A Brief Description of Some Medieval French Woodworking: The Musée National du Moyen Age – Thermes de Cluny

What follows is a brief description of some pieces from the Musée de Cluny in Paris.   I apologize for the poor quality of some of the pictures, but the lighting was dim and I didn’t have a tripod with me.  The pieces are mostly French and mostly from the 15th Century.  Later pieces formerly at the Cluny have been transferred to the Musée national de la Renaissance at Ecouen.  The pictures are all hyperlinks to a full size version of the photo.

I am still in the process of retouching some of the photos and redrawing the sketches from my notes; these will be added as they are completed. read more

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A Brief History of Medieval European Joinery

The techniques used to join pieces of wood together evolved significantly between the 12th and 15th Centuries. This evolution was in response to both the technical problem of making strong joints that would resist wood movement and the demands of the customer base. This evolution in technique was part of the general evolution of woodworking from the relatively crude and utilitarian objects of the early Middle Ages to the highly decorated furniture in use at the dawn of the Renaissance.

The Technical Problems

Wood is a living material composed of a mixture of cellulose, which makes up the cells, and lignin, which joins the cells together. As the cells absorb or release water from the environment, they expand and contract, causing the wood to move. Due to the orientation of the cells, movement perpendicular to the grain of the wood is usually several times that parallel to the grain. When end grain is joined to long grain, the differential wood movement can cause the joint to fail. (see Figure 1). read more

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Woods in Use in the Middle Ages & Renaissance

The following is a first attempt at listing woods that are known to have been in use in Western Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. For each wood, I have listed its Latin name, general characteristics, and typical uses. In many cases, I have also suggested a North American equivalent. Because wood is a living material, its characteristics can vary greatly from region to region and from tree to tree depending on climate, soil conditions, and other growing conditions. In compiling this list, I have concentrated on those uses related to woodworking, uses for other tree parts such as bark and leaves for crafts such as dyeing and medicine have largely been omitted. read more

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Medieval & Renaissance Furniture at the Cloisters

Introduction

The Cloisters is the medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Located in an atmospheric setting in the far north of Manhattan, the Cloisters houses a small but choice collection of medieval art and architecture. The furniture collection at the Cloisters is rather small, and is used mostly as room settings to enhance the other artworks on display. There are no photographs with this report due to both the dim lighting and the Met’s photographic policies. To my knowledge the Cloisters’ furniture collection has never been published or publically cataloged, although a few pieces are described in Daniel Diehl’s two books Constructing Medieval Furniture (1997) and Medieval Furniture: Plans and Instructions for Historical Reproductions (1999). The bracketed numbers are the museum accession/catalog numbers
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Bibliographies on medieval and Renaissance furniture and woodworking tools.

Bibliography of Medieval Woodworking Tools – A partially annotated bibliography of works on the subject of medieval and Renaissance woodworking tools(PDF format).

Medieval Furniture Bibliography – A bibliography of works on the subject of medieval and Renaissance Furniture (PDF format).

The Northern European Timber Trade- An article on the timber trade in northern Europe. focusing on the Baltic and Rhine areas (PDF format).

The Cloisters- A brief description of the furniture on view at the Cloisters in New York. read more

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Getting Started in Woodworking

Introduction

If you watch woodworking television shows like “The New Yankee Workshop” or look through various woodworking magazines like Luxury Home Stuff, you’ll probably get the impression that woodworking requires several thousand dollars worth of noisy machines, air filtration systems, and enough protective gear to survive an EPA Superfund site.

Many of us who are starting out in woodworking have serious constraints on our money and/or available space.  In this article, I intend to suggest ways to put together a basic woodworker’s toolkit for a reasonable sum.  In doing this, I’m making the assumption that you are going to start with things like chests and benches and not fine furniture.  I’m also assuming that you’re doing most of your work with dimensional lumber from the local home center.  This article is written from a North American perspective, but most of what’s in here should apply in the rest of the world, with the notable exception of local species of wood.

Tool belt close-up on wood

Safety Note: Even with hand tools, woodworking can still be hazardous.   You should follow all safety precautions and exercise a healthy amount of common sense.  If something feels unsafe, stop and go find someone who knows what they’re doing.

Tools

The first thing you’re going to need are some tools.  We can divide them into the following categories:

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