The heavy, rhythmic beat of mallets against wedges that slowly work their way into the impressive 200 year old oak is like a 1,000 year old pulse that’s been brought back to life. The excitement mounts in time with the sounds from the strong oak, as it creaks with each of the boatbuilders’ well-aimed blows.
Last Tuesday, the boatbuilders and a group of volunteers from the Museum's boat guilds cleaved the oak log from Vallø. At roughly 210 years old and with a diameter of over 1m at chest height, it's some of the finest material we've had so far on the project and will be used to produce planks for Skuldelev 3's hull.
In order to cleave the massive log, the boatbuilders first create a small split in the root end of the log and then slowly – using larger and larger wedges and lots of heavy blows from mallets – they force the fibres in the oak to separate until the massive log splits in two. The two halves are then cleaved further into quarters and then again to smaller pieces until the entire log has been cleaved into wedge shaped sections, ready to be hewn smooth to ship’s planks – or boards, as they’re called on a ship.
The Vikings didn't use saws
The Viking Ship Museum’s boatbuilders are building a reconstruction of a Viking ship in full-scale, the so-called Skuldelev 3 ship-find: a small trading ship from ca. 1040, which was found near Skuldelev in Roskilde Fjord over 50 years ago.
“When we build a Viking ship, the most important thing is that we reconstruct the ship as closely to the original as possible, by using the same tools, techniques and methods as they did in the Viking Age”, tells boatbuilder Martin Dael. “In the Viking Age, saws weren’t used for boatbuilding. Therefore, we also use the ancient technique of cleaving in order to produce planks from large logs, just as they did 1,000 years ago.”
But the work doesn't stop there. The two halves now need to be split into quarters, eighths and sixteenths. The boatbuilders and their volunteers will be taking up their mallets again this Sunday, June 23rd, from 11am.