Shipshape 6

How to Build an Anglo-Saxon ship

Paul Constantine

About the Underlouts

Keel components.

The keel, stem and stern are in 6 component parts as mentioned in Shipshape 5. The Keel is in the centre and slightly bowed down in the middle to give it ‘rocker’. Attached at either end of the keel are the Underlouts which extend it and begin to curve upwards. The bow and stern timbers are attached to the Underlouts and soar upwards to form the ends of the ship. They are deep, in a fore-and-aft direction and due to this width, they are sometimes referred to as the Cutwaters.                                                                                        Curved stern underlout

Cross sections

All of these components have to be shaped with extended side ‘projections’ in order to allow the planks to be attached to them. These ‘wings’ can be referred to as the ‘Lands’. The area where planks overlap each other are also called ‘lands’. The cross sections of keel and cutwaters are in Shipshape 5 and it can be seen that in order for the rivets to be clenched on the inside of the extending timbers they have to be hollowed or dished.

The way that the planks meet these ‘backbone’ timbers varies. The keel and the planks on either side of it, called Garboards, lie side-by-side with their grain going in the same direction, but the planks higher up on the hull will gradually begin to meet the underlout and cutwater timbers with their ends. These planks will also have followed the curving outside of the ship, so they will be approaching the cutwaters at an angle. This angle changes for each plank and it is difficult to determine the exact angles until all the keel components are assembled with some guiding frames in place. The ends of the joining planks are called the ‘Hood Ends’ and they will be recessed into a Rebate.

David Steptoe & David Turner hollowing the top of the bow underlout.


Scarf locations and Volume 1

When the original ship was excavated it was thought that the keel would be joined to the other timbers with large spikes passing through scarf joints. Some spikes were found at one end where one of the joints might be, but there was no further evidence of them at the opposite end of the craft and so, it is not certain how the timbers were fixed to each other. In Volume 1 (see Investigation 1. in Ship) these scarf joins and their positions is a major issue. Six and a half pages of text (commencing Pg. 392) with five pictures and illustrations are devoted to the problems of trying to decide where the scarfs were, their dimensions, and how they were fixed.

To try to summarise:

  •  There were no signs of scarfs or fixings towards the bow, so all the evidence relied on what was found at the stern (see illustration right).
  • As there was NO evidence at the bow, this made it likely that the forward scarf was secured with trenails, which did not show in the excavation.
  • Joint positioning was located by reference to the nearest ribs and the descriptions from different people, notes and pictures, are confusing.
  • On the 1939 drawing the scarfs are drawn as being between ribs 3 & 4 and 23 & 24. There is almost universal agreement that these locations of two, single scarfs are too far apart as they position the joints NOT at the junction of the flat keel with the curving timbers, but across the rising curve of the cutwaters.
  • The 1939 account says that the stern scarf was secured with three large iron nails, 6¼in. long. IF the scarf was between 23 & 24 these nails would not have been long enough to secure through the cutwater. They would have been sufficient to secure at Rib 21 roughly at the end of a flat keel.
  • Photographic evidence pointed to the aft scarf being positioned close to Rib 21 and a very well-prepared picture of this area is available, but it needs an interpretation of the complex fixings.
  • There are 3 fixings visible that are possibly Scarf bolts (descriptive words as used in Volume 1) BUT they are so closely spaced that they indicate a scarf of only 1ft in length. This is thought to be too short. The 1939 drawing (above) shows the scarfs to be 3ft in length.     Drawings after 1939 show the joint near Rib 21
  • The situation was made worse, because there is also a repair to the garboard strake at almost exactly this position. Which rivets, or which bolts were doing what? Could they have been repairing damage to both the garboard and the keel here?
  • Volume 1 speculates on the possible use of ‘a double-scarf with a short fore-foot’ using trenails. This is a description of the use of the ‘Underlout’ that has been adopted for the Woodbridge reconstruction. Volume 1 states that this possibility ‘cannot be ruled out’. However, it says that no other example of this construction has been found in northern Europe earlier than the ninth century (Viking craft). Remember, that in the words of the famous saying – Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence.
  • In reviewing the different options and possibilities, Volume 1 concludes with the suggestion that the three close-spaced rivets at  Mike Pratt working on strake fitting in the vicinity of the stern underlout   Rib 21 might  even have been to replace original trenails in                                                                                                the damaged area of keel and garboard.

Decision time

As with many aspects of the reconstruction there is a mystery here, to be evaluated. Since the 1939 excavation everyone has been able to speculate without drawing conclusions, but that has been no longer possible for the builders, this time. The double-scarf or ‘underlout’ allows the length of the curved timbers required to be reduced and the grain pattern to be stronger; it makes handling them more manageable. There is nothing to say that this method was not used in the original ship, so this is the system that has been adopted.

                                                                                                       Heads of trenails joining keel to underlout


Volume 1 raises the possibility of using ‘Stealers’, but concludes that they were NOT used. This refers to a clever modification of the timbers at bow and stern used on some later Scandinavian craft. The problem of attaching the narrow, weak, ends of the strakes to a rebate in the cutwater timbers was overcome by carving the shape of the whole cutwater timbers to include the plank ends.They then appeared to have the ends already attached. This effectively moved the Hood-end's actual attachment further back into the craft where the planks were wider and stronger. It also staggered the weakness of the plank ends, so they were not concentrated in a single, short space.


Stern Cutwater

The Stern Cutwater was raised first and attached to its underlout with trenails. In the left picture the oak trenails with their willow wedges inserted can be seen projecting from the timber (lower right corner). The rebate to take the hood ends is visible in the cutwater. The guide frames for the stern are in place. The banner illustration on the wall behind the ship which was the first-ever full-size image, is not the same way round as the reconstruction. The banner has the bow at this end. The ship is being constructed with its bow towards the river, so that it can be taken out and launched directly into the water, bow first.

Tim Kirk and Assistant Shipwright Laurie Walker discuss the situation and safety.

Safety. Working on the ship means following modern, safety, working practices. To work on the upper regions of the bow and stern means that access staging had to be put in place.


Bow Cutwater










The bow cutwater ready for fitting. The top of the bow is closest. The underlout to bow scarf with Alec and David Steptoe pondering the work. The trenail holes are bored. The curved, projecting lands axed by David, can be seen close to his shoulder.








Helen Geake better known as a former Time Team presenter, takes pictures of the bow/underlout scarf. It had been prepared with a broad strip of pure woollen cloth (white), impregnated with a mixture of pine tar softened with a small addition of linseed oil (black). The timber was moved with two engine hoists (above right). Anglo-Saxons would have used manpower.

(Left) The forward sling was moved from the engine hoist to a chain hoist set up on a temporary gantry to lift the forward section of the cutwater to the correct height, when the two scarfs could be aligned. Temporary cramps were used and a horizontal beam attached to the gantry to support the timber.

(Right) The alignment is critical. A TimeTeam cameraman can be seen recording the process for future television programmes. Below) Helen Geake and Jacq Barnard the project leader, stand on the stern staging to sight along the ship to see its total length for the first time - an experience that Jacq described as 'emotional' after all the work.



The final positioning of the backbone timbers took place in February 2022 with this raising of the Bow Cutwater. It was a major step in the construction process as for the first time the whole of the form of the ship could be seen three-dimensionally mapped out by the guide frames, keel, stem and stern. That part of the team present at this key moment could not resist a deserved team picture.