Re: [medievalsawdust] Re: Dovetails
- A few points to throw into the conversation, in no particular order:
-- The dispersion of information/techniques isn't just a matter of contact
across regions. Production techniques are trade secrets, and even within a
guild, your technique may be the only competitive edge you have over other
members of your own trade. Not much inspiration to share more than you have
-- In some periods/regions, production techniques were highly regulated. My
own area of study is English Tudor, and for members of the livery companies
of Tudor London, the use of unapproved tools or techniques brought a hefty
fine; repeat offenders might be expelled from their company. "Searchers"
were empowered by the company to inspect members and levy fines as needed.
If you are using an unapproved technique, you have a good reason to hide it.
-- Simply teaching a skill to an unapproved person might be a fineable
offense. Turners who worked for/taught joiners outside the company were
fined 10s. a week.
-- While there was no standardization across large regions, in some
instances there was a lot of standardization in a given locality. There
doesn't seem to have been much encouragement (and even active
discouragement) for deviation from the local standard.
-- One has to be careful about seeing "predestination" in historical
trends. If the shape and size of dovetails changed over time, that doesn't
necessarily mean that earlier workers were somehow under pressure to change
the shape to the later form. The weakness of the joint could be approched
in other ways; dovetailed chests from the Mary Rose were reinforced with
nails. A late 15th century French chest has discreet reinforcing plates
over the joints (but these may not be original). Simply limiting the types
of wood you use might control the problem sufficiently for your purposes.
-- Perfect is not always the enemy of good-enough. "Turner's joints," where
a round tenon goes into a round mortise, are inherently weak. Yet they
survived for hundreds of years side-by-side with superior square
mortise-and-tenon joinery for a variety of reasons (faster/cheaper, guild
restrictions on who can cut a square mortise). Likewise, I've found
continuous rotation lathes (flywheel or great wheel) preferable to a
springpole lathe, yet springpole lathes survived as a commerical tool well
into the 20th century.
-- Popular style can influence production techniques. When ironwork was a
display of wealth/status, boarded and nailed construction was the way to
go. When painting and carving was the way to display your conspicuous
consumption, joinery that left a smooth workable surface was desirable.
-- I think understanding the mindset of medieval craftsmen is important if
you want to go beyond making "medieval looking" stuff. My own revelation
came after studying spindle profiles. The modern mindset is that spindles
should match exactly, and that deviation is a sign of poor workmanship. But
having looked at every period piece of turning I can find, there is almost
always variation in the profiles. Even on "important" pieces, spindles of a
similar profile vary. This has led me to think that the 16th century
expectation of what "identical" meant was probably different than what
someone in a modern mechanized era expects. I find this has changed how I
Tom Rettie tom@...
- I am interested in locating some details
(including images) as to the construction of the
St. Paulinus (died 358AD) Trèves (transferred
395AD) coffin "joined by means of dovetailing".
As the wood is described as 'cedar', there is
some question as to where the coffin was made.
From page 219,
Battiscombe, C. F. The Relics of Saint Cuthbert; Studies by Various
Authors. Oxford: Printed for the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral
at the University Press, 1956. OCLC 4071903
footnotes 10/11 refer to detailed accounts of the
coffin in Bonner Jahrbücher vol. lxxvii, 1884,
pp. 238 ff; vol. lxxviii, 1884 pp. 173
Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, and Rhine
Province (Germany). Bonner Jahrbücher. 1842.
ISSN:0067-9976 OCLC Number: 3459165 or OCLC
Number: 213803943 microfilm, OCLC Number: 297237884 eJournal
If anyone has seen the coffin or the journal
articles referenced above (or preferably a more
recent analysis in English), please post the
information. It would be most appreciated,