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Plans and Instructions with
Copyright Â© 1997 by Stackpole Books
5067 Ritter Road
Mechanicsburg, PA 17055
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form or
by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. All inquiries
should be addressed to Stackpole Books, 5067 Ritter Road, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055.
Printed in the United States of America
Coverdesign by Caroline M . Miller
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Constructing medieval furniture: plans and instructions with historical notes / Daniel
Diehl. - 1st ed.
1. Furniture-Drawings. 2. Furniture-Reproduction. 3. Furniture, Medieval.
4. Measured drawing. I. Title.
To my mother,
who had great faith in me throughout her life,
but did not live to see this book published.
11. Curule Chair
1. Woodworking Notes
13. Monastic Canopy Bed
2. Metalworking Notes
14. Fifteenth-Century Window Frame
15. Wine Cabinet
4. Fifteenth-Century Bench
16. Gothic Cradle
5. Painted Wall Hanging
17. Fifteenth-Century Door
6. Fourteenth-Century Reading Desk
18. Glastonbury Chair
7. High Table
19. Mirrored Wall Sconce
8. Oxford Chest
Appendix A: Furniture Locations
9. Vestment Chest
10. Ambry Cupboard
Appendix B: Sources of Medieval
To accomplish truly worthwhile things, one must learn
to work and play well with others. Certainly a project
of this scope could never be accomplished by one person. lowe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all of the
people and institutions who generously allowed me
access to their property and records: Dr. William
Wixom of the Metropolitan Museum, Daniel Kletke at
the Cloisters, John O'Brien at Haddon Hall, Dave
Clodfelter of English Heritage, Dr. Sarah Bendall and
the Warden and Fellows of Merton College, Oxford,
Dr. Dean Walker of the Philadelphia Museum of Art,
Dan Mehn, and Nick Humphrey at the Victoria and
Albert Museum. Without their cooperation, this book
would not exist . Special thanks go to Bob Rich, who
provided background information and the artwork for
the chapter on painted wall hangings, as well as continuing assistance in research.
Thanks also to Sally Atwater and Kyle Weaver, my
editors at Stackpole Books, for their faith in this project; to Allison Leopold, who has helped in more ways
over the years than I can count; to 0. Tyler Huff, my
photographer; to my father, for a quarter century
together in the workshop; and especially to my friend
and literary partner Mark Donnelly, who corrected my
manuscript, clarified my construction notes, and is the
driving spirit that keeps the dream alive.
I did not set out to write a book about the construction
of medieval furn iture. It was only whe n I realized th at
one did not already exist th at I determined to und ertake the project. I was amazed, th roughout the cou rse
of my research, at how little documentation on
medieval furniture and its construction exists. Even
many of the better furniture encycloped ias pay little
atte ntion to the medieval period . From the furni shings
of the ancient Egyptian s, Greeks, and Roman s, the literature leaps int o the Italian Ren aissanc e. Ar e we then
to believe tha t no one sat down for more th an eigh t
Despite archaeo logical and documentary evidence
to the contrary, historians of the decorative arts would
have us believe th at our med ieval ancestors had no life
beyond building castles and but chering their
History needs to be more th an dates, places, and
names of famous people. Only by und erstanding the
daily lives of the people who populated it can we really
appreciate th e past as a living place where people were
very much like ourselves, but at the same tim e made
very different by their social and political surroundings.
Although I can no t imagine anyone wan ting to recreate the political cond itions of th e Middl e Ages, th e
social atmosphere of the age of chivalry still has a simplistic , roman tic appeal. Tournaments, courtly love,
and great feasts continue to capture our imagination
centuries after th ey have ceased to exist.
Though there is an endl ess flood of books on various
aspects of life in the Middl e Ages, there has not , to my
knowledge, been anything written on the most visible
surviving remn ants of domestic life of the periodhousehold furniture. Here, then , is a collection of
medieval furniture representative of almost every room
and use in the castle and man or house.
The furni shings in thi s book are among the finest
surviving examples from the golden age of ch ivalry.
These origina l, priceless pieces are housed in public
and private collections th roughou t th e United Sta tes
and England. Accomp anying each photograph is a
description of th e item and its current location, in
many cases still in th e English castl e or cathedral for
which it was origina lly made. A few pieces, however,
are probably from a north European country ot he r
th an England . C on sidering the cultural interc ha nge,
peaceful and otherwise, th at took place among England,
Fran ce, and the Low Coun tries th roughout much of
the Middl e Ages, similar furn iture styles must have
appeared simulta neously th roughout thi s part of the
The measured drawings th at accompany the phot os
of each piece of furniture will be of interest to scho lars,
amateur histori an s, and woodworkers alike. Here for
the first time the reader can see how medieval furn ituremakers produced furniture that ha s withstood a th ousand years of service with out the benefit of glue, screws,
or, sometimes, even nails.
The illustration s show the methods used in con structing th e origina l furn ish ings. With few excep tions,
the drawings were taken directl y from the or igina l
pieces of medieval furniture. Because of th e methods
used in making the origina l furniture, and the wear
and tear of th e centuries, most of th e origina l pieces
are not in square, or even symmetrical. Consequently,
I have been forced to standard ize d imensions and
remove many of the sligh t variations in herent in primitive construction techniques. I have included the grain
pattern of the wood wherever possible, both to add
interest to the drawings and to indicate the direction
of the grain.
In the accompanying text, there are occasional suggestions for alterations that will make reproduction
easier for the modern woodworker. A few of the drawings differ slightly from the way the piece of furniture
appears today. These changes have been made to
reverse alterations that were made to some of the furniture over the years. I have also made a distinction
between marks from primitive construction techniques
and signs of wear and age, allowing the former to
remain but removing signs of the latter. There should
be virtually no difference in a finished reproduction
and the original from which it was copied, except for
the lack of six or seven centuries of wear and tear.
The drawings have all been done to accurate scale.
When there are complex bits of carving or other detail
shown on the drawings, they can be enlarged on a
photocopier to the size called for and used as a pattern
to be transferred directly onto the surface of the wood.
The level of skill required to execute the projects in
this book ranges from basic to fairly complex. The
chapters appear in order of complexity, beginning with
the simplest. The construction notes may at times
seem simplistic to advanced woodworkers, but they
should provide clarity for those who are still honing
their shop skills. On several pieces, the amount of work
required to produce the piece can be significantly
reduced simply by eliminating the ornamental carving.
In no instance, however, is an elaborately equipped
workshop required to produce this furniture. Remember, originally all of these pieces were made with hand
tools and without the benefit of electricity.
Before beginning any project, read the introductory
chapters on woodworking, metalworking, and finishes,
as well as the entire assembly instructions for the project. A firm understanding of the entire project will
help you avoid unnecessary problems along the way.
Several projects in the book are not, strictly speaking, furniture. They are, however, items that probably
would have been found in the homes that contained
the furniture represented here. For anyone planning to
execute an entire room in medieval style, these pieces
will give the room a historically authentic look.
Appendix B lists places that sell all kinds of medieval
accessories to provide the finishing touches necessary
to outfit any well-appointed castle.
Here are a few general observations and suggestions
about woodworking methods and materials th at hold
true for most of the project s conta ined in thi s book.
were felled, the workers avoided havin g to carry excess
wood to the final destination, thus avoiding needless
Most of the furn iture made dur ing the Middle Ages
was made from freshly cut, or green, wood. The process
of aging and curing wood was unknown , and working
with freshly cut wood was labor efficient . Because the
wood was worked green, the methods of const ruction
differed from those used when working with air-dried
or kiln-dried wood. For example, during the Middl e
Ages, sections of furn iture th at were to be joined with
dowel pins were drill ed so th at the holes were sligh tly
out of line. As the wood dried and sh rank, the pieces
were pulled tightl y together. Today, because the wood
will not shr ink with the passage of time, pieces to be
doweled are clamped together and holes are drill ed in
a straigh t line.
Medieval woodworkers often set up temporary manufacturing communities in the forest, where the y could
fell trees and immediatel y turn them into lumber and
then into furniture. Woodsmen would fell the trees,
and sawyers would cut them into boards either with
saws or by splitting them off the logs with wedges and
sledgeha mmers. Craftsmen of all types would immedi ately go to work turning the fresh lumber int o useful
items, coopers making buckets and barrels; carpenters
producing furniture and construct ion timb ers; and
wright s building carts and wheels.
Working the wood in its green state was easier for a
variety of reasons. Freshly cut wood may foul modern
power tools, but it is much easier to work with primi tive hand tools. By manufacturing the pieces of lumber
or finished furnishings at the locati on where the trees
Though it may not be practi cal to set up shop in some
remot e forest to make copies of med ieval furni ture,
some of the period techniques can be adopted by the
modern woodworker. Most of the furn iture in th is
book will look better- or more authent ic-if the work
is executed with hand tools wherever possible. For
example, ch amfering th e edges of a board with drawkn ives and spokeshaves , rather th an with an electric
router, will give you not on ly a more accurate looking
finished product, but also a far better appreciation for
the way the original pieces were made.
If you are not famili ar with hand too ls, it will
require some practice to get th e han g of using them.
Practice on scrap lumber, not on th e custom milled
oak you just ordered for a project.
Most of th e construct ion techniques in thi s book are
extremely basic. Because of th e limit ed ran ge of too ls
and technology available to the woodworker of the
Middl e Ages, it was essential th at construction be
quick and simple. The on ly procedure th at would not
be considered elementary is the use of dovetail joints
on a few of these pieces.
Regardless of the type of wood used in making any
piece of furniture in thi s book, I recommend the use of
birch or maple dowels to hold it together. Maple is by
far the strongest wood for thi s purp ose, and it is the
carving very difficult and the results unpredictable.
White oak is also closer to the English oak used in the
origina l furniture.
If the project requires pine, choose a good-quality,
straigh t-grained fir. The straigh ter the grain in th e
wood , the better the finished project will look and the
less ch ance of the boards warping over time.
The major differen ce between the wood used today
and th at used eight hundred years ago is not the
species of tre e from which the boards are cut , but how
they are cut. In medieval times, when lumber was plen tiful and tools were primitive, the boards used in the
production of furniture tended to be much heavierboth thicker and wider-than tod ay's mill-cut lumber.
For many of the project s in thi s book, it will be necessary to have the lumber custom milled to obtain boards
of the correct thickness, which will, of course, be more
expensive than simply purch asing standard-dimension
In some cases, the difference between makin g an
item from standa rd mill-cut lumber and using custommilled lumber will be purely aesthetic, to give your furniture an authent ic medieval look. In other cases, the
heavier lumber is necessary to the structural integ rity
of the piece, or at least to make it fi t together as shown
in th e drawings.
An opt ion to having the oversize boards specially
milled is to use old lumber. There are several companies th at recycle old construction materials such as
planks and beams salvaged from barns and houses th at
have been demolished. This wood is often available in
dimension s larger th an can be found in new material.
One of the largest of these companies in th e United
States is North Fields Restor ation, Hampton Falls, NH
03844, (603) 926-5383; ano ther is Architectural
ber & Millwork, 35 Mt. Warn er Rd., P.O. Box 719,
Hadley, MA 01035, (413) 586-3045. To find th e location of othe r such companies, look under "salvage" in
the yellow pages, or check with local historical or
Another solution is to glue together standarddimension boards to produce thi cker or wider stock.
Many lumbermill s and most cabinet shops will glue up
sta ndard-dimension lumber to provide boards of any
width and thi ckn ess. Profession ally executed joints will
be as strong as the wood itself and barely noticeable
once th ey are incorporated into the furniture .
You can glue boards together for extra thickness
fairly easily yourself by spreading a thin, even coat of
cabinetmaker's glue on th e faces th at are to be glued
wood from which most comm ercial dowelin g is made.
You can purchase maple or birch doweling at any
lumberyard or hardware or hobby sto re.
To fasten a wood joint with a dowel, begin by aligning the two pieces to be join ed and clamp th em into
posit ion so th at they do not sh ift. Se lect a drill bit the
same size as the dowelin g called for in th e materials
list, and drill holes in the location s called for in th e
const ruction not es.
Prepare the dowel to be insert ed in the hole as
follows: C ut a len gth of dowel no more th an 1 inch
(25mm) lon ger th an the depth of the hole into
which it is to be seated. Slightly round the end of th e
dowel th at is to be driven into the hole to allow ease
of en try.
If th e hole has been drill ed to the actual size of the
dowel, the dowel may need to be sand ed lightly so
th at it can be tapped smoo thly int o place. The dowel
sho uld tap into the drill ed hole with a wooden mallet
with out undue force. A 2-in ch (51mm) dowel sho uld
seat itself with four or five light stro kes. If the dowel fits
too tightl y, it may break off before it is seated, or it
may split th e surround ing wood over tim e. If it is too
loose, it will not hold the piece of furn iture together.
The construction not es in thi s book frequently call for
clamps to be used to hold pieces together while the
project is being assembled. Lon g bar clamps, or cabine t
clamps, are best for thi s purp ose. They will gene rally
open up far eno ugh to hold even the largest pieces of
furniture in thi s book.
When applying clamps to a piece of furniture, pad
the jaws of the clamp with a small piece of wood, such
as a shim. Padding the clamps will prevent the metal
jaws from biting into th e wood and leavin g deep scars
tha t will need to be sanded out later.
During the Middl e Ages, th e woods most commonl y
used for the con stru ct ion of furniture were oak and
pine, which still holds tru e to day to a great exten t.
A ny wood othe r th an oak or pin e used in th e furn iture
in th is book is not ed on an indi vidual basis in the
If a project calls for oak, 1 stro ngly suggest using
white oak rather th an red . Although it is more expen sive, whit e oak has a much finer and straigh ter grain ,
will cut smoo ther, and is a better cho ice if carving is
involved. The unevenness of the grain in red oak makes
SIM PLE DOWEL JOINT
MORTISE AN D
CORNER RABBET JOINT
- - - --- -
SURFACE RABBET JOINT
together, letting it set for three or four minutes, and
then pressing the glued surfaces together and clamping
tightly. Be careful when you are pulling the clamps
tight; the boards will tend to slide around as they are
being pulled together and if the layer of glue is too
heavy, large amounts may squeeze out. Have an assistant help with this process, and have a wet rag handy
to wipe off excess glue. After the glue has set overnight,
remove the clamps. The resultant board will be as
strong as if it were a single ,board .
Gluing boards together for additional width is trickier.
Joining boards along an edge can be done in several
ways. The simplest is by gluing the edges and clamping as described above. The boards must be not only
clamped tightly together, but also held absolutely flat
while the glue dries. The seam where the boards are
joined will never be as strong as the boards themselves,
and they may fracture along this seam as they age or if
subjected to stress. To strengthen this seam, the boards
can be joined with dowels or splines. This is not particularly difficult, but it does require the proper tools
and a bit of practice. Refer to a guide on basic cabinetry to learn the procedure, and then practice a few
times before using it for your project.
Most of the hardware used on the furniture in this
book falls into one of several categories: hinges, banding straps, lock plates, forged nails, and several styles
of pulls and handles. Since the procedure for making
these items remains the same from project to project,
general metalworking instructions are provided in
this chapter. Any changes, alterations, or guidelines
for nonstandard work are covered in the individual
provide great amounts of heat quickly and make the
job of working the metal fast and easy. A single-tank
acetylene gas torch will provide enough heat for most
of the work described in this book, but it will take considerably longer for the metal to reach malleability.
(The small, hand-held propane torches simply will not
provide sufficient heat.) You will also need a pair of
welder's gloves to protect your hands from the hot
For shaping the metal, you will need a mandrel, a
jig around which a piece of metal can be bent into
decorative shapes. If you do not already have a mandrel,
it is easy to make one. A mandrel is nothing more than
two round metal pins, each 1/ 8 inch (3mm) in diameter
and 2 inches (51mm) in length, inserted into a metal
base. The best material for making the mandrel is
stainless steel or cold rolled steel, as these metals will
not soften when exposed to the heat of the torch. Following the diagram, cut a base of steel, 1 inch (25mm)
thick and 4 or 5 inches (102-127mm) in length, to a
width that will fit into the jaws of your vise; 1 inch
(25mm) wide is sufficient. Using a drill bit the thickness of the metal pins, drill three holes into the
mounting block, I/ Z inch (13mm) in depth. Two of the
holes should be spaced 1;4 inch (6mm) apart and the
third Vz inch (13mm) from the second. The metal pins
should set firmly into these holes but remain loose
enough that they can be removed and repositioned if
If you do not have access to metalworking equipment or feel that you do not have the skills to
undertake the metalwork necessary, contact a local
blacksmith or ironmonger to make the metal findings
for your furniture.
The type of metalwork used for medieval furniture
would have been executed by a blacksmith working
with forge and anvil. Although it is certainly possible
to reproduce this hardware by the original methods,
most of us do not have access to a forge. The same look
can be achieved with the aid of modern tools, however.
All of the metalwork in this book can be executed
with just a few simple tools. For cutting the metal, a
band saw with a metal cutting blade is ideal. A jigsaw
or reciprocal (saber) saw with a metal cutting blade
also will work. In addition to a saw, you will need a
heavy vise and two shaping hammers. The shaping
hammers should be ball peen hammers rather than
claw hammers. One should have a 10- to 12-ounce head
and the other a 16- to IS-ounce head. For finishing the
metal, you will need coarse and fine steel files in each
of three shapes: flat, round, and triangular. Having
both medium and small sizes of each shape will also
be a great help.
To heat the metal so that you can work it into
shape, you will need a welding torch. There are two
types that can be used for these projects. By far the
best is a combination oxygen-acetylene torch. It will
W' (3mm) /
W' (13 mrn)
three times directly at the angle of the bend where it
lies against the surface of the vise. This will give it a
good, sharp corner that will fit snugly against the edge
of the wood. This may take some practice, but the
results will be worth the effort.
Most of the metal used in these projects is of a type
called flat stock, which comes in straps or sheets that
are wider than they are thick. Metal also comes in
round stock and square stock. Round stock is a round
bar of steel and square stock is a square bar of steel. All
of these types of metal stock are commercially available
in all of the sizes necessary for the projects in this book.
For our purposes, the thickness of the metal will usually be given in standard dimensions of inches and
millimeters. The amount and dimensions necessary to
manufacture the hardware for each piece of furniture
are given in the materials lists in each chapter.
Using the Mandrel
The primary use of the mandrel is in forming the loops
on each half of the hinge by which they are joined
together with a pin. It is also used in forging ornamental curls on hinges and straps.
To practice using the mandrel, heat 2 or 3 inches
(51-76mm) at the end of a length of flat stock, and
insert the tip between two mandrel pins that are set as
close together as possible. While continuing to apply
heat, gently pull on the free end of the bar and tap on
the heated portion of the metal with a forging hammer.
The metal can slowly be pulled into loops of any size
desired . The hotter the metal, the more easily it can be
bent. With a little practice, you will be able to form
loops that fit snugly around the mandrel pin, a perfect
size for accepting hinge pins.
The ends of hinges, and their accompanying straps
and bands, are often forged into decorative shapes. To
reproduce these shapes, you will need to cut the hinge
out of a larger piece of flat stock than the overall width
of the hinge might seem to indicate. This is taken into
account in the materials list.
To illustrate how to cut and forge these decorative
shapes, let's look at the hardware on the Oxford Chest
and the Vestment Chest. The decorative Tshaped ends
on many of the metal bands on the Oxford Chest are
relatively easy to form. From flat stock Ya inch (Jrnm)
thick and 11,4 inches (32mm) in width, cut the basic
length of the hinge as shown in the hinge pattern. Split
the end of the strap into two tongues of equal width to
a depth of approximately 3 Yz inches (89mm), as shown
in the Oxford Chest hardware diagram. The stock can
be either cut with a metal saw or heated and split with
a chisel. The second method is how it was historically
done, although it involves quite a bit more labor. If the
end of the strap is sawn rather than split, you can cut
a 3 1,4 (82mm) long, V-shaped wedge from the end of
the strap to form the tapering ends. Once cut or split,
bend the tongues into semicircles, using the mandrel
with the pins spaced I/ Z inch (l3mm) apart. Be careful
when bending the metal outward; it will break rather
easily if not given enough heat. If you chose to split
the metal rather than saw it, you will need to narrow
the tips of the tongues as you stretch and pull them
If you are unfamiliar with forging metal, make several
practice pieces before you attempt any of the finished
hardware . A good place to begin is by bending a piece
of flat stock 11;4 inches (32mm) wide and Ya inch (3mm)
thick into a right angle . This is a stock size common to
many of the hinges and bands on the furniture in this
book. I suggest bending a right angle; this is a simple
procedure, and you will have to execute it every time
a hinge or band goes around a corner on a piece of
Bending Right Angles
Place a section of flat stock, at least I foot (305mm) in
length, vertically into the jaws of the vise. Two or 3
inches (51-76mm) of stock should be below the jaws
of the vise and the remaining stock should project
above the vise. The stock must be at right angles (90
degrees) to the top of the vise, or the finished bend
will be crooked .
Heat the first 2 inches (5Imm) of the stock immediately above the jaws of the vise. Do not hold the point
of the flame in one spot on the metal. Move it around
on the area being heated, or the stock may melt at
the point of contact with the flame. When the metal
begins to glow a pink-red, it is ready to be formed . It is
best to have two people working on this project, one
heating the metal and the other doing the actual forging. In this way, the metal will retain its heat and can
be shaped more quickly and easily.
To shape the stock into a right angle, use the heavier
hammer to strike it at the point where the stock meets
the jaws of the vise while pulling the free end of the
stock gently toward the forging surface (the top of the
vise) with your other hand. When the metal has been
bent to a right angle, strike downward onto it two or
I. Lay out the to ngues
2. C ut and bend th e ton gues
3. Finished strap
6" (l S2mm)
VESTMENT CHEST HARDWARE
I. Layou t the curl
2. C ut and bend the curl
3. Finished curl
I, \ \~
4Yl" (l l-lmm)
so that the unshaped end is sticking upward. Heat thi s
end of th e pin and flare it with th e forging hammer. Do
not beat it too tightly against th e hinge, or the h inge
outward and bend them around the mandrel. This may
take a bit of practice, so execute a few sample pieces
before working on your project. If your pieces do not
have perfect symmetry, do not be concerned; neither
do th ose executed by medieval craftsmen.
The tips of the decorative ears need to be bent into
loops just large enough to insert nail s through to tack
the strap in place against th e face of the chest. The
loops sho uld be formed on the mandrel. If th ey need
to be reduced in size to hold the nail, they can be
reheated and tightened with a pair or pliers.
Simil ar decorative treatment is used for some of the
Vestm ent Chest hardware .
When makin g hinges or band s th at extend around
several sides of a piece of furniture, allow several extra
inches of stock, as some of th e length will be lost in
the process of bending the met al at th e corners.
The heating and bending process will slightly alter
th e len gth of th e metal stock in unpredictable ways,
so do not try to make more th an one bend before
fitting the band onto th e furniture case. Bend one
corner, fit it into place, and mark the position of th e
Most of the chest lids and doors shown in thi s book
are held in place with lon g strap hinges, many of them
int egral to the banding that holds th e furniture together.
Most are made of V8-inch (3mm) thick flat stock.
In most cases, the two halves of the hinge are joined
together with a hinge pin passing through three interlocking loops, one loop being on th e sho rte r end of the
hinge and two loops on th e lon g end . This section of
th e hinge is called the spine . Using a band saw (or
other saw), cut out th e tangs, the metal fingers th at
are used to form the loops, as shown in th e drawings.
Remove th e burrs from th e sawn edges, th en sha pe
th em into loops on th e mandrel as described above.
There are slight variations in the len gth of the tangs
and positioning of th e loops, described as nece ssary for
each project. Follow the dir ection s closely so th at th e
hinge will operate properl y.
Two types of hinges are used on the furniture in thi s
book: butt hinges and flat hinges. They differ slightly
in the sha pe of the spine, but the basic construction,
including the basic arrangemen t of th e tan gs on th e
hinge stock, is th e same.
To make hinge pin s, use a length of round stock
that will fit snugly, but not tightly, into th e holes in
the hinge spine . Cut th e pin about 1 inch (25mm)
lon ger th an th e hinge. C lamp the pin tightly in th e
vise so th at on ly about 1/8 inch (3mm) protrudes above
th e vise. Heat the exposed end of th e pin. When it
becomes hot, strike the end with th e flat end of th e
sma ll forging hamm er until it flares out sligh tly, like
th e cap of a mushro om. Then use th e ball end of th e
hamm er to round th e edges. When th e pin has cooled ,
fit it into th e hinge. Ab out Y! inch (6mm) sho uld protrude beyond th e end of the hinge; cut it if necessary.
Assembl e th e hinge and invert it on a forging surface
Distressing the Metal
To give th e metal th e look of hand-forged iron, lay it
on the vise or an anvil, heat 3 to 4 inches (76 -102mm)
of its length at a time with th e to rch , and distress the
surface and edges with th e round end of your forging
hamm er. Merely eliminate th e factory clean edges of
th e metal; do not distort or misshape the stock. This is
most easily done after th e metal has been cut , but
before it has been bent to its final shape.
Lock plates, or escutcheons, prot ect th e area around
the opening in th e wood through which the key is
insert ed. Escutcheons are usually made of far thinner
metal th an th e hinges and band s on a chest. Unless
otherwise indicated , use flat stock VI6 inch (Zmm)
thick. Patterns for the lock plat es are included with
th e drawings for th e project s.
Most of th e medieval locks th at origina lly protected
th e contents of th e chests and cupboards shown in
thi s book have long since been removed , and on ly the
decorative lock plates remain. For thi s reason , heavy
hasps or simple wooden turn buttons are used on several pieces of furniture th at appear to have a lock. In
re-creating the se pieces of furniture, th e simple solution to th e lock problem is to leave it off and use the
For medieval cupboards with standard doors, such
as the Ambry Cupboard, th e Wine Chest, and the
Fourteenth-Century Reading Desk, real purists can
adapt a surface-mounted lock set, called a rim lock,
Laying out th e tan gs
-- - - --
Cutting the tang s
Forging the butt hinge
Completed sections of butt hinge (side view)
HINGE CONSTRUCT ION
Forging the flat hinge
Completed sect ions of flat hinge (side view)
Completed sections of butt or flat hin ge (front view)
_ 5 9L.-----_
Forming the hinge pin
The comp leted h inge
heads. Although it is possible to make all of th e nails
by hand, I don't recommend it. Forged na ils may be
ordered from Tremont Nail, p.o. Box Ill, Wareh am ,
MA 025 71; (508) 295-0038, or Jamestown Distrib uto rs,
P.O. Box 348, Jamestown , RI 02835; (800) 423-0030.
O ne of the most useful nails for attachi ng the hardware and hinges is Tremont Nail's 1Vz-inch wrough t
head nail. Another resource for find ing forged nails is
th e Old House Journal Supply Catalogue, an an nual
publication of th e Old House Journal.
Many early nails were lon ger th an the thi ckn ess of
the wood into which th ey were driven. The med ieval
solut ion to thi s problem, either for added strengt h or
for expediency, was simply to bend over th e end of th e
nail on th e int erior of th e chest. Experiment with thi s
on a scrap of wood before trying it on a fin ished piece
of furniture, as some of th e modern reproducti on
forged nails are too brittle to bend without breaking.
from a nin eteenth-century int erior door. These lock
sets require on ly minor modificat ion to make authenticlooking locks for cupboa rd doors. These lock sets will
not work on chest lids, however.
Open th e lock box and remove th e ca tch and spring
tha t are normally operated by th e doorknob, leaving
on ly the key-operated dead bolt in place. Replace th e
cover on th e lock box and screw it to th e in ner surface
of the cupboard door so th at th e keyhole in th e door
aligns with the keyhole in th e lock box. (This may
require a sligh t repositioning of th e keyhole in th e
Fairly large quantities of nails are required for th e
application of hinges and hardware. Simple cut nails
do not have th e large heads necessary to hold th e hard ware in place. Rather, use hand -forged nails with large
The conce pt of a clear, translucent finish of the
type applied to most furniture today was completely
unknown to medieval furnituremakers. The finished
piece was made smooth by scraping the surface with
the edge of a flat piece of metal and was immediately
put into service, or it may have been painted in brigh t
colors with designs and figures.
To create the appearance of the wear and tear of
the cent uries, you can age your furni ture arti ficially.
Use a wood rasp to wear down th e corne rs, and strike
the surface here and th ere with a length ~f cha in or a
cloth bag holding a handful of various sized nails. The
entire piece can even be lightly sandblasted to remove
some of th e soft porti ons of th e wood grain . Once th e
aging process is finished , go over th e surface again with
the cabinet scraper so th at th e damage doesn't look
For a deep penetrating oil finish, begin with a mixture of four part s boiled linseed oil to one part spirits
of gum turpentine. Do not use min eral spirits, as th ey
will dry out the wood . For th e best penetrati on , warm
thi s mixture sligh tly; do not allow it to boil. For safety's
sake, warm it on an electric stove, not gas.
If you want to darken th e natural color of th e wood
to make it look older, you can add a bit of tinting color,
of th e type used to tint paint, to th e oil and turpentine
mixture. Use thi s sparingly; it will require on ly a few
drops to make a sign ificant ch an ge in th e color of a
pint of finishing oil. Appl y a second coa t of plain oil
on top of th e penetrating coat .
Ap ply additiona l coats of oil periodi cally to keep
th e wood from drying out. For th e first year or two , oil
sho uld be applied at three- or four-month intervals.
Subsequently, once or twice a year sho uld be sufficien t.
Between times, clean and polish your furniture with
good-quality furniture polish . One containing lemon
oil is best, as th e lemon oil helps th e polish soak into
th e wood. Do not use a polish th at contains wax. If
you want to continue darkening th e piece, use th e traditi on al formula of Genuine Old English brand polish.
It has a dark brown color th at will soak slowly into th e
wood and add a richness to th e finish slowly over successive applications.
The mellow surface tones of surviving pieces of furni ture from thi s period are th e result of cent uries of use
and clean ing. Most of thi s cleaning was done with a
sligh tly oily rag, which, over th e cent uries, invested
the surface with a vast quantity of natural moisture.
By keeping th e wood from drying out, th is also helped
prevent cracking and splitt ing.
If you want your piece to have a trul y period look, do
not finish th e surface with sandpa per. The finish given
by the use of a good cabin et scraper is far more authentic looking, and adapts much better to an oil finish.
For a clear finish in keeping with th e origina l treat ment, use oil alone. C oat th e finished piece with either
tun g oil or boiled linseed oil. Appl y light coats until
the wood ceases to absorb the oil, and th en polish to a
low sheen with a soft cloth.
PAIN TED FINISHES
Before th e invention of oil-based paint in th e late
1400s, nearly all painting, with th e excep tion of fresco
work, was executed in egg tempera. Egg tempera was
used for painting on wood, metal, paper, leather, and
cloth, and thus can be used for any project in thi s book
calling for paint.
Many of th e ingredients used in th e Middle Ages to
Into the egg yolk, mix pure ground pigment until
the desired color is reached. For the best results, the
pigment should be ground into the egg to be certain
that they are thoroughly mixed. The grinding can be
done with a mortar and pestle, or on a glass palette
with a glass mulling tool. If the paint becomes too
thick to work easily, add a few drops of water to thin
it. Water will also tend to make the colors more translucent. Denatured alcohol can be substituted for the
water to speed up the drying process and act as a
preservative. Even with a few drops of alcohol, egg
tempera must be stored in the refrigerator and will
have a shelf life of only five or six days.
When dry, egg tempera should not need varnish as
long as it is not taken outside. The dried egg yolk is
almost as hard as varnish.
Getting the knack of working with egg tempera may
take a bit of practice, and it may seem like a lot of
work for large areas like an entire piece of furniture or
a painted wall hanging, but it is the proper medieval
approach to the work. As an alternative you can substitute artist's oil or latex paint for a wall hanging, or
regular interior oil or latex paint for a piece of furniture. If you use a commercial paint, get one with as flat
a finish as possible.
produce specific colors are extremely poisonous, but
there are safer pigments available today that will serve
the same purpose.
When egg tempera is used, it is necessary to first
apply a base coat of gesso, a water-based primer available
at art-supply stores. Apply an even coat of gesso to the
object, or area, to be painted. If a large area is being
gessoed, be sure that the brush strokes are even and all
run in the same direction.
The ingredients used to make modern egg tempera
are fresh egg yolks, pure ground pigments (available at
art-supply stores), and distilled water. The egg yolk
binds the pigment to the gesso. To get pure yolk, separate a fresh egg and slide the yolk into the palm of your
hand. Gently roll the yolk back and forth from one
palm to the other. Each time the yolk passes out of one
hand, dry the excess white from your palm.
After eight or ten passes from palm to palm, the yolk
will develop a tough surface as it begins to dry. Allow
the yolk to rest in the palm of one hand, and gently
pick it up by pinching the toughened yolk sac between
the thumb and forefinger of your other hand.
Suspend the yolk over a clean, shallow bowl and
pierce the sac with a sharp knife. The pure yolk will
drip into the bowl. Discard the yolk sac.
here show the piece as it would have appeared when it
Benches, such as this French example, were the single
most common type of furniture at all levels of medieval
society. In peasant homes, crude benches or stools were
often the only pieces of furniture other than a table.
At the merchant level of society, benches constituted
nearly all of the seating in the home, with the exception of one chair each for the master and mistress of
the house, and were also used for seating at worktables
and in trade stalls.
In abbeys and cloisters, monks sat on benches while
they were at prayer and during mass. Perched on elevated stools, they laboriously executed illuminated
manuscripts, and at long benches they ate, often in
total silence, in communal dining halls.
In the manor houses and castles of the nobility,
seating served as precise symbols of social status. The
lord of the manor, his wife, and honored guests sat on
elaborate armchairs during meals and at local court
proceedings . The marshal of the castle probably had
a chair with no arms, as did ranking local merchants
who were often guests of the lord. Lesser guests were
seated on stools, and servants and peasants sat on long
benches called bankettes.
This handsome stool is now in the collection of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art at the Cloisters.
The five boards used in the construction of this stool
are all l-inch (25mm) thick white oak. The leg boards
are quite wide for such a small piece of furniture and
could easily be made by gluing two boards together
(the materials list reflects this approach).
Before beginning assembly, cut the legs, side rails, and
seat to size and shape according to the plans . If you
wish to cut the chamfer on the bottom edge of the side
rails with a router, do so before fitting the seat into
place; once the seat has been fitted onto the frame, the
bench cannot be taken apart again.
Legs and Side Rails
The legs and side rails of the bench interlock with
each other. The primary carrying grooves are in the
legs, and there are also small grooves in the side rails
to ensure that the pieces do not shift once the stool
has been assembled. Cut the leg pieces first, making
sure that the side rails fit snugly into the grooves. The
legs and side rails should fit together snugly enough
that they can be pushed together with the pressure of
two fingers. Note on the drawings that the tenons are
shown 1/ 8 inch (3mm) wider at the top than they are at
the bottom. They must be cut in this manner to hold
the seat onto the frame . An easy way to do this is to
square-cut the tenon to the wider dimension, and then
finish it to a slight dovetail shape with a knife or rasp.
For the side rails, you can enlarge the drawing on
a photocopier until it is the proper dimension and use
This finely crafted little bench is simple in construction and is made without metal fasteners or glue. Only
four small dowels hold the structure together. It is a
testament to medieval craftsmanship that after more
than five centuries, the bench is still in good condition.
This piece is an excellent choice for the beginner.
Although one end of the original bench was sawn
off and a notch was cut out of the other end, the plans
B EN CH, FRANCE, FIITEENTH CEN T U RY. OAK;
H. 21", W. 38", D. 121,4" .
CLOISTERS COLLECTION , M ET ROP O LIT A N
MUSEUM OF ART, N EW YO RK CITY. COURTESY M ETR OP O LIT A N M USEUM OF A RT .
tion s of th e mortises. When cutting the morti ses into
th e top, make th em 1 inch (2Smm) wide, like th e leg
board , but I/ S inch (3mm) sho rte r than th e length of
th e top of th e ten on. Simply put, th e mortise should be
the same dim en sions as the bottom dim ensions of the
If you are unsure abo ut cutting such a precise mortise, it is best to cut it a bit smaller th an shown and
finish it by sanding or rasping away excess wood a little
at a time.
it as a pattern. When you are cutting the legs and side
rails, be cert ain that the points at which the two boards
intersect are th e same dimen sion , 3 inches (76mm).
The side rails and legs may be assembled and taken
apa rt to check for proper fit at any tim e before th e final
assembly of th e stool.
To locat e and cut th e mortise holes in th e seat, first
assemble the legs and side rails and turn them upside
down onto th e seat. Ali gn the side rails and the legs so
th at th ey are in square with th e seat and position ed as
show n on th e plan s. Mark th e locati on s of th e tenon s
on the surface of the seat to indicat e the exact loca-
Compressing the Tenons
To fit th e wedge-sha ped ten ons into th e mort ise, th e
wide ends must be compressed. Position a C-clamp or
All wood is o ak, except maple dowels.
O F PIECES
12 114" (311 mrn)
3 7" (940mm)
I4 ljz" (368mm)
20 " (508mm)
W' ro un d
cabinet clamp around th e upper half of each tenon.
Tight en th e clamps until th e tenon s are at least as narrow at the top as th ey are at th e base. Leave th e clamps
in place for three or four hours to allow th e wood to
Once th e mortises and ten on s have been fitted
together, th e compressed wedges will slowly return to
th eir original sha pe, locking th e legs tightly, and permanently, into the top. They sho uld begin to resume
their original shape within three or four hours of bein g
taken out of th e clamp. If th ey have not expanded
eno ugh to lock th e stool together within twenty-four
hours, wet th e exposed ends of th e ten on s with water
and let th em dry slowly overn igh t.
Final assembly must be completed within a matter
of ten minutes or so, because once th e clamps are
removed from the tenons, th ey will begin to spread
and resume th eir natural sha pe. First, assemble th e legs
and side rails. Then, with th e ben ch in an upright
position , align the morti se holes in the seat board over
the ends of the tenons. Place a scrap piece of wood
across the ten ons on one leg and tap it firmly with a
mallet or hammer. The scrap of wood will protect the
top of the stool from hammer blows. Do not strike too
hard. As soon as th e tenons on one leg begin to move
int o th eir morti ses, repeat th e procedure on th e other
leg. By moving back and forth from leg to leg, you can
tap the seat board into place without twisting th e
structure of th e stool.
If a ten on will not tap into its morti se, do not force
it. You may need to do a little sanding or shavin g, or
you may need to recompre ss the wedges if they have
been out of the clamps for more than a few minutes.
Getting the seat board into place may be a little tricky,
especially for the novice cabinetmaker, but the results
will be worth it.
Followin g th e dowelin g instru ctions in cha pter 1, pin
the side rails and legs together. Before drilling th e
holes, ensure that the piece is square by pulling th e
legs snugly against the offset shoulders on the side rails
with a lon g cabinet clamp or bar clamp.
Although th e origina l bench has been severely weathered over th e centuries, I believe that it had a simple
oil finish, except for the ch amfered edge at th e bot tom
of the side rail, which appears to have been painted
dark green or possibly deep blue-green. The original
paint was probably an egg tempera, as described in
chapter 3, but a simple flat or low-sheen oil paint will
work. If you choose to include this decorativ e detail,
gesso the area to be painted, and apply th e paint before
oiling the rest of the bench. Paint only the ch amfer,
and not the bottom edge of the side rail.
. . . - - - -- "
~'. - _. __ ._-~
5" (l27mm) ) ,
t- 12W Ollmm) -1
12 'A" Ollmm)
~ I" (2smm)
s '/ z"
20" (s 08m m)
r %" 0
14'/ z" (368 mm)
4" (1 20mm)
(I 24mm) (I4 0m m)
+---*---~ ~ ~
18 '/ z" (470mm)
to cente r
2" (Sl mrn)
I" ( 2smm)
2\4" J:/ ' 1
(s 7mm) t ~I ,
/ / ./1
Yz" ( U mm)
Tapestries, whether embroidered, like the Bayeux
tapestry, or woven like a carpet, added bright colors
and provided insulation to cold castle walls. Prior to
the mercantile revolution of the 1300s, however, tapestries were rare and expensive items reserved for the
homes of kings and archbishops. Nobles with more
modest treasuries imitated the look of tapestries by
commissioning ecclesiastical scribes, or illuminators,
to execute painted wall hangings. These were usually
painted on linen, but occasionally on silk.
Because of their ecclesiastical origins, wall hangings
have the distinct look of manuscript illuminations. In
early works, the figures were outlined with heavy black
lines, which were then filled in with color and shaded
to give the figures a slightly three-dimensional look.
Later, the outlines were dropped. Unfortunately, as
such hangings were painted on relatively inexpensive,
lightweight ground cloth, there are virtually no surviving examples.
The facing page shows the January page from the
Ties Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a medieval book
in the collection of the Louvre. Behind the feasting
duke, a painted hanging can be seen on the wall. This
project will reproduce the far left portion of this hanging. The technique presented here for reproducing
painted hangings, based on the 1437 work of! talian
master craftsman Cennino Cennini, was developed
by Bob Rich, and the illustrations in this chapter
Because of the nature of this piece there will be no
materials list at the end of this chapter. All necessary
materials are listed below. A medium-weight (l0- to
12-ounce) unprimed artist's canvas approximates heavy
linen and makes an ideal ground. How much you will
need depends on the size of the finished tapestry
desired. To be an effectively impressive and authentic
medieval tapestry, both in appearance and to serve its
function of keeping out drafts, it should be nearly wall
size. I have found that 4 feet (lm220mm) in height by
8 feet (2m440mm) in length gives an appropriately
medieval feel to a room but, basically, the piece should
visually fill a wall. Purchase slightly more canvas than
you need so that you have extra material for hemming
the edges and extra pieces on which to practice your
painting technique. If you are new to painting on canvas and don't want to start with a really large project,
you might try using these same techniques to produce
an armorial banner 2 by 3 feet (600 by 900mm).
A range of paintbrushes will be necessary to cover
the variety of techniques and different sized spaces
involved in the project. Because of the nature of the
painting techniques involved, I recommend buying
inexpensive brushes. The best brushes for this work are
made of hog bristle. They are cheap and durable, and
come in all shapes and sizes. You will need rounds in
sizes 00, 4, 8, and 12; flat brushes, also called brights,
in sizes 1, 4, 8, and 12; and eat's tongue brushes in sizes
2, 4, and 6. You may also want a stenciling brush.
You can use egg tempera, as described in chapter 3,
or standard artist's colors in either oil or acrylic . Oil
paint is a much more traditional medium, and although
it was not developed until the mid- to late 1400s, I rec-
Medieval painted wall hangings and armorial banners
(flags bearing coats of arms) were executed on silk and
linen panels and colored with egg tempera.
LIMBOURG BROTHERS (FLEMISH, ACTIVE IN FRANCE
H EUR ES DU
DE B ERRY, FRANCE,
JANUARY PAGE, TRES RICHES
COLLECTION OF THE L O U VRE, PARIS . COURTESY PHOTOGRAPHIE
ommend it for thi s project. For a wall han ging of
approximately 4 by 8 feet (lm220mm by 2m440mm),
you will need between six and eigh t 2-ounce tub es of
paint in various colors. Begin with two tub es of the
background color and one tube each of th e other
are essentially stock cha racters th at are more representati ve of social position th an of ac tual indi viduals. It is
on ly hair color, beards, and othe r person al affecta tions
th at distinguish one indi vidual from another. Since
th ese works were often commissioned as van ity pieces,
don 't hesitat e to pain t yourself and your family mem bers in to th e design.
Preparing the Canvas
Hem all four edges of the canvas. Then eithe r stretch
the canvas on a frame made of 2-by-2-inch (50 -by50mm) pine, similar to th at used for an art ist's canvas,
or attach it to a large sheet of plywood. I prefer th e
solid easel board to th e stretcher frame, as th e solid
surface keeps the center of th e canvas from springing
when it is bein g painted. If your han ging is going to be
larger th an a shee t of plywood, you can join two shee ts
togeth er to give you an 8-by-8 -foot (2m44 0mm-by2m440mm) board.
To attach the canvas to the plywood, use push pins
or very small nails at 4-inch (lOOmm) intervals around
all four sides. Be sure th at it han gs square and level. Do
not distort th e canvas by stretch ing it outward at th e
corne rs. It will take several readjustments to have th e
entire canvas hanging square, but it is necessary so
that the finished painti ng will han g with out distort ion .
Lean the easel board against a wall at about 80 degrees.
This angle sho uld allow you to stand comfortably and
still see the ent ire painting at one time.
Reproducing the Design
Eith er of two methods can be employed to tran sfer the
design to th e canvas. The easy way is to use an opaque
projector to th row th e image directly onto the canvas,
and tr ace around th e project ed images with a penci l.
A more authentic medieval meth od of tran sferring
th e image is by mean s of a grid tran sfer. O n a photocopy of th e design, draw a grid pattern th at divides
th e picture into 3i4-inch (20mm) or l-inch (25mm)
squares. The size of th e squares to use depe nds on the
size of the design ; th e sma ller th e design, the sma ller
th e grid necessary to break the image down into
Next , cover th e stretched ca nvas with large pieces of
white paper (butcher's paper or newsprint will suffice).
Tape th e paper dir ectl y over th e face of th e canvas.
A rrange th em so th at you will be able to take them
down and put th em back in place in th eir proper order.
By working on paper, rather than dir ectly on th e canvas, you can make correction s as needed without .
smudging th e ca nvas ground.
Now divide th e paper covering th e canvas into a
grid tha t has a correspo nd ing number of squares, vert ica lly and hori zont ally, to th e gridwork on the photocopied design. For example, if your photocopy is
divided into l-in ch (25mm) squares, ten squares wide
and five squares high, divide th e paper covering your
canvas into a grid with larger squares, so that th ere are
ten squares in width and five squares in he igh t.
Carefully reproduce the pictur e in the photocopy
onto th e large grid by copying th e image one squa re at
a tim e. Pay close attention to the places on the grid
lines where th e images cross from one square into th e
next. By using thi s meth od , you ca n tran sfer any image
to a large-scale form at.
O nce you are happy with th e en larged image, mark
alignment points whe re the pieces of paper join so that
you will be able to reassemble th e image, th en remove
th e paper from the canvas.
With a sha rp object like a compass point, a too thpick, or a knitting needle, prick holes along all of the
lines in th e drawing. Space th ese holes from 1/2 to l
Priming the Canvas
Origina lly the material for these han gings would have
been given th in ground coats of a starch-based size an d
gesso. If you are using oil paints, a ground of modern
art ist's gesso is essent ial. If you are using acrylics, th e
gesso is optiona l. If you want your han ging to be fairly
rigid, or you do not want to paint on th e rough canvas
surface, apply a base coat of gesso. If you want a more
soft, draperylike look to the finished work, apply th e
acrylic paint directl y to th e canvas with out gessoing it.
Developing the Design
Use th e design provided here, or choose one from a
manuscript illum ination , medieva l painting, or tapestry. The design you select shou ld have similar proportions to your canvas. If not, you will need to sligh tly
alter the proporti ons of your canvas, or simply elimi nate a porti on of th e design.
Don't worry about your artistic ability; th e figures in
medieval tapestri es and illumination s tend to be as
much like cartoo ns as they are portraits. The figures
inch (l3-25mm) apart, depending on th e amount of
detail in th e area. The greater th e amount of detail,
th e closer th e holes shou ld be.
Now construct a pounce bag. Cut a piece of fine
linen, muslin , or othe r fabric of similar weave, 3 or 4
inches (75-100mm) square. Int o th e center of thi s piece
of cloth, pour a spoo nful of carp enter's line-m arking
cha lk (available at h ardware stores). Draw the cloth
around th e chalk dust and tie it sh ut with a string to
form a sma ll, tightly bound bag.
Replace one of the large sections of th e paper stencil onto th e ca nvas. G en erally, it is best to begin with
the sectio n at th e far left side. Hold th e paper stencil
securely against the canvas with one hand, and tap th e
pounce bag over the perforated line s in th e area immediatel y around your hand. Be certain that the bag is
tapped against each hole in th e stencil one or two
times to ensure proper tran sfer of th e design onto th e
surface of th e canvas. When th e ent ire section of stencil has been pounced, remove th e paper. The design in
thi s area has been neatl y transferred on to the canvas as
a series of dot s. Connect the dot pattern with a pencil
to define th e image on th e canvas. Repeat thi s process
with each sect ion of th e stencil, in order, until th e picture is completed.
To make th e pencil lines bold eno ugh to see clearly
and easy to follow when filling in th e areas with
color, use a size 00 round brush to go over th em with
a medium gray or gray-green paint.
on newspaper, and then scrub th e remaining color
onto th e canva s. The process becomes easy with a little
practice, although gett ing your tone s consistent may
take some time .
After the lightest tones have been painted, apply
th e middl e tones, not on ly to th eir own areas, but also
as a foundation or underpainting to th e areas th at will
be painted with the darkest tones.
You can use the dry-brush technique to soften the
edges between th e lightest tones and th e middle tones.
Do not spread th e middl e tone too far int o the area of
th e light tone ; just dry-brush th e middl e tone enough
to soften th e edge. Don 't tr y to blend th e two together.
Once th e light and middl e tones have been painted,
th e darkest tone s can be laid down . Because th ese
ton es define shadow areas, th ey should not be softened
at the edges. You may want to thin th e paint just a
little for th e dark tones so th at it will flow better and
create a crisper edge. Since th e darkest color is being
applied over an und ercoat of th e middl e tone, if it has
been thinned it will appear almost like a glaze, with
the color ben eath shi ning through. Just be careful
not to thin th e paint so much th at it run s down your
Details on painted wall hangings, as on manuscript
illuminati ons, are gene rally limit ed to dark outlines
and sma ll areas of bright color. The outl ines are generally either black or brown and are execut ed in the same
color th roughout th e work. The use of brown outl ines
rather th an black prevents th e piece from lookin g cartoonish. The outlines sho uld vary slightly in breadth
depend ing on th e size of th e area th ey are defining.
Smaller areas like faces, hand s, and drinking goblets
sho uld be outl ined with finer lines than th ose used for
larger areas such as gowns and cloaks.
Finish by painting highli ght s such as jewels, eye
color, and embroidery work in bright colors using a
small, round brush.
Allow th e paint to dry, th en remove the canvas from
the standing easel, taking care not to kink or crease
the cloth in a way that might crack th e paint, a particular concern if th e work has been done in oils or has
a gesso ground.
After you have outl ined th e entire picture, it is tim e to
begin laying in the large color areas. Many of th e simplistic painted illuminati on s of the Middle Ages relied
on a three-tone system for creating shad ing and a
three-dimen sion al look. In thi s syste m, th e lightest
tone is created by scrubbing a thin coat of color over
the canvas, allowing th e white canva s to show th rough
the paint, effectively lightening the color. The middl e
tone is the color as it comes out of the tube, painted
onto th e canvas until a solid tone is achieved. The
th ird tone, th e shadow area, is the middle tone mixed
with a bit of black, or a darker version of th e color (for
exa mple, deep blue is a darker version of medium blue).
Always lay in th e lightest tones first. The scrubbing
technique requires some practice. Scrubbing is applying th e paint in a dry-brush technique. With a size 12
round brush or a stenciling brush, pick up just a small
amount of paint, tap th e ends of th e bristle s almost dry
Displaying the Wall Hanging
To display your piece, make straps for han ging th e
canvas. Cut several l-foot (300mm) lengths of l-inch
(25mm) wide bias tape, enough th at you can attach a
piece every 6 inches (l50mm) along th e top of the can-
vas. Mark the center of each piece of tape. Using
heavy thread, sew the twill tape to the top hem of the
canvas at this centerline, so that the tape runs perpendicular to the top of the canvas. When sewn to the
canvas, each piece of tape should form a pair of 6-inch
(150mm) long straps that can be tied around a hanging rod.
Alternatively, you can sew brass or wooden drapery
rings to the top hem of the canvas at 6-inch (l50mm)
Hang the finished tapestry from a heavy wooden
pole or drapery rod. Be sure to mount the rod hangers
securely to the wall to support the weight of the
Gridding the original artwork
Transferrin g the drawin g to the gridded cloth
O utl in ing the image on the clot h
Laying in th e basic tones
Painting in th e shadows, highlight s, and details
This int eresting desk is probably of ecclesiastical origin. This can be assumed not on ly becau se of the simplicity of construction, but also because so few people
durin g the Middle Ages, outside of the clergy, knew
how to read or write. The desk's exact function is less
clear. Its height would have made it convenient for
someone of average height to stand behind it while
deliverin g a lecture or sermon. It could have served
dual functions as desk and lectern , so it may have been
in a monastic order's ch apt er house (classroom) or
dining hall, where readings from th e scriptures were
delivered during mealtime.
The sligh t lip, formed where the back boards extend
above the top surface, prevents books and papers from
sliding on to the floor. The interior compartment provided storage space for books, papers, writing utensils,
and parchment when they were not in use. The piece
has been altered and repaired several times over the
cent uries. The design of th e iron banding suggests that
th e desk may have origina lly been con structed so th at
it could be disassembled for easy transportation from
one locati on to another.
This rare and unusual survivor of medieval literary
endeavors can be seen in th e Philadelphia Museum
There have been several alterations to thi s piece
over th e past six or seven centuries, but th e plan s given
here are based on the original design of th e piece.
Should you wish to copy th e desk as it now stands, the
nece ssary alterations sho uld be relatively simple to
The most sign ifican t change made to th e desk is in
th e door on th e front . The door is now in two halves,
forming an upper and lower door. In its origina l form ,
however, th ere likely was one full-len gth door suppo rted
by on ly three hinges. When th e door was d ivided , it
nece ssitated the addition of a fourth h inge. It is likely
that the hinge set th at is now th e upper of th e two
middle sets of hinges was originally locat ed at th e bottom of th e door, and th e current bottom hinge was a
late add ition.
All of th e wood used in th e body of thi s desk is English
oak. Surprisingly, most of th e boards in thi s massivelooking piece of furniture are on ly 314 inch (l 9mm)
thick, so with the exception of th e bottom rails, th e
desk can be constructed with standard lumber while
sti ll retaining historical accuracy.
T he width of the board s, however, is quite another
matter. Ideally, you will discover a lumbermill that has
acce ss to oak boards 1 1/ 2 feet (457mm) wide. Realistically, you will have to butt-join board s to make the
planks used in building this desk (see chapter 1).
T he bottom rails on the desk, which are in reality
skids, are distinc tly oversized lumber. But they could
CONSTR UCTION NOTES
The construction of the wooden case of thi s attractive
desk is ext remely simple; however, the ornamental
ironwork adds a bit of a challenge to the project as a
READING DE SK, ENGLAND, FOURTEENTH CENTURY. OAK;
H. 38 112", W. 43", D. 18 112".
THE PHILADELPHIA M USEUM OF ART, COURTESY P H ILADELPH IA MUSEUM OF ART. PHOTOGRAPH BY GRAYDON WOOD ,
be made by gluing up an oak 2-by-8 (50-by-200mm)
and a st'anda rd mill dimension oak l- by-S (25-by200mm).
A ll of the fasteners, for joining wood to wood (unl ess
specified as a dowel joint) and for attachi ng th e hardware to wood, are 2-inch (25mm) hand -forged nails.
On the origina l piece, where th e nails come th rough
the inside face of the wood, they are crimped over for
extra strength (see chap ter 2).
Because the constr uctio n of this piece is so simple, it is
possible to cut all of the lumber to finished dimensions
before beginning any actual construction. Label each
board so th at it can be easily located. All markings
sho uld be made in chalk so that they can be removed
from the wood .
Allow an extra inch on the total width of th e plank
selected for the desk top so that the front and rear
edges can be trimmed to th e angle nece ssary to achiev e
a proper fit. The planks used for the sides and floor of
the desk allow extra length at the point where th ey are
to be morti sed int o the skids.
with the bottom of th e skid . Turn th e assembled bot tom unit into its upright position .
Cut the Vz-inch (l3mm) offset at th e front and rear of
each side panel so that th e ten on sits in to th e mortise
in the skid. C ut the tenon on ly on th e oute r face of
th e panel. That is to say, the side panel s are 3;4 inch
(l9mm) thick, and the tenon on th ese panel s is to be
Vz inch (l3mm) thick. Remove the necessary l;4 inch
(6mm) entirely from th e side of th e pan el th at will face
th e outside of the desk.
When the ten on s are cut, set th e side panel s into
th e mortises in th e base. If th e mortises and tenons
have been neatly cut, th e side panel s sho uld tap into
place and stand nearly vert ical without additiona l support. Determine th e position of th e interior shelf and
mark its locati on on th e inside of th e side panels.
Remove the side panel s and drill pilot holes for th e
Reinstall th e side panel s into th e base and drill two
Vz -inch (l3mm) holes through th e skids so th at th ey
intersect th e morti ses as shown in th e drawings. Drive
'/z-inch dowels through th e holes and cut th em off
close to the surface. When th e entire cabinet is assembled, you can come back and level th em with a rasp or
Cutting the Mortises
C utt ing th e morti ses in th e skids is the most tedious
piece of work on thi s project, but it need s to be done
before any assembly can begin. A rout er can be used
to cut at least a portion of both the blind mortise,
into which the side panels fit, and the open morti se, int o
which th e floor board fits. Squaring the corners of th e
mortises will require careful work with hammer and
The entire width of th e floor board sits in a l-inch
(25mm) deep blind mortise, but there also is an
extended tenon that passes completel y through a small
open morti se in th e foot board.
Take care th at th e mortise for the side panels is
both flat and level on th e bottom. The side panel s sit
directly on the bottom of thi s mortise, and if it is
uneven, or if the side panels are sloppy, the finished
desk may wobble or be uneven .
Be certain th at the mortising is executed so that
the two skids are mirror images of each other and not
identical; there must be a left skid and a right skid.
When the morti sing work is completed, th e decorative
egg-shaped toe can be cut int o the front of the skids.
As the mortises and tenons are being cut, check
frequently to ensure that they will fit snugly together.
Tenons sho uld require a firm tap with the palm of th e
hand or a wooden mallet to be seated into the mortises.
Nail the shelf in place . Be careful when installing th e
shelf not to place too much strain on th e dowel joints
at the base of the side panel s by twisting or pulling th e
On the rear of the desk-the side at which a person
would stand to deliver a lecture-at least the three
center boards are replacements, so the widths of th e
board s may not correspond exactly to th e original
ones. Therefore, if yours differ sligh tly from the one s in
the drawing, it will make little historical difference.
Establish the left and right outside boards. The left
board needs to be notched out at the lower left corner
and the right one at the lower right. The notches allow
the boards to fit over the edge of th e skid and extend
'/ z inch (l3mm) beyond the edge of the side panels. All
of the back boards should rise 13;4 inches (44mm) above
the low edge of the side panels. This will allow the
back to rise 1 inch (25mm) above the bottom edge of
the desk top and provide a book lip.
Because the interior shelf cannot be adjusted or
removed from the desk, the entire desk must be built
from the ground up, around the bottom and the shelf.
The first step is to attach the floor boards to the skids.
Turn the skids upside down (so that the mortise for the
side panels faces downward) and seat the floor board
into the mortises in the skids. Pull the assembly
together with bar clamps or a strap clamp. Drill a
li z-inch (l3mm) hole through the center of the open
mortise and the floor board as shown in the drawings.
Tap a maple dowel into the hole and saw it off even
when cutting the hinge slots; working this close to the
edge of an oak board with drills and chisels is courting
disaster if you are not careful.
Nail the panels into position and trim the door
panel to size. Be sure that there is enough play to allow
the door to open when it is attached to the hinges.
This will require the door panel to be about Y16 inch
(Smm) narrower than the opening into which it
Before final installation of the rear panel boards,
chamfer the inside edge of the boards where they
form the book lip. This edge is shown in detail
B in the drawings. This chamfer is quite uneven on
the original piece and will probably most closely
resemble the original if it is cut with a drawknife or
When the chamfer has been cut, install the outside
panels first and the rest of them sequentially from left
to right. Be certain that each board is square on the
frame of the desk and is aligned at top and bottom
with the previous board. After drilling pilot holes, nail
the back boards onto both the floor and center shelf
of the desk. The outside panels are also nailed to the
side panels as shown on the drawings.
Forge the ironwork according to the instructions in
chapter 2. The large, decorative circles on the ends of
the hinges may be formed by using a wider piece of
metal than the rest of the hinge requires and cutting
out the overall shape of the hinge. Alternatively, the
circular end of the hinge and, if desired, the fleur-de-lis
decoration may be cut from a separate piece of metal
and welded onto a hinge body made of the specified
l vz-inch (38mm) stock. In the materials list, these are
listed as though the entire section of hinge were being
cut from wide stock. If the entire hinge is cut from a
single overwide piece of metal, the fleur-de-lis will
have to be split or sawn, and bent into position. In thi s
instance, follow the instructions for making lateral
bends in metal in chapter 2.
After the hinges and straps are forged, attach them
to the body of the desk. Set the door panel into place,
positioning it so that most of the Yl6-inch (Smm) gap
is on the left side of the door (the side that swings out ward), and attach the loose ends of the hinge to the
The escutcheon plate and striker plate from the lock
are cut out of lightweight metal as specified in the
The top plank may now be fitted into position. With
the plank cut to length, lay it in position on top of the
desk. The book lip will keep it from sliding off the
desk. The top should overhang the sides by Yz inch
(l Imm), making it flush with the outside edges of the
back . The lower edge of the desk top must be cut to
allow it to rest squarely against the book lip. By the
appearance of the original desk, this angle, along with
the corresponding angle on the upper edge of the top,
was cut with a spokeshave.
When the top rests evenly against the book lip, cut
a corresponding angle at the front edge of the top so
that it is on a plane with the front edge of the side
panels. The top may now be drilled and nailed into
position into the side and back panels.
Front Panels and Door
As with the back panels, establish the left and right
panels and notch them to fit over the skids and extend
li z inch (l3mm) beyond the side panels. These boards
should be flush with the upper edge of the desk top.
The top of these boards are square cut and not cut on
On the inner surface of these panels, mark the position of the floor and shelf boards. Also determine the
point at which the ends of the hinges will pass through
the front panels. Remove the panels, drill pilot holes,
and cut the holes through which the hinges will pass,
as shown in detail C on the drawings. Be very careful
If you want the door to lock, refer to the section on
locks in chapter 2. This would be an ideal place to
adapt an antique door lock. If you do not wish to have
a working lock, you may still want to cut a keyhole
and make and install an escutcheon plate . Cut the keyhole in the door before nailing the plate into place.
The turn buttons that currently hold the doors shut
were added to the desk in the I920s. Their installation
here is up to the builder.
All wood is oak, except maple dowels.
front left panel
front right panel
12 Yz" (317mm)
37 " (940mm)
left side back panel
right side back panel
Yz" (l3mm) round
All metal is hot-rolled flat stock.
left side straps
right side straps
escutcheon and latch
r----- 21W' (55 2mm) -~
I!l" (I3mm) \
I W' (32mm)
6" (I52mm) --II
~ -------i6"(406m;S'" -
1',4" (32mm) ~ .
~ 2Yz" (63mm)
~ ~~~I l=:='~:~~~~'~4~~m~n~r ii~~:"~7~=~ ~ :ffi~
W (I9mm) )
DETAIL A, SHOW ING EN D, PROFILE, AND CU TAWAY
FRONT VIEW, CUTAWAY
20" (50 Smm)
2 114" (57mm)
(127mm) (l52mm) (l5 2mm)
W (6m,; ~
Yz" (l 3mm)