Viking facts

Viking Shipbuilding

The Vikings lacked sophisticated tools, but nevertheless raised shipbuilding to an art, designing and building remarkably flexible ships that sailed on the water rather than through it. Here’s how they did it.
The keel The prefered wood was oak, due to its strength and resistance to salt water.  It was important to choose straight-growing trees to ensure that the planks, which were called strakes, would not twist.  The strakes would eventually be shaved down to a thickness of only 1.5 to 2 cm, so the choice of wood was critical.  The cut trees were stripped of their bark, which was saved for other uses.  Next, the length of the tree would be split for the strakes by using a wedge that would cleave the tree along its natural grain.  This would preserve the natural strength and flexibility of the wood - and both were essential to the Viking ship.  The ship would be build upside down, with the keel on top, until the hull took its basic shape.  This is one of the reasons why the bow and stern of Viking ships have an angle of 90 degrees - otherwise it would be harder to build the ship.  Another reason for the 90-degree angle was so that the ships could be stored upside down during the winter months.  This would prevent problems due to the accumulation of water or snow. 
The molds Once the keel was laid out, the next step would be to fix some provisional molds that would roughly define the shape of the ship.  The molds would later be removed and replaced by the ribs that would be attached to the keel.
The first plank of the hull The first strake, called the garboard, would be fixed to the keel, and each additional strake would overlap the previous one. This ensured strength and flexibility.  Birch bark would be placed between the overlapping parts of the strakes.  The bark expands if it gets wet, so this would ensure that the ship would be watertight.
The hull In the earlier days of shipbuilding, the strakes would have been joined together by using wooden pegs, called "treenails," and lashings.  Later, iron rivets were used.
Because the trees were split instead of sawed, all the planks were differant of thickness. Also some planks had nots or other thickness in it. Those were removed by "disselen". By doing this cause a nice streamlined ship. Once the hull was complete and the strakes shaved down to the desired thickness, the molds would be taken out and the ship would be flipped right side and propped up by stout poles.
At this point, the shipbuilder would head to the woods once more, this time in search of limbs that had a natural curve and could be used for ribbing. Again, these natural ribs contributed to the ship’s strength and flexibility. Leather bands were used to fasten the ribs in the ship.
The building of a Viking ship
sail At this point the ship was almost finished, and the last trip to the woods was to find a tall, straight tree that could be used for the mast. Once this was cut and prepared, it was inserted into a hole in the keel and secured - for, aft, and to the sides - with ropes to keep it in place.
The sail was made with whatever materials were available. Wool was used early in the Viking age, but it was very heavy when wet, and it wasn’t very strong. In fact, leather squares were often added to the sail to give it greater strength. As the Vikings expanded their trading areas, they learned about cotton and linen, and these materials became the standard for sails.
The ship was now ready to be launched, and left the harbour as a merchant vessel - or as a dreaded raiding ship!

[ last updated :  1-1-2016  ]