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.

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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

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


A new phase for the Ship’s Co.

In October 2018 we invited experts from across the world to look at our research and preparations to help us finalise the Sutton Hoo Ship plans. This phase is now much closer to completion and the final papers are being worked on ready for publication after Easter.

Now in March 2019 as we move from the planning to the construction phase, we are delighted to know that we will have enough green oak to reconstruct King Raedwald’s seventh century ship.  Plans to move and store the oak from Windsor Great Park to Woodbridge are in hand but we are not underestimating the difficulty of the logistics – or the number of volunteers we will need to help turn beautiful trees into a beautiful ship.

As well as working with the National Trust and Woodbridge Riverside Trust we have new partners in the Oxford Institute for Digital Archaeology who, as well as supporting us financially are developing an ambitious programme of 3D printing, recording the project digitally, and developing educational tools.

Work is currently underway to recruit a Master Shipwright to turn the ships plans into a reality with, we hope, a large group of volunteers to support the project.

The first step will be to build two different types of models which will test the plans and allow us to experiment with techniques and internal fixings.

If you would like to volunteer or support us in any other way please contact us here

If you would like to apply for the Master Shipwright role, please go to – Link to Ship’s Co. Jobs

If you would like us to keep in touch with you, please sign up for the Ship’s Company Newsletter here – Link to Newsletter signup form


An Historic Milestone

As we advertise for a Master Shipwright we are one step closer to building this amazing reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo ship and one step closer to understanding more about our Anglo Saxon ancestors. The months and months of research to turn the historical records into a set of usable plans is coming to a close and laying the keel is now insight. This project will enrich the lives of historians and craftsmen who, like their ancestors, will be given the opportunity to work together turning raw materials into a unique and iconic ship. With the ship in our possession teams of rowers and sailors will be able to experience life on the water in the same way as the Anglo Saxons providing a greater insight into their way of life.

We will provide a comprehensible, informative and entertaining means of engaging the public, including involvement of people of all ages and abilities and increasing understanding and appreciation of Anglo-Saxon life and culture.  In order to maintain the integrity of the project it will be overseen by academic and shipbuilding experts, but work will be organised in a way that enables local people to engage in all stages, either through active participation in the build process or activities such as recording, interpretation or guiding. We will employ professional shipwrights for the critical parts of the build and we expect apprentices and students to benefit from working on it.  In order to gain maximum project benefits we are working with the National Trust and with our sister charity, Woodbridge Riverside Trust (WRT), who will be responsible for example, for guiding, exhibitions and talks.

The reconstruction that we will build will be a beautiful object, of impressive size and proportion, as well as having a serious scientific purpose, what more can we say…

The Ship’s Co. is looking for a Master Shipwright

Master Shipwright

We are looking to recruit a part time Master Shipwright who has experience of using green oak with a clinker style construction. For a better understanding of the role please download the Job Description below. To arrange an informal discussion please email

The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company_Master Shipwright_Job Description

Application deadline: 31st March 2019

Tholier than thou

For hundreds of years either side of the Sutton Hoo ship, North Sea vessels had provision for oars all the way along, with no break in the middle.

Our ship has tholes to hook the oars onto. But no traces of them were ever found amidships. Ah, we say, that’s because the burial chamber was built there. They took the tholes off beforehand, and it’s even possible they re-used them. But in that case, others say, why did they find no traces of the thick, vertical, iron spikes that were holding them onto the gunwale? This is a drawing from a paper by Charles Phillips – the spikes go deep, and look impossible to pull out:

So were there ever any central tholes at all? In the Bayeux tapestry the English ships have no tholes amidships, while the Norman ships were tholed all the way along. So maybe our ship was the same, over 450 years beforehand.

This is an uncomfortable thought.  But maybe help is at hand. In the 1939 Science Museum tracing at Ipswich Museum, A S Crosley shows the tholes like this:

Separate the tholes into separate items the way Phillips did, as indicated by the red lines. Suddenly if looks as if each thole could have been demountable – provided that the holes where the spikes go through were a slightly loose fit.

The hooks of the tholes were midway between the thwarts, and would have been a nuisance when loading or unloading. So simply whip them off. Make the tholes one standard pattern so you wouldn’t need to remember where you took them from. Then they could be slapped on like pieces of Lego when you needed them again.

Before adding the burial chamber, such tholes would be easy to deal with, but you’d also need to remove the spikes. However, the way Crosley drew them they were not embedded nearly so deeply into the gunwale. You’d have plenty to aim at, hitting them from the side. Wrought iron is not likely to snap. The spikes should be easy to pull out, and their iron would be valued.

It’s bonkers. But how can you disprove it? The spikes outside the area of the burial chamber are only circumstantial evidence.

All the same, are there any volunteers to check their spacings in the photos in the British Museum?

Joe Startin

Presentation of the prestigious Worshipful Company of Shipwrights plaque

Late last year, we at The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company were delighted to hear from Richard Cole- Mackintosh, Clerk of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights. Richard informed us that the Shipwrights were generously contributing to the education aspects of our ship building project and were ‘proud to be associated with The Ship’s Company’. Their donation and association are much appreciated as we work towards building the replica Sutton Hoo ship here in Woodbridge. The Shipwrights hold a mountain of knowledge and experience which will be of huge benefit going forward.

To seal the relationship and mark the occasion, Karl Lumbers, a Worshipful Shipwright and Master Mariner, came to Woodbridge to present us with the prestigious ‘Shipwrights Plaque’.

From left to right: Karl Lumbers (Worshipful Company of Shipwrights), Bryan Knibbs (Chairman, Woodbridge Riverside Trust) and Philip Leech (Director, The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company)

Here you can see Karl presenting the plaque to Philip Leech outside the newly built Longshed Building along the water front in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Philip is the Director of The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company and Bryan Knibbs, in the centre of the photograph, is from the Woodbridge Riverside Trust (WRT) whose organisation also benefitted from the generosity of the Shipwrights a year ago when they kindly donated funding towards essential boat building tools and equipment. These tools are currently being used for various projects in the Longshed including the St Ayles Skiff building project which is getting close to completing its first boat (see below) and a handmade wooden canoe which is being built by local children under the supervision of boat building experts.

Worshipful Company of Shipwrights

What could be more appropriate to the reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo ship than support from the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights.

The original purpose of the Company 700 years ago was to safeguard the quality of shipbuilding in London.  This continues today with the presentation of annual awards of excellence. The Company maintains its strong links to the maritime and marine sectors, with which all Liverymen must have connections.  The Shipwrights’ Company has a strong philanthropic purpose and donates annually to maritime related causes, individuals, charities and companies. Liverymen vote in the annual elections of the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs and all members of the Company enjoy a full programme of activities including dinners, visits, social events and informal gatherings.

The members of this ancient livery Company have been engaged in our Saxon Ship project from the very early days.  The Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company – and indeed Woodbridge Riverside Trust – are very grateful for the ongoing endorsement and financial support that they have been given.

On Friday 4th of January representatives from the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights will be visiting the Longshed in Woodbridge to present us with a plaque in recognition of our relationship. Anyone is welcome to attend the presentation which will be held at 11am. 

The Longshed, Tide Mill Lane, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 1FP

Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

An interesting article published by the Southhampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI)

Link to article (will open in a new tab)

Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI) is a unique, internationally recognised centre of excellence for research, innovation and education. Their work spans both the natural ocean environment (marine) and human use of the sea (maritime). They are a community of academics from across the University of Southampton, whose interests and research are linked to the marine/maritime realm. By working across the traditional disciplinary divides, they can better address some of today’s global marine & maritime challenges.

Their ambition is to become the world’s leading institute for marine and maritime research, innovation and education. They are achieving this by creating interdisciplinary, cross-sector partnerships both inside and outside the university covering humanities, natural, physical and social sciences. Knowledge generated through our collaborative research is applied in our teaching to create the next generation of marine and maritime professionals.

Link to SMMI website