Monday 30 May 2011

Painting the pole lathe

Last weekend in the Historic Open Air Museum Eindhoven we started to decorate the large horizontal beam of our pole lathe (which bears the name of our guild) with medieval paint. We chose the colours of Nimweghen (black and red) for the letters and background, surrounded by a green "frame". Actually we only succeeded in painting the red and black parts, but the result is already great. We sure have an eyecatcher now.

Journeyman Bram is painting his pole lathe

Our egg tempera paint was made using the guidelines of Cennino DÁndrea Cennini in his 15th  century book Il libro dell' Arte. In short, egg yolk was rolled dry in the hands, the yolk sac opened with a sharp knife and the fresh yolks mixed with pigments which were ground with a bit of water to form a paste. Bone black was used as black and Venetian red for red, (Jeroen) 'Bosch' green for green pigment. All pigments were obtained from paint-mill 'de Kat'.

Nearly finished, the blank wood will later be painted green.

Monday 23 May 2011


Last weekend, we were present at the Historic Open Air Museum Eindhoven (the Netherlands) where we did some medieval joinery and turning. But also cooking and eating is part of our daily medieval life. This time of year is especially good for making 'Sambocade', a medieval cheese tart with elderberry flowers, which are abundant available around May in the Netherlands. Elderberry flowers contain a sweet nectar which is transferred to the tart. The recipe originates from 'The Forme of Cury', a 14th century English recipe collection. Our version stems from the book 'Pleyn Delit' by C. Hieatt, B. Hosington and S. Butler (University of Toronto Press, 1996).

 Elderberry flowers


pastry to line a pie dish
400 g cottage cheese
1/2 cup of sugar
4 egg whites
1/2 a cup of elder blossoms
1 tablespoon rosewater (concentrated version available at a 'toko' or oriental food shop)

The elderberry flowers, rosewater and tart filling

It is best to shake the elder sprays first. I found that many miniature insects like the nectar as well. You probably do not want the extra protein in your filling. Leave elder sprays in a glass of water until the crust is prepared, Blossoms discolour slightly if prepared to far in advance. When you are ready to make the filling, carefully strip off the white blossoms, trying not to include the green stems. Blend together all the remaining ingredients. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the blossoms and pour filling in the prepared shell. bake about 45 minutes in a 175 degrees Celcius oven. Serve hot or cold (we did the last). 

 The finished sambocade.

Finishing the sambocade in the Historic Open Air Museum Eindhoven

Friday 13 May 2011

Medieval toolchest: Hammers and mallets

The hammer and mallet are both tools for hitting /striking others instruments. The hammer has an iron head, while the mallet is made completely of wood.

The medieval hammer used in carpentry is most often seen as a claw hammer, sometimes reinforced with long metal strips along the handle. The hammer is used for striking nails and dowels into the wood. A specialised form is used for closing rivets (riveting hammer). Metal hammers are common finds, but it can be difficult to assign the tool to a specific trade, as also smiths, stone cutters, shipwrights, among others, used hammers. 

A 15th century claw-hammer. Image from 'Das Werkzeug des Schreiners und Drechslers' by Gunther Heine.
A clawhammer with a reinforced head and a wooden mallet from the Bedford Hours miniature 
'Building the arc of Noah', 1433, London, British museum, Ms. 18850.

A riveting hammer in the right panel of the Merode Altar by Robert Campin, Metroploitan Museum of Art, New York.

The iron head of our medieval clawhammer is made by Deagrad. The handle is homemade from ash and secured with an wooden wedge. Ash is often used for handles as it has some flexibility

The mallet is used to secure pegs (for instance for the pole lathe), hitting chisels and gouges, hitting the holdfast, wedges and benchdogs. Medieval mallets were constructed either as a square or round block attached to a handle and as (turned) cylinders in the length of the handle. 
The first type of mallet hits with the hard endgrain, and can be used with more force. Large versions of these hammers were used with wedges to split wood into planks or smaller pieces (see images below). A smaller square mallet is shown in another miniature below..Many hammers of this type with a round head are found in the miniature of Noah building the ark in the Bedford hours (see image above).  

A woodcutter (Virich Holzhacker) from the Mendelschen Hausbuch (around 1414) uses wedges and a large mallet to split wood.

Two monks are slitting wood with an axe and a large mallet. 12th century miniature from St. Gregorii Magni Moralia in Job. Dijon, City library hs. 170, fol. 5970.

 Eve uses a mallet and chisel and Adam a breast-auger. 
12th century miniature from Homelie de St. Basile.

The cylinder type of  mallet construction ensures that a chisel always is hit evenly with the mallet, whatever manner it is hold. However it hits with the long grain, which is more easily indented. Thus pictures often show these mallets with the cylinder hollowed out, i.e. the very worn out ones. This type is found for instance  in another image of the Mendelschen Hausbuch shown below.

A cylindrical mallet used by a medieval joiner (Peter Screiner). Mendelschen Hausbuch  around 1444.
 A 10th century wooden mallet found in the Coppergate deposit in York, UK (no. 8188). The head is willow with a hazel handle. (Image from C.A. Morris - Wood and woodworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and medieval York)

We have two types of mallets in our toolchest, a square one (oak hammer head with an ash handle), and two turned cylinders made of acacia. (I recently discovered that this is an exotic tree; the first acacia was planted in Europe in 1579 in Castle Doorwerth, the Netherlands, so we will have to replace these mallets in time with ones made of correct wood). The tools are finished with linseed oil.  

Monday 9 May 2011

The footrest for the strycsitten

This is the final part of the making of a medieval strycsitten and deals with the construction of the footrest. The footrest is not strictly necessary, but is shown in many of the paintings (see my post on the strycsitten of 7 January 2011). It is also a useful piece of furniture in medieval times - it keeps your feet of the cold (stone) floor. Therefore, in my view, it forms an essential part of a medieval strycsitten.

The footrest is usually slightly longer than the strycsitten. The legs of the footrest fall inside the legs of the strycsitten (this means you have to mind where you place your feet if you stand on the footrest!). The footrest is a separate and movable piece of the strycsitten, i.e. when you change the position of the backrest, you move the footrest to the other side of the strycsitten as well. With this in mind, I made the plan of the footrest completely symmetrical as shown below with the form of the footrest legs.

Plan of the footrest legs. The form is more or less similar to the legs of my "Savonarola" X-chair (see next photo).

The savonarola chair: the legs have similar roundings.

The plank of the footrest was planed to the same thickness as the seating of the strycsitten and rounded off at the edges. The legs were roughly sawn using a band-saw and then finished by hand with a chisel. Also the tenon was cut out using a chisel. I used the tenons to mark the mortises in the footplank, which were cut out as well. The three legs were attached to the plank with two small (6 mm) dowels through each mortise and tenon joint.

Four legs of the footrest; one is a spare. The tenon is not yet cut out.

The still square footplank attached to the legs for testing the fit of the mortise and tenon joints.

The leg with the mortise and tenon joint.

The mortise and tenon joint shown from above.
The joint fixed with a dowel.

The complete footrest.

A footnote for the footrest:
Now, in modern times, the footrest proved to be a nuisance. The strycsitten is part of our dinner table seating and we kept stumbling against it. Besides, with our modern flooring we do not suffer from cold feet, so the functionality is lost as well. The footrest now occasionally appears in the living room to show the complete set.