Bending a Plank with Fire

So hot right now!! 

 

Getting the fire ready

Getting the fire ready

  The general notion that people from the Viking age were primitive has been widely contested. The idea that they were simple farmers and raiders, just spending their time wondering where their next meal would come from, could not be farther from the truth. These people were highly advanced. Most of their methods of boatbuilding have not changed in 1200 years.  The Gislinge boat is a great example of this.

    The Viking ship as a whole is about as advanced as you can get. The construction of this ship is incredibly well thought out.  I'm sure trial and error has a lot to do with it but never the less it is still genius in design. Built for ocean exploration as well as every day use, the Viking ship could not be more versatile. The use of "green," cleaved wood allowed for extreme flexibility. A strong keel and a shallow draft made portage and river exploration very easy. And the shape itself made for speed at sail or while rowing. The ability to achieve this shape could not be possible without the use of fire, water, and steam.    

 

The bow of the Oseberg Ship in the Viking Ship Museum in Olso, Norway shows the extreme shape of the Viking age ships. 

The bow of the Oseberg Ship in the Viking Ship Museum in Olso, Norway shows the extreme shape of the Viking age ships. 

   Bending a plank using fire is not that much different than the modern way we steam bend today. 

  • Step 1:  Make the plank. (Obviously right?)
  • Step 2:  Soak the plank.

 After we have finished shaping and cutting out the plank (as seen in past posts) we set the plank in the fjord. This allows the wood to soak up the water in the cells and makes it easier for the bending process. This step is not a necessity but it really helps and also helps prevent the plank from burning.

  • Step 3: Make a fire. 

   Abput 45 minutes before you are ready to bend, get the fire going. You want it to be quite hot but without flames. Flames will just burn your plank. Obviously there will be some flames but the less the better. You want to use good hard wood to get a lot of embers going. Image that you are going to roast marshmallows.  If you don't know how to do this re-evaluate your life. If you have been hewing for most of the day you should have plenty of wood to burn. Find a fire proof container and add 2 to 3 gallons of water. Put this in the fire and wait till it starts to boil. This will be a good indicator that the fire is hot enough and you can to start to heat the plank.

   

 

This is what you want. 

This is what you want. 

  • Step 4. Start heating your plank. 

   Take the plank from the fjord or whichever body of water is closest and place it over the fire. We use a chain between two fixed places to keep the plank out of the fire. Make sure whatever you use has the ability to be adjusted according to the heat of your fire. A foot to a foot and a half is a pretty safe bet for the height. 

   Once you have the plank over the fire you can start flipping it. Flip the plank every 2 to 3 minuets to start, then increase the intervals as the plank heats up. Each time you flip you should add the water from the boiling pot. Make sure you do this to the top of the plank. This may seem obvious, but some people...... We use a common mop. When the plank is first on the fire allow it to heat up, don't put the water on right away. As the plank gets hotter you can start to put the water on closer to the time when you flip. The last 3 to 4 flips you can apply as soon as it's turned over. Make sure to regulate and control your use of water. You don't want to put the fire out and you don't want to run out of water. If you have to add water you will have to wait for it to boil again and you don't want that. When you apply the water make sure that you cover the entire surface. If you don't, you are likely to overheat or burn the plank. Over heating will cause the plank to crack and compromise the integrity of the wood.

Here's Martin wetting out the plank before he puts Its on the fire. Just a good idea to start.

Here's Martin wetting out the plank before he puts Its on the fire. Just a good idea to start.

The plank on a nice hot fire

The plank on a nice hot fire

Wetting out the plank

Wetting out the plank

  • Step 5. Getting Bent.

   After 20 to 30 minuets of flipping and wetting out you should be ready to bend her on.  The plank should have a nice golden brown color and be pretty hot to the touch. Once again much like roasting a marshmallow. Don't wet out the last two flips. Let each side dry out. When this is done, grab some gloves and a few bros and bring her to the boat. You should have everything you need ready. All your marks as to where the plank should be should be on the plank. You will also need a few clamps. The more the merrier I say. 

  On a side note.... Clamps were commonly used during the Viking age. Findes dating from the late 700s show oak clamps that are not too different from the ones we use today.

 

Reconstruction of Viking age clamps

Reconstruction of Viking age clamps

Clamping in action

Clamping in action

From the Farioe Islands

From the Farioe Islands

Also from the Faroe Islands

Also from the Faroe Islands

   So with all your clamps in place and a few willing friends go ahead and bend her on.  

   Start at the hood end. Either the stem or stern depending on which section of plank your doing. Then slowly bend her around taking care as to not go to fast. You don't want to brake it. At this point you will find out if you have thinned out your plank correctly. As I learned 5 mills will make all the difference. On my first attempt I found out that mine was too thick and it wouldn't make the bend without cracking.  I had to take it off, thin it out and try again the next day. This is quite embarrassing, especially if there are 40 people visiting the museum standing behind you and watching this all go down. My general day to day. But with a little luck my second attempt was a success and the plank bent like butter. Allow to cool and harder over night and you can start to fit.

Successful second attempt

Successful second attempt

   So with all this being said, 1000 year old technology is tried and true. And next time you're reading Hagar the Horrible remember that if it wasn't for these "primitive" Vikings your little Nuttshell Pram wouldn't exist.....

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