Saturday, April 23, 2016

Old Stories

Mr. Murakami, whose boat I am replicating, has been sending us material ever since he was here helping me with the fire bending workshop.  He sent a paddle for the boat, some hardware, and now four plank drawings that he and his father used to build several types of fishing boats.  Most of these drawings date from the 1960s.  On the back of three are calendars showing how many days he and his father worked on each boat.  Later in a phone conversation with the museum’s researcher, he said he was paid just ten days labor to build an isobune like I am building now.  He could build them in ten or eleven days.  Basically he had to in order to make a decent wage.  This further explains his very innovative use of power tools to speed up the boatbuilding process.  

The slashes represent full days, numbers represent hours of a partial day, circles represent holidays.  The boat above took 13-1/2 days to build.  It's over twenty-two feet long.  Often such drawings are missing crucial information - the boatbuilder's secrets - and only the builder can use them.  This secrecy sometimes extended to apprentices as well, who were forced to steal their master's dimensions.  Because Murakami apprenticed with his father there was no secrecy, hence his drawings are complete.

Meanwhile, I started to prepare material for bulkheads and beams.  These are wide offcuts of 2" thick cedar being cut and planed for three bulkheads, two of which form a live well in this type of fishing boat.

I got out my hinoki (cypress) and milled up beams using the circular saw and a handsaw, avoiding the sapwood.

Two caregivers brought three women in their nineties to the museum.  They were among the most engaging visitors I have had, full of questions and comments (all very supportive of my work and research).  One woman finally said her grandfather had worked as either a carpenter or architect (she said both) building houses in San Francisco.  Later I found them sitting at the table looking through my books.  


First I fit the bulkheads.  The largest beams sit on top of them, shouldered and tenoned through the hull and wedged from the outside.

I noticed one of my beams fell right on a nail, something I should have been thinking about when I laid out the nail locations for the planks...  I moved the beam a bit to miss the fastening.

I drilled holes at the corners and used a Japanese keyhole saw to rough cut the opening.

Murakami cut these quickly and then finished the mortises by pounding the edges, literally crushing them to his line.  I don't have the tool he used so I chiseled mine.  Of course his method is faster.

The beam at the bow requires a tricky compound angle.  I lay the beam on top of the planking and scribe the sides by laying the square tight against the beam and flat to the planking.

Then I measure the height of the mortise by measuring the distance across the beam at the plank angle.

I lay out those dimensions then do the same inside the boat.

While chiseling I check for flatness.

The beam is slightly tapered, so its pounded in...

...until it fetches up tight.  

The museum's temple carpenter stops by two or three times a day, looking in at what I am doing and then leaving without a word.  This afternoon when he saw this beam he finally spoke, saying, "I can't do that."  Having seen his work I am quite sure he could figure it out.  Actually my Middlebury College boatbuilding students have really enjoyed the challenge of laying out beams on our boats the last two years.  I basically give them no instructions and leave it to them to figure it out.

Final beam aft just forward of the transom.  

Pounded from one side.

In place with the ends slotted for wedges.

Today an elderly boatbuilder from Kobe stopped by, clutching a newspaper article about my project.  He talked about building wooden boats in Kobe, and later building steel boats in Osaka.  He said he built boats as small as ten feet, but it was unclear how large his wooden boats were, though he said he used boat nails a foot long!  We talked about various differences between this boat (from northern Japan) and the boats he built locally.  He pointed out the knots in my port planking and said that was good, that knots indicated strong wood.  I've never heard that before.  

He said at the end of his career there were very few orders, so competition among boatbuilders was fierce.  He said he finally retired after the Kobe earthquake in the mid-1990s.  He is 86 and when I asked him his name he said he didn’t believe one should show one’s name or photo; he said these things shouldn’t be made public until after one’s death.  He added, once you finish a boat you forget it and move on.  So he remains nameless to me, and in deference to his wishes I will publish this photo of him looking away from the camera.


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