Wednesday 13 March 2024

Tresoor of Castle Hernen Part 8 : Fitting the tresoor together

This post continues the story of the creation of the tresoor of castle Hernen and concerns fitting the main parts of the tresoor together. Until this post, all parts of the tresoor were loosely fit and could be taken apart into individual pieces. In this post, most of the parts will be fitted together and fixed with wooden nails. The boards of the bottom display and the cupboard will be added as well.

Left: A lot of wooden pins were necessary for fixing the parts together. These are the split rough nails. Right: The square nails sized and pointed with a chisel.

A very useful jig. The adjustable lamp stand - a long plank with a hole for the swivel arm lamp which could be clamped anywhere on the tresoor. 

At this point we decided that a decorative groove around the edges of the panelframes would make the tresoor more appealing. For the panels of the cupboard, the wooden frame could still be taken apart and the groove easily made on a router table with a V-bit. For the frame at the back with the linenfold panels another set-up was chosen as the horizontal rails had multiple short stretches of grooves and using a hand router with a guiding rail offered more control of making the grooves. The connection between the horizontal and vertical grooves were cut by hand with a chisel and gouge.

Router set-up for the horizontal rails of the back of the tresoor. Each horizontal rails had four short stretches and this set-up allowed more visual control when using the router.
Left: For the router set-up, the guiding rail needed very precise placement to ensure the groove also was horizontal. Right: One groove was forgotten on the router table and had to be made with the hand router as well.
Grooves were made on the top of the panel frame and the sides. The bottom of the panel frame was planed at an angle. The end of the groove (indicated by the 2 pencil lines) was cut by hand with a gouge.

The angle connecting the top en side groove was cut by hand (indicated by pencil marks). The grooves towards the panel were rounded with a scraper.
Using a Veritas corner rounding tool to smooth the edges of the frame.
Bottom cupboard and bottom display planks consisted of 18 mm oak planks. They were connected to each other with a non-fixed groove en tongue joint. For the bottom of the cupboard also grooves needed to be cut into the horizonal and vertical rails. The planks for the cupboard were thus enclosed and fixed by the side walls of the cupboard. The boards for the bottom display are just resting on the frame, but semi-fixed by the two vertical standing stiles. An extra supporting rail was added in the middle for the bottom boards.

A groove was sawn and cut with a chisel in the vertical rail to support the planks of the cupboard. 

The set-up for the bottom of the cupboard without the planks.

Left: The set-up with one of the planks added - top view.  Note that the board has a groove for the tongue of the next board. Right: The set-up with one of the planks added - bottom view. You can see that the back of the plank rests on the rail of the backside.

The next board needs to be sawn  at an edge.

The second board added for the cupboard.

The bottom board consisted of three parts; the middle one needed a complex cut-out for the pentagon stile.
A lot of clamps were needed for this process, and luckily we had a lot of clamps. But clamping an edge of 45 degrees or as thin as 1-2 cm is difficult, so some clamping jigs were used. After the main parts of the tresoor were fixed, the tresoor was sanded and oiled with linseed oil. The crown and the metal fittings are still missing.
This was the easiest part to construct. Only four large clamps were needed.

Pins added at the mortise and tenon joints of the backside of the tresoor.

Left: The horizontal parts of the sides could be easily clamped to the backside, as they stood at an 90 degree angle. Right: Each 'side of the tresoor had its own number, and the parts with the corresponding numbers fitted exactly.

The grooves were oiled with linseed oil before the panels were added. The panels were already oiled and dried.
To clamp the next pentagon sized vertical rail some clamping jigs with a V-groove were used.

The remaining three sides of the cupboard needed to be added and clamped together. Also the rails for the drawer was added at this time. A lot of clamps and clamping jigs were used in this process. You can see the pins sticking out at various joints.
A photo of a test set-up showing how the drawer rails are fixed between the back and front. Two mortise and tenon joints were used, but no pins were necessary here.

The mortise and tenon joints of the cupboard were fixed by two pins.

For the bottom planksan extra supporting rail was added. At the back a dovetail joint was used, at the front a mortise and tenon joint.
Adding two of the boards helped in retaining the correct angle when the bottom of the tresoor was clamped. Space was much less here and it was near impossible to drill the holes for the pins. The bottom supporting rail in the middle was fixed with a pin after the bottom panel frame was fixed.

After the bottom was fixed with pins, it needed some adjustment with rabbet and bullnose planes to allow the third and final board to be placed.

Everything sanded and oiled. Only the door with the metal fittings and the crown are missing.

Saturday 10 February 2024

An unusual folding chair at Burg Eltz

Burg Eltz is one of the many castles along the Mosel river in Germany, and a main tourist attraction, mainly because it is still complete and furnished, and thus pleasing to visit. Unfortunately, you may not take photos inside the castle. The furniture collection of the castle ranges from late medieval to the turn of the 20th century. This also includes the neogothic style, which can be difficult to distinguish from late medieval. For instance the type of furniture may not match the medieval style or the furniture is made too regular. 

Four sedia dantesca folding chairs with leather seats are shown in this room of Burg Eltz. On the ceiling hangs an early 16th century lichtweibchen. Photo from Burg Eltz website

A sleeping room in Burg Eltz. I find the bed suspicious, but the dressoir behind it looks genuine. Photo from Burg Eltz website.

This room in Burg Eltz has fantasy medieval furniture, the most obvious one is the sofa. Photo from Burg Eltz website.

One of the pieces of furniture that caught my eye was a common Savonarola folding chair, but with an abnormal contruction for the backrest. Normally, the backrest can slide into a groove in the armrest, and thus the backrest is wider than the chair itself. Here, a dovetail was used to connect the backrest with the armrest. This complete fixes the backrest to the arms (in theory you could slide in and out of the dovetail groove, but it is not very practical), making the chair non-foldable. 

A 'normal' constructed Savonarola chair in Burg Eltz, with an extended backrest.

The normal savaranola chair has a sliding groove for the backrest. This example is my chair.

My savonarola chair backend construction (left), and the Burg Eltz backend with the dovetail (photoshopped from my chair).

Sunday 21 January 2024

The medieval turned bench at Alpirsbach

Three turned benches (with footrest) are visible on this old photo of the Alpirsbach monastery, where there is now only one.

Turned wooden furniture was relatively common during the early medieval period (500-1300): quite some examples of beds, chairs and benches have been archaeologically excavated or have survived in situ (see e.g. Appuhn, 1978/1979; Doppelfeld, 1960; Karlson, 1928; Kortekaas and Blom, 2011; Proos, 2018; Theune-Groβkopf and Nedoma, 2008). One often mentioned example is (are) the choir-bench (es) of the Alpirsbach monastery in Alpirsbach, southern Germany. There is now only one bench left in the former cloister, the ones that moved to the Schlossmuseum in Stuttgart were lost during the second world war. Also the footrests have not survived, both in the cloister and the museum.

Alpirsbach monastery, now a small museum.

The large turned choir bench in Romanesque style of Alpirsbach, 6.7 metres long.

Lately, we visited Alpirsbach to have a look at the Romanescque bench. The surviving example can be found in the cloister church and is massive; 6.70 meters long, 1.26 cm high, with a depth of 67 cm. Seating height is about 46 cm. The turned vertical posts are made from oak and are around 13-14 cm thick. The top of each post has a turned knob. The posts themselves contain many decorative turned lines. The connecting slats and horizontal turned armrest (arond 7 cm thick) at the sides are also from oak. (I assume that the seating supports underneath the bench are also from oak.) The seating is made from a single fir wood board (on one side restored) of around 4 cm thickness; the long boards of the backrest and front are also made from fir. 

The seating consists of one board, the part on the left side of the bench is restored. 

The middle post of the bench. You can see the decorative lines on the vertical posts. The backrest is fixed with 2 large dark-coloured pins to the vertical post. More pins can be spotted: along the rail on top of the backrest board. The middle turned stile of the beackrest is fixed with pins to the top and bottom boards. The front oak post is fixed with a round pin to the bottom boards. One of the bottom front stiles (second right from the post) is fixed with square pins on top and below, and finally the seating board is fixed to the front board with a square pin (left of the post).

Depending on the angle you look at the bench, the turned decoration of  the backrest shows its X-pattern. Along the seating board, you see pins at intervals that nail the bottom front board to the seating board. Also visible in the front board are the 2 mortise and tenon joints of the supports for the seating board.

The square patterns of the backrest. The two outer stiles of each square fit into a hole in the boards. Sometimes an extra vertical stile is added between the squares which is fixed with pins on the boards. You can see the extra one between the first and second square; there is no extra one between the second and third square.

The turned patterns of this square are partly different. The turner made rows of hollows or rows of rounds, instead of rounds interspaced with thin lines (compare photo above).

Looking underneath is always interesting. There is a large block under the seating. This could be a support  that raises the bench from the floor (you can see the vertical posts are not on the stone floor) or as support for the restored seatingboard (On this side the support shows two boards, the left one is the board from the restoration).  

More supports for the seating can be seen underneath.

A closer look at the front boards and stiles, and a mortise and tenon joint for the support of the seating. On the right is an insert, showing a small restoration of the front board. 

The turned decoration of the backrest, armrest and on the front below the seating are made from a third wood type: ash. The turned stiles of the backrest are around 3.3 cm thick, in a square of  around 33 cm (i.e. 10 stiles per square). In total the Alpirsbach bench has 16 of these squares, sometimes separated by an extra vertical turned stile that is fixed by a pin in the boards above and below.  However, if you look at the old image of the destroyed bench, only 15 squares are counted, meaning the benches did not have an exactly same size. That there are some discrepancies is even visible within the surviving bench. Patterns of some stiles between the squares can be suddenly different. 

Top: Front of the bench in the Stuttgart museum with 15 'squares' (image scanned from Von Falke, 1924). Bottom: Front of the bench in Alpirsbach with 16 squares (image from wikimedia).

The turned stiles in the armrest are in two squares of around 20 x 20 cm. On top of the backrest is another turned stile, which is fixed to the board by pins. 

The side of the Alpirsbach bench. The decorative lines can clearly be seen on the posts. Only the top turned armrest and the bottom oak support are fixed by pins. Also visible is that the seating board consists of one plank. The turned decorative stiles have differnt patterns depending on their place in the 'square'. The height of the armrest is around 77 cm.

The side from the lost bench from the Stuttgart museum. It could be a 'badly' taken photo, but the turned side  looks more like a carved board here - no open spaces are visible. (image scanned from Von Falke, 1924).

The benches were thought to date from the 13th century (von Falke, 1924), however more recent dendrological dating proved the oak to be from 1344 (so the bench must have been made after this date). The size and weigth of the benches make it likely that they were locally contructed. The surviving bench is lifted slightly from the ground (some anchors in the wall?) - which I noticed when I looked more carefully at the photos - likely as a measure to prevent moisture damage to the posts.  


  • Appuhn, H., 1978/1979. Beitrage zur geschichte des herrschersitzer im Mittelalter. I teil. Gedrechselte Sitze. Aachener Kunstblatter 48, pages 25-52. 
  • Doppelfeld, Otto. 1960. Das fränkische Frauengrab unter dem Chor des Kölner Domes. Germania 38: pages 89-113.
  • Karlson, W., 1928. Studier i Sveriges medeltida mobelkonst. N.M. Mandelgren, Atlas till Sveriges odlinghistorica. Tillagshafte V. A.H. Ph. Lindtstedts Universitetsbokhandel, Lund, Sweden. 
  • Kortekaas, Gert and Blom, Marcella met medewerking van Rogier Kruisman. 2011. Over stoelen en banken. Een middeleeuwse meubelvondst uit Groningen. Archeobrief 2: 15-17. 
  • Proos, Rene. 2018. De stoel van Overschie. Holland – historisch tijdschrift 50: 254-263.
  • Theune-Groβkopf, Barbara and Nedoma, Robert. 2008. Stuhlbeigabe in völkerwanderungs- und merowingerzeitlichen Gräbern im Spiegel eines neuen Befundes mit Runeninschrift aus Trossingen, Lkr. Tuttlingen. Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 38 (Nr. 3), pages 423-436.
  • Von Falke, O. 1924. Deutsche möbel des Mittelalters und der renaissance. Verlag von Julius Hoffmann, Stuttgart, Germany.