Wednesday 28 December 2016

An octagonal medieval folding table at the Musee de Cluny

The foldable table from the Musee the Cluny, Paris. Cl.22795. Photo from internet.

The Musee National du Moyen Age also known as Musee de Cluny in Paris, France does contain an elaborately carved medieval folding table. While photos from the side are easily found on internet, photos with details of the construction are not. We were at the museum in April and able to take some photos of this medieval table. What we noticed was that the table was very worn - it had suffered much during the more than 500 years of its life. The oak was also very darkly coloured, much more than visible on 'regular' photos. As the room in which the table stood was also sparsely lit, it was difficult to take good photos. Nevertheless, they will show some additional information on the folding table. 

The octagonal table top consists of three boards. These were fixed together with loose tenons that were pinned. You can see the pins for the tenons on the photo.

The table is dates from the last quarter of the 15th century, first quarter of the 16th century. It has a height of 75 cm. The width of the table top is 90.5 cm, while the width at the bottom is 79 cm. The table was made in France. When taken apart the table consist of five numbered parts (two feet, two panels and one table top) and four pins to attach the table top to the pedestal. The board of the tabletop are fixed together with a loose tenons that are fixed with two pins at each side of the tenon

Most of the openwork tracery is missing parts. Unlike the scapradekijn for Castle Muiderslot and the rood screen, these panels are carved at both sides as both sides are visible. The panels were also constructed of several parts as can be seen by the lines on the photos. 

This photo shows how the tabletop is connected to the pedestal panels. 
There is one such construction in each quarter of the table.

The ornamented end of the pedestal panels.

The feet was carved but the elements have mostly disappeared. Likely these have been animals, 
such as lions, dogs or dragons that are often found on late 15th century furniture.

It is hard to figure out what this worn piece would have looked like.

This remarkable photo is from the 'Mobilier domestique vol. 1. Vocabulaire - typologique' by Nicole de Reynies (ISBN 2-85822-461-7) and shows the table with its different parts in a semi-detached way.

Sunday 25 December 2016

The scapradekijn for Castle Muiderslot, part 1 : the start of the project

In May this year we were asked if we would like to make a scapradekijn or hanging cupboard for castle Muiderslot (also known as Amsterdam castle for tourists). We thought this was a nice opportunity to display our joinery craft to the public, as well as to do more elaborate carving and open tracery work. The task was daunting, as there was a deadline set for the end of the summer holidays. It became even more challenging when the castle management took about a month to consider and accept our offeeggler. For us the proposed time was too short - we have other regular jobs and a family to go on holiday in the summer - but luckily we could extend the deadline to early October. Anyway, as soon as we got the green light, we were able to start the project.

The hanging cupboard in the Museum for Angewandte Kunst in Cologne, Germany 
that served as the basic model for our scapradekijn.

Before the green light for the project, we already made a design of the hanging cupboard. The scapradekijn had to meet a number of conditions. It had to be 'open' as the Muiderslot wanted to display some (recreated) medieval things in the cupboard and these must be able to be seen. Also the cupboard had to be sturdy and idiot-proof (as some tourists would like to try out things that were not allowed). Our design was largely based upon the hanging cupboard in Cologne, but for the backside we used a grooved panel construction as this is more sturdy than a nailed backside.

The design for the hanging cupboard with measurements. We used different 'layers' in Photoshop to swap, fit and adapt the carved panels. Some of the carved panels and the ironwork were derived from the Cologne cupboard. The designs of the carved panels did change a bit as we tested some variants first on a (pine) board, and then used the one we liked most on the final oak panels.

We bought our oak panels ready to use. They were pre-planed, however we had to use a planer-thicknesser to get them to the appropriate thickness. Using power tools, such as a router,  as much as possible for the project was necessary in order to complete the project in time. Also the use of repetitive forms in the design allowed us to speed up the construction. The carving of the panels and the router jigs were first tested on a pine panel, before we used it on the oak panels. This way we also learned what strategy was the best and how the hand carving could (not) be done.

The top panel

While I will mention each 'panel' design separately, they were more or less worked on simultaneously. The photos will thus show the different stages of the different panels next to each other. Like the Cologne cupboard, the panel boards have different thicknesses. The front boards have a thickness of 11 mm, the side boards are 16 mm because they will also contain a groove for the shelves. Approximate half of the thickness was routed away for the deeper layers of the panel, either with use of a jig or freehand. Note that we carved the panels only carved at the front; the backside was just flat board, as this is not visible for anyone. This was also done in medieval times.

Front and back of two panels of a church rood screen dating from the 15th century. Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris. You can see that only the front of the panel is carved and the backside is just flat board.

Left: The router jig for the top panel. The lines on the panel and the panel itself are square (at the top and bottom) to allow the jig to be easily aligned. The round form is only for the top panel, the bullet form was also used for the middle and bottom panel. The router had a ring set at 5 mm, which was also the distance of the slope that needed to be carved. The clamped square itself acts as a fence to slide the jig to the next position. Right: The router jig with two inserts: one to produced a half circle and one for the open 'windows' cut through the board. For the latter one, routing was done in two layers; first at half depth without the insert, then through the board with the insert. (except for our first board panel when we had not figured out that this was smarter to do.)

Left: the routing setup for the top panel of the board. Right: the test panel after routing.

The router was fitted with a copy ring that left 5 mm between the router bit and the outside of the copy ring. This was also the space we needed to create the bevel. Thus, the router jig could also serve to draw the line for the bevel.

After routing the remaining work on the panel was mainly handwork. We used a carving knife as our main tool as it the most flexible use and a selection of other carving tools. Very useful were a low sweep fishtail gouge and an abegglen knife for corners that were hard to reach with normal gouges. For setting a straight bevel on the open windows, the use of the shoulder knife proved very useful as this provided a long stable cut. A cordless power drill with different sizes of Forstner bits was used to create the starter holes for the carving. To create rounded surfaces also round and half-round files and needle files were used.

Bram working on the first panel board at the Historic Open Air Museum in Eindhoven. On the right photo he uses the shoulder knife (or is it rather an armpit knife...)

The sexfoil pattern on the top panel was drilled with a Forstner bit using a cordless drill. At first we thought that using a paper jig (left photo) with the drill starting points on it was handy. However, the paper jig did not fit well into the deepened round, leading to misplaced drill holes. After that, using a pair of compasses to draw a circle on which the starting points should be placed, and a protractor to define the exact spot on the circle proved to be more exact. Right: a top panel halfway ready.

Some different stages of the top panels of the three front boards.

We also used to test panel to test how visible something inside the cupboard would be. We placed some of our medieval glassware at shelve height behind the panel. This pine test panel also shows the different options for the top of the bullet windows, e.g. the size and lay-out of the holes. We used the second option from the left for our cupboard.

Bram is busy with rounding the bullet window with a file (left) and carving the bevel/creating space for the trefoil.

Left: The deepened parts for the trefoil and quatrefoil were routed freehand. The surrounding area was pencilled black so it was easier to distinguish between what could be routed and what not. Right: A finished and oiled top panel.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Omroep Gelderland meets St. Thomasguild at castle Hernen

Last Saturday was 'Gelre'-day for Castle Hernen, with free entrance for the public and a radio reporter of Omroep Gelderland (a regional broadcasting) present with moments of live recording of the event. Also the St. Thomasguild was present and had a brief encounter with the reporter. He especially liked the 'noise' of our hammer - as this showed the listeners that 'real' construction was going on ...

The car of Omroep Gelderland at the entrance of Castle Hernen. 
Our son is carrying the embroidery frame and the 'noisy' hammer.

Left: Bram is busy turning a bowl from a cancerous tumour of a beech tree. 
Right: The radio reporter in action interviewing a visitor.
I was busy with a new project: a two-seater bench. This will be a larger version of the one in the bottom left corner made many years ago. I am working on the edges of the seating board with a hollow moulding plane.

The end result should look something like this, with openwork tracery. Note that the rose figures are exactly like those used on our hanging cupboard for Castle Muiderslot. 15th century oak bench of Flemish origin. Size 49.1 cm height, 96 cm length. Formerly collection Albert Figdor, now Philadelphia Museum of Art (item 1930-81-5).

Wednesday 16 November 2016

A 13th century chair excavated in Schiedam

The remains of the chair (upside down) at the excavation site. Photo copyright J. Loopik.

In 2013 a group of archaeologists found the remains of an almost complete chair dating from the 13th century in Schiedam, the Netherlands. I was notified of the existence of this chair almost a year ago, and the archaeologist kindly send me some photographs of the chair under embargo that I did not post the photos on the blog before the actual report of the excavation was published. As the report has been published in 2015 (Hof van Cyrene - wonen aan de Schie. Bochtafsnijding Delftse Schie, gemeente Schiedam. Rapport 3617. edited by J. Loopik. ISSN 1875-1067),  I am able to write on this unique find.

The archaeological dig took place at the site of an old farmhouse, at the place where an artificial short-cut for the river Schie is planned. This place had been under cultivation as early as Roman times and building as well as domestic materials from the 13th century were found. Also, remains of a brick foundation of a house dating from the 14-15th century were excavated.

The three cities (Rotterdam, Overschie and Delfshaven) at the river Schie with some farmhouses in between. The actual farmhouse of the dig could be one of them. Anonymous painting from 1512 made for a court decision on a ground dispute. Nationaal Archief Inventarisnummer 686. 

Several parts of the chair displayed on a gridboard. Photos copyright J. Loopik.

The fragmented chair was found in a layer with ceramic sherds from the period 1200-1250. The parts of the chair were made from several types of wood - mostly consisting of beech, while 11 parts were made from willow (pins, stile, one seating board)), 2 parts from ash (stile) and 2 parts from alder (stile, wedge). There is some indication that some parts of the chair have been replaced during its life. The beech for instance was infested by woodworm, while the other (replacement) wood was not, even though these wood species are readily consumed by woodworm as well. Also the lower quality of finish of the other wood types indicate that they had different periods of construction. 

The parts of the seating boards. You can see that the seating board has room for the chair posts at the edges. Also visible is the chamfered rim of the board. Photo copyright J. Loopik.
The front legs of the chair with the connecting stile. On top are the supporting stiles for the seating boards. At each chair post the place of the mortises for the side boards are visible - two for each chair-post.  Photo copyright J. Loopik.

This shows the other side of the chair posts with the large mortises for the complete rail. The other side has only mortises half as large (see photo above). Photo copyright J. Loopik.

The small stiles are not fixed by wedges or treenails. Therefore they are not part of the actual construction of the chair. They likely were used to (underneath) support the boards of the seat. Photo copyright J. Loopik.

 Details of the connection of the stiles to the horizontal rail.

 The turned legs of the chair have a diameter between 6-7 cm. They are decorated with grooves and end in a turned globe. Such decorations are commonly found on turned furniture from this period. The seating has a slight trapezium form and would have approximately measured 42-48 cm by 35 cm. The three seating boards (of which one broken in two) fitted in grooves at the sides and were supported underneath by small stiles. At the edges of the seating, 3 by 3.5 cm pieces were cut out to provide space for the legs of the chair. At the ends and sides the seating is chamfered in order to fit into the grooves of the sideboards of the chair. No information is given in the report on the thickness of the seating, nor on the sizes and thickness of the board of the backrest. The former, however, is likely something between 1-1.5 cm based on the width of the groove. 

One of the front legs with a part of the side board. The board contains a 0.9 cm groove for the seating; the sides of the groove are 1 cm thicker than the rest of the board. Photo copyright J. Loopik.

The backrest of the chair. The arrow indicates a mortise for the smaller stile, such as the one on the right side. 
 Photo copyright J. Loopik.

Left: One of the posts of the backrest. The decorative turned rings can easily be seen. The backrest itself fits completely into the mortise at this side, but protrudes only half on the other side, where it is diagonally wedged. Right: The protruding pins from the mortise are diagonally wedged.

The chairposts are connected to horizontal rails. These are set completely into a mortise on one side, but protrude for only a half from the other side. There, the horizontal rail is fixed diagonally with a wedge. At least two horizontal rails are at the front of the chair. Some of the willow pins have a diameter of 1.3 cm, but it is unclear at which part of the construction they would have fitted. 

The construction scheme of the chair. While the report often contradict itself with regards to which part of the chair belongs where, the construction depicted here is correct. The legs of the chair could have been larger than they are now.  Image copyright by J. Loopik.

This chair is a unique find for the Netherlands, as no other seating furniture from this period has been found. (There is only one side of a bench from the 11th century found in Groningen, that dates from an earlier period.) Such a chair is usually a luxury product, however, its appearance at a farm could perhaps be explained by the fact that the site was mentioned as a domain of the earl of Holland in 1317. Only in Germany and Scandinavia, complete examples of this type of chair dating from the same period still exist.  Hopefully it will be conserved and displayed in a (local) museum. 

Some Scandinavian chairs of similar construction and age. Left: Chair from Misterhults church, Smaland. National Historic Museum, Stockholm, Sweden. Middle: A stool from Aspö Church, Södermanland. Right: Chair from Vallstena church, Gotland. National Historic Museum, Stockholm, Sweden. height 106 cm, width 60-72 cm, depth 53 cm. Images scanned from W. Karlson. Studier i Sveriges medeltida möbelkonst.

Left and middle: Skallvik church bishopschair chair dating from 1300, Soderkoping Sweden. Middle: A colour image of the Vallstena church chair. 

Chair from Norlanda Church, Visby, Gotland. The chair is made with oak chair posts and the remaining parts from ash. Mid-thirteenth century. Image scanned from Horst Appuhn. Beitrage zur Geschichte des Herrschersitzes im Mittelalter I.

Left: A painted bridal (two-seat) chair or Brudbänk dating from 1200 in Tofta church, Gotland. Sweden. 
Right: 13th century chair from Lärbro church, Gotland, Sweden.

An even older example of such a chair from grave 58 of Trossingen, 400 A.D. Image from internet.


  • Horst Appuhn. Beitrage zur Geschichte des Herrschersitzes im Mittelalter I. Teil: Gedrechselte Sitze.
  • W. Karlson. Studier i Sveriges medeltida möbelkonst.
  • Hof van Cyrene - wonen aan de Schie. Bochtafsnijding Delftse Schie, gemeente Schiedam. Rapport 3617. edited by J. Loopik. ISSN 1875-1067.