Medieval Woodworking
Part 2

Lord Simon de Roquefort


In part 1 of this series, I described the basic hand tools used for clearing and treating timber so that items could be produced to enhance life. Part 2 continues in this vein, but this time I am describing the more advanced tools (medieval power tools!) used for the preparation of the timber which, in a workshop as far back as the pre-Roman Celts would be fairly commonplace. These items would still have been seen in everyday use as recently as the start of the industrial revolution where more "mechanical" devices were conceived. Even today the basic principles used by these tools are relatively unchanged apart from the materials used to build them and the power source used to drive them.

The Tining Stool

A Tining Stool is basically a length of timber on legs that can seat a man at one end. the other (working) end has a hole in the timber often either lined or surrounded by an iron ring, or former.

Short lengths of wood roughly squared are placed onto the former and then hammered through to produce a regular size of peg or "nail" (the original nails were all made of wood). Different formers could produce different widths and shapes of peg. Once these were produced in quantities they were then used in the construction of buildings. Rake tines (where the name for the stool originated) which are the "teeth" of the rake and any number of other items that required pegs, nails, dowels etc. This made the building trade of the time more efficient by the use of quick mass production.

The Shaving Horse

The Shaving Horse was a very similar contraption to the tining stool in that it was based on the exact same "table" base. In fact the one stool could do either job just by replacing the actual tooling section.

The timber support is mounted on a long bar that holds a cross beam above the table with a foot pedal structure below. This whole unit pivoted on a peg mounted through the horizontal plane of the table.

To shave timber all that the operator was required to do was to place his timber on the table at one end and raise the section for shaving either by resting it on his chest or knee. The wood was firmly held in place by putting pressure on the foot pedal which forced the cross beam to lock the timber in position while a draw knife (see part 1 in FLAME 4) was pulled along it. This allowed for very straight batten shaving and could also be used to produce circular dowels (after a little practice) which are straighter than present day machined versions.

The Pole Lathe

The pole lathe is the direct ancestor of the modern wood and metal turning lathe, and over the centuries very little has changed indeed!

The pole lathe is used for turning wood at high speed for shaping into chair and table legs, for producing bowls and plates, mugs and cups, and any other job that required large circular or scalloped shaping. Historical records show that the pole lathe was the preferred tool for creating well known furniture such as the original Windsor chairs in the 13th century. Also famous 17th and 18th century cabinet makers also specified its use over the more recent designs for "accuracy" reasons and examples of these can be seen in the designs by makers such as Chippendale, Hepplewhite and even Robert Adams during the Neo-Classical era.

The pole lathe is operated quite simply with a long pole hung on a tree fork and strung to the tree. This creates a spring effect and the tip of this is attached around the piece being turned by a rope and then onto a foot pedal that is pumped up and down again to turn the piece being worked on.

In part 3 I shall be demonstrating how to build simple camp furniture to make life a little more comfortable during those long sessions around the camp fire.