolutely flat, using packing and a string-line.

Two people, working very hard could achieve this in two weeks.  Job done. Fancy giving us a hand? Or do you have any old railway sleepers lying around?

 

Woodbridge Regatta – Log Splitting

On Saturday 23rd June Woodbridge hosted their annual Regatta to celebrate all things connected to the river Deben. This was the perfect opportunity to invite Damian Goodburn to the Longshed to demonstrate how to split a large oak log using wedges, hammers and man power.

The piece of French Oak arrived from the Crown Estates earlier in the week and needed to be maneuvered into place so that the Crew could work on it.

A number of Ship’s Co Crew volunteers spent the day learning the trade and helping to reduce a single oak into half, quarters, eights and sixteenths.

Other volunteers helped to make rustic signs and spin wool ready for caulking the joints

To sign up as a volunteer email contact@saxonship.org

We don’t just need boat building skills, we also need administrators, legal skills, PR and social media, website editors, copy writers, sign writers, documenters and researchers to name but a few!

Saxon Ship thinks about using a Total Station

Does your pulse quicken when you see those words?

Wikipedia describes a total station as “an electronic transit theodolite integrated with electronic distance measurement (EDM) to measure both vertical and horizontal angles and the slope distance from the instrument to a particular point, and an on-board computer to collect data and perform triangulation calculations.”

So it’s a clever beast, and a robotic one can be fixed somewhere inaccessible (like high up in the roof of the Longshed), and controlled remotely. It sounds just the job for recording and monitoring the dimensions of our ship as it gets built.

If you have any experience at all with total stations (or you know somebody who does), please get in touch via contact@saxonship.org.  Total stations are now widely used in civil engineering, and I would be very interested to talk through the issues with someone who has hands-on knowledge.

Using the natural grain of wood to gain maximum strength

The photographs below show a treenail fixing that was recently made at Roskilde, Denmark. The plank is made of riven oak and the treenail made from carved willow. Note the direction of the grain on the head of the treenail. On the other side, you can see that the slit for the wedge was cut in line with the grain of the treenail. The wedge, from seasoned oak, has a radial grain which runs at right-angles to that of the willow. The tip of the wedge was hammered to two-thirds of the way through the hole in the oak block.

treenail, also trenail, trennel, or trunnel, is a wooden peg, pin, or dowel used to fasten pieces of wood together, especially in timber frames, covered bridges, wooden shipbuilding and boat building. It is driven into a hole bored through two (or more) pieces of structural wood (mortise and tenon)

This short video shows a shipwright at Roskilde boring a hole through a plank.

2019-05-09 12.22.39

 

 

From ‘Tree to Sea’ with Damian Goodburn

On the 29th and 30th of April we had the pleasure of hosting Damian Goodburn for a two day workshop about identifying and working with timber ready to be used in ship and boat building so that our volunteers will be skilled up on the techniques that we believe where used on the original Anglo-Saxon ship.

This video shows the hard work required to change an length of oak into a usable plank. This one piece of wood was worked on by several men over the two days but was only partly finished at the end of it.

Training continues tin May with a trip to the Viking Museum at Roskilde in Denmark, whose craftsmen are also world leaders in restoring and recreating ancient wooden clinker built boats

video

The selection of photographs below show the different aspects of the two days. One lesson learned is that turning a tree into a plank is a slow and back breaking process but interesetly no one wanted to down tools so it is clearly a dormant skill that we are happy to bring back to life.

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