I may be no Yukio Nakayama, but I will have my own wasen model display coming up again in Japantown, San Francisco, in the display window of Union Bank’s community room inside the Japan Center’s East Mall.
It took me a long while before I had any hull planking in place, as I considered ways to work on the model with no frames. I also wanted try to figure out a way to build the model as closely as I could to the way the Japanese boatbuilders did it, which is upright, and not on a mold. So, my model actually sat for quite a while.
When I went to Japan, in September of 2016, and visited the museum in Urayasu, I saw that the model builders there had made a special L-shaped fixture that the model rested on with the stem supported by the leg of the “L”.
The Urayasu bekabune was my first foray into scratch building a model of a traditional Japanese boat or wasen. I chose the subject because of my contact with American boatbuilder Douglas Brooks, who has been studying Japanese boatbuilding methods from Japanese master boat builders for more than a 15 years. This particular boat was the subject of Brooks’s second apprenticeship. He had made some preliminary drawings and made available to me in exchange for some help I provided in getting him signed on as a guest speaker at the Nautical Research Guild conference in Mystic, Connecticut, in 2015.
Bekabune appears to be a term used in multiple regions, generally referring to a small structured-hull boat built with thin planks. The origin and exact meaning of the term is unknown, though there are some ideas that the term refers to the sound of water hitting against the relatively thin planking of this boat.
Those interested in getting more information on this boat should check out the section on it on Douglas Brooks’s website. And, I highly recommend purchasing his book Traditional Japanese Boatbuilding, which provides a tremendous amount of background on the subject, and it details Brooks’s five apprenticeships with Japanese master boatbuilders, including his work on the Urayasu bekabune. The book is also written in a style that makes it a joy to read.
Kobaya-bune (小早船), or simply, kobaya , is a term for a type of military-style traditional Japanese vessel that was fast and maneuverable. The size of the boats labeled kobaya, which translates literally to “small, fast,” seem to vary widely. I have seen boats called kobaya that had as few as 6 oars, and larger ones that had 24 or more oars, but my access to details on these warcraft is limited.
The largest warships were called atakebune. They were big, slow, lumbering craft with a castle-like structure atop. The mid-sized warships were called sekibune, and sometimes called hayabune, or fast boats, ostensibly because they were faster than atakebune. War boats smaller than this seem to have all been classed as kobaya.
During the Tokugawa period (A.K.A. Edo period), which began in 1603, daimyo were forbidden to have atakebune. During the time of relative peace, the smaller warships, most commonly sekibune, were turned into gozabune (御座船), highly ornate and brightly painted vessels used by daimyo and their clans for ceremonial and other official purposes.
This is the completion of my 1/10-scale model of the 15-shaku ayubune. This began with the cutting of the beams. I made the smallest beam at the bow, called the tsunatsuke, 1.5-sun square. The other two main beams I made 3-sun wide and 2.5-sun thick. I didn’t have any sugi of the necessary thickness, so I had to use two pieces glued together. I put the seam on the side of the beam in hopes that would make it less visible.
I used the beams as a guide to help me size the cutouts in the hull, which I cut with my Japanese Hishika, Super Fine Cut Saw, that I got from Zootoyz. It worked really well for this.
I found a supplier with the exact same saw in the U.S., but the cost for the saw was more than what Zootoyz charges, even when you add the international shipping. The one thing with this saw is that it cuts so easily, you have to be careful not to cut too much. For the final trimming of the notches, I used a scalpel.
First, I notched out the hull for the bow platform, called the omoteamaose, and the stern platform, called the tomoamaose. These were the easiest to deal with, since they are at the ends of the boat. So, I dealt with these first.
It was simple enough to add the omoteamase using a 3mm wood. I pre-cut the piece to roughly the correct size by inserting the piece into place and tracing out the extents in pencil. I could then glue the piece into place and sand away any excess using a large sanding block. Continue reading
Progress continues with my 1/10-scale model of the 15-shaku boat used on the Hozu river, northwest of Kyoto. I’m 6 months into the build, but I have certainly not spent a great deal of time in actual construction. Mostly, I’ve been contemplating how I was going to accomplish each task of the build. Things are progressing quickly now.
With the new fixture holding things in place, I taped a piece of cardstock into place to trace the shape of the hull planking. I rough marked the outlines of the bottom, bow plank, and transom on it. The planking will be cut oversized, so getting the exact shape isn’t really necessary, except to make sure that the wood I cut is large enough, but not too wasteful of my limited wood supply.
Next, I cut four straight strips of 3mm sugi on my table saw about 1 shaku wide and 16.5 shaku long. There are two hull planks on each side of the boat, but unlike many other wasen designs, the planks fit flush together, so the sides of the boat are perfectly flat. So I glued up the planks into two side-by-side pairs.
When the glue was dry, I traced the pattern outlines onto the planking in pencil and then cut them out a little oversized to allow for errors in measurement. The main issue here was that I wanted the row of mortises, which I will later cut into the hull planks, to be fairly level with the hull bottom and also low enough so that the plugs stay well below the top edge of the shaped plank.
With the hull planks rough-cut, I marked out locations for the nail mortises. I set these 7 sun apart, 1 sun from the plank seam. The mortises are trapezoidal, like the ones I cut for the shiki, or bottom, and 3 sun long.
When all the mortises were cut, plugged, and everything was dry and cleaned up, it was time to glue the hull planks into place. The first thing to do was to test fit them into place to make sure I didn’t screw anything up and that everything will fit correctly. This required that I remove the former from the base, though there were probably ways I could have come up with to hold the planks against the former while it was on the base. As it was, I ended up using spring clamps and rubber bands.
I had to pre-bend the planks to minimize the number of bands and clamps needed. This was a little iffy, since I used Titebond to glue the mortise plugs and to glue the planks together. Original Titebond is not waterproof and it’s not particularly water resistant, but I like to use it as it’s easy to clean up.
Also, before gluing the planks into place, I realized that the bow of my model was too wide and needed to be narrowed, so I sanded it down before proceeding. During the process, it popped loose from the model, but this only made it easier to shape. Afterwards, I glued it back into place.
It took a little while before I was confident that the alignment of the planks would be okay, but then I went ahead and glued up the planks.
Once the glue was dry, I could remove the former. I had a few issues where I didn’t have a good glue joint, so I had to re-glue some seams. At this stage, it’s a little delicate, so a little care has to taken with the model.
Next, I’ll be trimming away excess and adding details.
Something I didn’t mention last time was that I had cut a paper pattern for the shiki and rubber-cemented it to the assembled . I then cut the wood to the pattern. Since the plans I have show the lines to the inside of the planking, I left the pice a little long at the aft end, as the bottom extends slightly beyond the transom.
The final pieces are ready for assembly. As on the real boat, the hull planks will be shaped in place. Note that I also cut mortises for the bow plank, which I’m told is called the omote no tate ita. I’m going to have to find the kanji to make sure I know what this really means. The same goes for the transom, or tomo no tate ita, but in other regions is called the todate.
Pieces these parts together in their proper angles presented a challenge. Especially since the hull planks need to be shaped in place on the boat. The real boatbuilders built the boats upright, and used wedges, iron dogs (like big staples), clamps and posts to push and hold things into place.
As a model builder, the best solution was to build this model on a mold, though without gluing or drilling into the model, it would be a challenge to hold everything in place.
I started with a longitudinal pattern, which would give me the angles for the bow and stern planks, as well as the proper curve of the shiki. I marked the only two station lines on the drawings and cut the cross-wise formers to shape based on the patterns I drew earlier.
A scroll saw and bench sander made quick work of the MDF particle board formers, and the station formers were cut up and glued into place. In the meantime, since the bottom has a slight curve to it, I wet the wood a little and used a fixture I made for holding it into place as the wood dried. It was important not to get the wood too wet, just damp, to keep it from dissolving the wood glue, as I only used original Titebond, not one of the more water resistant versions.
In order to hold the transom piece into place, I had to come up with some kind of notched piece that I pinned into place on the centerline former. At the bow, a simple clamp held it into place. The pieces were glue together and held on the temporary former with rubber bands as the glue dried.
Once dried, the tricky part began, as I had to hold a piece of card stock into place well enough for me to trace a rough outline for the hull planks on it. Not being blessed with 4 hands, I decided to try making a fixture to hold the assembly into place.
The base fixture is a simple board with a clamp that’s designed to hold the former securely. It’s nothing more than two pieces of MDF with a small piece at one side that’s the thickness of the centerline former, all glued together and down to a baseboard.
The clamp and the former are drilled through so that I can run a clamping screw through them. I drew registration marks on the pieces to make alignment easier.
The bottom assembly could now be held somewhat securely, allowing me to work on it and transport it without damage.
The next step will be to make the hull planks.
The Hobikisen is a unique type of side trawling fishing boat that operated on Lake Kasumigaura, northwest of Tokyo. As with most mini-kits produced, Woody Joe’s mini-hobikisen isn’t particularly detailed , but it makes for a really nice looking model that’s simple enough to build that you could do it on a weekend, depending on how nicely you finish it.
You can buy one from the online seller Zootoyz here: http://zootoyz.jp/contents/en-us/p1681_Woody_JOE__Mini_Series_HOBIKI-BUNE___Wooden_Sailing_Ship_Model.html
If you really like mini-kits, you should also check out Woody Joe’s mini-yakatabune, house boat, and their mini-utasebune, another type of side trawling fishing boat used on Japan’s norther main island of Hokkaido. Both are also available at http://zootoyz.jp
As a mini-kit, there is not much of a story to tell about building Woody Joe’s Hobikisen kit. I’ve given an out of the box review already and beyond that, it’s just a matter of several hours spent on building the model over the course of about 10 days. As I mentioned before, I got this and the Utasebune kit through Zootoyz as soon as I found out that the kits were released.
Starting the build was easy and I got through the first half of the 12-page instruction book in a just a couple hours. As with my Higaki Kaisen kit build, I chose to treat the beautifully aromatic Hinoki wood with a wood dye mixture using TransTint wood dyes. A bottle of this stuff is pretty pricey, but it goes a long ways. I have three colors I mixed for the Higaki Kaisen and I used a…
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Counting up all the major planks, transom, and beams, this Ayubune model will be made up of only 17 pieces:
- Shiki (bottom) – 3 pieces
- Omote no tate ita (bow plank)
- Todate (transom)
- Tana (hull planks) – 4 pieces, 2 on each side
- Omoteamaose (bow platform)
- Tsunatsuke (lit. rope attachment) – Bow beam
- Omote no funabari (forward beam) – 3 pieces
- Tomo no funabari (aft beam)
- Tomoamaose (stern platform)
- Transom Strake
In addition to these, I made patterns in paper for obtaining the proper angle for the lay of the hull planking. I have yet to decide at this point just how I’m going to fix the hull planks to that angle. But, there’s time before that needs to be deal with.