Bild på Fredrik, forskare vid Göteborgs universitet

Studying the craft using old boats


He spent a long time searching before he found the right direction. Fredrik Leijonhufvud is a boat builder and is researching the craft of clinker boat building, with particular emphasis on traditional boat building in the Stockholm archipelago.

Having completed upper secondary education specialising in science and doing a year of military service, Fredrik Leijonhufvud joined the world of academia in the early 1990s. 

- I spent quite a lot of time studying after upper secondary school, picking different things to do. I didn’t have much of a direction in mind. Maths was actually the first thing I studied.

His maths studies proved to be short-lived, but Fredrik Leijonhufvud’s old interest in traditional boats was rekindled while he was studying history and ethnology. He applied to Skeppsholmen College and learned how to build boats. And he was hooked. After completing his study programme, he became a teacher of the craft. 

Many years later, during a course on boats and ships at the Department of Conservation at the University of Gothenburg, Fredrik Leijonhufvud felt he was in the right place. 

- I really fell in love with the Department of Conservation. I’d been interested in the scholarly study of boatbuilding for a long time, but I never found a subject to research.  What I was curious about didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.

The department’s approach to conservation suited him. He praises the department for having the courage to bring in a boat builder. 

- Joining the department as a boat builder is pretty unique. First-cycle education in conservation is otherwise mostly aimed at conservators and conservators of built environments, building crafts, gardening and landscape management. 

Studying the clinker boat tradition  

Fredrik Leijonhufvud is currently taking a PhD on the clinker boat tradition. This is a Nordic boat building technique where the shell of the boat is built first using thin, overlapping boards. Clinker is an onomatopoeic word, based on the sound the boards make when they are put together. Nordic clinker boat traditions have been added to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cutural Heritage. 

In his thesis, Fredrik Leijonhufvud examines the clinker boat tradition in the Stockholm archipelago, more precisely from Norrtälje in the north to Landsort in the south, between 1800 and 1910. The island of Svartlöga was one of a number of centres. 

 But few boats have survived in order to be examined. 

- I’ve found five boats. I’ll be reconstructing the most well-preserved one. But I have a lot of written source material, stories and photographs as well, from places like Nordiska museet. In fact, there was actually more source material than I’d initially thought.

Well suited to the Stockholm archipelago  

Created for the relatively calm waters of the Stockholm archipelago, these clinker boats were five to seven metres long. The hull, the garboard, was made of pine and the planks were made of oak.  Two or three people were needed to row or sail them. The boats were built in a labour-intensive manner that required quite a large number of people with great knowledge of the craft. The boats were different to the ones found on the west coast of Sweden, which were usually made entirely of oak. 

- But these Baltic Sea boats are ideal for sailing, both cruising upwind and sailing downwind and in calm waters. I’d say their closest relatives are the boats you find on the island of Åland.

Learning from old clinker boats 

Fredrik Leijonhufvud has found 45 documented boat builders during the period studied, but only six of them were registered as boat builders in the parish records.  People learned the profession from an older relative or neighbour. 

Building required close consultation between the boat builder and the person who engaged them. Unlike today, there were no drawings to follow. Fredrik Leijonhufvud is using case studies of five old boats and reconstructing one of them to add layer upon layer of new knowledge and understanding of how these boats were once built. Reconstructing one of the boats is an extremely important part of his research. This work would have been impossible to do without a background in the craft.  

- But the most interesting thing is to look at what the thinking was behind building the boats. And how was the process structured? There are no drawings that can show this, so the boats have to tell me.

En bild på Fredrik som forskar på gamla båtar
Fredrik Leijonhufvud

Is: Doctoral student studying craft at the Department of Conservation on 80% of full-time hours.

Born: He was born in Stockholm but grew up in Gävle.

Lives: He lives with his family in Stockholm.

Age: 51.

Interests: As well as boats and boat building, he enjoys playing innebandy. Plays in division five.