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!
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.
Here the log has had wedges driven into the end to start the split before following the natural split line along the trunk
Splitting the oak requires us to drive wedges into the end and top of the truck using a Holly Mallet
Leveraging the final split when the log became two halves
Working on the final plank
Other volunteers helped to make rustic signs and spin wool ready for caulking the joints
Rustic sign painting to keep people informed
Wool spinning ready for caulking the joints
The crowds cheering the log splitters on!
To sign up as a volunteer email firstname.lastname@example.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!
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.
A 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.
Ordinarily one would find little in common between an Anglo-Saxon ship and a Stradivarius violin. (Okay clever clogs- yes they are both made of wood! ) But here is a clue: it is actually inaccurate to refer to an Anglo-Saxon ship when there is only one– the Sutton Hoo burial ship.
Now we come to Antonio Stradivarius; he built superlative and iconic violins of the Golden Age. He supplied the royal courts of Europe with instruments regarded by the experts as without pier.
So here is the real common ground they share today: most violin makers throughout the world copy meticulously the Strad pattern, striving to equal the master’s artistry and sound.
We at the Longshed will be striving to copy equally meticulously the artistry and pattern of the Sutton Hoo ship.
Both luthier and shipwright pursue their skills whilst looking over their shoulders at unique examples of their craft- one 300 years old the other 1400 years old- neither presuming to innovate or modify.
I was talking to Pete Clay the other day.As well as being a Director of the Sutton Hoo Ship’s Company AND Woodbridge Riverside Trust, he’s the doyen of the skiff builders in the Longshed. For readers who are just focused on the Sutton Hoo Shipbuild, skiff building is one of the other things going on in the Longshed and is the polar opposite in terms of build techniques and materials from “our” ship.It’s constructed from laser cut ply frames and glued together, not riveted with iron nails. It will be painted and polished. And the St Ayle’s skiff is a lovely thing when it is rowed.
What all that means to Pete you will have to ask him, but in our chat he was speculating what would happen to one of the St Ayle’s skiffs if it was buried at Sutton Hoo.What would the archaeology be like a thousand or more years later? What impression would the excavators have got of 21st century civilisation? What would their speculations turn into?
Well, it depends, doesn’t it?Would it be buried as a grave ship, and if so what would the grave goods be to go with it?What are the things that are highly valued. Instead of beautiful brooches there might be Apple watches and 3D printed bracelets. Instead of iron side axes there could be chainsaws. Instead of a lyre there could be an electric guitar. Then, what would be left of them after all that time?Some oxides of metals and some glass.
And what of the skiff?Plywood is mostly a natural material – wood – but it is bonded with synthetic resins, as the planks are then bonded to the ribs and the hull.So, knowing how slowly plastics degrade, you could be fairly sure of finding that message from our times.
Ah well, they might say, not sure we can do a recreation of that skiff.It would be lovely to do but…. I’ve got a message to go through the ages to them.YES YOU CAN!
On Saturday 6th October, experts from all over the world met at The Longshed in Woodbridge, Suffolk to exchange views on the ‘Phase 1’ plans for building the 29m Anglo-Saxon Ship that was buried at Sutton Hoo in the seventh Century. Whilst many parts of the plan are already reliable hypotheses, a number of questions remain. Delegates focuses on these different aspects of the project including the size and shape of the hull, the materials that it was and will be built with, how it would have moved and been navigated and what was its original purpose prior to becoming King Raedwald’s resting place.
The day generated a great deal of discussion and debate which will now be documented as part of the projects academic rigour. The following eight weeks have been earmarked for additional consultation before finalising the way forward on December 1st 2018.
Photographs courtesy of Robin and Sue Garrod, Woodbridge Camera Club