Day 5 of crafting (17.07.15)

Mark Griffiths

I wake early to a brighter day and a brighter mood. I fortify myself with a much needed cooked breakfast, and make my way to the boat yard. Arriving before the others I have an opportunity to take stock of the progress so far, and plan the day ahead.

During his visit Niall Gregory made a strong case for the original Pallasboy being some form of craft used to transport cargo on a river. The key to its stability when on the water was a combination of the precise thickness of sides and base, and the curvaceous shaping seen in the vessels exterior. If we planned to put this theory to the test we would have to be very precise when shaping the interior. For this reason it was decided to leave this part of the vessel to a later date, when we would be able to afford it more time.

This freed me to concentrate on finishing the shaping, forming the handles and the carving the complex bow shaped ends. We were finally starting to see our vessel resemble the original Pallasboy we visited in Dublin.

Leaving the interior unfinished for a few weeks may also help prevent it splitting. As was evident in the original, removing a large volume of timber (especially if it is unseasoned ‘green’ wood) can cause cracking and structural movement as it dries. There is evidence of objects such as this being submerged in water when half made, left for some months to stabilise, then removed and completed. Adapting this same technique, our replica will be wrapped in damp hessian sack cloth while it is stored at Meitheal Mara, awaiting our next visit.

Each day I have noted the time taken for a replica tool to complete the same task as its contemporary counterpart. It works out to take roughly half as long again when using a period tool. Even allowing for the extra care taken when using our hand forged tools, the simplicity of their design and difficulty in producing a sharp honed cutting angle makes working with them strikingly different from the balanced, razor edged modern equivalent.

At one point in the afternoon Caitriona picks up the simple mallet I had made from of a branch of Oak. The same mallet that drove the wedges into the Alder log back at the start of the week, and the one that has been putting weight behind the chisels as they gouge and chip. Turning it in her hand she remarks at the hour glass shape it has taken on, the same shape seen in countless unearthed mallets from antiquity, and which until this week she assumed was the result of years, not days, of use.

It is late in the afternoon and Seamus is sitting on the second Alder log, smoking and watching as I carve a crisp edge onto the top of the sides. Often this week I have looked up to find him there, not wanting to disturb us, just enjoying the sight of this most basic form of working with wood. Seamus’s enthusiasm and interest in our project is clear, he is happy to take up an axe or adze at any opportunity. His knowledge of the craft of boat building, which he is happy to share, is limitless, as is his generosity in letting us disrupt his busy yard.

These past five days have proved both challenging and at the same time extremely rewarding. The log from the felled Alder tree is now a recognisable copy of the pre-historic Pallasboy vessel. As we reflect on this past week, the team agrees that the project has helped increase our understanding of how this beautiful object was created. Why the choice of timber was so significant, how the tools would have fared crafting such pieces, the investment of time and effort involved, understanding the complex patterns left as each tool made its mark and how the makers worked together.

And new questions about the original intended use of the Pallasboy vessels are set to be investigated with our second stage of crafting.

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