Tuesday, 18 July 2017

(Re)visit of some medieval French iron ornamented chests

A previous blog discussed some French chests ornamented with iron bands, which included some medieval chests from the Musee du Noyonnais. I happened to be in Noyon a few days ago and took the opportunity to visit the museum and study the chest in more detail. Actually the chest originated from the treasury of the Cathedral de Notre Dame in Noyon, next to the museum. (The museum used to be the bishops palace long ago.) Besides the chest there were more interesting medieval furniture items which are also shown in this post.

The cathedral of Noyon.

The Musee du Noyonnais or the former Bishops palace.

One of the original door of the bishops palace has remained. It is an unequal double door with a decoration of early gothic arches. Remnants of a red colour remain.

 The decoration of the door is nailed to it. One of the decorations is the head of a devil.

Chest number MN 1664. It dates after 1139-1175; and according to dendrochronological dating after 1216. It is made form oak and decorated with forged iron bands. The construction is partly that of a simple six-boarded chest, but with addition of mortise and tenons to connect the legs with the front and back boards. The thickness of the oak boards is around 4.5 cm; the boards for the lid are slightly thinner, around 3.5 cm. The chest is constructed from single boards. Also here, the lid is different, as it was made from three smaller boards.

The lid consists of three boards held together by iron bands: a simple hinge, three decorative hinges with floral designs and another simple hinge. On the front there are two lock hinges. The central lock closes from within.

Details of the decorative ironwork on the lid. There are two curious round plates nailed to the lid (one shown on the right photo).

The central front lock. Also the rim of the lid is reinforced by metal strips.

Left:  The hinge for one of the side locks. The hinge folds around the corner of the lid. Right: The right (and also the left) lock is fixed on the outside of the chest.

The bottom of the chest is also made of three boards. Only the two outer iron bands go completely under the chest. The bottom boards are chamfered and enter a groove in the sides of the chest.

Left: The floral pattern of the front of the chest. The single oak board has been cracked and split in several places. You can see the dowels for the mortise and tenons in the legs. Right: One of the legs is reinforced with some iron bands.

The side of the chest. Iron bands also fold over the backside. 

 Chest number MN 1665. It dendrochonologically dates from 1191-1192. The construction is that of a simple six-boarded chest, reinforced with iron bands. All sides consist of one single boards. The lid is split in two, but the grain of the two parts connect to each other. 

 Left: The side of the chest. Right: The grains of the lid continues. A small rail is nailed to the underside of the lid.

There are five hinges on the chest; two of them also function as lock hinges on the front. 
Likely the middle hinge did this as well.

Left: The central lock is replaced. You can still see the holes for a larger lock-plate. Right: The left lock.

The right lock (plate) also seems to be remade, but the original lock-hinge was retained.

Chest number MN 1666. It dates after 1227, and dendrochronologically after 1254. It is a hutch type chest with two decorated forged iron bands. The thickness of the oak boards of the legs are around 3.5 cm; the boards for the lid are  thinner, around 2.5 cm. The sides of the chest are constructed from two boards; the front from 3 boards. The chest has two lids, each made from two boards. 
Left: Like the chests from the Luneburger convents, the lid pivots on a wooden pin. A wooden rail also reinforces the lid. Right: The boards of the lid are nailed to a hidden rail on the inside.

 One of the dowels of has caused a split in the leg. An iron nail above replaced it.

 The two lock-plates are different. The left lock plate has some decoration on it.

The underside of the chest consist of three boards with a supportive rail in the middle. The decorative iron band folds over the edge and is nailed to a bottom board.

 The legs have some chip-carved decoration as well. On the left you can see an oak restoration of the leg.

The floral decoration on the left and right side of the chest. 

The side of the chest. 

Chest MN 1667 is of later age and dates from the second half of the 15th century, early 16th century. The single oak boards of the chest are connected with dovetails, and reinforced with iron edges. The chest stands on a separate foot. Curiously the chest has two iron handles on each side. Three sturdy iron hinges and large locks keep the chest safe.

The Noyon cathedral once had a large 13th century armoire with similar iron floral decorations as the iron decorated chests, or the armoire in the Musee des Arts Decoratif in Paris. The armoire has three large doors with three smaller door underneath. It was likely used to store relics or sacristorial goods. Photo taken from a descriptive leaflet in the Musee du Noyonais.

A bit of unusual piece of furniture is this charcoal burner or brassero made of iron and copper alloys. For religious purposes this charcoal burner was used to create the ashes for ash Wednesday and to  light the paschal candles during the Liturgy of Holy Saturday. In secular live it was used as a movable heating device.The brassero dates from the early 14th century.

Friday, 26 May 2017

The scapradekijn for the Muiderslot, part 4: the iron parts

This post continues with the story of the making of a hanging cupboard for Castle Muiderslot. Part 1 and Part 2 considered the carving of the panels, and Part 3 the construction of the back boards and the shelves. This part will show the ironwork for the scapradekijn.

We wanted the same type of hinges as the scapradekijn from Cologne.

We are woodworkers, not blacksmiths, so all iron parts were made by others for us based on our design. The iron parts needed for the hanging cupboard were a set of hinges and a lock and lockplate. We did have a stock of nails to fix the hinges and lock to the cupboards, so these were not needed from the smith. The Muiderslot choose to have the items made by Klaas Kloosterhuis. A good choice, as he makes excellent medieval replica stuff (e.g. de hinges and lock for my medieval toolbox). However, as he is a commercial blacksmith, he asks normal prices for the items he makes. The budget of the Muiderslot, however, was virtually non-existent, so the lock became only a lock plate instead. We still think this is a missed opportunity - the cupboard would have been more complete and attractive, but the choice was not ours to make.

The hinges and lockplates made by Klaas Kloosterhuis.

Klaas did get a free hand in the design of the lockplate(s).

Having a cupboard showing some valuables (as was the plan of the Muiderslot) without any locking mechanism in a place with a lot of visitors is not such a good idea. Our solution of having something 'lockable' was to make a latch, that could be lifted either by a key through the keyhole or by finger through the open latticework of the panel. The simple latch was made for free by Rob, the blacksmith of Castle Hernen.

Rob working at the open smithy at the courtyard of Castle Hernen.

Adding the hinges, latch and lockplate to the panels needed some consideration. Each lockplate had an L-shape that would go over the side of the panel. Therefore a bit of the side of the panel had to be removed to accommodate the iron. This was done with the help of a chisel and small ground plane.

Left: The space for the lockplate in the side of the panel was created with a small ground plane.Right: The lockplate is now at the same level at the side as the wood. Note that the carving stops where the lockplate begins. Already some holes were drilled for the nails, and the keyhole is opened through the panel.

The nail for the latch on one panel, and the nail where the latch would rest on on the other panel needed to be added first, as the lockplate would 'hide' the nails afterwards. The nail on which the latch would rest needed careful calibration: a too long nail would mean a loose latch, while a too short one would prevent the latch from closing. Holes for the nails were drilled beforehand; the nails themselves were bend and 'stapled' back into the wood. Note that the panels were coated in linseed oil before the iron parts were added.

Left: The nail fixed on which the latch would turn on the front of the panel. Right: A small groove was made for the nail, in order to keep the surface flat for the lockplate.

 Left: The front of the lockplates with one of my own keys in the 'lock'. Right: The back of the 'lock' showing the mechanism of the latch and key. Turning the key would lift the latch and open the door.

Adding the hinges to the panels also needed some extra thought. Hinges need to be positioned at exact the same position to create a functional door. Also a little space is needed between the panels that would be connected to each other by the hinges. First, the hinges were fixed on the door panel with nails, similar to those of the lockplate. Then a small strip of wood (around 1 mm thick) was placed between the panels, which were clamped together. The place for the nails on the second panel was marked and the holes drilled through. The nails for the lower hinge were directly hammered into the bottom shelf. The top shelf, however, was placed higher and the nails appeared just below the top shelf. They had to be hammered back into the panels instead of into the shelf.

The panels clamped together.

Both hinges tested. You can see the small strip of wood between the two panels. The middle panel (the door) is smaller.

 The nails appear just below the top shelf (the scapradekijn is now standing upside down).

 The three front panels with the lockplate and hinges

The final pieces iron needed for the scapradekijn were two staples that were needed to be able to hang the cupboard on the wall of the room of the castle. For this we used two 'antique' ones that we had to de-rust before we could use them. Two holes were drilled for each staple though the back boards, and the ends were bended back into the oak of the (inside of the) backboard.

 The two staples on the back of the scapradekijn.