The Restoration
Timber Arrives - May 2002 - Tony Lewery

This project is now up and running and is already substantially supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and although the launch date may seem ages away the critical seasoning countdown has already begun.

Time, tide and natural seasoning wait for no man, even an impatient boat builder (but then no really good boat builder can be impatient ...). The first delivery of Saturn wood arrived in December last year, but it was only after inspecting that first consignment that this second (see Stuart Finch’s account below) could be sensibly ordered. The trees are bought as butts, in the round, and although you can make an educated guess you only finally discover what you’ve bought when it is sawn into planks, shakes here, a bad knot there. Then you can re order for the shortfall. In amongst the 2” planking this time was a massive 4” thick slab destined to be sliced down the middle for the keelson, the central stiffening internal keel of any narrowboat, and possibly the most important structural member of the whole craft.

All this timber already represents a big investment, both of money and commitment. It was not such a problem in days of yore, when wooden boat building was part of the slow moving continuum of canal transport, when 5 or years was just a relatively short period of time in the expected life story of a boatyard.

With that old-fashioned expectation of continuity, and the big machinery to handle them, the foreman could buy in any local trees that might be suitable for use some time in the future, at whatever bargain price he could negotiate. It was capital well spend to have a few trees planked and stacked to season because it was bound to come in useful sooner or later, and the drier the better.

But today, with major rebuilding jobs few and far between, a stack of seasoning timber represents a large outlay of money not earning a modern return on capital, taking up valuable rental space. Thanks to the Lottery Fund we have been able to get this relatively small 5 year restoration plan underway. Now for the big one — now for the several millions needed for the core collection!

Timber alert! - Stuart Finch

On Monday, 22 April 2002, Tony Lewery and I set off to Malkins Bank where Malcolm Webster, the Boatbuilder, and his assistant, Nick, had started to unload another delivery of timber for Saturn. We were joined by John Goodier and under Malcolm’s direction, set to work! There were two full oak trees sawn into slabs of different thickness , plus other pieces - a few tons in total. By using crowbars, rollers and ropes, five hours of hard graft saw the wagon unloaded and the timber stacked alongside. We then helped to move slabs into the yard where they were stacked with sticks in between each slab to season. Malcolm made mental and written notes as to the suitability of each piece for the build.

When we left I was pleased to have contributed, if only a little, towards taking Saturn into the 22nd Century.

You can click on all images to see larger versions.

The Shropshire Union Fly Boat Project