Early medieval carpenter tools

Updated February 21, 2017

The medieval period, also known as the Middle Ages, occurred during the thousand years between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance, from about 400 A.D. to the 15th century. During this time, people belonged to different social groups that included vassals, or lords who owned plots of land; knights, the warriors who served vassals; bishops, priests and nuns; and serfs, who were peasants who served vassals by working on plots of land owned by them called manors and merchants. Groups of merchants and highly skilled craftsmen, including carpenters, prospered because of increases in trade between different countries.


In the medieval period, carpenters had an important role and were considered to be one of the most skilled types of craftsmen. Men in this occupation had to be part of guilds--groups that were designed to protect the interests of people in certain occupations--and they also were required to do apprenticeships with established carpenters. Although carpenters often used much simpler tools than are used today, they had to be knowledgeable in using these devices and in math and woodworking to create furniture, wagons and homes for people of the era--even kings and lords. Although there are few artefacts from the medieval period to show what tools carpenters used, there are numerous paintings from the era that depict Joseph and Noah at work.


Like tools that other craftsmen used, carpenters' tools were often simple ones, designed similarly to the ones used during the Roman era. Their tools were made of materials that were slightly different than Romans used: iron, steel and wood. Some tools were made with a combination of materials.


One of the common tools that carpenters and some others used as shipwrights were axes. These were often made with an iron head and with steel bits at the edges. In order to shape and cut wood to build with it, carpenters needed axes. There were two different types of hatchets: felling and broad axes. The felling axe had a sharp edge similar to a knife and was used to cut down trees and cut and notch logs, so that they could create square pieces out of logs later with square axes. Square axes were used for more precise cutting, especially along the fibres of the wood.


Chisels were similar to broad axes. These tools were sharp along one side and fishtail shaped. They were often used to cut along the grain of the wood or make small holes in pieces of wood. Chisels that had carved edges were known as gouges. A type of chisel that carpenters used to cut wood on an angle was called a plane. This was essentially a chisel held in a wooden block. Planes were used by carpenters to create smooth surfaces and square edges in wood and develop intricate designs that could be used for mouldings.


Saws were another tool that carpenters used quite frequently to cut pieces of wood into smaller, intricate pieces that could be used in objects they built. One type of saw used was very similar to the ones that exist today, with a wooden handle and a curved iron or steel blade. Another type of saw, known as a bow saw, was designed with a wooden frame that put pressure on the blade of the saw when carpenters were making cuts. Two other types were the crosscut saw and rip saw. The crosscut saw was made of a series of knives, which could cut through the fibre in pieces of wood. A rip saw, which looked similar to a chisel, would separate fibres from the wood in order to cut it.

Augers, Gimets, Braces

Three other simple yet useful tools that carpenters used were augers, gimets and braces. An auger was made up of a bit attached to a handle and was used to put holes in pieces of wood for pegs. Carpenters moved the handles of augers in a circular motion to create these holes. To create smaller holes, carpenters often used a small version of the auger, a device called a gimet. Sometimes these devices would be used together, with the gimet being used to start the holes and the auger to finish them. These tools were often used by carpenters when they built houses. Another device that carpenters would sometimes use to drill holes was the brace. Braces are thought to have been used by carpenters to create finer holes. After carpenters drilled holes in pieces of wood, they would use other tools such as hammers and mallets. Mallets were used to pound pegs into wood in order to hold them together. Hammers would be use to set iron nails in the wood. Mallets had wooden heads; hammers had iron ones.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Laura Latzko is a freelance writer based in Phoenix, Ariz. She has reported for the "Columbia Missourian," "Columbia Daily Tribune," "Downtown Express" and "Washington Times." She holds a Master of Arts in journalism from the University of Missouri.