Sunday 30 March 2014

Some wooden needle cases and other textile working tools

At our woodworking course we have a new electric lathe, and I wanted to try this machine to make some wooden needle cases. Such needle cases existed in bone and metal forms in medieval times, and likely as well in wood - but this is difficult to prove as the items are rather small and relatively fragile. The needle case consisted of a hollow wooden cover, in which a hollow wooden bobbin sits, in which needles can be stored. In fact, it is a complete sewing kit.

Some sewing stuff. Three wooden needle cases with bobbins: two made of walnut, one of cherry, as well as three loose wooden bobbins of cherry and beech.

Making the needle case was a wondrous experience. It went smooth and fast on the new machine. I used some walnut stock to make the basic wooden rod (around 25 mm) on the lathe. Then I divided the rod into four pieces: two cases and two bobbins. A relatively simple task to do. I hollowed the turned cases out using a drill press with a 15 mm forstner bit, but this could also have been done on the lathe. In fact, making the holes for the needles in the bobbin was done on the lathe with the bobbin fixed in the chuck and the drill in the dead centre of the tail stock.

Here the two parts of the needle case can be seen; The bobbin with the hole for the needles, and the wooden case for the bobbin. Ideally, a cord can be attached the the bobbin and the case, so the complete set can be attached to a belt.

The two walnut needle cases closed. The top one is finished with beeswax, bottom one with linseed oil. 

Previously, I had made such a needle case from cherry wood on an old unstable lathe, and made the holes using a centre bit on a hand drilling machine. This was a far more tricky process with an only 50% success rate.

 The cherry needle box. A piece of wool is used to plug the needle hole of the bobbin.

Previously, I also made some more bobbins from beech and cherry.

  Three empty bobbins.

And two full ones.

And a wooden pin or stiletto of beech. The pin is used as a help for making eyelets. Pushing it through the fabric creates a hole for the eyelet by forcing the weave apart.

Some other textile working tools shown on the first photo are a pair of scissors (bought at Glimmingehus in Sweden) and a ring thimble. The thimble is a 14th century original, now put back into use.

The ring thimble has retained a nice patina.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

The medieval toolchest: the frame saw

There were different types of saws in use during medieval times, for instance the long two-handed saw in use for construction work. Another saw that is frequently illuminated in manuscripts is the frame saw, or it's specialised form, the bucksaw. This type of saw already was in use during Roman times, and still was being used during the 20th century in Germany and the eastern parts of Europe.

Jesus with his father Joseph at work in his workshop sawing a plank with a fixed frame saw. Other tools visible are a claw-hammer, a broad axe and an adze. 12th century manuscript?

The frame of the saw is build up of three pieces of wood, loosely fitting together in an H-form. The sides of the H-frame could either be straight or curved. The bottom of the H holds the saw blade, while the top has a twisted rope to keep the saw blade under tension, which was secured by a wooden wedge. Early examples of this saw type have the blade riveted in the lower end of the frame. Here sawing was only possible to the maximum depth of the wooden support in the middle of the saw. Later types have the blades inserted in a wooden handle so that the blade could be turned and larger lengths could be sawn. This saw type is mainly found in cabinet makers and joiners shops, as it is a very versatile tool, capable of sawing straight lines as well as curved ones.

 One of the lower glass windows of Chartres cathedral showing a woodworkers workshop (1205-1235). A yellow fixed frame saw is hanging next to a saw. Other tools visible are a plane and a pump drill.

 A large frame saw, handled by two carpenters. Detail of the fresco "Preparation of the cross" 
by Agnolo Gaddi (around 1380) in the Santa Croci basilica in Florence, Italy.

Two saws can be seen in this mosaic from 1180 depicting the building of the ark in the Monreale Cathedral in Sicily. The man sitting on the ark is using a frame saw, while on the right two men are using a pit-saw to make planks.  

Left: A turnable frame saw depicted in the Hausbucher of the Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung (1414), Neurenberg, Germany. folio 21r. Right: a turnable frame saw from the manuscript. Boccaccio, Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes malheureux, Mid 15th century. British Library, London, UK. Add. MS 18750, folio 5.

Our frame saw is relatively small and is turnable with a handle where the saw blade is inserted into. The frame, including the handle, is 56 cm long and made of beech. The actual saw blade measures 23.5 cm and was made out of a blade of a modern bandsaw. It has 3 teeth per cm and a blade thickness of 0.5 cm.  The saw can be used both on the pull and push (i.e. by turning the frame). We did have a longer middle support at first, but this made the frame saw less easy to operate. In principle, if you make this saw larger, you might operate it by two men, each at one end of the saw holding the frame (as shown in the Agnolo Gaddi image). One of the other useful features of this saw is that it easily can be taken apart, and made into a small bundle for transport.

Our medieval frame saw made of beech. The handles holding the saw blade were turned. 
The curved sides of the frame were made using a bandsaw and a spoke shave.

Left: Detail of the turnable handle of the frame saw. The saw blade is secured in the handle with a small nail. Right: Rotating the wedge will make the tension of the rope stronger. This will hold the saw blade more straight.