Sunday 27 March 2022

A six-sided tresoor for castle Hernen - part 3: the large side panels

While the tresoor is nearly finished; all woodwork has been done and it is awaiting the hinges and lock, the blog is somewhat lagging behind with the story on how it was made. In this post I want to focus on the large side panels. The four large side panels were planned as gothic tracery work - but blinded, not open as in the scapradekijn for Amsterdam Castle (Muiderslot). Previous posts on the tresoor for Castle Hernen can be found here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

An Austrian armoire with circular patterns on the doors as well as on the feet and crown of the armoire. Originally from around Salzburg, now in Schloss Seebarn near Wien, Austria. Made from stone pine and limewood. 261.5 x 192 x 50 cm. Dated second half of the 15th century. Photo scanned from Franz Windisch-Graetz - Möbel Europas band 1 - Romanik - Gotik.

I you look at single late medieval furniture pieces containing tracery panels, most of them have tracery panels that within each furniture item are slightly different. The basic pattern is the same, but the details vary. For example, one panel may contain four roundels, while the panel next to it contains six. I intended to do the same with the four large panels for the sides of the tresoor. 

I created a basic template for the panel in which the large round 'window' would contain a different pattern for each panel. Furthermore, two versions of the lower part of the template were designed, one containing a four-leaved flower (rosette), the other pointed tracery elements.

The chest from Castle Spöttrup in Denmark, now in the Danish National Museum in Kopenhagen, showing the four circular patterns that were used for the tresoor. The chest is dated around 1512-1519 and made from oak. 62 x 169 x 70 cm.
 Detail from a door of the Austrian armoire mentioned above showing two circular tracery patterns.

For the round designed I looked at historical patterns and decided to use those found on a 15th century chest in the Danish historic museum. Similar designs could be found on an late medieval armoire from Austria (and multiple others). To find the thickness of the panels, and the depth of the tracery, I used the few medieval panels that I own. Note that the panel thickness of the (square) tresoor of castle Muiderslot was about twice the thickness of my own panels. As both thicknesses are historically correct, it became mostly an economic decision for me - thinner panels being cheaper, aside from being easier to handle.

Sketching the tracery designs on 5 mm grid paper (i.e. full size). The (top) red part of the design was later cut out with a scissor and used as a drawing template for the first layer on the oak panel.

The basic design including the design for the first round 'window'. The colours represent the depth of each design part: red - the original thickness of the panel, green - 3 mm below red; white -6 mm; black -9 mm. Note that the right bottom pencil windows contain the design with the rosettes, while the left contain the pointed tracery pattern. Of course each panel only contained one of these two types.

The three other round 'window' designs used in the panels for the tresoor.

The oaken boards I used were quarter sawn, with an even grain pattern and thinned to 2 cm. The panels were 23 cm wide and much longer than the 43 cm needed. The surplus material was used for the carving smaller (middle) side panels, while they were still attached to the large panel.

 (Left) Both my original medieval panel and the panel for the tresoor have the same 2 cm thickness. (Right) Inside the dressoir at Muiderslot, showing a thickness of around 4 cm.

There are two (historic) ways producing blinded tracery panels: (1) making an openwork tracery panel and then blinding it by glueing another thin board at the back; and (2) carving it from one piece of wood. The first method has the advantage that you can use saws and files, as well as work from both sides. The disadvantage is that the panel becomes very thin at the deepest layers and prone to breaking. I used the second method.

The six-sided dressoir at Chateau Langeais, France showing a damaged tracery panel. That the tracery panel consist of 2 glued boards can easily seen by the undamaged underlying 'blinding' panel.

Both methods historically involve removing a lot of material by hand (chisel or perhaps a router plane. Luckily, we now have the electric hand-router at our disposal to help with that, although the machine needs some modifications before it can be used. The resting platform of a hand router is small. Too small for freehand routing to be of use in making tracery panels, so it needed to be enlarged. The router platform had to be more than twice the width of the panel, in order to have support from it sides. I did use 9 mm multiplex board to create the platform, and used the same cut-out /screw-hole pattern as the original resting platform.

The larger platform needed for the router, anded smooth and waxed for easy of gliding. The sawdust collector can function as normal in this setup.
I first did consider the use of a template and guiding ring for the router, but this is not very useful here. It is very time consuming to make an mdf template for each pattern (and there are many). Also extreme care is needed for the positioning and fixation of the template (and thus even more time consuming). Any mistake - say half a mm, both horizontal or vertical - in positioning is unforgiving. Freehand routing is much easier, faster, and provides a much better view of what you are doing, but the machine must be pushed gently and carefully over the panel.
I used a pine test panel to see if my design and working method would work. Here I also tried to use an mdf template, but discarded this idea quickly.

The router was used freehand till a distance of 1-2 mm of the drawn pattern line, and then cleaned to the drawing line with carving knife, chisels and gouges. A 45 degree chamfer was cut along the edges. When one layer was ready, the patterns of the next, deeper layer was drawn and the process repeated with the router set at a larger depth. Using this method, making the tracery patterns was really fast and easy, and proved even quicker than making the linenfold panels. The following photoset shows the different stages in creating the tracery panels.

(Left) The first layer routed, it has to be cleaned by gouges and chisel to lines drawn. (Middle) Layer 2 circular window, drawing with drawing marks at the sides of the board for the positioning of the centre of the circle. The circle was drawn with a pencil compass. (Right) Layer 2 circular window, routeing done but not cleaned up.

(Left) Layer 2 circular window mostly finished with rounded knobs at the centre of the small circles. The rosettes and triangular holes at the side of the large circle are finished, the central rosette is being carved. (Middle) Circular window layer 2, not yet cleaned up.  (Right)  Same circular window, with cleaned layer 3. The rosettes of layer 2 still have to be carved.

(Left) Layer 3 circular window, drawing pattern has been added. (Middle) Layer 3, circular window, showing the small decoration on top of the circle. (Right) Drawing of a circular window of another panel.  

(Left) Layer 2 circular window, routed but not yet cleaned. (Middle) Layer 3 circular window, everything is routed and in the process of being cleaned. (Right) Layer 3 circular window, drawing pattern, the central rosette is finished.  

(Left) Layer 2 bottom, drawing added. (Middle) Layer 2 bottom, after routing and cleaning; the large chamfer from layer 0 to layer 2 at the bottom has been made. (Right) Layer 3 bottom, drawing pattern for the non-rosette pencil windows has been added.

(Left) Layer 3 bottom, all routed, but only the bottom part is cleaned. (Middle) Layer 3 under, the lower part is routed and cleaned, the top part contains the drawing with the rosettes. (Right) Layer 2 bottom, the pencil windows are being cleaned; the large chamfer at the bottom has already been made. 

(Left) Layer 2 top, routed and cleaned; the cuts at the top of the ‘pencils’ have not yet been done. (Middle) Layer 2 top, routed and cleaned; here, the cuts at the top of the ‘pencils’ have been added.(Right) Layer 2 top, the line on the left side of the panel shows the place where the ‘bottleneck’ of the third layer will be placed in the thin windows.

(Left) Layer 2 top, routed and cleaned; the cuts at the top of the ‘pencils’ will be done after layer 3 as they are relatively fragile. (Right) Layer 3 top, the finished pattern.

(Left) Detail of the rosettes at the bottom of a panel. (Right) Process of carving a triangular hole with a knob (originally I planned a rosette, but changed it as there would be too much rosettes on this part of the panel).

The rosettes were made by hand using different sizes of gouges. Any knobs in the design were rounded using a small chisel along the grain, and sanding it smooth using a piece of 180 grid sandpaper. The triangular deep spots were made using a straight fishtailed gouge (F1). The tracery panels were finished by removing the plunge marks of the router bit on the bottom layers with a chisel, and adding special accents with a carving knife where necessary.

  All four tracery panels with their carving finished. On top you can already see the designs drawn for the smaller middle panels.

The panels were then sawn to their correct height. The backside of the panels were chamfered using a 2 inch round moulding plane in order to fit in the grooves of the tresoor frame. Finally, the panels were oiled with linseed oil. The oil on the tracery pattern was applied with a brush in order reach the deepest parts that could not be reached by a cloth with oil.

Applying oil with a brush to the panels for the tresoor outside castle Hernen. Copyright photo Ton Rothengatter.

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Two late medieval trestles

Original real medieval trestles (not the X-trestle tables or the trestle tables that have a horizontal support between the two trestles) are extremely rare. There is a table top with several trestles in the museum Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Potterie in Bruges, Belgium. The Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, France has a table top with two trestles on display, as well as one trestle hidden somewhere in the depot.

An illumination from 'Anciennes chroniques d’Angleterre' by author Jean de Wavrin ((1400?-1474?) showing some fallen trestles of the type where the three legs are at the sidesof the supporting rail.  Français 81, fol. 262r. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Paris, France. Note that also a strycsitten (a bench with a turnable backrest) is shown.

A few years ago I discovered another pair of medieval trestles in Chateau Bois D'Orcan in Bretagne, France. The castle museum has a small but superb collection of medieval furniture. All these trestles are more or less similar in construction: they are very robust, made of heavy pieces of oak, with two legs in front and one at the back. The ones in Bois D'Orcan and the Musee des Arts Decoratives being the most decorated. 

This year I discovered another set of trestles - this one with a modern glass tabletop - when I visited the antique shop of Bruil and Brandsma in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In contrast to the other trestles, these are "lightweight" and have a different construction. Here, the three legs of the trestle are at the sides, instead of at the front and back. 

Finally, when I started preparing this blog I did a quick internet search on trestles and found an early 16th century set of trestles originating from the UK, also with the legs to the sides. These trestles are the most simple in their construction, and made of heavy oak. Similar type of trestles with side legs are often found in medieval illuminations and paintings. Interestingly, one of the English trestles has four legs, instead of the usual - more stable - three.

Bruil and Brandsma, the Netherlands

The left and the right trestle; photos taken frontal and slightly diagonal. The carved designs of the two are different.

This set of oak trestles originates from the Abby of Herkenrode in Belgium. The abby was founded around 1179 by the earl of Loon. It had a turbulent past: it became a place of pilgrimage, suffered from wars between the regional lords and bishops. During the 18th century it was sold as well as the furniture and other properties. The abby buildings then became an industrial site, suffered from a fire, before it returned in relegious hands in 1972. The trestles could have remained at the abby, or were acquired by locals somewhere in its past with the knowledge of their origin remaining.

Both ends of the horizontal support rails are carved with a floral design. Also note that the legs are inserted into the horizontal rail and secured with a wooden pin.

The decorative rose of the other trestle. This one has a small repair.

The middle boards are carved with a slightly different design. Note the metal nail in the cross of the left photo that connects to the supporting rail to the third leg.

The connecting rail from the middle board to the third leg. Also a metal nail is driven through the third leg. 

The undecorated other side of the trestle. Note that the top part contains no decorative rose. This might indicate that the trestle table is a set of two, and complete except for the table top. Or these trestles are the two outer ones of a larger table with more trestles, where any undecorated middle ones are gone. 

Sutton Hall, United Kingdom

The Sutton Hall trestles (and tabletop) were on sale at an English antique shop (Period Oak Antiques). This table is one of two identical tables from the great hall of Sutton Place in Guidford, Surrey, UK. Sutton Place was a great renaissance mansion build by Sir Richard Weston, a loyal and influential courtier of King Henry VIII. It is believed that these two trestle tables have been in the house since its construction in 1521-1533. 

The two trestle tables as seen in their original site in Sutton Place hall.

The tables date from the 16th century. The table top consists of a large 10 feet long hewn single plank of English oak 4" thick and 30.5" wide. It stands on two trestle supports: one with four legs, the other with three. The trestles are of very simple construction, bascially a large block of oak with the legs sticked into it. The trestles are undecorated, except for the initial JW found at one of the ends of a block.

The trestle on the right has three legs, the one on the left four.

The four-legged trestle.

The table top shown from the 3-legged trestle side.

One trestle is stamped with the initials J.W., According to the antique dealer these marks stood for John Weston, the builder of Sutton Place. This is a bit peculiar as Richard Weston was the first Weston owner of the mansion. It is possible that the initial stand for a later owner, John (Webbe) Weston, an 18th century related family member who inherited the mansion.

Again the four-legged trestle.

Bruil and Brandsma are greatly acknowledged for their permission to take photos and allowing them to be published on this blog.