Crafts and Trade


Wattle hurdle (York Archaeological Trust)Wood was the most important raw material in the medieval world. Large timbers from fully-grown trees were used for structural purposes. Small rods were used in the first instance for fuel, often in the form of charcoal, and in the second to make wattles, wickerwork and a great range of objects.

Radial splitting of timber  (York Archaeological Trust)Timber in 11th - 12th century England was usually oak. After felling, a tree was cut up into logs which were usually split radially to make posts, beams, planks or boards. The principal tool used in felling and cutting was the axe - there is no evidence for saws until the later medieval period. In addition to use as structural supports, timber was used to make building components such as shutters and doors, and containers such as chests and coffins. Large vessels, including casks, tubs and buckets, were made from shaped staves bound with wooden hoops.

Jointing of structural timbers primarily involved simple mortise and tenon joints, and lap joints. The accurate cutting required for sophisticated timber frames was hardly known until the 13th century except in churches and other high status buildings. The assembly of chests and the like was effected using wooden dowel pegs.

The pole lathe (York Archaeological Trust)Wooden bowlUnlike structural timbers, wooden objects were made from a wide variety of tree species. For example, ash and alder were used for turned vessels, such as bowls and cups. They were made on a pole lathe, itself made largely of wood, which was foot powered using a treadle linked in tension to a flexible pole. A wooden rough-out was held in place by a mandrel and as it rotated the vessel was formed with a special chisel.

It would be impossible to list all the objects known to have been made of wood, but they included tools from shovels to spindles, musical instruments and gaming boards.

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