Cradle inspired by Viking longships
June 9, 2016 | 11:44 am CDT
Click on the image to open
Click on the image to open

Inspiration for the Viking cradle -- the Oseberg longship.

Click on the image to open

Lapstrake construction added nautical authenticity -- and woodworking complexity -- to the cradle project.

Click on the image to open
Click on the image to open

Jim Heimbach is a talented woodworker in Sonoma County, California. His work is as much sculptural as it is fully functional as furniture. A case in point is the cradle he made inspired by Viking longships, which he describes in detail at his Etsy online store. 

The cradle body is made from air dried local Northern California Claro walnut, steam bent with cherry pegs registering the scarf joints in the overlapping lapstrake boards.
The cradle rocks on pivots made from Lignum Vitae, a wood especially suited for bearings. This cradle will never need lubrication nor will it ever squeak. Every lapstrake is hand fitted to form its gentle, sweeping shape. The cradle crests from which it rocks are carved into the shape of a curling chameleon's tail, the most beautiful spiral shape I have found in nature.
The cradle stand is hand sculpted from the same tree as the wood used in the cradle body and echoes the shape of the cradle following its form from crest to crest, showcasing its sensuous curves, flowing lines, and innovative joinery. It will be a family heirloom for generations to come as it is peacefully slept in by grandparent, parent, child and sibling.
An innovative feature is a "swing stop" built into the center of the stand. When not in use it remains hidden, recessed into the body of the stand. However, when it becomes necessary to prevent the cradle from swinging, as when the baby sleeps, a simple press of a thumb rotates a wooden fish-like carved shape to a position just short of touching the bottom of the cradle. Powerful hidden magnets restrain the cradle from swinging as if it were magic!
The cradle is hand rubbed with five coats of a safe and durable polyurethane finish, rubbed smooth between each coat, effectively protecting it from moisture. A hard carnauba wax is finally hand rubbed into the finish, as a culminating flourish, to produce an incredible silk-like feel, inviting you to sensuously slip your hands over the entire surface of the cradle and stand. Approximate cradle dimensions (inches): Length: 58; Width: 33; Height: 55

When he set out to make the cradle, he took inspiration from a variety of sources, not the least of which was the Oseberg longship, a real Viking burial ship preserved in Norway. “I loved the Oseberg for its graceful, prancing bow and stern shapes where the curve actually begins to reverse like the neck of a prancing horse,” Heimbach says on his website.

The lapstrake design of the cradle adds authenticity, and the elegant spiral crests set off the bow and stern of the cradle with just the right curving balance. To find the shape he wanted, he said he looked to a picture of a coiled chameleon’s tail.

You can read more about the cradle project and see lots of other examples of Heimbach’s work at his website


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Profile picture for user willsampson
About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.