Friday, February 2, 2018


We launched our two Winter Term boats in the College pool yesterday, after a traditional Shinto ceremony. I'll recap with photos here showing the whole process, ending with shots of our boats in the water. The process is explained in more detail in my two previous posts.

Cutting the nail holes with special chisels to edge-nail our bottom planking.

Edge-nailing the bottom.

Planing the bottom smooth. Its comprised of three planks.

Shaping the oar using a Japanese slick, actually a temple carpenters' tool not seen in boatbuilding in Japan.

Bending the planks.

Fitting the side planks to the bottom using handsaws. This is probably the trickiest technique of all, because the builder is working around a curved surface and its very, very easy to run the saw out of the seam and into the planking. I reassured my students I had made this mistake, and so had my teachers.

Fitting the bottom planking for our second boat.

Chiseling mortises for the dovetail keys which fasten the bottom together.

Pounding the plank edges before gluing and fastening.

The backbone of the smaller boat set up. Note the use of staples to hold the transoms in place. Japanese boatbuilders have dozens of these, using them in lieu of clamps.

Our small boat in the water.

Our larger boat (about twenty-one feet long) holding all fifteen students.

My students were inspired by a custom I told them about from Gifu, Japan, where new boats are capsized three times (a lucky number) at the launching. The belief is a boat capsized upon launch will never capsize again.

Our boats are on display in the Winter Term Student Art Show in Johnson Hall until February 15th. Then we are moving them to the College's Davis Library where they will probably remain on display for the rest of the school year. Check them out!


  1. Very interesting as usual.
    What you call staples looks like "hewing dogs" but shorter.
    look here:
    or "timber dogs" or "joinery dogs" but longer
    look here:

  2. Dear Sylvain,
    You are right they are smaller than the dogs typically used in the West for holding logs or large timbers in place. Japanese boatbuilders use dozens of them. They are very, very handy once you get used to them. I've been given about a dozen and plan to have more made. Actually, inexpensive ones are available in Japanese home centers.

  3. Wow! It's amazing. Thanks for sharing this post.
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