Friday, November 8, 2019

Now in Japan Building Two Boats

This will be a very short post, one just to share with you a link to another blog where we will be posting information about the project currently underway. Look at this post weekly for updates through the month of November:

https://apprenticeshop.org/blog/2019/11/3/week-1-in-japan-building-the-nouninawase

There are currently two posts there about our project. The most recent one is entitled "Urushi." I hope you enjoy the reading.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Announcement - New Research Initiative in Japan

Last year I proposed a partnership with the Apprenticeshop, America's oldest boatbuilding school in Rockland, Maine, creating a boatbuilding exchange program in Japan. At the end of October I, along with Nina Noah, Director of Student Affairs and Outreach for the Apprenticeshop, will be going to Japan to work with a pair of boatbuilders making two traditional boats. We want to work together to develop projects in Japan where we can bring boatbuilding students to participate. We have a crowdfunding campaign here that is active until the end of October, 2019:


I invite you to visit our campaign, where you can learn much more about what we are doing. If you are a long-time visitor to this blog you know the scope of my research. I feel strongly that it is time to disseminate and teach these skills as much as possible, and I believe a boatbuilding school is the best way to do it.

Thank you for your consideration,

Douglas Brooks

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Two Boats, Two Coasts

I've been teaching four and five-week Japanese boatbuilding courses at Middlebury College and Bates College, respectively (you can read about my Bates class at the previous posting), but I've long wanted to try a week-long workshop so I could expand this teaching to craft schools and other venues. This summer I've taught two such workshops: the first at the Apprenticeshop in Rockland, Maine and just last week at the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend, Washington. For my Bates class and these two workshops we built slightly different versions of a type of river boat found in the delta of the Shinano River in Niigata, Japan. Japanese river boats tend to be simpler than sea boats, but they give students a chance to try all the skills of Japanese traditional boatbuilding: fitting seams with handsaws, piloting special edge-nails with unique chisels, hardwood dovetail fastenings, etc.

I was confident my workshops could build these boats in a week because in Japan that's how long it took solitary boatbuilders to make them! On that score, I am headed back to Japan this fall and will be working with two boatbuilders. One is the last builder of this type of boat in Niigata, now eighty-six, and then another boatbuilder on the Sea of Japan in Himi, Toyama. This is part of a larger research collaboration with the Apprenticeshop. We hope to create a boatbuilding exchange program with Japan. For more information and to help, please see our crowdfunding page. This campaign ends the end of October, 2019.


Historic photo showing one of these boats, a smaller version than what we built. Note the intersesting cutout in the sheer just forward of the beam.

The drawings these class boats are based on. I found some errors in the dimensions and the name of this boat, "nofuninawase" is itself interesting. I translate it as "farmer-built" though I could be wrong. The boatbuilder I am slated to work with calls these boats "honryousen," which means "typical boat."

Piloting nail holes with the sword-hilt chisel.

Edge-nailing the bottom planks.

The joint between the bow and stern planks in these boats is a tongue-and-groove. My Bates students cut this by hand, but feeling pressed for time I elected to use a router to cut grooves and then we splined this joint. Boatbuilders will be amazed at such a simple joint with no knees or any framing backing it up. There are no nails used here either; the joint is held together by the fastening of the side planking to the bottom and ends.

Laying out for the assembly of the side planking.

Side planks seams being fitted for fastening. The backbone of the boat is visible in the center.

Nailing pattern for our scarf joint in the side planks. All our material was 16-foot northern white pine.

Side planks propped in place and saw-fitting to fit to the bottom.

A single beam, along with the seat, holds the planking apart. The beam fits into shallow mortices. This boat was finished with the minimum of internal framing (which you can see from historic photos). This was due to time constraints. I had just five students in this workshop working for five days.

The completed boat. Note beams at the hood ends of the planks fore and aft.

All five students in the boat.


Preparing the bottom planks in Port Townsend, which were Ponderosa pine.

Nailing the bottom two planks together.

 Cutting mortises for edge-nails.

Riley McMath, boat shop manager, did double duty as our workshop's blacksmith.

He made all of our nails in his small forge.

Once again a router, this time a trim router balanced on the edge of the plank.

The assembled side planks propped against the bottom ready to be traced for shape. Note the use of weights amidships to hold the assembly. Our ceilings were 13-feet tall which was interesting, using very long props.

Planing the flying surface on the side planks.



Saw-fitting the sides.

Note the angle cut in the end of the side planks. The beams at either end have a matching notch so the beams, which are only fastened from underneath, trap the plank ends and hold them.


We installed two beams in this boat, both with half lap dovetails at the sheer.

A look at the layout of the beam joint.

I followed another boatbuilder's tradition and had the student sign their names to the underside of one of the beams. One student carved the Chinese character for her name.


Class photo.

Once again, everyone aboard. A bit scarier with nine students.

The sculling paddle is used with a notch in the aft beam. In fact in Japan I've seen boatmen scull facing aft like this student. This student also blogged about his experience in the class: http://fretwaterlines.blogspot.com/2019/09/japanese-shinano-river-boat.html




Saturday, May 25, 2019

2019 Bates College Short Term - Launching!

My Bates College Short Term class has wrapped up. I'll begin this post by sharing some historic photos of this type of boat. These were taken in Niigata Prefecture, probably in the 1950s.

These boats were all-purpose vessels used by farmers and fishermen in the large delta of the Shinano River. Here men are dredging sand, a seasonal job as the river channels constantly silted up. Large post-War drainage projects allowed roads to be built, which made most of these boats obsolete as farmers purchased trucks.

You can see the backbone of one of our boats and the two side planks. Each side plank was composed of four planks edge-nailed together.

Saw fitting the seams between the side and bottom planking.

The hulls complete.

A student fitting one of the beams. These have a half lap joint where they join the hull.

At the bow and stern blocking is installed to tie together the ends of the planking. Here a student does some creative clamping while scribing the shape.

Chiseling the notch for the beam half lap.

Someone suggested we check and make sure the boats fit out of our workshop space.

And so they did!

The last step was hand planing the sides and bottom.

The finished boats.

Final trip out of the workshop. The students are wearing happi coats and traditional Japanese jackets.


They carried the boats across campus to Lake Andrews, known on campus as the Puddle.

Our Shinto alter and our two boats. The ceremony was Shinto-based and featured a marvelous sailor's folk song sung by Ian Sawyer-Lee, a Japanese musician.

Boats in the water (on-the-water photos by Angela Robins angelarobins.com).


You can also see a short video of the launch here and Bates College published this article on the class and our launching.