Livro de Traças de Carpintaria

Livro de traças de carpinataria is a shipbuilding treatise composed by a man named Manoel Fernandez, and is dated to 1616. Very little is known about the author of this work, but many scholars of Iberian shipbuilding suspect that he was a Portuguese shipwright with much practical experience in the shipyard. However, the extent of Manoel Fernandez’s knowledge of such yards is a matter of some conjecture, since the only biographical information on this man is written in the manuscript described here. The first page of Livro de traças de carpintaria translates from archaic Portuguese to English in the following way: Books of draughts of shipwrightry with all the models and dimensions required to build all the navigation, both high-sided and oared, drawn by Manoel Fernandez, official of the same art. A self-portrait is included on the same page, which shows the author with the tools of his trade. From Livro de traças de carpintaria, Fernandez

There are two parts to this treatise: the first section lists dimensions of various ships and their primary components, such as keel, stem, and sternpost; the second part is a collection of drawings of the ships that he explains how to build in the first part of the manuscript. In the first part, Fernandez gives detailed instructions on how to build a variety of Portuguese vessels, including galleons of varying tonnage, carracks, warships, brigantines, and caravels.


The treatise by Fernandez is fairly complete, and contains a plethora of useful information for shipbuilders of old, and particularly for the nautical archaeologist or historian of today. Fernandez provided the reader with detailed information about exact dimensions of wooden members of ships, and displays the information in the form of a list. This example is from the section entitled “Calculation and dimensions of a four-decked carrack, as will be seen hereafter”:

The keel shall be seventeen and a half, or even 18 rumos long between perpendiculars and this length shall therefore be 105 palms. If the keel length is 17.5 rumos, the vertical height of the sternpost shall be 44 palms, the length along the post being 46 palms and the rake 13 palms, which by calculation is between one third and the quarter

The width of the second deck, measured upon the ground, shall be 51.

The third deck, which is that of the entry port and of the greatest beam, shall be 56 upon the ground, or 57 after the ship is completed.

Because this information is presented in such a format, it is at times difficult to interpret the intent of the author. This is essentially a scantling list and gives no real direction on how to construct the vessel. This section also contains rules for the rudder, tops, masthead, foremast, large boat, and other elements of the carrack. Fernandez even includes rules for an ordinary crane used in the construction of carracks.
Other titled sections of this manuscript regarding ship types include:

Rules for a galleon of 500 tuns
Rules for galleons of 350 tuns
Calculations and dimensions for a galleon of 200 tuns
Calculation and dimensions for a brigantine of 100 tuns
Calculation and dimensions for a Dutch brigantine of 100 tuns
Calculations and dimensions for a caravel with a length between perpendiculars of 11 rumos
Calculations and dimensions for a warship
Rules for a caravel of 12 rumos
Rules for a galley of 24 oars
Rules for a Royal Galley
Rules for a Royal Barge
Rules for a falua
Rules for a frigatta

Each of these sections is structured differently according to the information Fernandez provides for the individual ships. For example, the Rules for galleons of 350 tuns includes a variety of information beyond the basic scantling list. It also includes calculations that are required to loft the mould on the ground, as well as the order to be followed when placing the wales of the galleon. In addition, this section includes a list of timbers that are need for the ship. This is a valuable source of information for scholars, for it gives the number of pieces required for the various components of the vessel. For example, two pieces are needed for the sternpost, 12 pieces for mast partners, 26 floor timbers, and 54 futtocks. The list is much longer, but this kind of information can further substantiate suppositions that must sometimes be made by archaeologists and investigators of the past when complete archaeological evidence is unobtainable.


Other parts of the treatise are equally as valuable, for there are sections on methods for lofting the main frame, rules on giving the rakes of the stem and sternpost of ships less than 300 tuns, readying a carrack for launching, and rules for the grids for launching vessels. The section that is briefly analyzed below is the section on caravels, which, by this time, were probably larger and bulkier than the famed ships of discovery.


Initially, caravels were likely used for inshore journeys as fishing vessels or coastal explorers. During its development, it became useful for exploration, warfare, and even piracy, due to its exceptional speed and maneuverability. As these caravels were adjusted to deep-sea travel, their cargo capacity was augmented. Earlier caravels were all lateen rigged, but this changed as the benefits of the square sail were noticed—mostly during the fifteenth century. For this reason, many of the lateen rigged vessels were transformed into caravelas redondas, which generally had square sails on the main and fore masts, and a lateen sail on the mizzen. As the caravel became heavier, it in time also became beamier—with a keel to beam ratio of less than 3:1.

By the seventeenth century, the construction of caravels was generally of the type from the Livro Náutico (unknown authors) and the Livro das traças de carpinteria (Fernandez).
I chose to create the construction drawings of a caravel under the guidance on folio 16 of the manuscript, entitled “Calculation and dimensions for a caravel with a length between perpendiculars of eleven rumos.” Although Fernandez supplies much of the information required for a shipwright to construct one of these vessels, he omits far too much. Throughout the construction process, I have found some mistakes and irregularities in Fernandez’ instructions. I followed his rules for constructing a caravel as closely as possible, but some alterations and guesswork were necessary to create a sound and plausible vessel. Since Fernandez included scale drawings of his vessels, I was able to take some of the measurements from his illustrations and convert them to my 1:20 scale. Although not entirely accurate, most of his illustrations give a good sense of proportion, which was useful in creating the construction drawings.


Little is known of the life of Manoel Fernandez, but it is believed that he was a shipwright who had the presence of mind to record the general rules and procedures for building certain Portuguese (and/or perhaps even Spanish) vessels. I have come to the personal conclusion—based solely on the reconstruction of this particular caravel from his manuscript—that although much of the information presented in his work is useful, parts are inaccurate and difficult to utilize practically. Although he had a variety of knowledge pertaining to naval architecture, Manoel Fernandez may not have been a shipwright. This caravel with a keel of 11 rumos turned out to be much beamier and boxier than I anticipated, and to me little resembles the swift, easily maneuverable vessel that gained so much praise during the time of discovery. On the other hand, it is possible that the development of the caravel leaned in the direction of a boxy cargo carrier with little mobility and by the seventeenth century became what is represented in my construction drawings.

As this manuscript is studied further, and compared with contemporary nautical treatises, scholars of Iberian seafaring and shipbuilding will better understand the complexities of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century shipbuilding techniques. The information presented by Manoel Fernandez is an incredible asset to scholars and gives a rare opportunity to study and attempt to understand the thoughts, traditions, techniques, and technologies of ancient seafarers.

Return to treatises

Home

website stat