In our minds, we all have a good idea of what a typical chair, table, stool, desk or workbench looks like and how these pieces are built. But today I’d like to take you on a brief trip to the Middle Ages when furniture was built using different principles.
Oh sure, tables and chairs still have legs, but the number of legs and how the pieces are assembled is – if you look close – quite a departure from what we do today.
For the last five years, I’ve been studying “staked furniture,” which is a type of furniture made with a conical, back-wedged mortise-and-tenon joint. Today this joint is used in some chairs, but in the 14th century it was used for a wide variety of pieces.
Because Value City Furniture and Ikea didn’t issue catalogs in the Middle Ages, I’ve been relying on hundreds of images from illuminated manuscripts. One of my favorite sources has been the “Tacuinum Sanitatis,” a widely reprinted book on health and food in the Middle Ages that curiously spanned both Eastern and Western cultures.
The “Tacuinum Sanitatis” is filled with images of household and work furniture. And if you were breezing through the book you might not spot the oddities. Rather than spoil the discovery for you, I encourage you to visit this fantastic board on Pinterest that is maintained by Henk T. Jong. Here you will find hundreds of images from many different editions.
Take a close look at the furniture and think: How did they build that?
I’m in the middle of building two dining tables from the “Tacuinum Sanitatis” and it has been a very odd experience. So odd that I haven’t been blogging about it because I’m not ready to answer the inevitable flood of questions (and criticisms) from readers.
By the way, if this sort of weirdness interests you, I’m giving a talk on it at Woodworking in America this fall in Kansas City, Mo. Read more details on the fantastic lineup here. Details on the event itself are at the Woodworking in America site.
— Christopher Schwarz
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