Monday, 23 February 2015

(Medieval) moving house

Today Anne and Marijn will be moving house. I have looked if there are any medieval miniatures depicting a similar situation and came up with these two images. Both images use carts to transport military equipment, but I guess the same horse and cart can be used to transport your household stuff and furniture. 

This image is from Bodleian MS 264 folio 83 verso, dating from around 1340 by the Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise.

This is from an early 14th century manuscript. The cart is being loaded with stuff (booty?)

Friday, 20 February 2015

A strange trestle table from 1350

This miniature is from 1350 and shows two trestle tables - one large used by the king for dining (it looks like he is getting a medieval hamburger ... ), and one smaller side table for drinks. What is curious about the trestles is that the legs are placed very central on the bottom rail. The bottom rail on the other hand is very long; even larger than the width of the table board. This is the first time I see an illumination of such trestles, which look a bit unstable to me. I do, however, like the decoration on the bottom rails. Unfortunately, I do not have the source of this illumination.

Friday, 6 February 2015

The medieval toolchest: the plane (part 5): moulding planes

Moulding planes are planes that serve a special function: shaving a specific form or mould into the wood, such as a decorative edge or concave or convex forms. Nowadays, the functions of these planes have been taken over by electric routers. During medieval times some moulding planes are thought to have existed; the round and hollow planes. But no such planes, except for some early medieval planes from Funen, have survived from the medieval period. All other evidence is only indirect.

Roman moulding plane irons. Image scanned from 'Die geschichte des hobels' by Joseph Greber.

Many surviving irons from Roman moulding planes, round and hollow planes and rabbet planes have been found in Roman fortresses, like Saalburg (Germany). Some (complete) round and hollow planes were found on the 16th century ship Mary Rose. There is no reason why these planes would not have existed in the time period in between. Also, parchemin and linenfold panels, either in furniture or as wall panels, came into fashion during the 15th century. This type of panel can be carved or scraped, but more likely they were made using hollow and round planes. Planing is not only easier, it is also faster, giving a more reproducible product and a smoother end result. And especially this smooth result is found on the medieval parchemin and linenfold panels.

Some of the moulding planes excavated from the Mary Rose (1545). Photo: Moulding planes 81A1040 (flared wedge) and 81A1039 (pinned wedge), both made from boxwood (image from Mary Rose website). Moulding plane 81A1425 made from oak with a side peg (length 30.8 cm). Both plane drawings are from the book 'Before the Mast - Life and death aboard the Mary Rose' by J. Gardiner (ISBN 9781842175040).

Hollow plane irons from the Nova Zembla expedition (1596) by Willem Barentz. 
Photo copyright by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

The intarsia panels (1477) in the choir of the San Petronio church in Bologna (Italy) do show two planes that have the same characteristics of the rabbet and moulding planes that were in use during the last century: an open side, where shavings van be ejected. These planes have a single iron held by a wooden peg.

The two planes hanging on the right of the panel look like moulding planes. The top one has the plane iron all through the wooden stock - as with a rabbet plane, while the bottom one shows the typical open side for ejection of the shavings.

Ship-like form planes

The three Vimose planes. Images from the book 'Die geschichte des Hobels' by J. Greber. 

The moulding planes from Vimose on the island Funen (Denmark) have a special ship-like form and date between 300 and 400 AD. One plane is complete and measures 26 cm long with a width between 1.6 and 3.8 cm and a height of 2.7 cm.  The iron was fixed with a bolt and wedge, and was only 15 mm wide. The angle of the iron was around 50 degrees. The two other planes are broken with some parts missing, but have similar dimensions. Also some runic inscription were found on the planes. The planes are thought to have been used for smoothing spear-shafts.

The parts of Vimose planes 2 and 3 have been thought to fit together, but Greber correctly remarked that the bolt holes do not match, and thus they should be two separate planes. On the right part you can see a runic inscription. Image from the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen, Denmark.

A nice replica of the Vimose plane has been made by Stewart Would. 
The construction process of his plane can be found on his blog.

Another similar formed plane was found in Nydam Moor, Denmark (200-400 AD), though it is unknown to me if this plane also is a hollow moulding plane. The amount of quivers and spear-shafts found in the bog makes it likely that this plane served a similar function. Another such a ship-form plane, though dating from the 11th century, has been found in Dublin, Ireland. Only half of this plane survived; when doubling the size, the plane would have been around 46 cm long and 5 cm high (the plane is reproduced at scale 1:1 in the article).

This is a similar plane from Nydam Moor, Denmark. Image from the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Half of a ship-form smoothing plane, excavated in Dublin, Ireland. 
Image scanned from 'The High Street Excavations' by B. O'Riordain (1976) - Proceedings of the 7th Viking congress.


Rabbet and rabbet-like planes

One can say that the rabbet (or rebate) plane is derived from the moulding plane or the other way around.  For the rabbet plane the iron is straight, while for the moulding plane it is curved. The blades are held similarly with a wedge and shavings are ejected from the side. Rabbet planes have their iron slightly protruding from the sides of the plane and are used to make grooves in or at the edges of wooden planks. Specialist rabbet planes are the tongue and groove planes and the plow (or plough). A large tongue plane (with the size of a try plane) is found in the illumination of Noah building the ark in the Bedford Hours (1423). The plane shows two irons, while two separate shavings are ejected from the plane, suggesting that the carpenter is shaving a tongue.

Detail of the illumination of Noah building the Ark in the Bedford Hours (1423) showing a large plane with two irons suggesting a tongue type of plane. Note that the wooden board does not yet have a planed tongue. 
British Library, London, UK. Manuscript Add. MS 18850, folio15v.

Finally there is an inventory from a Dutch joiner from the mid 15th century, mentioning a plough. This plane can be seen as an advanced type of rabbet plane, with adjustable width and depth settings. Both examples are indicative that the more simple rabbet planes also must have existed at that time.


Our moulding and rabbet planes

Our moulding planes consists of a set of 17 matching round and hollow planes (one is missing), of increasing width. They date from the early 20th century and were made by Peter Duessing, a German plane manufacturer from Anholt, who also supplied the Dutch market. These round and hollow planes were used to make the parchemin panels for the toolchest, in which they now rest. Our rabbet planes are from different manufacturers and adjusted to the same look of the moulding planes. They have also different widths. All planes are made of beech.

Our set of round and hollow planes. The size (in inches) is given on the head, as well as the mark PD with a crown (for Peter Duessing) and the mark ITH, with the initials of the former (unknown) owner.

The components of a hollow and a round moulding plane.

One of our rabbet planes (this one made by Nooitgedacht) that was decorated in the same style as the moulding planes.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Mystery tools

This month (and the previous one) will be a bit meagre in posts from me. I am moving house and most of my attention goes to painting and construction (and installing a workshop), instead of blogging or medieval woodwork. I thought the following image of Noah building the Ark from the Bedford Hours of 1423 (British Library Add. MS 18850) would be appropriate for this situation. 

The illumination shows a lot of woodworkers and their tools. Part of this image is in fact also used in the title of the St. Thomasguild blog. Hammers and mallets are shown most, 4 and 7 times, respectively. But there are also 6 augers, 1 brace, 3 chisels, 2 saws, 3 planes and 4 axes. But there are two other interesting objects shown on this illumination: one man on the roof is nailing wooden boards. He has a special shaped box for holding his nails with a hook that prevents it from sliding down.

The other mysterious object is with the man in the house. What is he doing and what is the black object he is working with? Is it a reel for a (chalk or strait) line or is it his purse? Does anyone have an idea? 

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

New cookbooks and an old with a new recipe

During Saint Nicholas and Christmas time I have received and bought some new (at least for me) medieval cookbooks. These were:

'The Book of Sent Sovi', containing the recipes of a 14th century cookbook from Catalonia (Spain) (ISBN 978-185566164-6). Luckily for us, the Catalan language is translated into English, but the actual transition to modern cooking has to be done by ourselves.

'Das Mittelalter Kochbuch' by Hannele Klemettilä (a German translation of an English translation of a Finnish book; ISBN 978-3-7306-0028-3) is filled with general information on medieval cooking, and contains a collection of recipes from medieval cookbooks and by Finnish re-enactors. There is some uncertainty whether the dishes by the latter are indeed medieval as no manuscript source is provided. Also some interesting information on Finnish medieval food can be found in the book.

'Herrenspeis and Bauernspeis - Krumme Krappfen, Ollapotrida und Mamonia' (ISBN 978-3-936622-14-0), 'Mein new Kochbuch - Wurst von Salm, Salbeimauschen und weitere Rezepte aus der mittelalterliche  Burgküche' (ISBN 3-936622-64-7) and 'Orientalisch-mittelalterliche Küche' (ISBN 978-3-940168-44-3) are all three by Peter Lutz, the former medieval cook of the Ronnenburg in Germany. These last three book are written in a very entertaining and informative way, and his view of how to prepare medieval dishes is very like our style of cooking. His last book deals with the medieval Islamic food and the influence it had on European (Mediterranean) medieval cooking. One of the dishes in this book, Rummaniyya, can also be found in the the Italian 'Liber de coquina' from the beginning of the 14th century as 'Romania'. This a a meat dish with a pomegranate sauce. A related recipe, 'Limonia' (with a lemon sauce instead of a pomegranate sauce) is Katinka's favourite medieval dish. 'Mein new Kochbuch' mostly takes the recipes from the late medieval/early renaissance cookbook 'Ein new Kochbuch' by Max Rumpolt from 1581. However, Peter uses the extensive information on cooking found in Max Rumpolts book to find out how certain medieval cooking styles were performed. The recipes in this book are not those commonly encountered in modern medieval cookbooks.

Recipe of Rosijsen from the manuscript of Maister Hannsen des from Wirtenberg koch from 1460.

His first book, Herrenspeis und bauernspeis, starts with a recipe of 'Krumme krapfen'. We knew this recipe already from another book under the name 'Rosijsen' (Horse shoes) and have made it several times. The other book, however, did not provide the source, while peter Lutz provides at least two: The manuscript of "Maister Hannsen, des von Wirtenberg koch" from 1460 and the 'Alemannische Büchlein von guter Speise'  (1470). The latter one also adds that the horse shoes are good and healthy. Indeed they taste very well, but today we would have some doubts on the healthiness of this dish.


When eaten it looks like a horse shoe. You shall take good cheese and grate it. And take a same amount of flour and add eggs. So it can be kneaded easily. Add spices to it and roll it on a dish like a sausage. Bent it like a horse shoe and bake it in lard. [my translation of the German recipe] 

Ingredients (serves 4):
3 eggs
150 g grated cheese
150 g flour
salt, black pepper, nutmeg
lard or vegetable oil for frying


Make a smooth dough from the eggs cheese, flour, salt and a good amount of spices and let it rest for 20 minutes. Flour your hands and roll the dough into a sausage with the thickness of a thumb. Cut it into pieces of a finger length and form into a horse shoe. Fry the horse shoes in the hot lard or vegetable oil until they are gold-brown and crispy. Eat warm (with a sauce, but it tastes also good without one).

Salse von Weichseln (sour cherry sauce)

Peter Lutz recommends this sauce with the Rosijsen - which I have not tried yet. The recipe is from  'Das Kochbuch des Meisters Eberhard' (mid 15th century) who was the cook of Duke Henry of Landshut in Germany.

Zum ein salsenn von weichselnn zu machen.
Item wiltu machen ein gutte salsenn von weichselnn,
so thue die weichsell in einen hafen vnd
secz die auff ein glut vnd laß sie siedenn vnd
laß dann wider erkaltenn vnd streich sie durch ein
tuch vnd thue sie dann wider in den hafenn vnd
secz sie auff ein glut vnd laß sie wol sieden
vnd rurr sie, piß sie dick wirt, vnd thue dann
honig dar an vnd geribens prot vnd negellein vnd
gut gestu:ep vnd thue sie in ein feßlein. Sie
pleibt dir gut drew oder vier iar.

To make a sauce of sour cherries [translation into English by Volker Bach].
If you wish to make a good sauce of sour cherries, put the cherries into a pot and place it on the embers and let them boil. Then cool down again and pass them through a cloth, put it back into the pot, place it on the embers and let it boil well until it thickens. Then add honey and grated bread and cloves and good spice powder and put it into a small cask. It will stay good three or four years.

The sour cherry sauce with the rosijsen. Image scanned from the book Herrenspeis und Bauernspeis.

Ingredients (serves 4):
  • 1 glass of sour cherries
  • 100 g honey
  • breadcrumbs to thicken the sauce
  • cinnamon
  • cloves, freshly ground in a mortar
  • black pepper, also freshly ground 

Take the stone out of the sour cherries and mash the stoneless cherries to pulp (e.g. with help of a blender). Heat the cherrypulp on a small flame untill it is reduced by a third in volume. Add the honey and the breadcrumbs while constantly stirring until the sauce has thickened. Finally add the cinnamon, cloves and a little pepper.  If the sauce is added hot into clean jam bottles, it can be stored for several years.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The medieval toolchest: the plane (part 4) - metal planes

The medieval plane history is not finished yet, although it becomes more speculative here. In this part some planes made from metal are presented.

Medieval metal planes

There is one illumination of the John the Fearless planes that had not been shown yet. It concerns an illumination of St. Andreas in the Book of Hours of John the Fearless. On this image levels are depicted on the right side and planes on the left side. The planes appear to be made of metal (also suggested by W.L. Goodman in the History of Woodworking Tools (page 60)). The plane iron is set at a very low angle, while the grip is curved forward. Metal planes were common in Roman times, but have not been depicted elsewhere or found during medieval times. The early renaissance period (16th century), however, does have some metal planes that have survived, bearing some similarity to the metal plane of John the Fearless. Though it is, of course, possible that the metal plane in the illumination only resembles the (non-functional?) 'gold' planes that the duke had ordered by his goldsmith.
The metal planes (including one large) are shown on the left side on this illumination of St. Andreas. 
Book of Hours of John the Fearless. Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris, Ms N.A.L. 3055, folio 172v.

Two of the metal planes that have some resemblance to metal plane of John the Fearless happened to reside at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna, Austria. However, they are not on display. The only way to see them is to make an appointment with the curator (Elisabeth Schmuttermeier) to visit the depot in the cellars. I was very glad that I thus was able to see them, to hold them (with gloves) in my hands and to take photos of them. Unfortunately for you, I had to sign that the photo's are restricted for private use only. Therefore, the only thing I can share are already published photos, my drawings and measurements and my experiences with these 16th century planes. Both planes are of the type 'vergratthobel', a plane type that resembles the modern low-angle blockplanes and was used to make perfectly fitted angled joints of frames (e.g. of paintings). The word 'Vergratten' means 'to fit together' in German joinery terms.

The small 16th century vergratthobel from the MAK in Vienna. The photo is scanned from Die Geschichte des Hobels by J.M. Greber. The drawing is mine based on the measurements in the MAK.

The smallest plane, and the most cute one, MAK F. 1316 is 13 cm in length (11 cm according to Greber), has a height of 4 cm and a width of 5.5 cm. The plane body is made out of three pieces of metal. The sole has a wide opening (1 by 3.8 cm) for the iron. The iron is set at an angle of 32 degrees (27 according to Greber). At one end it rests on the metal rim of the plane, where the sharp end of the iron rests is unclear. The plane looks hollow inside, however the iron has to rest against some kind of frog. The iron itself is 2.9 cm wide with a thickness of 3.8 mm. The length of the iron is almost 10 cm. The wedge consists of an irregular shaped piece of metal, 2.8 mm thick, 3.45 cm wide and 6 cm long, with a small wooden peg wedged between the iron and the metal wedge. The wedge is set against a bolt with a diameter of  5-6 mm. The front part of the plane is decorated and ends in a curl (like an opened tin of sardines). This curl also has some decoration itself.

The plane felt relatively heavy my hand, just a bit more than a Lee Nielsen 62.5 low angle plane. But it is quite comfortable to hold, and I would not mind having such a (replica) plane in my collection.

The large16th century vergratthobel with the wedge sculpted as a head from the MAK in Vienna. 
The photo is scanned from Die Geschichte des Hobels by J.M. Greber.

The second plane, MAK F. 1314, is larger and has a total length of 23.6 cm (20 cm sole length according to Greber) and a width of 5.8 cm. The sole has a thickness of 6.3 mm with a very small opening for the iron of 2.8 mm by 4.5 cm. Onto the sole, a smaller metal box - the plane body - is fixed. This box measures 18.6 by 5 cm. The height of the plane is 4.1 cm, the sculpted wedge more or less doubles it to 10 cm. The iron of this plane is set at an angle of 30 degrees and has a width of 3.8 cm and a length of 13 cm. The iron is held by the sculpted wooden wedge (carved as a man's face with a moustache). The carved wedge also serves as a handhold to push the plane forward.  Aside from the carved wedge, the plane has some simple decorations. For instance the bolt has some decorative curves. The toat consists of a curved piece of metal, extending 5.2 cm from the box of the plane body. It reaches a height of 6.2 cm. 

 My drawing based on the measurements of the large 16th century plane in the MAK, Vienna.

This plane is quite heavy, like a metal number 5 jack plane. The frontal grip is comfortable to hold, but the wedge/handhold at the back feels awkward. In my opinion it is too bulky. There are two holes in the plane: one square in the sole, and a round one in the toat. The holes were probably used for hanging the plane onto a pin on the wall.

Finally, the MAK did also have another type of  metal plane (F 1313), dating from the second half of the 16th century. The plane is a small fore plane (according to Greber) with a toat. It measures 14.2 cm (13.8 according to Greber) is 4 cm wide and 3.8 cm high (+ 4 cm for the toat). The diameter of the toat is 1.8 cm. At the end is a square metal bolt, used to loosen the iron. The blade iron is set at an angle of 45 degrees; the opening for the blade in the sole is 7.5 mm. The plane iron look very peculiar: it is shaped like the teeth of Dracula. At both ends the blade has protruding points, the reason for this is unclear for me.

The 16th century etched fore plane from the MAK in Vienna. 
The photo is scanned from Die Geschichte des Hobels by J.M. Greber.

The body of the plane is fully etched with floral designs; even the sole of the plane has these etchings! yet the sole is till quite smooth. This etching looks similar to that of two metal planes from 1570 belonging to the Kurfürst August of Saxony (now in the Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen in Dresden, Germany). The MAK plane is a bit lighter than the small Vergratthobel. For me, this plane it is too small to hold and work comfortably.

Smoothing planes made by Leonhard Danner (1507-1585) in Nürnberg around 1570 for Kurfurst August of Saxony. Top plane: Length 12.7 cm Width 3.8 cm Height with toat 8.0 cm Weight 511 g. Bottom plane: Lenght 12.7 cm Width 4.8 cm Height with toat 9.6 cm Weight 642 g. The planes are decorated with hunting scenes and floral designs. The plane iron is fixed with a screw instead of a wedge. Images from the SKD museum, Dresden, Germany.


Goodman, W.L., 1964. The history of woodworking tools. Bell and Hymann Ltd, London, UK.
Greber. J.M. 1987. Die geschichte des Hobels – von der Steinzeit bis zur Entstehung der Holzwerkzeugfabriken im fruhen 19. Jahrhundert. Th. Schafer, Hannover, Germany. ISBN 3-88746-188-6 [In German].

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

St. Thomas in India: glass window versus tapestry

When I looked up the painted glass window of the joiners guild in Chartres cathedral (France) on internet, I accidentally stumbled upon another stained glass window depicting the same legend of St. Thomas in India that is on the Thomas tapestry in Wienhausen, Germany. This glass window is in one of the bays of the aisles of Chartres cathedral (see the red arrow on the cathedral map). The window was made between 1205 and 1235. It has a lancet form and is roughly 8.1 m long and 2.2 m wide. In comparison, the Thomas tapestry dates from the late 14th century and measures roughly 4 by 2 m.



It is interesting to compare both legends of St. Thomas and note the similarities and differences. The photos of the windows were made by Dr. Stuart Whatling and taken from his website on medieval glass windows, which is well worth checking out. The legend of St. Thomas starts at the bottom of the window and moves more or less zigzag to the top. The specific details of the reading order are found on this web-page. The detailed images of the Thomas tapestry make use a scanned photo from a book. The original tapestry hangs in Kloster Wienhausen.

The incredulity of the unbelieving St. Thomas. This scene was later in the 13th century added to the window

 Christ sends St. Thomas on a mission to evangelise India ('Ga int lant India').

 St. Thomas is given to Abbanes, an envoy of an Indian king, who seeks an architect.

 St. Thomas and Abbanes travel by boat to India and disembark on the shore.

St. Thomas is welcomed to a marriage feast.

  At the wedding feast Thomas refuses to eat, and is struck by the cupbearer.

The cupbearer is killed by a lion or bear, and a dog brings back the hand that had struck St. Thomas (see previous images).

Abbanes presents St. Thomas to King Gundophorus as his new architect.

 King Gundophorus provides St. Thomas with gold to build his new palace.

  King Gundophorus leaves for a long journey.

 Thomas erects churches instead of building a palace.

 The remainder of the money is divided among the poor.

 The King returns and throws St. Thomas into prison in order to be executed.

The kings brother, Gad, becomes very ill.

 Gad dies and is welcomed into heaven.
Gad is shown the palace in heaven that St. Thomas has build for his brother.
 Gad is resurrected and reconciles his brother with St. Thomas. Thomas baptises King Gundophorus and his people.

(St. Thomas moves on to the realm of King Mydeus. He converts his wife and children.) 
St. Thomas is captured and thrown into an oven, but survives.

 St. Thomas is commanded by King Mygdeus to worship an heathen idol.

Thomas orders the demon inside the idol to destroy its own temple.

The angry high priest of the temple slays St. Thomas with a sword.

Followers of St. Thomas bury his body.

Pilgrims go to the shrine of St. Thomas.

Pilgrims succumb to sleep at the shrine. St. Thomas returns from the grave to give his blessing to the pilgrims. The last part is only found in the tapestry and not part of the official 'lives' of the Saint.

Angels watch from above.