Medieval Woodworking
Part 1: Woodland Crafts

Simon de Roquefort


Welcome to the world of the Arts & Sciences. Starting this month I will be building a series of articles dedicated to the history of wood craft from its early beginnings to the magnificent masterpieces of the Renaissance. How was wood worked, who were the articles made for and why and including a number of projects for you to make for use at camp and during Tourneys.

The earliest of buildings were made from the trees of the forest as are many today, but how did early man cut and shape the timber so that it could be used? Obviously, uniform beams for roofing were needed and right from the dawn of time man developed tools for the job to the best of his abilities, many of which are still widely used today.

What were these early tools and what were they used for?

Some of the more interesting projects for you to try would be making a wattle hurdle (used as a walling material and for fencing animal enclosures and fields). Firstly, to cut the timber an axe was required. Two types, one for the felling of trees and the other for cutting off the branches. The smaller of the two the developed into a tool known as a bill hook. This was also used as a weapon when mounted on a long pole (very effective it was too).

The tool for stripping the trees and branches of their bark was most commonly a draw knife. This was a two handed blade that was pulled along the wood giving a reasonably even line to the timber, a little like the modern smooth plane.

Once the timber was roughly hewn it could be shaped with the use of an adze. This tool was a development of the antler or rib bone axe and is used to shape the timber. It is ideal for "carving" out depressions as in large bowls or indeed, dug out canoes and was to be commonly found in use by shipwrights until the 19th Century (some people still use it for shaping wooden boats).

Although we now have the tools for cutting treating and shaping the timber it would be very difficult to assemble anything without the odd hole or two. This required the use of a drill of sorts. An early drill was a spoon bit drill and most commonly comprised metal (shaped) spoon like bit attached to a long pole which was turned back and forth by pulling on a rope twisted around the pole. It is a surprisingly efficient drill and the Auger drill and bits are a direct descendant of these early drills.

Making a wattle hrdle (or fence panel)

First, take 4 to 6 upright poles about 3 to 4 inches thick. Place these in the ground about a foot apart. Take some 1 inch lengths of hazel (untreated but as long as you can get) and starting on one of the middle poles weave the hazel in and out of the consecutive poles. When one "string" of hazel is completed start a second just prior to where the first ended and continue. At regular intervals, push the woven hazel down to the ground to make sure of a tight weave. Build this up to the required height of the fence or panel and remove any excess timber from the poles. This is your first "hurdle" and makes a superb windbreak for camp or even a backdrop to a throne. As a living history exercise it will attract a lot of attention and is not difficult to do as I trust you can see from the above.

Next month I will show you what a Tining stool is and how to make it. You will find it another extremely practical project. 'til next month then sira.