Medieval stonemasons were highly skilled craftsman responsible for the construction of complex structures, such as castles, cathedrals and churches. These towering structures were the largest buildings of their day, covered with delicate carved decoration. Despite the difficult projects they worked on, Medieval masons used a range of simple tools.
Although some building projects reused stone from other structures, stone had to be quarried for most purposes. Quarrying involved marking out blocks of stone and making cuts between them. Wedges were inserted into the cracks to widen them before further cuts were made. Picks, mauls, axes and crowbars were also used in quarrying. Larger blocks might be carved before they were transported, either by river or ox cart, to the building site. The masons of Laon Cathedral carved oxen on the cathedral to commemorate the animals that pulled the carts.
Despite the complexity of Medieval building work, masons used a small range of simple tools to design them. Manuscript illustrations show masons using a simple level consisting of a straight edge with a raised circle from which a plumb line with a bob hung. A square and a compass completed the master builders' tools. These tools were so important in construction that they have survived into the modern day as symbols of the masonic trade.
Stone Carving Tools
In addition to laying courses of stonework, masons created decorative carvings to adorn the exterior of buildings. The main tools used were chisels and mason's mallets with circular heads. Using only these simple tools, masons were able to carve delicate traceries and sculptures. In addition, heavy axes and hammers were used to split stone, and borers were used to drill holes. A small number of these tools have been recovered from archaeological excavation.
A number of other tools were used in medieval construction. Winches and pulleys were used to haul baskets of stone and building materials to the tops of walls. Wooden scaffolding supported walls in the midst of construction and allowed masons access to high levels. Masons' trowels were used to spread mortar between courses of stonework. Mortar in small gaps was worked with smaller pointing trowels. The mortar was mixed in deep, wood-lined pits called mortar mixers.
- BBC History; The Mediaeval Stonemason; Carol Davidson Cragoe; February 2011
- "Technology and Culture"; Medieval Masons' Tools: the Level and the Plumb Rule; Lonnie R. Shelby; 1961
- "Technology and Culture"; Medieval Masons' Tools II: Compass and Square; Lonnie R. Shelby; 1965
- Archaeology Data Service; The Medieval Blacksmith and His Products; Ian H Goodall
- Academia.edu; "Renovatio imperii" on the Muensterhuegel of Basle? A reappraisal of mechanical mortar mixers; Sophie Hueglin; 2007