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Axe Training at Viking Site

Published: 03 July 2013

Preparing Logs Preparing LogsZoomShetland Amenity Trust's Architectural Heritage Team has been training this week in traditional Viking building techniques using hand axes. The training has taken place at the site of the recently constructed Viking Longhouse in Unst, where these methods would historically have been used in construction.

Trond Oalann, who works for the County Council in Hordaland, Norway, has travelled to Shetland to share his skills and knowledge of traditional axe techniques, which have been used for hundreds of years, and which he still uses in building work today.

Trond Oalann Trond OalannZoomTrond carries out inspections and repairs on wooden structured buildings, and can identify from samples of the wood, when the buildings were constructed and how the seasons changed during the growth of the timbers.

He was first introduced to axe work by his grandfather at the age of 12 and has travelled around Norway developing his skills building new houses using the traditional methods. He has recently travelled to France to take part in a 'gathering' of the Carpenters Without Borders group; an international group of carpenters from Norway, France, Belgium, Sweden and other countries who gather together to build or restore old and new buildings. After seeing the Amenity Trust staff at work, Trond commented that the Shetland team would do well at such an event.

James Adamson from the SAT team explained the process of preparing logs into square building timbers. "You mark out the end of the log using charcoal, which we made ourselves by burning scraps of wood, then make check markers down to the line along the length of the log. Each side of the log is chopped down to the marked line in three sections – the two outside edges and then remove the middle to leave you with a flat side"

Shaped timbers show axe marks Shaped timbers show axe marksZoomThe chopped timbers have a surprisingly smooth yet rustic finish. While the team worked to complete the square sections, Trond was working on slimmer logs which were whittled down to hexagonal shapes for use as roof timbers. He explained that this combination of timbers is often used in Norway for temporary shelter structures such as market stalls and can be constructed or taken down easily and quickly.

The team will put their new found axe skills to use in preparing the lining for the inside of the Viking Longhouse. Planks will be finished using hand axes to give an authentic look to the interior of the structure.

The Viking Longhouse and Longship at Brookpoint, Haroldswickwill be open to the public during Unst Fest this weekend and also Friday to Sunday, 10am – 5.00pm until 11th August. Staff will be on site to provide living history demonstrations and information about the Viking Unst project.