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Period tools…

© The Trustees of the British Museum

I’m not using period tools.

Geoffrey Killen covers Egyptian tools extensively in his book Egyptian Woodworking and Furniture. The 18th Dynasty woodworker’s handsaw is functionally the same as a modern one, so I’ve used a panel saw and back saw. As far as I know they didn’t have bow saws or coping saws, so all my inside curves were made by sawing multiple straight kerfs, splitting off the segments and then paring with a gouge down close to the final surface. The adzes in the picture would have been used to straighten all the flat surfaces but I stuck with hand planes because I didn’t want to lose any fingers. I was more concerned with staying true to the procedures than exactly replicating techniques or textures. It’s been suggested by G. Killen that the adzes could’ve been held in a plane-like way for final smoothing. The Egyptians also would have sanded with flat or curved stones to a final smooth finish. I work in my apartment and for health reasons try to minimize my use of sandpaper. I used some coarse rasps for rough work on the seat underside but switched to cabinet scrapers for the final shaping.

So I started out by grabbing the side view from the Museum site, consulted the dimensions listed in the data tab and overlaid a grid with my iPad’s Procreate app. I set it for 2cm per square. I used an online calculator to work out the radius of the seat curve given the length of the arc and the depth of the central “dip”.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

I took that info and constructed full size views of the end & side on paper.

©️Paul Bouchard (this drawing got minor revisions further on)

The full size drawing was a worthwhile step. Later, I was able to lift and transfer a lot of the measurements and angles directly from it with dividers and bevel squares. Just as importantly, the process helped flesh out my understanding of the intersecting volumes.

I used cherry scraps from a bed frame project for the roughly 3”x2” thick seat sides. The top and inside were most critical to keep flat and square but I made the outside a reference face as well because I’d be marking the leg sockets on it.

First I marked and cut them to the overall lengths*. Next I made myself a radius template from 1/8” plywood and used it to draw a curve connecting the outside top corners of the rough block. Then I set some dividers for the seat thickness, pricked a few marks to line up the template and repeated the line about ½” lower. I spaced the two side pieces an appropriate distance apart to get the curvature on the ends right. I found it best to use a scratchawl to trace the template. An incised line is easier to register other tools into and more durable than graphite.

* there’ll be a wrap-up post where I describe how I’ll do some processes differently next time. One thing will be to leave the side pieces over length until after the glueing/pinning.

©️Paul Bouchard

The seat contour looks like part of a sphere but is actually a double cove. One circle sweeps along the circumference of another. The important thing here is that the circles are all vertically oriented, which allows us to plot them on the vertical surfaces of the frames and on the slats too, since their edges will all be vertical.

©️Paul Bouchard

I assumed the same radius for both circles and it turned out to look correct when I eventually got to see a straight-on end view.

Let’s talk about wood bending.

There won’t be any wood bending.

The Techniques field of the object data tab says “steamed(?), bent(?)” but I can make a case against that. The wood under this paint looks pretty knotty in spots and there’s grain and cracks that don’t align with the surface (called run-out), both of which would make it hard to steam bend ½+ inch thick slats without breaking.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

DISCLAIMER #3 – I won’t waste pixels typing out “I think”, “possibly” “I speculate” “in my opinion” but consider it implied.

There are are examples of Egyptian steam bent pieces with small tight knots though, so it’s possible to bend it but the clincher for me is the shouldered tenons on the end of each slat. Generally, bent wood meets up with the rest of any hand-made object by being supported with dowel-type structures or by being inserted into a slot with only a simple shoulder (like on a rustic ladder back chair). Trying to mark and cut 12 closely spaced tenon shoulders on steam bent pieces of wood, that will fit tightly against two flat surfaces, keeping those two flat surfaces rigidly aligned and perfectly parallel to each other?…it doesn’t seem like an efficient use of shop time and I can’t believe it would be standard procedure if you had to bang these out for a living. I stood my 180 lb weight on the middle slats of my cherry replica and it felt solid even when standing on one foot, so cutting the curves from straight-ish grained boards works fine. To get all those tight tenon shoulders (by hand) you need to start with accurately squared up stock.

Edit: I got some views of the seat underside after finishing this build and on recent close inspection, it shows that the central 4 slats are about ⅔ of the thickness of the sides and end slats. I’m planning a second version of the stool to see what the strength of thinner slats is like. I’m still certain the sides and ends are cut from straight stock. Also, bending wood isn’t a fine tolerance process – some boards dry differently shaped than others, so the challenge getting consistently clean and square shoulders still stands.

©️Paul Bouchard
©️Paul Bouchard

We’ll look more closely at the stool’s construction in the next instalment.

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