Instructions for Build-It-Yourself Medieval Furniture

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Furniture from the medieval period consists of styles from the Early Middle Ages (sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages), the High Middle Ages and the Later Middle Ages, times of hardship for most peasants, whose lives were filled with uncertainty and constant labor. Medieval furniture tended to be utilitarian, rough and built to withstand harsh treatment. Common pieces of furniture included stools, benches, tables and chests; common woods used were oak, ash, beech and poplar. Building medieval furniture today, fortunately, is less challenging. When you consider the labor involved in having to cut your own timber without power tools, you’ll understand why craftsmen in the Middle Ages built their furniture to last.

Things You'll Need

  • Furniture design plans
  • Oak, ash, beech or poplar lumber
  • Tape measure
  • Circular saw
  • Jigsaw
  • Yellow wood glue
  • Clamps
  • Sander
  • Stain and shellac, or paint
  • Choose a design for the piece of furniture you'd like to build, keeping in mind that stools, benches and tables are easiest to make while still retaining a distinct medieval look. Check online for designs you'd like to build, or go to the Current Middle Ages website (see Resource) for a list of free designs they offer.

  • Measure the lumber to the specifications outlined in the design plans you have chosen and cut it to size with the circular saw. Glue two pieces of 2-inch board together and clamp them to dry overnight. This creates the proper thickness of medieval timber, especially for tabletops, bench tops, the backs of chairs and table and bench posts.

  • Draw a template for the decorative pieces based on your instruction plan. Chair backs, table posts and bench posts were cut with ornamental curves in the design, sometimes resembling scrolls. Trace these design elements from a template onto the posts or back of a chair, and cut with a jigsaw. When joining posts to tables and benches, mount them at a 10-degree angle, slanting outward. This prevents a table or bench from tumbling over when too much weight is applied to the end. Also install chair legs to the bottom of a seat at an angle for better stability.

  • Cut stretchers from a 4-inch by 4-inch board for a table, and a 2-inch by 4-inch board for a bench. Stretchers were lengths of wood that were fastened between supporting posts for added stability, spanning the length of the table or bench. Stretchers were attached to the posts through a hole and glued in place just few inches below the tabletop or bench top. Install them according to your instructions.

  • Cut cleats and pegs. Cleats join tabletops and bench tops together with the side posts. Fasten them together with pegs. With both stretchers and cleats to support them, medieval benches and tables were solid and sturdy. Use 3/4-inch dowels for pegs, cut to an appropriate size and driven into holes with a mallet, or follow the specifications in your instructions. Iron nails were sometimes used in furniture construction, but less often than glue. Finish gluing the all parts together following your design plan, clamp them together and let dry overnight.

  • Sand away all sharp or pointed edges using the sander. Cover with a dark stain and a coat of shellac. Rub wax into sanded areas to give the appearance of being smoothed over from years of use. Alternatively, you can paint the furniture. Red and green were the most popular colors of the day, although medieval accounting documents show that white, yellow and black were also used.

Tips & Warnings

  • Avoid making the support legs too thin on stools, chairs or tables, or they will look colonial rather than medieval.
  • Distress the wood by beating it with a chain to give the overall appearance of hard use.

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References

  • Photo Credit cuisine médievale image by Jacques PALUT from Fotolia.com
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