Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Use of Wood in the 12th Century, by Bertram

Wood. Where to start with wood?

Well, it is one of the most commonly used and grown resources in my time and, I'm sure, in yours! Here in Furness we have many woodlands near our towns and villages and these woodlands are used readily to collect timber for a huge variety of uses.

Bertram's wooden creations

Here are just a few example of how we use wood:

  • To build our houses. Wood is used to create the base frames for our homes and buildings. We also use willow and hazel branches to weave in our walls before covering them in daub (horse dung, clay and straw).
  • To create our furniture. Wood is used to make any furniture we can afford, such as tables, chairs or stools. Being a peasant I can't afford much of this!
  • To make utensils. Wood is used to make a large selection of utensils from spoons to bowls.
  • To make tools. As utensils wood is used to make many different tools from mallets to textile weaving and net making tools.
  • To make toys. Wood is used to make many different toys for children to play with including toy dolls.
  • To build boxes and chests for storage. We all need storage solutions and for us boxes and chests are some of the best and wood is used to build them.

As you can see we do use wood, a lot! It is one of the most durable as well as cheapest resources to be found. Metal is a fantastic resource but it is very expensive. To create usable metal objects takes a massive amount of work; taking rocks, smelting them to get iron then blacksmithing it to create objects. It is not an easy process! But wood is easily accessible for all and easier to manipulate, although it is still a skill to work it well.

Tools for Working Wood

Woodworking tools
You can use many different tools to work wood but there is one tool that is a must; an axe! Axes are not only used to chop down trees but to also split and shape wood. There are many varieties of axe for various jobs, you can see a T-axe pictured here along with a selection of other tools. This is a small hand axe, perfect for shaping wood before further work. I use this to shape my bowl blanks ready to go on my lathe. The other tools seen here are a draw knife- a flat blade with two outer handles, this can be used by pulling the blade towards yourself to shave wood. A chisel- another staple for wood workers, chisels are used to remove wood and cut into wood. A twist auger- a small hand drill which can be used in a turning motion while applying pressure to drill a small hole. Two gouges- both used to gouge into wood, great for creating the bowls in spoons.

Bertram on his lathe
Woodturning, something I specialise in, is often undertaken in my time and is a way of creating usable objects, like bowls, by turning the raw material to shape it. The pole lathe is used to do this. A pole lathe is a piece of machinery, or a tool if you prefer, which uses a pole or two of green, flexible wood with rope attached to both the pole and a pedal. Pushing the pedal pulls the rope which in turn pulls the pole to create energy which can turn a piece of wood.

You can see here (left) myself turning a bowl. Attached to the wood being turned is another piece called a mandrel, of which the rope is wrapped around. This means that when the rope is pulled it turns the wood rapidly back and forth, with this motion you can then cut into the raw material, on the down turn, using a metal tool called a hook chisel. This is a long metal shaft with a hook on its end, this hook is sharp  and is what cuts the wood. Eventually, with a lot of work, patience and sweat you can end up with a bowl or another lathed item. I have used the lathe to create bowls, spoons, toy dolls and even other tools.

The pole lathe is a remarkable piece of machinery which has been around for many centuries. It's a simply constructed bit of kit which can do a powerful job and it is almost completely made from wood itself!

A basic stool
Some Examples of Wood Use

Furniture Making:

You can make many different types and variations of furniture with wood. From high end tables and chairs for the lords and ladies of the land to much more humble and basic furniture, like stools, for the common folk like my good self. Seen here (right) is a simple stool made from just four pieces of wood in a short amount of time. The top, or seat, is a piece of split log and the legs are three small branches. The branches are shaved at the top and slotted into holes drilled in the split log. Simple but effective! You may note that it is three legged, this is because three legs can sit better on rough ground and trust me, we have a lot of that around here! Of course using these same principles you can make tables, something often needed.

Wooden spoons
The making of spoons:

Spoons are commonly used across the country and are mostly made from wood. Only the wealthy can afford metal spoons and personally I think wooden ones are much better! They are easy enough to make, take a log, split it a few times to get some nice planks then either cut or shave it into shape. Finally carve out the bowl of the spoon and there you have it. Of course you can even turn spoons making lovely handles and deep bowls.

Wooden Children's Toys

Ah, toys. Something we all have in some form when young. In our time toys are not only used for play but also for learning. Things like dolls can be used for young girls to play with but also make clothes for, thus learning the skill of sewing, something vital for later life. Toys like horses and spinning tops are also commonly made for play. Spinning tops often made from the discarded centers from bowls.

There are so many uses for wood it is hard to fit them all in here but hopefully these few examples will give you an idea of its importance in my time.

Wood is a durable, beautiful resource which I adore. Its uses are endless and without it where would we be?

Until next time,


Bertram's Bio:

Born near Daltune (Dalton-in-Furness) in 1116 Bertram had a hard start to life working the farm lands with his parents and brother Ernolf. In his teenage years he developed a passion for woodwork and enhanced his skills on a pole lathe. Now, when he isn't working the land, he travels the county selling his wares where he can to earn a crust. Making all sorts of wooden objects from bowls to spoons and even toys Bertram has gained a reputation for quality goods in many parts of the county and just about manages to stay afloat. 

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