We’re back with medieval crafts and trades this week, looking at carpenters. There have always been carpenters. Two thousand years ago, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was a carpenter and there were carpenters two thousand years before him. Their craft remained unchanged for centuries. We know that carpentry improved by leaps and bounds in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, though, mainly because so many examples of their work, in the shape of barns, like the one above, survive. The carpenter’s work isn’t obvious from the outside, but once you’re inside you look up and see this:
I could fill this post with photographs of cruck rooves, but I won’t, as carpenters did far more. Since wood is a natural material, however, other examples of their work are much rarer.
Almost every village and manor had a carpenter. Carpenters provided their own tools, even if they were working on someone else’s site. Their main tools were saws, axes and augers ( a tool for boring holes in wood).
When I think of carpenters, I tend to think of them in domestic settings, mainly because they provided the furnishings for a house: the stools, chairs, tables, chests, beds, cupboards and cradles. As we have seen, though, they were also involved in the building of a house: working on the roof, the ceilings, the floors, gates and doors.
Their work was also important in agriculture. Here they worked closely with smiths to make tools, such as ploughs, spades, hoes, axes and sickles. Smiths made nails. Iron was expensive, though, and a carpenter had a number of choices for fastenings before he had to use nails.
It took both of smiths and carpenters to make saws, hammers, exes and knives. Some tools, like the axe, were fairly easy to make, others, like the saw, required a lot of precision on the part of the smith.
Still in the countryside, they built watermills and windmills that ground grain to enable people to make bread.
Carpenters even had a military use. They built trebuchets and other catapult weapons as well as the protective housings used to provide cover when armies attacked castles during sieges. Working with smiths again, they also made weapons such as pikes.
Carpenters might not have invented the technology that people in the fourteenth century depended on, but they built it. They built the wheels used on building sites of castles and cathedrals to life stones from the ground to the heights of the building. They made ladders and scaffolding for the other craftsmen to use.
As you can tell, there’s not a lot of information available about carpenters and they haven’t left that many examples of their craft behind them. I leave you with a rare example of their work that was dug up in Winchester.