Saturday, 2 August 2014

Early medieval and Egyptian woodworking tools

Last week we went to the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, the Netherlands to visit the exhibition on the 'Golden Middle Ages', also known as the early medieval period, Anglo-Saxon period, the Merovingian period or (not so) dark ages. The exhibition was very nice, with lots of golden jewellery, but also some woodworking tools from that period.

A block plane with a modern reconstruction. The plane has a bronze sole and a hollowed out grip, just like the Roman type of planes. Sarre cemetary, Maidstone, UK, 500-650 AD.

Two whetting stones found in Odoorn, the Netherlands. 500-600 AD. 
As these stones are quite rounded, they are likely used to sharpern gouges.

A collection of iron and bone tools from various sites from the netherlands. 
The most right is the half of a  from Gennip. In the middle is a hammer. 400-800 AD.

A double sided toothed saw (16,7 x 3,2 cm)  from Kootwijk, the Netherlands. 10th -12th century. 
This is a quite interesting tool, as I have not seen such a medieval saw blade anywhere else.

The permanent exhibition also offered some woodworking experience, though not 'exactly' medieval, I found it interesting enough to share in this post. Most of these tools were found in Egypt.

This stone shows some carpenters at work. From left to right: sawing, using an adze, then something unknown and last the use of a chisel with a mallet. 1325 BC from Sakkara. 

The cubit of Ptahmes. Ptahmes was an architect and high priest of Ptah. 
His rule is divided in 7 hand witdths and 38 finger widths. Made of basalt. Sakkara, 1400-1300 BC.

A model saw and an adze. Model tools of copper, bronze and wood were ritually deposited at the corners of a new building. This set consists of a saw, adze, axe and three chisels. The saw carries the name of Thoetmosis III, and were found at the temple dedicated to him. Around 1436-1430 BC.

The model saw with the Toetmoses III inscription on the blade.

Three model chisels.

The model axe and the three chisels.

Finally some tools from 1596. 
The hammer, plane blade and chisel are from the Nova Zembla expedition from Willem Barentz.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Marijn, a very interesting post. I've also been looking at ancient tools recently. If you're interested, there's a post about ancient egypt at and one about ancient Nubia and Mesopotamia at It's very interesting seeing how little the basic designs of many tools changed for thousands of years isn't it? That reconstructed block plane wouldn't look out of place in a modern workshop, neither would a double-edged saw blade (considering how popular Japanese-style Ryoba saws are, I wonder if one side of the medieval blade is for cross-cutting and one for ripping along the grain?) Also interesting to see how many toxic substances (such as arsenic) went into making many copper alloy bladed tools, I wouldn't have fancied being a metalworker in the ancient world!
    Thanks again Marijn