• crystalthurber

Modern-day Vikings Ride a Dragon to Shore

Updated: Aug 4

By Vince McCullough

This year’s Nova Labs entry in the Reston Cardboard Regatta will be the KARDBORD DRAKEN. The DRAKEN is designed to resemble a Viking longship (a very short longship), and is built using construction techniques that are similar to those used by the Vikings themselves, though with cardboard and glue instead of wood and nails.

Cardboard with taped edges
The keel of the DRAKEN

The keel of the ship is constructed by laminating five boards made of 5/8” triple-ply cardboard together to form a 3” wide x 4” high beam. The beam is notched at the ends to accept 3”x4” stem and stern posts. Most Viking ships had “V” or “Y” shaped keels, often hewn from a single log. DRAKEN achieved this shape by laminating additional cardboard strips to the sides of the central keel beam. There are 10 strips attached to each side, each shorter that the last, to form the angled “arms” of our Y-shaped keel. In addition to tapering from side to side, the keel tapers up from amidships to the stem and stern posts. This tapering of the keel sets the basic shape of the ship.

Strakes are shaping up!

In Viking times, the bottom planks on each side of the ship were hewn to width and nailed directly to the keel. The taper of the keel caused the planks or strakes, as they are called, to curve upward and inward to toward the bow and stern posts, where they were nailed in place. These first strake sets the basic shape for the rest of the ship.

Crystal Thurber and Vince McCullough set the strakes, using clamps, wood glue, and the power of concentration.
Setting and clamping the strakes

DRAKEN’s strakes are all 6” wide and made of 5/8” triple ply cardboard (this is the principal construction material for the entire ship). Unlike the Viking practice of nailing the first strakes to the keel, DRAKEN’s strakes were coated with wood glue and clamped to the keel, and to the stem and stern posts until the glue set up. As you might imagine, this left a seam where the strake met the keel. We sealed this using a putty made by mixing cardboard sawdust (collected after cutting the stakes from large sheets of cardboard) with wood glue. The sawdust keeps the glue from shrinking. The putty was then troweled into the seams – and any other potential source of leaks as hull construction continued.


Kelly Smith, Vince, and Crystal team up using ideas from garment construction and present wrapping to tightly wrap the hull.
Making it sea worthy, or at least lake worthy.

With the bottom strakes in place we could begin to build up the sides. This was done by attaching another stake to the one already in place. Each 6” strake overland the one below it by 2” amidship. The overlap tends to increase at the bow and stern. The Vikings would nail through the overlap every couple of inches. DRAKEN’s strakes are held together by glue, rather than nails. This makes the sides of the hull both very light and very strong. Viking ships were routinely carried by their crews when sailing up rivers


DRAKEN has six strakes each slightly more vertical than the last, rising up to the ship’s gunnels.

The prototype, with weighted bottles to simulate adults.
It floats!

At this writing, DRAKEN was designed for a crew of five – four oarsmen and a steersman. The oars will pivot between cardboard “pins”, called “thole pins,” attached to the inside of the gunwale. DRAKEN will use four 7-foot (store bought) oars. The oarsmen will provide a portion of the steering, but a steering board at the stern will be the principal mechanism. Steering boards were used prior to the invention of the rudder.


Sam Winkelstein designed the dragon head with a CAD program, then cut it out using Nova Lab's laser cutter.
Here be dragons!

DRAKEN is decorated by a cardboard dragon's head at the bow, and tail at the stern, giving the ship its name, KARDBORD DRAKEN.

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