Modeling a Gifu Tabune

When I was writing my recent post about Douglas Brook’s upcoming work in Gifu, Japan, building an Ukaibune, or cormorant fishing boat, I noticed another boat and some drawings on his blog site. The boat was one of three tabune (田舟), or rice field boats, that boatbuilder Seichi Nasu had just completed.

One of Nasu-san’s tabune built in 2014. Photo courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

Tabune are used for working around the flooded rice patties. These boats are most commonly quite small, and pulled by rope or handle or pushed along by the farmer. Douglas Brooks worked on an 8′ tabune in Himi, Japan in early 2016, that was locally referred to as a Zutta Tenma. In some areas where rice paddies are connected by canals and rivers, larger boats may be used.

I happened to notice on Mr. Brook’s blog a photo of the plans used by Mr. Nasu. So, I downloaded it, contrast enhanced it, and the text on the image is quite readable, recording a number of dimensions in millimeters. I used the numbers to then rescale the drawing to 1/10 and 1/20 scales. There is some distortion in the side profile view due to a crease in the original drawing and the fact that I was working from a photo and not a scan. But, the important thing is that the numbers are visible and the measurements lines are clearly marked. You can see the original for yourself on Mr. Brooks’s blog from February, 2014.

I looked over the images of the boat built by Mr. Nasu and the drawings and realized that it would probably one of the easiest wasen subjects to model, particularly because the sides of the hull consist of single planks, and the interior details are very simple.

According to Mr. Brooks, Nasu-san used a kind of very high quality Japanese pine for his boatbuilding projects. From an earlier project, I had gotten accustomed to working with Japanese cedar, or Sugi (杉), which is used extensively by boatbuilders in Japan. So, I thought I’d go ahead and use it on this project, especially since I had it already milled to the right dimensions.

The plans indicated the boat was 6650 millimeters long, or 21.8 feet. Since I have a lot of models on shelves at home and I’m a little bit stingy with my supply of Japanese wood, I decided to build at 1/20 scale. It would make this a small model, but large enough to see basic details. Most importantly, at just over 13 inches long, it would fit nicely on a desk or shelf.

Photo from Douglas Brook’s blog site of a 22′ tabun. Photo courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

I would post some photos of the construction process, but there was practically no process. The model was so quick to construct, I had it finished the day after I started, and on the second day, I only worked on it as a break from another ship modeling project I had, but then kept going until it was done.

Construction began with the bottom or shiki, following measurements that were given right on the drawings, marking them on a piece of wood. Using a wooden batten to connect the points, I then drew the hull shape on the wood and cut the floor to shape. I added the todate, or transom, and I made a cardboard pattern of the hull planks from the plans. Though distorted, I thought I had compensated as I built, but later realized that the rise in the floor is probably a little too steep.

For a while, I thought that I might have completely screwed up and that the rise was completely a result of the photographic distortion. But, a dashed reference line that runs from top of the hull plank at the stern to the top of the hull plank at the bow provides solid information on how much the bow should rise.

While the model is mostly Japanese cedar, I used hinoki, or Japanese cypress for the cross-beams and the cap rail.

I cut the hull plank pattern a little large and taped it to the floor to check the fit. Using the measurements on the plans, I also made a couple hull formers that I clamped into place while I test fit the hull planking template.

When I was satisfied with the size and shape of the bottom edge of the template, I then used measurements from the plans to get the approximate shape of the top edge of the template. This was especially necessary since I couldn’t trust the distorted plans for this part of the build. I then cut down the top edge of the template to the right shape and then used that to cut the hull planks themselves.

Note that the hull planks extend below the bottom of the boat. I presume this is correct and provides a kind of a bottom rub rail, which protects the bottom board itself.

With the planks cut and my hull formers clamped into place, it was pretty easy to glue the planks into place. When dry, it was quite simple to add the bow piece and the small decks at the bow and stern, but first I noticed a narrow beam at the ends of the boat, just inboard of those small decks.

Now, each of those decks has a hole in it, and I don’t know what purpose they serve. But, on some photos of tabune, I noticed that the hole at the bow was at the edge of the deck, right next to the forward beam, which allowed for the tying of a rope around the beam. so, I simply cut a notch in the edge of my bow deck and I’ll probably tie a rope into place there as a detail.


In any case, I next cut the rub rails to length and installed them. I think all the wood I used up to this point was 2mm thick.

The assembly of the beam in the middle of the boat required thicker wood and I used hinoki for that. There are three pieces of this assembly. the cross piece at the base, you’ll notice, does not cross the full width of the floor. I presume this is to allow any water in the boat to pass. I noticed Mr. Nasu’s design has a piece that does cross the width of the boat, but he cuts a pair of square grooves in the bottom that serves the same purpose.

The most complicated part of the beam assembly is cutting the mortise and tenon joint between the central supporting post and the main beam. In full size, the ends of the beam are probably tenoned into the side of the boat somehow. I figured I could gloss over that feature at this scale, especially since I don’t have any information on how this was actually done.

One thing I did not do on this model yet was to add nails or simulated mortise details. I expect I’ll go back and add that detail, but I have to decide on nail spacing. Most of the nails, according to Douglas Brooks, were probably just covered with putty on this boat. So, I may just drill or cut the mortises, and maybe use wood filler.

That’s all there was to this model. At 1/20-scale, it was a very simple build, and makes a good beginning scratch build. I’m contemplating building another, possibly at the same scale using Japanese cypress, and possibly one in 1/10-scale to match the Tosa wasen model the Urayasu Bekabune model, which is in progress. At the larger scale, it’ll end up being 26″ long, which is kind of large, but it’s a better size for my Japanese boats display.

This also has me motivated to make an another tabune for comparison. Douglas Brooks built one in Himi, up on the Noto peninsula in early 2016. There, the 13 foot boat is called a Zutta Tenma. This would be a nice, next step up, from the Gifu Tabune. You can find more info, on his blog.


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