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Re: [MedievalSawdust] Before sandpaper

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  • James Daily
    Hand planes, scrapers, various kinds of stone and also plants. From Blood and Sawdust: In his 15th century manuscripts, Jehan Le Begue discusses methods of
    Message 1 of 12 , May 14, 2012
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      Hand planes, scrapers, various kinds of stone and also plants.  From Blood and Sawdust:

      In his 15th century manuscripts, Jehan Le Begue discusses methods of preparing wood for painting. Here he says, "First make the wood very flat and smooth by scraping it, and lastly by rubbing it with that herb which is called shave-grass."

      An undated Paduan manuscript, perhaps of the 16th or 17th century, gives the following instructions for preparing wood for blackening: When the wood has been polished with burnt pumice stone it must be well rubbed with a coarse cloth and with the said powder, bathing the work with German size that it may be more polished; it must then be cleaned with another rag.

      A 1635 essay by Pierre Lebrun instructs that when preparing wood to imitate ebony, it should be "rubbed with a piece of rag or reed to polish them. After this they are rubbed with a waxed cloth or a piece of wax, to make them shine like ebony. If there are any spots, they are to be removed by rubbing with reeds."

      Blood and Sawdust also mentions the use of dogfish skin, but I'm inclined to agree with Will McNaughton on that, who writes:

      Q: Is sandpaper "period?"

      A: No. Some people will tell you that medieval artisans used the dried skin of dogfish was used, but I think that they are making much of two references. (Medieval and Renaissance Treatises on the Arts of Painting by Mary Merrifield and, again, Building in England Down to 1540 by L. F. Salzman.) It is my belief that while this practice did occur in England as early as the 1300's in England, that the "typical" method for smoothing was to use planes and scrapers. I'd be very happy to be proved wrong on this.

      So in any case it wouldn't extend as far back as the Viking age (assuming you mean the 8th to 11th centuries).


      On May 14, 2012, at 2:56 PM, kenneth bain wrote:

       

      Before the first sand paper(glass paper) what did the earlier woodworker, like during the Viking age, use to smooth thier projects?


    • AlbionWood
      The simple answer is, planes. Handplanes are known from Viking Age archaeology (and earlier), and it s pretty easy to leave a very smooth flat surface with a
      Message 2 of 12 , May 14, 2012
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        The simple answer is, planes. Handplanes are known from Viking Age
        archaeology (and earlier), and it's pretty easy to leave a very smooth
        flat surface with a sharp handplane on air-dried wood.

        The longer answer is to consider the entire process by which wood was
        prepared for a project, and the kinds of projects undertaken, and
        realize that the kind of smoothing accomplished by sandpaper was
        basically never needed. This is true not only for the Viking era, but
        most later medieval work as well.

        Most of the (flat-surface) medieval wooden objects I've been able to
        examine displayed plane-tracks; it was clear that no further surface
        prep had been done after planing. Carved work is of course not sanded
        or scraped, as nothing beats the surfaces left by the chisel.

        I'm not a turner and haven't examined as many turned objects, but most
        of the ones I have seen displayed very obvious tool-marks, indicating
        they had not been surfaced after turning.

        Cheers,
        Tim


        On 5/14/2012 12:56 PM, kenneth bain wrote:
        > Before the first sand paper(glass paper) what did the earlier woodworker, like during the Viking age, use to smooth thier projects?
      • d6crawler
        I ve heard horsetail fern was used as an abrasive. It seems like it would turn things green but maybe they dried it first? Daniel
        Message 3 of 12 , May 14, 2012
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          I've heard horsetail fern was used as an abrasive. It seems like it would turn things green but maybe they dried it first?

          Daniel


          From: AlbionWood <albionwood@...>
          To: medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com
          Sent: Monday, May 14, 2012 6:26 PM
          Subject: Re: [MedievalSawdust] Before sandpaper

           
          The simple answer is, planes. Handplanes are known from Viking Age
          archaeology (and earlier), and it's pretty easy to leave a very smooth
          flat surface with a sharp handplane on air-dried wood.

          The longer answer is to consider the entire process by which wood was
          prepared for a project, and the kinds of projects undertaken, and
          realize that the kind of smoothing accomplished by sandpaper was
          basically never needed. This is true not only for the Viking era, but
          most later medieval work as well.

          Most of the (flat-surface) medieval wooden objects I've been able to
          examine displayed plane-tracks; it was clear that no further surface
          prep had been done after planing. Carved work is of course not sanded
          or scraped, as nothing beats the surfaces left by the chisel.

          I'm not a turner and haven't examined as many turned objects, but most
          of the ones I have seen displayed very obvious tool-marks, indicating
          they had not been surfaced after turning.

          Cheers,
          Tim

          On 5/14/2012 12:56 PM, kenneth bain wrote:
          > Before the first sand paper(glass paper) what did the earlier woodworker, like during the Viking age, use to smooth thier projects?


        • Lynda Fjellman
          Horsetail isn t really a fern.  As far as how it works as a wood smoother I couldn t say, but it was used as a pot scrubber.  It has a lot of silica in it.
          Message 4 of 12 , May 14, 2012
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            Horsetail isn't really a fern.  As far as how it works as a wood smoother I couldn't say, but it was used as a pot scrubber.  It has a lot of silica in it.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equisetum

            It it native here in Western Washington and I have seen it in S. California as well.

            Ilaria


             
            I've heard horsetail fern was used as an abrasive. It seems like it would turn things green but maybe they dried it first?

            Daniel


            From: AlbionWood <albionwood@...>
            To: medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com
            Sent: Monday, May 14, 2012 6:26 PM
            Subject: Re: [MedievalSawdust] Before sandpaper

             
            The simple answer is, planes. Handplanes are known from Viking Age
            archaeology (and earlier), and it's pretty easy to leave a very smooth
            flat surface with a sharp handplane on air-dried wood.

            The longer answer is to consider the entire process by which wood was
            prepared for a project, and the kinds of projects undertaken, and
            realize that the kind of smoothing accomplished by sandpaper was
            basically never needed. This is true not only for the Viking era, but
            most later medieval work as well.

            Most of the (flat-surface) medieval wooden objects I've been able to
            examine displayed plane-tracks; it was clear that no further surface
            prep had been done after planing. Carved work is of course not sanded
            or scraped, as nothing beats the surfaces left by the chisel.

            I'm not a turner and haven't examined as many turned objects, but most
            of the ones I have seen displayed very obvious tool-marks, indicating
            they had not been surfaced after turning.

            Cheers,
            Tim

            On 5/14/2012 12:56 PM, kenneth bain wrote:
            > Before the first sand paper(glass paper) what did the earlier woodworker, like during the Viking age, use to smooth thier projects?




          • Stuart
            ... I place my horsetail grass in a loose weave bag and hang it under the deck to dry before using it. I first heard of it while attending a lute construction
            Message 5 of 12 , May 14, 2012
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              On 5/14/2012 3:50 PM, d6crawler wrote:
              I've heard horsetail fern was used as an abrasive. It seems like it would turn things green but maybe they dried it first?


              I place my horsetail grass in a loose weave bag and hang it under the deck to dry before using it. I first heard of it while attending a lute construction seminar last summer. I'm looking for the reference, but a paper from the 16thC discussing lute construction, mentions using this to finish the surface. Master Luthier Grant Tomlinson who taught the class, uses this on all his lutes.
              I've used this on strings and by handfuls while turning. The latter makes a mess, but works great.

              Aleyn
            • Karl Christoffers
              Somewhre I have a print out of an e-mail from Arne Emil Christensen, who has done a lot of research into viking shipbuilding. He wrote that horsetails were
              Message 6 of 12 , May 15, 2012
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                Somewhre I have a print out of an e-mail from Arne Emil Christensen, who has done a lot of research into viking shipbuilding. He wrote that horsetails were used by the Norse before sand/glasspaper.
                 
                - Malcolm macGregor,
                An Tir

                From: Lynda Fjellman <lyndafjellman@...>
                To: "medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com" <medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com>
                Sent: Monday, May 14, 2012 5:01 PM
                Subject: Re: [MedievalSawdust] Before sandpaper

                 
                Horsetail isn't really a fern.  As far as how it works as a wood smoother I couldn't say, but it was used as a pot scrubber.  It has a lot of silica in it.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equisetum

                It it native here in Western Washington and I have seen it in S. California as well.

                Ilaria

                 
                I've heard horsetail fern was used as an abrasive. It seems like it would turn things green but maybe they dried it first?

                Daniel

                From: AlbionWood <albionwood@...>
                To: medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com
                Sent: Monday, May 14, 2012 6:26 PM
                Subject: Re: [MedievalSawdust] Before sandpaper

                 
                The simple answer is, planes. Handplanes are known from Viking Age
                archaeology (and earlier), and it's pretty easy to leave a very smooth
                flat surface with a sharp handplane on air-dried wood.

                The longer answer is to consider the entire process by which wood was
                prepared for a project, and the kinds of projects undertaken, and
                realize that the kind of smoothing accomplished by sandpaper was
                basically never needed. This is true not only for the Viking era, but
                most later medieval work as well.

                Most of the (flat-surface) medieval wooden objects I've been able to
                examine displayed plane-tracks; it was clear that no further surface
                prep had been done after planing. Carved work is of course not sanded
                or scraped, as nothing beats the surfaces left by the chisel.

                I'm not a turner and haven't examined as many turned objects, but most
                of the ones I have seen displayed very obvious tool-marks, indicating
                they had not been surfaced after turning.

                Cheers,
                Tim

                On 5/14/2012 12:56 PM, kenneth bain wrote:
                > Before the first sand paper(glass paper) what did the earlier woodworker, like during the Viking age, use to smooth thier projects?






              • Liedtke Goetz
                Didn t the horses object?  No amount of sanding with a horse tail will take out the hoof print from a kick. ________________________________ From: Karl
                Message 7 of 12 , May 15, 2012
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                  Didn't the horses object?  No amount of sanding with a horse tail will take out the hoof print from a kick.


                  From: Karl Christoffers <interestingclutter@...>
                  To: "medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com" <medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com>
                  Sent: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 6:34 PM
                  Subject: Re: [MedievalSawdust] Before sandpaper



                  Somewhre I have a print out of an e-mail from Arne Emil Christensen, who has done a lot of research into viking shipbuilding. He wrote that horsetails were used by the Norse before sand/glasspaper.
                   
                  - Malcolm macGregor,
                  An Tir

                  From: Lynda Fjellman <lyndafjellman@...>
                  To: "medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com" <medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com>
                  Sent: Monday, May 14, 2012 5:01 PM
                  Subject: Re: [MedievalSawdust] Before sandpaper

                   
                  Horsetail isn't really a fern.  As far as how it works as a wood smoother I couldn't say, but it was used as a pot scrubber.  It has a lot of silica in it.

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equisetum

                  It it native here in Western Washington and I have seen it in S. California as well.

                  Ilaria

                   
                  I've heard horsetail fern was used as an abrasive. It seems like it would turn things green but maybe they dried it first?

                  Daniel

                  From: AlbionWood <albionwood@...>
                  To: medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com
                  Sent: Monday, May 14, 2012 6:26 PM
                  Subject: Re: [MedievalSawdust] Before sandpaper

                   
                  The simple answer is, planes. Handplanes are known from Viking Age
                  archaeology (and earlier), and it's pretty easy to leave a very smooth
                  flat surface with a sharp handplane on air-dried wood.

                  The longer answer is to consider the entire process by which wood was
                  prepared for a project, and the kinds of projects undertaken, and
                  realize that the kind of smoothing accomplished by sandpaper was
                  basically never needed. This is true not only for the Viking era, but
                  most later medieval work as well.

                  Most of the (flat-surface) medieval wooden objects I've been able to
                  examine displayed plane-tracks; it was clear that no further surface
                  prep had been done after planing. Carved work is of course not sanded
                  or scraped, as nothing beats the surfaces left by the chisel.

                  I'm not a turner and haven't examined as many turned objects, but most
                  of the ones I have seen displayed very obvious tool-marks, indicating
                  they had not been surfaced after turning.

                  Cheers,
                  Tim

                  On 5/14/2012 12:56 PM, kenneth bain wrote:
                  > Before the first sand paper(glass paper) what did the earlier woodworker, like during the Viking age, use to smooth thier projects?










                • conradh@efn.org
                  ... Well, many hand-tool woodworkers today still dislike using sandpaper, and go with the finish left by a good smoothing plane. Or, on difficult grain,
                  Message 8 of 12 , May 16, 2012
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                    > Before the first sand paper(glass paper) what did the earlier woodworker,
                    > like during the Viking age, use to smooth thier projects?
                    >
                    >
                    Well, many hand-tool woodworkers today still dislike using sandpaper, and
                    go with the finish left by a good smoothing plane. Or, on difficult
                    grain, scrapers of metal or pieces of broken glass.

                    Sandpaper as such is mostly a thing of the power tool era I believe.
                    Power tools don't leave as nice a finish on the work, and period glues are
                    awfully brittle for holding abrasive powders to a flexible backing, and
                    paper was really too expensive for disposable uses until the 19th century.

                    Sandpaper probably came from the widespread use of sharkskin as a flexible
                    finishing abrasive, for touching up spots a plane or scraper couldn't
                    reach, or prepping a surface for paint. This was done in coastal areas
                    all over the world; Pacific island woodcarvers and NW Coast Indian
                    woodworkers used it, among various Eurasians and probably anyone with a
                    supply of sharks. Another ancestor could have been the custom of loading
                    up a cloth or scrap of leather with an abrasive powder such as sand or
                    emery and polishing with that. If you do it over a hide or smooth
                    worktable, you can gather up all the spilled grit and reuse it several
                    times. Having the cloth/leather slightly damp with water or oil helps the
                    grit to stick around a little longer.

                    You can also use metal files for smoothing wood. I do this fairly often,
                    especially on contrary bits of grain. Stone age woodworkers often use
                    stones for smoothing and polishing wooden projects, the more sophisticated
                    ones having stones of different coarseness and progressing just as we
                    would with grades of sandpaper. With either one of these techniques, it
                    helps to have a bristly brush to clean the cutting surface often, since it
                    clogs with wood powder fairly quickly.
                  • conradh@efn.org
                    Oh, yeah. Horsetails (the reedlike fern relative, not the equine flyswatter!) were used to polish work by rubbing them back and forth on it or holding them
                    Message 9 of 12 , May 16, 2012
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                      Oh, yeah. Horsetails (the reedlike fern relative, not the equine
                      flyswatter!) were used to polish work by rubbing them back and forth on it
                      or holding them against turnings being spun in a lathe. This would not
                      remove lathe tool or even plane marks, just polish the surfaces the tools
                      left.

                      In a similar vein, some turners hold their own turning-chips against the
                      spinning work in handfuls, for a final polish. The work still looks
                      handmade, just shinier, and you can't beat the price!
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