Building a Gozabune (Kobaya) from Paris Plans – Part 11

A yakata for the kobaya?
I’ve been looking at the yakata, or deck cabins, on the paintings of kobaya. Also, there is one from a larger gozabune that was removed and restored and on display at the museum at Kumamoto Castle. I’ve been in touch with ship modeling colleagues in Japan and they told me that it is from a ship called the Naminashi-maru (波奈之丸).

The restored yakata from the Naminashi-maru at the museum of Kumamoto Castle.

I’m still very confused about the dimensions. To me it looks very low, but I’m told the lower level is 1.7 to 2 meters high on the inside. Part of this, I assume is because the floor is below deck level, which is the case on my kobayabune.
To aid in design of the yakata, I’ve fitted a removable cardboard structure. This gives me a sense of size and appearance. I can’t really add the structure without the attendant framework over the whole ship for an awning.
I drew in some outlines for sliding doors and a railing atop the structure. Apparently, the passengers would also sit atop the structure. I’m not sure how they would climb up, but I’m assuming it would be with a “leg up” from one of the attendant samurai on the deck.

While the structure is very low, the floor is lower than the deck, so a person inside could almost stand up. I think the whole structure will probably need to be about another 8-10mm taller
Again, to get an idea of how the whole structure would appear, I referred to this image of the Kirin-maru from a collection in the Tokyo National Museum. It shows a similar kobaya with a yakata mounted near the bow. Note also the series of posts and cross pieces erected for the mounting of the two awnings. Also, there appears to be some kind of panel that would fit between the aft-most post and the rudder support structure.

Painting of the Kirin-Maru from the Boats of the Shōgun collection in the Tokyo National Museum

But, before I can do any more structural work on my Kobaya, I need to deal with the decorations. Some of this I was pretty sure I could work out easily, such as the copper and gold mortise cover plates along the edge of the hull planking. The decorative patterns along the railing is another matter, and I haven’t been happy with most of the common solutions that have come up, but I’ll get to that later. Also, I have yet to make the two bird carvings that fit near the bow or the sagari, the hanging tassel that fits at the end of the bow. Again, I’ll be dealing with these later.
Mortise Covers
The mortises that fasten the lower planking to the miyoshi (stem) and todate (transom planks) were made from copper. In some paintings, they show up as a verdigris green color. That could be done here if I want to make the model more realistic, rather than more pristine and decorative. For the moment, I’m more interested in “new” condition.
I decided that I would use flattened copper wire for the mortise cover plates. I could have chosen to simply cut copper tape to size, but I need some solution for the gold plates as well, and there is no real gold tape. Also, I’m not willing to fake it with brass here. There is, of course, gold leaf. But, metal leaf is far too thin and flimsy for this purpose. Seeing that I’d need to use flattened gold wire later, I thought I’d stay consistent and develop a method for making the copper plates from copper wire.
I started with a couple different gauges of wire, using a hammer and anvil to flatten them out, but found that 22 gauge wire came out the appropriate width. The key with hammering the copper wire flat is to use consistent strength hits and to watch the work carefully. The wire will curve as it’s hit and I periodically straighten it out using a pair of smooth jawed pliers to hold the work and gently bend it straight.
While hammering the wire, there will be some variations in its width, narrow areas then need to be hammered a little more until the flattened wire is of fairly uniform width. I just work until I have several inches of flat copper strip and cut it free to work with it.
The lower mortise plates need to be 3mm long, so I used a hobby knife to score a piece of flattened copper wire every 3mm. The scoring has to be deep enough to weaken the wire.

Next, using smooth jawed pliers held close to the scoring, I bent the wire easily. The wire joint is still stiff, so I wiggled it until it close to falling off.

Next, I used a tiny amount of gap filling CA glue on the single segment of wire and inserted it into the mortise and held it as perpendicular to the surface as possible, but just long enough until the glue started to set.

I then immediately made sure the new mortise cover plate was laying even. If not, I adjusted slightly with the rest of the wire as a “handle” and with the tip of a hobby knife, if necessary. Then, when I had waited long enough for the glue to fully set, I just wiggled the wire a little more until the joint broke, leaving the tiny piece of copper in the mortise.

This method was about the only way I could keep from losing tiny 3mm long pieces of narrow copper strip. The scored and broken-off ends might not look too good in an extreme close-up image. But at only 3mm long, it’s really hard to see close enough to detect any irregularities in the ends. Still, I would run a file over the end of the long wire strip before continuing to the next piece.

The process didn’t take that long, and I had the copper plates done in short order. The next step was the one I was less sure about, and that was the fitting of gold mortise cover plates.

Gold Mortise Covers

I considered some ideas for the gold plates, but I found that gold wire was readily available in the same gauge as I used for the copper plates. Solid gold wire is a bit expensive. Enough so that it generally came in 3 foot lengths, and I had no idea how much I would need. Then, I ran across something called “gold filled wire.” Apparently, this is wire that is gold on the outside with a different metal at its core. It differs from gold plated wire in that the layer of gold is far thicker in gold filled wire than it is in gold plated wire.

I did a little bit of Internet research on gold filled wire, as I need to pound this stuff flat. Would it ruin the outer layer and cause the inner core to break through? My fears were allayed by a post by a person who claimed to pound the stuff all the time without any problems. Given that gold filled wire is not that expensive, I went ahead and ordered a small roll off of Amazon. A 5′ roll, which was enough to decorate dozens of kobaya was only about $16, shipped.

The wire ordered was specifically called 14/20 gold filled, which I learned means that the gold is 14k and that 1/20 of the total wire content, or 5%, is gold. All that matters here is that it’s the outside 5% that’s 14k gold. Now, 14k gold is far from 24k gold, but it’s the only type that I could find in the form of gold filled wire. Any purer gold wire would have to be solid gold, and I wasn’t ready for the extravagance of spending $100+ for one foot for 18k solid gold wire. 14k gold is “whiter” in color than 18k or 24k gold, so I’m not sure at this point how this will affect the appearance at later stages of the decoration of the kobaya’s hull, but that’s all part of the journey of the build.

The gold filled wire turned out to be no more difficult to work with than the copper wire. I chose the same 22 gauge diameter as the copper wire, so the plates worked out to be about the same width. The only real difference in working with the gold was that it was used on longer mortises, so they had to be 4.5mm long.

The only issue I had with the gold plates had more to do with the material I used for the hull planks, which was sugi, or Japanese cedar. The grain is tough, and in trying to fit the gold plates properly, a couple are angled down just slightly. I tried to correct this, but the wood is soft and I was starting to mar the hull. The result is that a few of the plates don’t reflect light the same as the rest, making it sometimes look like those plates are missing or dirty. I may go back and try to fix those plates, but it may not make much difference in good lighting conditions.

Lighting again is not very good here – I should probably use a darker, colored backdrop. But, you can see that the starboard side of the kobaya is done. The copper plates are also completed on the port side, so I just need to add the gold pates, which is basically just a one evening project.

You may notice too the gold colored rectangles above the plates towards the bow. The kobaya’s lower transverse beams probably pass through the hull planks to lock into them for strength. The ends of these beams were covered with plates. I couldn’t determine if they were actually gold or if they were copper. But, as they are up high above the row of gold mortises, I think I will make them gold.

I experimented with taking a piece of tape and applying gold leaf to that first, then adhering that to the hull. In this case, I tried applying the gold leaf to a strip of adhesive backed copper tape – the kind used in stained glass work, and which I have on hand for copper sheathing hulls. This is just a test and I will refine the technique. But, you can see the immediate results here.

The only thing here is that these are very flat, and they look it. I believe these would stand out more as the beams would protrude slightly. So, I may make the plates out of something thicker, which I will apply the gold leaf to. I may try a fine grained wood or perhaps thin cardboard.

More decorations to come.

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