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.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Furniture of the nonnenchor of Kloster Wienhausen

The highly painted nuns choir of Kloster Wienhausen. At the far end the seat of the abbess can be seen. Image from internet.

The nun's choir of Kloster Wienhausen in Germany is famous for the medieval paintings that cover the complete walls and ceiling. They date from thirteenth century. In contrast, the choir stalls look very humble, but they are certainly impressive as well. The choir stalls were dendrochronologically dated to 1277 and are still in use. They are even thought to predate the current choir, and have moved into it when the 'new' medieval building was ready. Indeed, at some places the choir stalls seem ill fitted in the room. The stalls consist of two rows of seats opposite each other at the north and south walls of the choir. There are no misericords present at the stalls. The armrests and backrests of the lower stalls consist of one piece of oak with a thickness of roughly a hands width. On the top of this oak piece at (ir)regular places holes are drilled. A few of them have an additional piece of wood with a drilled hole and some have remaining candle wax in them, providing a clue for their function: adding light at late or early hours of prayer. At some places the wood is darkened; here the candle was directly placed on the wood and burned it.

The armrest/backrest of the lower stalls is very thick and consist of one piece of oak. Image from internet.

The green arrows point to the irregular holes for the candles. The orange arrow shows a wooden candle still in place. The blue arrows show the beams supporting the backrest/armrest as it slightly leans backwards.

The higher stall chairs are all separated from each other by wooden boards - just like the boards that separate public men's urinals. The boards are set in a groove in the arms rests. In the wall behind the stalls small alcoves with a shelve can be found, one for each stall seat. The alcoves can be locked with a door. This provided a space were some personal belongings of the nuns, e.g. prayer books, glasses, etc. could be stored. It was under these storage spaces and choir stalls that many of the cloisters small (lost) treasures were found: several complete medieval glasses with leather and wooden frames, reliquary images, song-texts, weaving tablets and more.
 Left: The front row choir stall seats have been repaired to remain in use - below the seating some modern adaptation has been made. The back of the stall consist of roughly hewn pieces of oak. Image from internet. Right: A drawing of the back stall row with the dividing screen - decorated with a floral leaf. Image scanned from the book Kloster Wienhausen by Horst Appuhn.

The boards and alcoves are 'washed' in dull white and grey, a baroque style, and stands in sharp contrast to the colourful walls and ceiling. Most of the boards have been maimed, their floral decoration sawn off. The stalls next to the stall of the abbess still have their decoration.

The seat of the abbess, also from the same period as the choir stalls. Directly behind it, 
some whitewashed board that still have their floral decoration can be seen.

One of the short sides holds an altarpiece and a woodwork screen with latticework openings to the adjoining church. The nuns were thus able to follow the mass, without being seen by men. The other short end of the choir has a single row of seats. This one includes the high chair of the abbess, with a small armoire next to it. Five years ago this chair stood in a smaller chapel, now it has been restored to its original place. The armoire next to it is newly made, after a 19th century illustration of the original.

The chair of the abbess and the new armoire next to it. The emblem in the chair has been embroidered in klosterstich by Frau Daenicke. Directlty left to the chair of the abbess and above the first stall chair, a small door to a personal alcove can be seen. Each stall chair has such a storage space.

Left: At the back of the seat are two 'mickey mouse' ears, a type of decoration often found in this period on armoires. Right: The roof with a 'light' door in it. On the other side is a similar door.

The top decoration of the abbess chair with pinnacles and foliar leaves.

The stall of the abbess is much more ornate than the other stalls. The sides are decorated with foliar motifs. But most interesting is the 'roof' of the chair. This roof consist of two hinged doors, which can be opened, to allow for more light for liturgical reading. As far as I know, this is a rather unique feature for a abbess/abbots seat.

Left: the eternal lamp. Right: the Eastern lantern in the nonnechor of Kloster Wienhausen. Images scanned from the book Kloster Wienhausen by Horst Appuhn.

The nonnenchor also contains two wooden medieval lantarns - one six-sided dating  and one eight-sided - hanging with an iron chain from the ceiling. Both date from just before 1400. The six-sided lamp is a so-called eternal lamp with images depicting scenes from the resurrection. The octagonal lamp is a processional Eastern lantern. The bottom part shows angels playing various musical instruments painted on a gold background.

Angels playing music at the bottom of the processional Eastern lantern.
Image scanned from the book Kloster Wienhausen by Horst Appuhn.

Sources used:

  • H. Appuhn. 1986. Kloster Wienhausen. Pick Verlag Pfingsten, Celle, Germany. ISBN 3-9801316-0-2.
  • K. Maier. 2001. The convent of Wienahusen. An introduction to its history, architecture and art. Kloster Wienhausen, Germany. ISBN 3-9801316-7-x
  • Website: and

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A new visit to Kloster Wienhausen

Yesterday we went for our second visit to Kloster Wienhausen in Germany. This cloister - one of the six protestant female convents around the Luneburger Moor - hosts the famous Thomasteppich dating from the fourteeth century. During our first visit, five years ago, we saw the Thomastapestry for the first time and Anne and Katinka hatched the plan to embroider a (bit smaller(but still large) replica of this tapestry. Several blog posts have shown the progress of their work and now we wanted to show and compare the tapestries. We also had some questions on the tapestry which we hoped to solve as well. Like the previous time one of the konventualinnen - Frau Daenicke, who is also an expert on the tapestry stitchings - showed us around and answered our curiousity.

Our tapestries at the entrance of the cloister together with konventonalin Frau Daenicke.

The rows of the original tapestry were embroidered separately, just like Anne and Katinka are doing. However, the linen shrinks during the embroidery process, so both our rows likely end up having a slightly different width. Did this also happen with the original tapestry? This is quite possible. The end scene of the second row shows Thomas in prison. Next to the prison is a tree with a cut-off branch, but there are still some lines of blue and green next to it, which could indicate an extension of the row. On the other side of the same row, the space next to the throne is relatively large.

Another of our questions was how the rows were fixed to each other. This could probably be seen from the backside of the tapestry; however, as the tapestry nowadays is fixed in its showcase, this was not possible to see. There was however a part of another tapestry where the method of attachment could be seen. For this fragment, a 'hexenstich' was used, which is used for instance for seams and is a bit elastic. With this knowledge we again had turned our attention to the original Thomasteppich. What we then noticed was that the rows of text were neatly attached to the rows with the images. Likely the sewing together of both image-rows was hidden beneath the text row; and the added text row thus provided extra strength to the tapestry.

Some parts of the Thomastapestry have been cut off, most notably the top decorative row and part of the left decorative row that surrounds the tapestry. According to Frau Daenicke, there are still some fragments of the tapestry in the museum depot, e.g. a dragon that used to be part of the top row. The top row would thus have looked more or less similar to the bottom row.

Another thing we noticed was that the wool the nuns used to embroider the Thomasteppich was much thicker that the wool used by us. The spinned threads also looked more rough, having thicker dots of wool at places along the threads. Such unequal thickness of the thread have made embroidering more difficult for the nuns.

The 'old' and 'new' Thomastapestries together in the museumroom. 
From our tapestry 2 rows are almost ready (lying on the table).

After the meeting of the Thomas tapestries, we also received a small tour of this inspiring convent were we were shown some additional Thomasses, as well as some unique and interesting medieval furniture.

 'Unbelieving' St. Thomas on the ceiling of the nonnenchor of the chapel. The complete walls and ceilings of the chapel are covered with paintings dating from the 1325 (of course restored as can be seen by the bright colours). It is an impressive sight, showing the wealth of colour in medieval buildings.

'Unbelieving' St. Thomas putting his finger into the ressurected Christ. It is one of the images on the inside of the doors of the 'holy grave' reliquary shrine of Kloster Wienhausen. The shrine itself dates from the late thirteenth century. The inside shows 30 scenes of the Vitae Christi. The paintings on the shrine seem to be of a later date, more likely 15th century, according to the type of clothing the figures are wearing. The texts on the Thomas image are: D(omi)n(u)s meus et deus meus. [My Lord and my God] by Thomas. Mitte manum tuam et cognosce loca clauorum  [Take thy hand and know the place of the nails] by Christ. A complete description of the scenes and texts can be found on this site [in German].

Monday, 20 March 2017

The scapradekijn for the Muiderslot, part 3: the bottom ridge, shelves and back boards

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. This part will show the carving of the bottom ridge of the panels and the making of the shelves and back boards.

The bottom ridge

Also the bottom ridge made use of a jig. Fortunately the size of the jig rounds was similar to one of my Forstner bits, so it was easy to make the jig. However, using a jig and router with a guide ring adds extra material to the points, and therefore the pinnacles of the ridge had to be filed sharp. Also the half-depth part of the ring could easily be drilled with a Forstner bit. The centre point in the wood created by the Forstner bit would be removed anyway, so this created no aesthetic problem. After that the central hole was drilled with a smaller Forstner bit, and the remainder was carved with a carving knife.

Bottom ridge as in the second scapradekijn from Cologne.

The jig and the result of the jig. The pinnacle points had to be filed sharp at a later stage. For stabilisation the panel was larger; the lower part was cut off  later.

Left: The result after routing and the first drilling steps. Right: Holes drilled with a Forstner bit.

Left: This was followed by carving of the lower ridge. The pinnacles had to be filed sharp as the routing jig was not able to do this. Right: The carving finished. The fitting of a hinge is tested here.

The back boards

The backside consisted of three boards with the same thickness (11 mm) as the front boards. In fact they were the boards that remained after the best looking boards were used for the front panels. The backs boards were fitted into grooves on the side panels and on top (shelve) board. They were a bit chamfered at the sides to create a tight fit into the 10 mm groove. The three boards were fitted to each other by a V-groove. Using a V-groove was commonly used to attach boards to each other in the construction of medieval furniture. For instance many of the medieval chests in the Lüneburger convents use V-grooves (see K.H. von Stülpnagel - Die gotischen Truhen der Lüneburger Heidekloster).

The three boards were clamped in the double screw vise. A modern clamp was used to hold the boards together at a higher point. The three boards together provided a stable platform for the router with a routing fence and fitted with a V-bit.

Left: The ends of two of the boards were extended, so that routing would go smoothly towards the end/start of the board. Only two of the three boards need a V groove. Right: The corresponding V-point was planed. A marking gauge was used to denote the three edges (top, left and right) of the V-point. The top was then rounded, so it would fit  perfectly in the groove.

Left:  The V-groove and V-point. Right: The three boards together.

As the boards were too large for the backside, the left and right backboard had to be sawn to fit. Then the edges had to be chamfered by plane to 10 mm - the size of the grooves in the side panels.

The backboards fit into the back of the scapradekijn. However, they were also too long and some sawing was needed here too. On the right photo you can also see the holes at the top for the iron rings to hang the cupboard on the wall.

The shelves

The scapradekijn contains three internal shelves and an outer (top) shelve. The shelves, like the side panels are thicker than the front and back panels (16 mm instead of 11 mm). This was done for several reasons: some panels and shelves contained grooves for the back boards and shelves; the shelves would need to carry the weight of the objects; and furthermore, the shelves needed to be large enough to contain the pins fixating the construction. The three internal shelves were less deep as they ended at the back boards, whereas the top board was as deep as the side panels.

The shelves test-fitted into the grooves. They have to be sawn to their correct width and length. 
You can also see the grooves for the backboards.