Sunday 31 March 2013

Medieval and later woodworkers inventories

Medieval house inventories (of deceased or banished inhabitants) and wills can give an insight in what people owned or valued. It also gives a good indication how much of certain items are in the house or the workshop. In the case of inventories often prices are given how much value (groups of) items have. However the information in these wills and inventories should be treated with care. That items are not mentioned does not mean that they did not exist in the house. It could be that they were considered worthless - for instance wooden items that could easily be made by the household members themselves.

Several wills and inventories have been found of medieval woodworkers, but they seem to be rather scarce. I have found two dating from the fifteenth century. They become more common during the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Below, for comparison, also a few wills/inventories from these periods are shown. The images are from the Hausbucher of the Mendelschen and Landauersche Zwölfbrüderstiftung.

Jan Heynemanszone

1422. Inventory of Jan Heynemanszone from Helle (near Sluys), wheelwright (In old Dutch).  

Wouter Coolman, Jacop Wychaerde, Jan de Weghe ende Jan Poppe, hebben ghedaen arresteren tgoed bleven naer Jan Heynemanszone, die ghevloon es. Eerst 2 haexen, 1 bochude, 1 diesele, eene baerge, 2 scaven, 11 hanghen, 3 snimessen, 2 yserine staven, 1 cloofmes, 2 spikerboren, 1 handtzaghe, 1 kerfzaghe, 2 grouf haken, 2 ketels, 11 avegheers, 4 wetsteene, 1 groot spikerboore, 3 vilen. 

(Rijksarchief te Brugge, Belgium, Brugse Vrije, Register van Verbanden 1421/1460, nr. 16.937, f.4, printed in Frida van Tyghem 'Op en rond een middeleeuwse bouwwerf' ).

Translated from old Dutch the woodworking items would be:

•  2 Axes
•  1 Bochude?
•  1 Adze
•  1 Baerge?
•  2 Planes
•  11 Hanghen?
•  3 Carving knives
•  2 Iron staves
•  1 Froe
•  2 Braces
•  1 Hand saw
•  1 Small (tenon) saw
•  2 Grouf haken? (large hook = holdfast? or square?)
•  2 Kettles (for glue?)
•  11 Augers
•  4 Whetting stones
•  1 Large brace (breast auger?)
•  3 Files
There are several items of which I do not know what tools they are like the bearge and the bochude.

Thomas Vyell

Woodworking tools were handed down from father to son with other possessions. The following is a copy of the will of Thomas Vyell, of Ixworth in Suffolk, of 1472:

Radulph Penteney al’ Sporyer de Ixworth 1402
Lego ad vsum gilde S’c’i John i’s Bapt’e in Ixworth. Iij s iiij d.

Thomas Vyell 1472.

In die no’i’e. Amen. I Thomas Vyell of Ixworth the yeld’, the xj day of the moneth of October, ye yeer of oure lord m’cccclxxij of very sad and hoole mynd and good avysemente, make myn testament in this wyse. Fyrst I beqweth and bytake myn sowle to almyghty god, to yet blessed lady and to all the Seyntes of heven, and myn body to be beryd in the parysh cherche of Ixworth be for sayd befor the auter of Seynt James. Also I beqweth to the heych awter there ijs. Also I beqweth to ye stepyll of the same cherche vj marcs. Also I beqweth to ye pryor of Ixworth ijs, to the Suppryour xxd. Also th Sire Edmund Stowe xxd, to eu’y chanon preste ther xijd and to eche movyse vj. Also 1 beqweth to the newe freers of Thetford to a trentall xs. and to the same hows ijbs of whette and a combe of malte. Also I beqweth to the holde hows of the same town to a trentall sx. Also the sreets of Babwell to a trentall Ns. Also I beqweth myn mass hyngfatte to ye gylde of Seynt Thomas, so that myn wyffe and John my brother have the kepyng thereof ther lyve. Also I beqwethe and assigne to myn beforeseyd wyffe alle the ostylments of myn howssold.  Also I beqwethe to Thomas myn sone, myn splytyng saw, myn brood axe, a luggyng belte, a ffellyng belte, a twybyll, a sqwer, a  morteys wymbyll, a foote wymbyll, a drawte wymbyll, a compas, and hande sawe,a kytting sawe. Also I geve and beqwethe to Thomas myn sone myn place that I dwelle jn wt. all the purtenance and to his heyers wt. owtyn ende, and yeffe he deye wt. owtyn heyers the seyde place to remayne wt. the purtenance to John myn sone, and to his heyers wt. owtyn ende. So that myn beforeseyde wyfe have the seyde place wt. the purtenances outo the tyme myn assyned ever be of age to meynteyne it by him selffe. As I gave and beqwethe to Crystyan myn wyffe by forsey myn place wt. the purtenances that was John Knotts for terme of her lyffe, and aft her decesse to remayn to John myn sone to his heyers and assignes wt. owtyn ende. But yeffe it happe the seyde John to Hereryte myn other above seyd place, thanne I wolde and assigne that place wyche John Knotts hadde be solde and dysposyd for myn and for myn frendes sowly, to execucion for this myn laste wylle and testaments. I make and ordeyn befor seyde wyffe and John Vyell myn brother.

(Bury and West Suffolk Archaeological Institute and Suffolk Institute Archaeology, Vol. I, p. 108 reprinted in H. Cescinsky and E.R. Gribble 'Early English Furniture and Woodwork'). His woodworking possessions were:
  • A rip-saw with large teeth
  • A broad axe
  • An adze
  • A felling axe
  • A twybyll
  • A try square
  • An auger or a brace for boring holes
  • A large auger
  • An auger with a guide for accurate boring
  • A compass or divider
  • A hand-saw
  • A cross-cut saw>

Very interesting is that the carpenter is named Thomas, as is his son and that he bestows his mass to the Guild of Saint Thomas - likely the same patron saint as our woodworkers guild..

Cornelius Eversen

This is an inventory of tools left by an Essex joiner at his death in 1592. Although he is an Essex joiner, the name sounds very Dutch. It is known that many Dutch and Flemish joiners worked in the United Kingdom in these days and influenced the style of the 'Britsh oak furniture'. 
  • 15 Joiners planes of divers woods
  • 2 Jointers
  • 2 Foreplanes
  • 1 Smoothing plane
  • 4 Squares
  • 1 Mitre square
  • 1 Adze
  • 1 Hatchet
  • 1 Handsaw
  • 1 Frame Saw
  • 1 Hammer
  • 2 Holdfasts
  • 2 Gauges
  • One brace and 5 bits for the same
  • 3 Files
  • 2 Broad pairing chisels
  • 3 Mortise chisels
  • 3 Small Flemish chisels (perhaps this also point to the Flemish origin of the joiner?)
  • 1 Gouge
  • 3 Ripping chisels
  • 1 Line rowle with the line upon it (chalk line)
  • 2 Staples or bank hooks (bench dogs)
  • 2 Rules of two foot apiece
  • 3 Mallets
  • 2 Spare planing irons
From the Newsletter of the Tool and Trades History Society 47, pp. 41–43, and found on internet.

John Thorp of Plymouth

The tools of joiner John Thorpe of Plymouth, died 1633, mentioned in his inventory included:
1 Great gouge, 1 square, one hatchet, One Square, 1 short 2 handsaw, A broade Axe, An holdfast, A handsaw, 3 broade chisels, 2 gouges & 2 narrow chisels, 3 Augers, Inch @ 1/2, 1 great auger, inboring plaines, 1 Joynter plaine, 1 foreplaine, A smoothing plaine, 1 halferound plaine, An addes, a felling axe. 

From C.H. Simmons 'Plymouth Colony records: wills and inventories', printed in Jennie Alexander and Peter Follansbee 'Make a joint stool from a tree - an introduction to 17th century joinery'.  

In total there are:
•  3 Gouges, of which one large
•  2 Squares
•  1 Hatchet
•  A short handsaw
•  3 Handsaws
•  5 Chisels, of which 2 narrow
•  A broad or side axe
•  A holdfast
•  4 Augers of which one large one
•  Moulding planes
•  Jackplane
•  Smoothing plane
•  Round plane
•  An adze
•  A felling axe
Missing from this list are braces and tools like dividers and measurement tools.

William Carpenter senior 

William Carpenter passed away in Plymouth in 1659. Among the items he had listed in his estate were the following tools. They were given a specific worth as well.

Smale tools att 10s; one axe and a peece of Iron att 7s; a foot and an old axe att 1s; one old axe...; the Lave and turning tools att 13s; 3 Crosscut saws 15s; smale working tooles 12s; smale saws 8s; an adds and 2 turning tooles att 6s; three Joynters 3 hand plaines one fore plain 10s; one bucse a long borrer one great gouge 10s; Rabbeting plaines and hollowing plaines and one plow att 1 pound 3 Drawing knives att 7s; 2 spokeshaves att 3s; Chisells a gouge and a hammer and a Round shave att 19s; 2 adds att 8s; one vise ... 2 beetles...; a grindstone 15s; 2 axes att 6s

Summing up, his tools consisted of:
  • 5 Axes
  • A foot?
  • A lathe and turning tools 
  • 3 Crosscut saws
  • Several small tools
  • Small saws
  • 3 Adzes
  • 3 Jointer planes
  • 2 Hand planes
  • A fore plane
  • A buck saw
  • An auger
  • A large gouge
  • Rabbet planes
  • Hollow and round planes
  • A plow (plane)
  • 3 Draw knives
  • 2 Spoke shaves
  • Chisels
  • A hammer
  • A gouge
  • A vice
  • 2 Beetles (ringed mauls)
  • A grindstone
From C.H. Simmons 'Plymouth Colony records: wills and inventories', printed in Jennie Alexander and Peter Follansbee 'Make a joint stool from a tree - an introduction to 17th century joinery'. 

Joseph Carpenter

An Inventory of the goods and Cattle of Ioseph Carpenter of Rehoboth deceased (1675), exhibited to the Court held att Plymouth the 2cond of Nouember on the oath taken by those whose hands are heervnto. 

Item a Grindstone 00 16 00
Item 500 foot of board 01 10 00
Item spoaks and timber for work 00 05 00
Item 2 broad axes 00 15 00
Item 4 [------] axes 00 15 00
Item a Croscutt saw and a hand saw 00 10 00
Item 2 adds 00 10 00 (adzes)
Item a sledge 00 08 00   (for carrying logs out of the woods)
Item a frow and a hold fast 00 05 06
Item 2 [-----] Ringes & 4 w[ --- ]s 00 10 00
Item 2 hatchetts 00 05 00
Item a viz 00 02 00  (a vice)
Item a spoke shav and Gripers 00 05 00
Item a paire of Chissels and a Gouge 00 05 00
Item a paire of doggs 00 04 00 (bench dogs)
Item a [-]arre and screw & bow[ -- ] and turning tools 00 16 00 (bow lathe with turning tools)
Item plowes plaines & a Ioynter 01 05 00
Item 2 paire of Mallett Ringes 00 03 00 (rings for a maul)
Item a Great Ioynter 00 05 00
Item a [ - ] are screw and turning points 01 04 00
Item a square and spokeshaue 00 06 00
Item a Coopers adds and drawing kniffe & a rond shaue 00 09 00
Item a Round shaue [no value given]
Item 2 bursses 1 Great Gouge 00 18 00
Item Ringe and stapl & foot 00 04 00
Item 5 augers 3 wrybitts 01 01 00
Item 3 paire of pincers 00 04 06 (braces)
Item 2 paire of plyers 00 03 00
3 files 00 03 00
Item 3 plaine Irons 00 02 06
Item smale tools 00 07 00
Item wimble bittls & a sett 00 04 06
Item seiring Irons 00 03 00
Item Calking Chissels & Cold Chissells 00 02 00
Item 2 smale saues & a scribe 00 04 00
Item a hammer and a markeing tool 00 02 00
Item more smale tools 00 01 00
Item a maderell 00 01 06  (is this a woodworking tool? a mandrel lathe?)
Item a brake 00 05 00
Item red occur and Glew 00 01 00
Item smale nailes for wheeles 00 01 00
Item a burning Iron 00 01 00
Item a Coller 00 03 00 (is this a woodworking tool?)
Item 2 paire of Compassas & prickers 00 02 06 (compasses and awls)
Item smale moulds 00 00 06
Item workeing benches 00 05 00

This man was, next to his occupation as a carpenter, also a farmer owning a cider press. The list contained numerous other items, unrelated to woodworking, which I left out. Some items were very unclear to me and left in, as they might be woodworking tools. The worth of the items is given in pounds, shillings and pence after the mentioned items. From the Plymouth Colony Wills 3(2):33-36, found on internet at the Plymouth colony archive project.


  1. Hello,

    I don't know if I've met any of you at Polderslot events. I'm a scadian located near Liege, Belgium. I was wondering if any of your guild members would be willing and able to offer me some guidance as I start out on a few medieval woodworking projects with a minimal woodworking knowledge and next to no tools.

    1. We have not been at Poldershot. What kind of woodworking projects are you thinking of? The skill and tools needed will depend on the type of project.

  2. can you tell me what's a wymbyll? It's mentioned 3 times above?

    I'm working through a 1550 Hampshire sheep farmer's will & his carpentry section is

    a mattocke ij sholvys iiij bylse a aske iij algerse and a wymbyll and a hannesawe and a tenenesawe and old yerne gere prayse

    so I guess... a mattock, 2 shovels, 4 'bylse a aske', 3 augers, 1 'wym' bill, hand saw, tenon saw & old iron gear .

    so puzzled by "bylse a aske" [bails of something?] & "wymbyll" [an arm bill?]

    1. the wymbyll is a small auger used to make a starting hole for an other (larger) drill.

      The bylse a akse are hatchets (bylse means bijl, which is the Dutch word for hatchet) and axe (akse)

  3. Thanks for the reply Marjin

    I had aske'=adze?, horizontal bladed axe for making his vats & caskets, but swapping the letters to get axe makes more sense

    I had wymbyll=wimble drill, a spike/auger on wood pad (gimble) which I guess is the same as your small drill

    I had bylse=billhooks for his hedging & harvesting & have added your dutch bijl hatchet

    (prayse, I now see is just price. This tool section was 3s 8d)