Tuesday 29 May 2018

Making medieval benches

For re-enactors the bench described in the previous post is ideal. It is easy to take apart and to carry with you as a flat package (in medieval Ikea-like style). A good guide on how to make such a medieval bench exists (by Master Dafydd ap Gwystl) and can be found on the SCA Greydragon website. This guide was also used to make our first bench. Also a nice pictorial guide on benches (and other sitting furniture) in medieval illuminations in the 15th century was made by John Howe of the re-enactment group the Company of St. George and published in their magazine Dragon issue 4.
One of the praying benches of the 'Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Potterie' museum in Bruges, Belgium. The side board is carved with the name Jhesus, the other side has Maria on it. The bench measures 63 cm height,  50 cm width and has a depth of 30 cm. Wooden pins, easily visible as dark dots, fix the side boards to the leg boards.

The first small bench

Our first bench was made in 2007 and modelled after the oak praying benches in the 'Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Potterie' (and the apothecary of the Groeningen Museum) in Bruges, Belgium. These benches have the name Jesus carved on one side and Maria on the other. Naturally, we used the names of our own patron Saints Thomas and Joseph instead on the bench. We skipped the lower rails of the bench, as it had to be easily transportable, while otherwise it would have been fixed.

Left: The complete praying bench. Right: The board for the knees when praying.

To construct the bench, oak boards with a thickness of 2 cm were used. The leg and side board parts were sawn using a power jigsaw. The ogee edge of the seating board was made with a router. A test piece, though, was made using a hollow moulding plane, which yielded the same result as with the power tool. Finally, the carving of the names was done with a carving knife and some fishtail gouges. After sanding the bench was coated with several layers of linseed oil.

Our St. Thomas bench measures 60 cm width, 25 cm depth and 45.5 cm height.


The five boards of the bench.

The second 2-person bench

Our second bench has just been finished. It is based on the 2-person bench that used to be in the Figdor collection, but nowadays (since 1930) resides in the Philadelpia museum of art. The sides of the bench have the same openwork tracery carving as the scapradekijn made for Muiderslot castle. As such, we could use the same technique to make and carve the decorations. Different in this bench is that the leg boards are tilted at 10 degrees. This makes the bench more stable, but also slightly more difficult to construct. The tenons that fit in the mortises of the seating need to be adjusted, and the leg boards thus only fit one way.

A 15th century two-person bench from the Philadelphia museum of art, formerly in the Figdor collection. Made of oak. width 96 cm, height 49.1 cm. Photo Philadelphia Museum of Art.  ID 1930-85-1.

From the photos it is not clear how the bottom rail is fastened. The side boards are fixed with a dowel to leg boards. Photo Philadelphia Museum of Art.  ID 1930-85-1.

Also here oak boards of 2 cm thickness were used for the construction. The ogee carving on the seating was made with a hollow moulding plane and a shoulder plane. The side boards were carved on both sides, though this is usually not done in medieval times - only the visible parts are decorated.

Planing the sides of the seating board with a hollow moulding plane at castle Hernen.

Different steps in the construction of the leg boards: (1) The basics of the leg board are the same as that of the small bench and a leg board was used as a mould to draw the lines of the new one. (2) The outlines were cut using a power jigsaw. (3) The grooves of the joint were deepened with a router plane.  

(4) The tenons were chamfered at 10 degrees so they would fit into the mortise of the seating. (5) Also sawing of the tenons needed to be done at an angle of 10 degrees. (6) To create a flat surface, also the top and bottom of the legs needed to have the 10 degree angle. (7) Finally, at the centre of the leg board, a openwork rose pattern was carved.

The side boards had a similar form as that of the smaller bench, however the groove was made further from the edge, so it would be less prone to breaking.

Left: The power saw-marks were cleaned away with a scraper. Middle and Right: Testing of the joints. The 10 degree angle is easily seen. Also the top and bottom of the leg board had to be angled.

 First, all the joints were made for the bench, so that we already had a functional yet unfinished bench.

The different steps of making the openwork tracery of the side boards. (1) A router with a jig was used to create the basic depth. (2) The ribs and round were carved with gouge and carving knife. (3) The places for the openwork were drawn on both sides of the board. Guide lines were used so that the drawings on both sides would be at similar places. (4) Holes were drilled from both sides using a Forstner bit in a cordless drill. (5) Holes were cleaned with files and carving knife. (6) Roses were carved in the circles.

Just finished. Our second bench has a width of 99 cm, depth of 29 cm, and 45 cm height.

The flat bench package in five pieces.