building the world’s most iconic Viking ship, part 2

In part 1 we covered a little of the history of the Oseberg ship and the project to make a reconstruction and then cleft a large oak into 16 thin pie shaped wedges to make boards. The next stage is to hew these boards down from the pie shape into an even 1″ thickness. There are various ways of holding the board whilst you do this, I like to have the surface I am working sloping away from me at an angle of around 30 degrees. I cut notches with the axe down to the marked line then hew off the chunks between. This particular replica Viking axe was my favourite and was a dream to use. It was remarkably similar in use to Japanese carpenters axes.

This axe was forged by a Danish smith, I think it is a thing of great beauty but not only that it’s balance and edge holding were perfect too, it just worked like a dream.

and these are the axes I used in Japan last year, equally good and remarkably similar considering they are separated by 1200 years and half a world.

 Next step is to turn your plank over mark 1″ thickness for the smaller boards 1 1/4 for the largest boards and hew away the excess. This is Gregorius at work with the ship in the background. The four legged things for resting boards on which we would call horses in Norway are known as pigs or swine, I thought it suited them well.

This rough hewing laves a coarse surface and now we raise the board up vertical so the axe can be used downwards across the face of the board and at a slight angle to get a slicing cut. This is Ola at work he was really very good at this.

Taking a wide clean cut like this and leaving a near finished surface is not easy but it is clearly shown in many old illustrations like this from  the 15th C. I should say Ola’s stance is far safer, hewing accidents are not common but when they occur it is nearly always due to working in the position illustrated below, if the axe catches a glancing blow off the wood it can bounce out into the right shin. I have seen it and it is very nasty.

 After removing the bulk of the wood you go back over makign finer shavings and tidying the surface.

 This is all done in a very public worksite with a footpath right through the middle. Norwegian attitude to health and safety apparently puts much more responsibility on individuals to be sensible look after their own safety. I don’t know how their accident figures compare but it does mean that folk get to see the work up close in a way that would be more difficult in the UK.

This is my small board after hewing both sides, this is where you are expected to get to with just the axe. You work right up to but leave the pencil marks showing. Then you can move on to planing.

They had on the worksite the largest collection of Viking replica tools in the world, I’ll do another post showing lots of them but they included various replica planes. This was my favourite. You plane first across the grain or at a slight angle then down the grain.

Here’s a close up of this lovely plane with it’s simple but beautiful horse head decoration.

The final finishing was done with a scraping tool, the original boards showed the medulary rays standing proud and this is what happens when you use this tool again a replica of a 9th century find.

So that gives us a prepared board. Compared to sawing you get less than half the planks from a tree though they are very strong and flexible since you know the fibres run down the length of the plank. Today we would consider it wasteful but in the 9th century large timber trees were plentiful and all heating and cooking in the homes in the area was done on wood so in some ways you could say we were making lots of kindling and firewood and the ship was a by product. More posts to come on steaming and bending and fitting the boards to the ship as well as lots of gorgeous tools.

4 Responses to building the world’s most iconic Viking ship, part 2

  1. Gorges Smythe November 15, 2011 at 11:27 am #


  2. Alviti November 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    This is realy interesting, thanks for putting this on. I'm going to have to try hewing one day!

  3. Jackie Morris November 16, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    Love the tools and the shape of the boat. Someone sent this post in to me as a link to my competition at my will put a link on to your posting later. It is indeed, truely beautiful work.

  4. Jeff November 16, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    I am very much enjoying this series. Quite fascinating. I am amazed at the end result on the board. That is some nice, tight-grained stock.