Monday, September 19, 2011

Wooden cards Pentathalon entry May 2009

I'm trying to move all blog entries from my LJ, so all weaving and craft blog entries are in the same place.

Functional Arts:  Apprentice Fiber Arts Tools

This is a set of wooden weaving tablets. Tablets like these would have been used to weave thin bands of fabric in a process known as tablet or card weaving. Weaving tablets have been documented as early as 4 BC, and some may have been used as early as 200 BC. The tablets found in archeological sites have all been triangular or square, but other shapes are shown in paintings. All have holes at each corner, with some having additional holes drilled in the center or sides. The tablets found are made of wood, bone, antler, ivory, metal or leather. Woods used include: Beech, Sycamore, Maple, Pine, and Oak. Sizes of the wooden tablets range from 2.3 cm to 5.5 cm. The only reference to the width I found was 3 mm. My goal with this project was to increase the authenticity of my weaving by using wooden tablets instead of paper cards.

Tablets still attached to a linen warp. Part of the Oseberg Ship burial.

Detached tablets in a display case at the The Viking Ship Museum


I am indebted to Klaus von Mainz for allowing me to use his shop and tools, as well as providing the material for this project. He demonstrated the procedures and allowed me to complete each process after he began it.


5 cm W x 5 cm D x 1’L pre-milled quarter sawn Hard Maple, cut into four approximately 3” lengths. In period the wood for an Anglo-Saxon or Viking would probably have come from radially split logs. Hard Maple was chosen because it is extremely long wearing and tends not to splinter. It is also a good choice because it has a tendency to burnish when finished with hand tools.

Tools Used:

Ryoba Saw, Tenon or Western Backsaw, Drill Press, Band Saw, Jointer Plane, Block Plane, Countersink or Center Reamer with a T Handle, Carving Knife.

There are several finds of woodworking tools contemporary with the use of wooden tablets. Two of the largest finds are the Hurbuck Hoard (County Durham, England) and the Mastermyr Tool Chest (Gotland, Sweden). The Bayeux Tapestry shows many of these tools in use. It appears that manual woodworking tools have remained relatively unchanged over the centuries. These tools look and function much the same as their modern equivalents.

The Hurbuck Hoard: Examples of 9th early 10th century woodworking tools.

The Mastermyr tools shown with modern wood hafts.


A block was marked at 5mm from the end rather than 3mm so the saw marks could be planed away later. After marking one tablet, it was attached to the woodworking bench using a vice. I hand sawed halfway through the block. This was then removed from the vice, and turned over so I could saw the remaining half. I did this twice, using two different kinds of saws.

Example #1 was sawn using a Ryoba Saw.

Example #2 was sawn using a Tenon Saw

In period the holes would probably have been drilled using a spoon bit auger. Because I wanted the holes to be as uniform as possible, I used a drill press. Once the blocks had been drilled, the remaining tablets were sawn using a band saw. The tablets were smoothed, and reduced to their final thickness of approximately 3mm, using a jointer plane (Example #3). Initially a block plane was tried, but the jointer plane was easier for me to manage because of the greater length. Modern planes have changed in appearance, but the process and the end result remain almost the same.

Block Plane

Jointer Plane

On three of the tablets, I used a carving knife to chamfer (bevel) the side edges and the holes the fiber passes through (Examples #4, #5, & #6). Due to the quantity of cards and time constraints, the remaining cards were not done with the carving knife. The remaining sides were chamfered using a block plane, while a countersink was used on the holes. The cards were left unfinished because there is no evidence they would have received any finish in period.

Countersink bit


Arnold, C.J. “An Archaeology of the Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms.” London and New York: Routledge, 1988. pg 20.

Arwidsson, Greta and Gösta Berg. "Mästermyr Image Library”:

British Museum: “The Hurbuck Hoard”:

Collingwood, Peter “The Techniques of Tablet Weaving” Oregon: Robinson & Ross Handweavers, 1996 pp 10-30.

Crockett, Candace “Card Weaving” Denver, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1991 pg 13.

Hampshire Museums Service: “A Brief History of Hand Tools”:

Geijer, Agnes “A History of Textile Art” London: Sotheby Parke Publications, 1979 pp 38-39.

Arwidsson, Greta and Gösta Berg. “The Mästermyr Find: A Viking Age Tool Chest from Gotland” Lompoc, CA: Larson Publishing Company. 1999.

Hald, Margrethe “Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials: A Comparative Study of Costume and Iron Age Textiles”, trans. Jean Olsen. Archaeological-Historical Series Vol. XXI. Copenhagen: The National Museum of Denmark, 1980 pp 225-226.

Held, Shirley “Weaving, A Handbook of the Fiber Arts” New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978. pg 244.

Ingstad, Anne Stine “The Textiles in the Oseberg Ship:

Jaacks, G., and Tidow, K., eds. Archäologische Texilfunde--Archaeological Textiles: Textilsymposium Neumünster 4.-7.5. 1993. NESAT V. Neumünster: Textilmuseum Neumünster, 1994. Pritchard, Francis “Weaving Tablets from Roman London” pp 157-161.

Lewins, Shelagh “The Partly-Completed Tablet Weaving from the Oseberg Ship Burial”:

mac Alasdair, Findlaech “A Carpenter’s Chest: Tools of the 15th Century”:

Ostergard, Else “Woven into the Earth. Textiles from Norse Greenland.” Denmark. Narayana Press. 2004. pg 104 & 113.

Perigrin, Tom "Reconstruction and Use of a Saxon Plane":

Regia Anglorum “Anglo-Saxon and Viking Crafts- Woodworking”:

Seaton, Frank “The Bayeux Tapestry, A Comprehensive Survey” London: Phaidon Press, 1965 Plates 37-39.

Spies, Nancy “Ecclesiastical Pomp & Aristocratic Circumstance” Jarrettsville, Maryland: Arelate Studio, 2000. pp 1, 93-96.

Steane, John, “The Archaeology of Medieval England and Wales.” Taylor & Francis, 1985 pp 234-237.

The Viking Answer Lady “Woodworking in the Viking Age”:

The Viking Ship Museum “Welcome on Board! The Sea Stallion from Glendalough, a Viking Longship Recreated” Denmark: Nofoprint A/S 2007 pp 52-53.

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