Conservation Research Laboratory Reports

Conserving the hull of the Belle

La Salle Shipwreck Project
Texas Historical Commission


The CRL wood conservation vat is well on its way to being completed. The vat is the largest wood conservation facility in the United States. For that matter, it is the largest wood conservation vat in the world that conserves wood by immersion. The vat incorporates a number of features, such as the lifting platform, not found in any other vat.  Our intent is to reassemble the Belle prior to its conservation to ensure that it goes together properly.


Installing winch

Installing one of four winches

Installing grating

Installing the fiberglass grating on the lift


Placing keel and keelson in vat

Turning keel in water

The keel and keelson of the Belle are placed in the wood conservation vat to be cleaned prior to reassembly

Using the water to reduce the weight, the staff turn the keel over to clean the other side  

Cleaning keel


Cleaning keel

Cleaning the keel prior to reassembly and conservation

Working this way is fine in the hot summers and the warm fall, but what about winter?


Sometimes it's necessary to get really close to your work to get all of the crud out of the holes and the junctures in the keel. 
Once the keel and the keelson were cleaned, the lift was raised to remove the keelson, since it will not be needed for some time. 

Lift raised

Heavy equipment

It's easy to see that a variety of equipment is necessary to move these delicate timbers safely.  Our small forklift is fine for many jobs, but at times, it's necessary to call on the Texas Transportation Institute - to bring in the 'Big Guy' for moves such as this. 

Citation Information:
Donny L. Hamilton
1999, Conservation of the Hull of the Belle, Conservation Research Laboratory Research Report #7, Photo Gallery 8, World Wide Web, URL,, Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University; La Salle Shipwreck Project, Texas Historical Commission, Austin, Texas.



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