Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Making a sedia tenaglia - part 1

We use our medieval replica furniture not only during re-enactment (such as at castle Hernen), but also in everyday live. Most folding chairs as well as my strycsitten are arranged along the dining table. As we were already planning to move to a new and larger house, there was a need for a larger table and extra chairs as well.  I did want to make a different medieval chair and try to steam bend some wood as well, so my choice was to make a sedia tenaglia.

As photos and information on internet only tell you the height and width of a chair, and not the thickness of the wood used, I looked at an example that was easily available: the replica sedia tenaglia at castle Loevestein. Another great source which I used was the construction plan of Charles Oakley of a 16th century German folding chair, which is actually an Italian style sedia tenaglia. The thickness and width of the legs of the chair in Castle Loevestein were 2.5 and 4.5 cm, respectively. That of the chair of Charles Oakley was 2.54 and 5.08 cm (1 and 2 inch), respectively. My thoughts were going in the same direction 2.5 and 4 cm, respectively. The thickness changed during construction of the chair to 2.0 cm for reasons explained later. This is still robust enough to sit on, and saves weight.

The replica sedia tenaglia at Castle Loevestein, Poederooyen, the Netherlands. This chair does not have a bend backrest. As such it can be nearly flat folded. On the other hand if you lean to much backwards, the chair (with you on it) will tumble backwards. This does not happen if the back of the chair is slightly bend.

Measurements of the folding chair at Castle Loevestein; the width of the chair is approximately 50 cm. The black dots indicate the placement of the pins for the mortise and tenon joints.

As I wanted to have the same seating height for the sedia tenaglia as my x-folding chairs, 44 cm, this measurement was also fixed. I also liked to have a deeper seating plateau than most sedia tenaglia, and chose a depth of 35 cm. Using these sizes, the folding X part of the chair could be drawn. Only the height of the backrest and the curvature of the back were left to be determined. The optimum height for the back of the chair depends on the people for whom it will be made (mainly me and Anne). The optimum curvature depends on the stability of the chair when leaning backwards (i.e. the chair does not tumble backwards when you lean on it), the ergonomics of your back while seating, and the wish to have the chair as flat as possible when folded. I think I succeeded very well in finding the optimum measurements for my sedia tenaglia.

Most of the remaining medieval sedia tenaglia are made from either beech or walnut. I chose oak to make my chair, as the table and all my other chairs were made of oak. Oak is a more difficult material to work with, and tougher to bend. I started to cut and plane the oak to the appropriate thickness and width. The next step was to bend the back, which I will cover in the next post. 

Meanwhile, also the caps for the dowels had to be made. I used tenon cutters in the drill press to make the caps. The trick is to have the piece of oak thicker than the tenon cutter can cut deep. This way, the caps are still attached to the piece of oak which makes is easy to centre the drill bit to make the hole in the centre of the cap to attach it to the dowel. This hole is cut just deep enough to hold the dowel. Then the caps are cut loose with a (Japanese) saw, and if you planned it well, the second round of caps is already waiting for you beneath the previous ones. You just have to drill the centre holes and saw these loose as well. Rounding of the caps is done similarly as with the Savoranola chair: using a belt sander or a rasp.

Seven times two caps are waiting in this piece of oak. 
The tenon cutter has done its job and the first seven caps have their centre hole drilled.

The seven caps are cut from the oak piece along this line (arrow) with a Japanese saw (kataba).

The first seven caps are cut loose; the second row of caps is already present due to the deep drilling of the tenon cutter.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Eastern at Castle Hernen

Today and tomorrow (Eastern) we are guests at Castle Hernen (Hernen, the Netherlands), one of the castles of the 'Geldersch Landschap and Kastelen'. We were very surprised and pleased that some new furnishing was placed in the castle. When we had an appointment at the castle last year, all the rooms were quite empty, but now the castle was very alive and attractive. We even could make use of the great hall, where we could dine as if we indeed were the lords of Hernen. 

We had a very privileged lunch at the U-sided table. 
There was one slight disappointment: there were no servants to help us ...

During the afternoon, Bram and I were working on a medieval chest, while Anne and Katinka were embroidering inside - under the scrutinizing eyes of the many visitors. Some more photos of castle Hernen with the Thomasguild can be found on the Facebook site of the castle.

 Also Katinka has nearly finished embroidering her first panel of the Thomasteppich.

Bram and I are discussing which medieval plane is the better one: 
Bram's 14th century north German plane, or my medieval Italian plane. 

 We needed help from Anne to decide which plane was the best.

 To my surprise Anne did choose the plane of Bram: the toat  felt very smooth according to her.

 Ah! Now I know why. The toat! It resembles something ...

Monday, 30 March 2015

A late 15th century folding chair: the sedia tenaglia

The sedia tenaglia is a folding chair with a backrest that first appeared in the late 15th century and persisted throughout the 16th century. Its main area of production was Italy, but these chairs were also found in the Alpine region (Switzerland, France and Austria). It is curious that these x-chairs appeared so late on the medieval scene, as the basic construction is not very different from the Savonarola chair or the late 14th century x-chair, but their seating is far more comfortable (at least my replica is). The main difference with the other x-chairs is that the X is projected at the side of the chair, instead at the front. This makes it possible to extent the legs of the X on one side and to create a (comfortable) backrest.

These two chairs  are from the Museo Storico della Caccia e del Territorio in Cerreto Guidi (Florence) Italy. They were made in Tuscany, date from the 15th-16th century and are made from walnut. The height is 78 cm, the width 37 cm and a depth of 26.5 cm. The seating is quite high, I guess around 50 cm (our seating height is around 43 cm). Both chairs have 7 back legs and a decorated back with circles.

Quite some pieces of the sedia tenaglia have survived and can be found in museums around the world or even be bought at antique houses. The surviving chairs are mostly made from walnut or beech. Beech has the benefit that it is easily bended by steam. The number of legs (for the backrest; the other legs usually number one less) can be an odd or even number and varies between 5 and 7. The wooden plate for the back is usually decorated with circular patterns with a cross in the middle. The following photos give a nice impression of the variety and sizes of the folding chair. The sources of the images are indicated; else they come from museum websites or other places on internet. One of the next posts will concern my construction of a sedia tenaglia.

This late 15th, or early 16th century chair is for sale at an antique dealer for 4800 dollar (at the time this post was written). The following photos show the specific details of the chair. The chair is 80 cm high, 43 cm wide and also 43 cm deep. The wood used for construction is beech.

You can see the wooden hinge dowels between the legs and seating rods.

Not only the back plate is decorated, also the legs and seating have some carved decoration.

The foot rail at the back is fastened with two dowels in the middle (left), 
while the foot rail at the front has two dowels at the ends (right). 

The circular decoration of the back plate. The backplate is fastened to the legs with two dowels at either ends.

The back side of the chair. The side of the chair; strangely the front legs look larger than the back legs.

The following six photos of a sedia tenaglia were made by Gary Halstead in a museum in Strasbourg, France. The chair originates from Switzerland or northern Italy and dates from the 15th century. The chair is made of beech and has seven legs. The photos were found on the greydragon website

 The seating of this chair is not very deep.

These two photos of the backplate show that it was fastened by two dowels at the ends. You can also clearly see that the decoration was made by hitting special punches into the wood.

The outer seating rails are larger and have a sawn out decoration. You can see that the legs are still a bit rough and bear the saw marks.

A sedia tenaglia from Tirol, dating from the 16th-17th century. Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin, Germany. 
Height 90 cm, width 46 cm. The chair has six legs. Image from the book 'Oude Meubels' by Sigrid Muller-Christensen.

A simple French sedia tenaglia from the late 15th - early 16th century. Château de la Rochelambert, St. Paulien, France. As the chair is quite fragmented, some construction details, like the front dowel, can be clearly seen. The chair has six front legs as well as six back legs.Image scanned from the book Mobilier moyen-aye - renaissance by Monica Burckhardt.

This sedia tenaglia can be seen in the Museum fur Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt, Germany. The chair has likely 5 legs.
Behind the table a sedia savonarola can be seen.

This is the only contemporary image I could find of a sedia tenaglia. It appears in the clothing book 'Trachtenbuch' of Matthaus Schwartz of Augsburg, in an image of 1538 when he is 41 years old. The chair is small and only has 4 legs at each side.

These two chairs (3 photos) are from the Palazzo Madama in Turin, Italy and date from the 15th century. 
They have similar decorations as the one of the auction, circles with a cross. The 7 legs of these chairs are bend.

Left: A sedia tenaglia made in Italy from beechwood. It has a height of 80 cm, a depth of 48.8 cm and a width of 51.3 cm. The seating height is 47 cm. The chair has 5 legs and a decorated back plate. The chair is now on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Right: A sedia tenaglia with seven legs dating from the early 16th century and made from beech. 86.5 cm height, 44 cm width and 27.5 cm deep. Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy. Image from the book Mobel Europas II-Renaissance - Manierismus by G. Windisch-Graetz.

Left: A sedia tenaglia made in Italy from beechwood. It has a height of 80 cm, a depth of 48.8 cm and a width of 51.3 cm. The seating height is 47 cm (yes, similar to the chair above). The chair has 6 legs and decorated legs and back plate. The chair is also from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Right: This sedia tenaglia from the Morando Bolognini Museum, Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, Italy dates from 1490-1510. The sizes of this chair are: height 84 cm, width 37 cm and depth 29 cm. This chair has only 5 legs and misses the two outer seating rails.

A 16th century sedia tenaglia  from Burg Kreuzenstern near Vienna, Austria in seating and folded position. The chair has 6 legs and is made from beech, 80 cm high, 45 cm wide and 43 cm deep. Image from the book Mobel Europas I -Romanik - Gotik by G. Windisch-Graetz.

Left: Decorated folding chair with 6 legs from Tuscany. There is a bend  of the legs at the seating level. Collection Nella Longari, Milan, Italy. Right: Chair originating from Saluzzo, end of the 15th century. Italian private collection. Both images scanned from the book 'Il quattrocento - Mobili - Arti decorative - Costume' .

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.