Tuesday 29 March 2011

Nürnberger Hausbücher

Perhaps this is already known for quit a while, but it was new(s) for me. When I was searching internet for  medieval miniatures with woodworking subjects and furniture items, I stumbled upon the complete "Hausbücher of the Mendelschen and Landauer Nürnberger Zwölfbrüderstiftungen. These books date from 1425 into the 1800's and depict the brothers applying their former trade at the time they died. The books are a great resource for any re-enactor, as they show all kinds of trades with their specific tools  at a clearly defined time period. For the Saint Thomasguild the medieval turner Lienhard Drechßel (image below) and joiners Karl Schreyner (right) and Peter Sreiner (left) of around 1425 are the most interesting, but also the  images of carpenters, sawyers, coopers and wheelwrights show parts of the woodworking trade.

The Hausbücher of the Nürnberger Zwölfbrüderstiftungen can be found at www.nuernberger-hausbuecher.de and are searchable on professions (e.g. joiner), occupation categories (e.g. woodworking), tools (e.g. axe), materials (e.g. wood), products (e.g. furniture) as well as the disease the craftsman died off (e.g. dementia). The site is mainly in German, but can be searched in English as well. The images in this post are derived from this great site.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Medieval furniture in Gammla Uppsala church

Today I was looking through my book of old furniture projects and came across a set of postcards from my holiday in Sweden in 2007. We stayed in Uppsala for a week and visited the old parish church of Gammla Uppsala. The small church actually consists of the remains of the bishopric cathedral, which was destroyed by fire in 1240 (the bishopric seat moved to the new Uppsala). Inside the church are two medieval chests and a medieval turned seat. I tried to make clear to the verger, who did not speak English, that I wanted to take photos. In the end, he understood and agreed. The results are shared in this post.

  Gammla Uppsala parish church / old cathedral.

Iron bound dugout chest, 12th century, in use as an alms chest.

Turned bishopric throne, 12th century (postcard).

The small turned vertical rails are in two different colours.

14th century carved chest (postcard).

The same chest. One of the foot rails is missing. 

You can see the place where the original lock plate used to be. The current hinge is not the original.

  The side of the medieval chest.

A look at the backside of the chest.

The lid of the 14th century chest with modern church paraphernalia. 
The hinge extends to the back of the chest.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Carving oak panels for the strycsitten

The panels and the supporting 'triangles' for the horizontal rails are the most complicated parts of the strycsitten as they are ornamented on both sides. They were made of  European oak. I used a combination of modern machinery (drill press, router) and traditional hand tools (gouges, chisels and chip knife) to make the  four panels and eight supporting triangles.


The panel were made of simple oak planks slightly smaller (3-4 mm) than the grooved frame they  had to be inserted in, allowing for shrinking and swelling of the wood. Below the decoration plan of the panels is shown (left). On the other side (right) an alternative plan I considered but did not use is shown.

A pine panel to test the thickness of the chamfered edges and the depth of the lowered parts.

I started drilling the holes using a drill press with Forstner bits. This allowed for an exact and smooth cut. After that the 'windows' were rougly cut out using a jigsaw. I continued  making the 'windows' identical using a jig with a router. After that another jig and router was used to lower the circle with the three drilled holes. I carved the rest of the panel using traditional hand tools, such as gouges, chisels, ground plane and chip knife. The rounded corners of the window were made sharp with a chisel.

The jig used for routing the windows. The panel was slid in (arrow 1) and secured by a wooden stick (arrow 2). 
After the first window was routed, the panel was inserted again upside down to rout the second window.

The router jig used for lowering parts of the panel. 
The lines were used to align the jig to the correct place on the panel.

A pine panel used to test the router jigs. You can see the rounded edges in the window corners.

gothic oak panels for the strycsitten
Two of the four oak panels. The other sides of the panels are identical.

The panels were finished with three layers of linseed oil before construction of the strycsitten.

Supporting triangles 

The supporting triangles were made of oak planks with the grain diagonal to the squared part. This was done to provide more strength to the protruding point between the two arcs. All triangles needed to be exactly 15 cm long as they had to fit perfectly into the grooves of the rails. I planned to use no dowels or glue for the triangles. The decoration plan  for the supporting triangle is shown below; the lowered part is shown in light grey.

The side with the two arcs was cut using a jigsaw and sanded to the correct lines with a large belt sander. Also here I first drilled the three holes using a Forstner bit in a drill press, before lowering most of the part with a jig and router. The remaining edges were lowered using a chip knife, chisels and gouges. Hand tools were used as well for chamfering the edges. The triangles were finished with three layers of linseed oil before they were using in the construction of the strycsitten. 

Router jig for lowering part of the supporting triangle. The triangle was inserted in (arrow 1) 
and secured by a wooden stick (arrow 2). The other side of the triangle was done the same way.

A finished oak supporting triangle in the strycsitten. Note the diagonal grain of the wood.

Friday 4 March 2011

A pine model of the strycsitten

I showed the plan for the construction in one of my previous posts, but I was not sure if it would work. I decided to make a full-scale model in cheap pine wood to test the construction, before I would make it in expensive European oak. The only size adjustment I made was reducing the length of the strycsitten to half (70 cm) of that of the plan, creating an oversized chair (or more modern, a love-seat) . Furthermore, the panels on the sides and the triangles were left plain and undecorated. The next series of photos shows the construction of the pine model in steps. 

These five photos show the layout of one of the several parts of the side of the strycsitten. Note the grooves for the panels and the triangles

 The triangles first have to be put into the grooves of the horizontal rail, as they also form part of the tenon, before they can be added to the legs of the strycsitten.

After that, the mid stile and the two panels were added to the constructed 'H', then the plank of the armrest finished the side of the strycsitten. I discovered later that the mid stile had to be fixed first to the horizontal rail (using dowels), then the panel added and after that the legs, and finished with the arm rest. This is because the panels also form part of the tenons of the mid rail and the legs.

The other parts were added in the same manner. Note that the long middle rail has the tenon 90 degrees turned ( photo on the right).

The framework is finished (left). The seating planks have to be adjusted for the sides of the strycsitten by removing some pieces (centre). Finally the backrest was added (right).

The finished model of the strycsitten. No dowels have been used yet to fix the parts (except for the backrest), as I wanted to be able to de-construct the model if needed.

Wax tablets

A few weeks ago we have made some wax tablets and styli. We already had one wax tablet (the large one on the photos), but I discovered on internet that a 14th century wax tablet was found in York, United Kingdom. This was in fact a set of eight small wax tablets in a leather case, which included a love poem on one of the tablets. The wax tablets are very thin, 1.5 mm (x 3 x 5 cm), much thinner than I previously thought possible. Our old wax tablet was 1.2 cm thick! The new tablets are not that thin, only 4 mm, but have writing wax on both sides of the tablet. The tablets are made of cherry wood and finished with linseed oil. The beeswax was coloured with hearth-black, which can be commercially bought (or home made).

The styli are made of a brass rod and hammered flat at one end. The point was filed as well as some decorations. The styli were then sanded and polished. 

A good resource on (Roman and Medieval) wax tablets can be found at http://www.larsdatter.com/tablets.htm.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Medieval toolchest: The dowel plate

A dowel plate is a simple tool, consisting of a thick piece of iron with holes of different sizes. The edges of  the holes are sharp and will cut dowels of a specific diameter, when pieces of wood are hammered through it. It is difficult to find a medieval reference to this tool, however a possible presentation of a dowel plate is found on a woodcut (detail shown left) in Van der Dyngen Erfyndung by Polydor Vergil from 1537 (Augsburg, Steiner, fol. VC r - also found as figure 219 in Van Tyghem, 1966). In principle, dowels could (more laboriously) be produced by hand using a chisel.

Dowels were used ubiquitous for all kinds of medieval woodwork: wooden frames of houses and sheds were secured by large dowels, mortise and tenon joints of furniture pieces by smaller ones. Wood for dowels need to have a straight grain, otherwise they would break during hammering. Dowels need to be slightly larger than the hole, which was drilled by an auger or brace. 

 The dowel plate in our medieval toolbox was also made by Dennis Riley.

These two images are from the miniature 'Building the ark of Noah' in the Bedford Hours. On the left a man can be seen drilling a hole for a dowel with an auger, whereas on the right a man is seated on the roof , hammering a dowel in a previous drilled hole.