This month, we have commenced work on converting the logs delivered from Blicking Hall in December into planking, ready to be fitted to the Ship. This first task was to move the log into the required location ready to cleave it into sections.

Dragging the log using a ‘Tirfor’ winch

The delivery lorry’s hydraulic crane couldn’t quite get the log to where it needed to be so using rollers and a heavy-duty wire winch, the log was moved another 9m (30 feet) further into the Longshed.

This is a large log – approximately 6.5m (21’ 6”) long and 1m (3’3”) in diameter. It weighed over four tonnes as it contained large amounts of ‘sap’. The sap is the fluid containing the nutrients to sustain the tree’s growth and, having been felled in mid-November, we would have expected this to have reduced considerably due to the tree entering its ’dormant’ period over the winter months. However, because of the exceptionally warm Autumn, it appears that the leaves were late falling, and the sap was still within the tree. This has plusses and minuses for us as we convert the timber. On the plus side the wood has greater moisture content and so is easier to work when cleaving and cutting with axes, but on the negative side, it will take longer to season and have greater shrinkage as it does so. This means that we either have to wait for some of this seasoning to occur before fastening the plank into the Ship or make allowances for that shrinkage to take place during the build.

The high sap level was clearly demonstrated when we drove the first wedge into the log as fluid spurted out and continued to drip onto the floor for some considerable time.

Volunteers David Turner and Mac Macdonald with the cleaved log

Getting to work, we have been able to cleave seven sections from the first half of the log which is close to the eight we would ideally be looking to achieve. The second half of the log is interrupted by a number of knots but hopefully, we will be able to take five or six sections from it, giving us the minimum twelve pieces of useable planking that we are aiming to obtain from each log. For the larger diameter sections received from the National Trust at Blickling Hall, we hope to gain upwards of twenty-four pieces.

Nick Eddery-Joel and Jo Wood ‘notching out’ the first cleaved section from the log. The code written on the end of the section is a part of our internal recording system. This unique number allows us to trace where the plank came from and where it will be fitted into the ship. Any damage which may happen (such as rot, splitting, impact damage in service, etc.) can then be traced to other potential planking.

The log (and hence the planking derived from it) does exhibit some slight twist to its growth, but this is acceptable since the twist helps to fit the natural twist in the ends of the Ship.

The first section of planking showing the natural twist and bend in the plank. Some of this can be adjusted during the process of conversion. Note the axe-cut scarf on the near end of the plank.

However, the left-handed twist in these planks only works for planks in the starboard bow and port side aft sections – for the other two-quarters of the Ship we would, ideally, need to find timber with the opposite twist. The high moisture content helps us here because we have been able to induce the opposite twist necessary for the Port-side bow sections using clamps and props. Previous experience shows that a plank will take this forced twisting and ‘set’ to the required shape as it seasons and dries, but we do have to be careful in forcing this opposite twist not to split the plank or to force the temporary mold out of shape and distort the shape of the finished Ship.
Finally, further sections of planking have been fastened to the Ship.

A close-up of the planked area. At the bottom is the backbone showing (left) the bottom of the Stem and (right) the outer end of the Underloute. The heads of two of the trenails securing the joint can clearly be seen. Above this are the ends of the first two strakes, showing the diamond-shaped roves with the ends of the nails riveted over them.

Work on the 1:5 scale model continues with the first frames being constructed. A pattern for the midship frame (Frame 13) was first constructed and then a softwood model was made. Once this had proved the concept and accuracy to the model-making team, the first ‘proper’ frame was constructed in Oak and in three parts – a ‘floor’ stretching across the keel and both sides of the lower hull planking (this links both sides of the planking together and imparts transverse strength to the Ship) and then two ‘futtocks’ which secure the upper planking on each side

Interior of the 1:5 scale model showing the midship frame and the softwood test piece forward of it. In the background are the plywood molds used to guide the planking of the model.

Note that the grain of these sections is straight. For the Ship itself we will need to obtain curved ‘bends’ in which the natural shape of the timber follows the curvature of the hull section.

Tim Kirk (Master Shipwright)