Mesopotamia

The furniture of Mesopotamia and neighbouring ancient civilizations of the Middle East had beds, stools, chairs, and boxes as principal forms. Documentary evidence is provided chiefly by relief carvings. The forms were constructed in the same manner as Egyptian furniture except that members were heavier, curves were less frequent, and joints were more abrupt. Ornament was richly applied in the form of cast-bronze and carved-bone finials (crowning ornaments, usually foliated) and studs, many of which survive in museums. Mesopotamia originated three features that were to persist in Classical furniture in Greece and Italy and thus were transmitted to other Western civilizations. First was the decoration of furniture legs with sharply profiled metal rings, one above another, like many bracelets on an arm; this was the origin of the turned wooden legs so frequent in later styles. Second was the use of heavy fringes on furniture covers, blending the design of frame and cushion into one effect; this was much lightened by Classical taste but was revived in Neoclassicism. Third was the typical furniture grouping that survived intact into the Dark Ages of Europe: the couch on which the main personage or personages reclined for eating or conversation; the small table to hold refreshments, which could be moved up to the couch; and the chair, on which sat an entertainer—wife, hetaira (courtesan), musician, or the like—who looked after the desires of the reclining superior personages. From this old hierarchy of furniture derived the cumbersome court regulations concerning who may sit and on what, that persisted for centuries in the palaces and ceremonies of monarchs.

History

Egypt

Beds, stools, throne chairs, and boxes were the chief forms of furniture in ancient Egypt. Although only a few important examples of actual furniture survive, stone carvings, fresco paintings, and models made as funerary offerings present rich documentary evidence. The bed may have been the earliest form; it was constructed of wood and consisted of a simple framework supported on four legs. A flax cord, plaited, was lashed to the sides of the framework. The cords were woven together from opposite sides of the framework to form a springy surface for the sleeper. In the 18th dynasty (c. 1567–1320 BCE) beds sloped up toward the head, and a painted or carved wooden footboard prevented the sleeper from slipping down.

The great beds found in the tomb of Tutankhamen were put together with bronze hooks and staples so that they could be dismantled or folded to facilitate storage and transportation; furniture existed in small quantities and when the pharaohs toured their lands, they took their beds with them. In the same tomb was a folding wooden bed with bronze hinges.

Instead of pillows, wooden or ivory headrests were used. These were so essentially individual, being made to the measure of the owner, that they were often placed in tombs to be used by the dead man on his arrival in the land of eternity. Folding headrests were probably for the use of travellers.

Early stools for ceremonial purposes were merely squared blocks of stone. When made of wood, the stool had a flint seat (later shaped concavely) covered with a soft cushion. In time the stool developed into the chair by the addition of a back and arms. Such throne chairs were reserved for use by personages of great importance. Footstools were of wood. The royal footstool was painted with the figures of traditional enemies of Egypt so that the pharaoh might symbolically tread his enemies under his feet. Carvings of animal feet on straight chair legs were common, as were legs shaped like those of animals. Boxes, often elaborately painted, or baskets were used for keeping clothes or other objects. Tables were almost unknown; a pottery or wooden stand supporting a flat basketwork tray held dishes for a meal, and wooden stands held great pottery jars containing water, wine, or beer.

The Egyptians used thin veneers of wood glued together for coffin cases; this gave great durability. Egyptian furniture in general was light and easily transportable; its decoration was usually derived from religious symbols, and stylistic change was very slow.

Invention of the screw

By Joseph A. McGeough

Although Archimedes is credited with inventing the screw in the 3rd century BCE, his screw was not today’s fastener but actually two other screw-type devices. One was a kind of water pump; still used today for large-volume low-lift industrial applications, the device is now called the inclined screw conveyor. The second was the “endless screw,” actually the worm of a worm and gear set, one of the ancients’ five devices for raising heavy weights. With the state of the mechanical arts as it was then, Archimedes’ concept of the screw was actually as a motion-transforming device and was more hypothetical than practical.

By the 1st century BCE, heavy wooden screws had become elements of presses for making wine and olive oil and for pressing clothes. The character of the screw took on a new dimension, for these screws were used to exert pressure; their modern counterparts are called power screws. These press screws were turned by means of hand spikes thrust into radial holes in the cylindrical end. The problem of making the internal thread of the nut prevented the use of small threaded fasteners in metal construction. The external thread, however, was readily, if tediously, made by filing.

Metal screws and nuts appeared in the 15th century. The square or hexagonal head or nut was turned with an appropriate box wrench; a T-handled socket wrench was developed in the 16th century. Some screws used in 16th-century armour have slots (nicks) in which a screwdriver may have been used, although this tool is not shown. Deep notches on the circumferences of the heads of other armour screws suggest that some type of pronged device was used to turn them. Slotted, round headed screws were used in the 16th century, but few screw-and-nut-fastened clocks are in evidence earlier than the 17th century. Metal screws were called machine, or machinery, screws since they were made of metal and mated with threaded holes.

The wood screw differs from the machine screw in that the wood into which it is turned is deformed into a nut. It must, however, be started in a hole made by awl or drill. Aside from a few and sometimes doubtful artefacts from Roman times, the wood screw is not mentioned until the mid-16th century, when it appears in a mining treatise. Here a screw tapered to a point, carrying a slotted head and looking very familiar except for its left-handed thread, is described so casually as to suggest that it was a common article. It is remarked that the screw is superior to the nail, which is also shown being driven by a claw hammer. There is no mention of a screwdriver.

Screwdrivers and wrenches

The simple screwdriver was preceded by a flat-bladed bit for the carpenter’s brace (1744). The handled screwdriver is shown on the woodworker’s bench after 1800 and appears in inventories of tool kits from that date. Screwdrivers did not become common tools until 1850 when automatic screw machines began the mass production of tapered, gimlet-pointed wood screws. In its early form, the screwdriver was made from flat stock; its sometimes scalloped edges contributed nothing to function. Being flat, the blade was easy to haft but weak when improperly used for prying. The present form of the screwdriver, round and flattened only at the end, was devised to strengthen the shaft and make use of readily available round-wire stock.

Early box and socket wrenches fit only a particular nut or screw with flat surfaces on the head. The open-end wrench may have rectangular slots on one or both ends. In their earliest forms, such wrenches, with straight, angled, or S-shaped handles, were made of wrought iron. Cast iron came into use around 1800. Modern wrenches are drop forgings and come in many formats.

The limitations of fixed-opening wrenches were addressed as early as the 18th century, when sliding-jaw types were developed to accommodate a range of flats. In these, the end of an L-shaped handle provided the fixed jaw, and the parallel jaw was arranged to slide along the handle until it engaged the flats. In the first models, the sliding jaw was fixed into position by a wedge that was hammered into place. By the early 19th century, patents for screw wrenches began to proliferate; in these the sliding jaw was positioned and held by means of a screw whose axis was parallel to the handle. The most common example is the monkey wrench, whose name appeared in tool catalogues in the 1840s but may have been in use before that time. A convenient variation of this type of wrench is the thin and angled Crescent wrench, a modern innovation. The plumber’s pipe wrench is a serrated-jaw variation of the monkey wrench, whose additional feature of a pivotable movable jaw enables it to engage round objects, such as rods and pipes.

What does the future hold for us hobbyists

This is the question I’d like to ask you.

Since the resurgence of hand tool woodworking the cost of old tools has risen by 300%. The cost of new tools are cost prohibitive for many of us anyway, but somehow all of this is tolerable. What isn’t tolerable is the ridiculous increase of the price of wood. Wood was expensive for us in Australia before the pandemic, but now it has reached ridiculous new heights. My friend in the US said to me this morning that the price of lumber in the US has increased 200% since the pandemic. He’s been working hard just to stay afloat, there’s no time nor spare cash to work wood anymore. The more people I speak to, the more I’m seeing people facing the same situation. What the hell is going on? All I see is hobbyist and small time professional woodworkers are being pushed out the door. They’re being squeezed from all sides until they’re broken.

Is this a modern conspiracy against DIYers? I don’t think so, but I would like to get your feedback. The way I see it is that things are going back to the way it was prior WWII. People struggled financially prior the war, only the wealthy could afford to have a hobby. The rest of us fought to put food on the table. Then the Second World War hit and almost every nation on earth was torn. When the war ended nations needed to be rebuilt, so large sums of money was thrown into the economy and generally lives globally went from insane poverty to wealth. Therefore hobbyists came to being thanks to this resurgence of wealth. Once again we are regressing financially again. The pandemic, corporate greed, imports from China, manufacturing taken overseas and much more than this has all played a part in the reduction of wealth and the increase in goods. This is my view, but I would like to hear from you.

The craft I love dearly is being taken away from us and I’m trying to make sense of why? In the meantime I am fortunate to have timber left over and am trying to use it to break back into the market again. If I’m successful happy days if not there’s nothing I can do about it.

Update on Liquid Hide Glue Production

In the meantime, I’ve been cooking more glue and have made enough to last me a while. Since I’ve added the canning salt, the date on the bottles should have no relevance. The smaller sized bottle is easier to manage than the larger size. They still need to be heated to 140°F (60°C) before use and don’t forget to clamp your stock and not rely on rubbed joints. This doesn’t work with LH glue.

As experimentation in the making of liquid hide glue is an ongoing process, I haven’t yet figured out which is more effective; to apply the salt prior, during or after the cooking process. So far, I have done all three and haven’t yet experienced any change other than visual. Adding the salt after it has been cooked twice makes the glue appear grainy. However, after a week it’ll turn clear. Either way I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter which way you do it. Also, the glue in its cold state cannot be used without heating it as it turns jelly like. My next batch I will use half a teaspoon and will see if I can lessen the assembly time and shorten the clamp time without affecting the glue’s life span.

All in all, I am very pleased with the results. It has superior holding power like any good glue on the market and I know it’s fresh.

Remember the post on Titebond and how their LH hide failed? Remember the promise that they will call me back? As I predicted, there was no call back.

You may wonder why I choose liquid hide glue over hot hide glue? There’s no doubt that hot hide glue is stronger than liquid hide and that’s only because it lacks the gel suppressant called “Urea” that’s added to the glue to make liquid hide glue. However, since I’ve replaced the urea with salt there either may be no difference in the holding power or may be as strong as hot hide. Just how much weaker LH is I cannot say, but I have noticed no difference other than you cannot do a rubbed joint without attaching clamps to it. It just does not have the strength to pull the two pieces of wood together to create a strong bond.  But who really cares because I don’t know anyone who’s really got the balls to do a rubbed joint without clamps. When it comes to reputation, who wants to take a risk of returns.

To get back to the initial question of why the preference of LH over HH and the answer is simply convenience.

Every morning that I walk into my shop I fire up the burner and pot to 145°F which I found preference to over the regular 140°F. Once it’s heated and settles to that temperature, I put the bottle into the pot and leave it alone until I need to use it. Whether or not I need to use it, I make the habit to turn the burner or mini stove on. That’s it. There’s no waiting for it to gel then cook for two hours before use, all that work was done before and I made several bottles just in case I run out in the middle of a project.

I don’t have to worry about the glue going off because HH only has a shelf life of up to 3 weeks maximum. My LH has an indefinite shelf life unlike the glue made with urea.

I have purchased a few small bottles from the $2 store, funny that it cost me $3 a bottle yet it’s called a two-dollar store and half a kilo of canning salt, a small saucepan and 6 pounds of hide glue and not to forget the glass jars. When I stick them in the fridge straight off the pan to rapidly cool, the jar tends to crack. Thankfully, it hasn’t shattered yet and not all jars cracks.

Tongs, Pincers, and Pliers

By Joseph A. McGeough

Tongs, pincers, tweezers, and pliers have the common task of holding or gripping objects so that they may be handled more easily. The early use of fire created a new problem, that of handling hot coals. Two sticks probably served as the first uncertain holders, but bronze bars may have replaced wooden tongs as early as 3000 BCE. An Egyptian wall painting of about 1450 BCE shows a crucible supported between two bow-shaped metal bars. The same painting shows a craftsperson, blowpipe in mouth, holding a small object over a fire with a tweezer like instrument about 20 to 25 cm (8 to 10 inches) long. Bronze loops capable of handling large and heavy crucibles also appeared at this time.

Spring-back, or tweezer like, tongs were the model used by the early ironsmith. The change to the mechanically more effective hinged tongs was slow, and it was not until 500 BCE that they became common in the Greek blacksmith’s kit. Pivoted tongs, with short jaws and a long handle, have quite a mechanical advantage over tweezer-like tongs. A pair of 51-cm (20-inch) pivoted tongs is capable of exerting a gripping force of nearly 135 kg (300 pounds) with only an 18-kg (40-pound) squeeze from the smith’s hand. Such tongs were constructed with one handle slightly shorter than the other so that an oval ring could be slipped over the two to help secure the grip.

Small tongs, often called pliers or forceps, were particularly valuable to the early craftsperson. who put them to many and varied uses. The Romans sharpened the jaws of tongs to create cutters and pincers. The pincers were useful for pulling bent nails because of the leverage they were capable of exerting. Although they were originally a carpenter’s tool, pincers became a principal tool of the farrier because old nails had to be pulled from horses’ hooves before new shoes could be fitted and nailed on.

Workbench and Vice

The workbench and vise form an organic unit, for the vise is a fixture that is either part of the carpenter’s bench or is attached to the machinist’s bench.

Neither a bench nor a mechanical fixture would have offered an advantage in the early chipping or flaking of stone. On the contrary, complete freedom in the positioning of the workpiece and hammer was essential to permit the many small, yet discretely placed and directed, blows that were the crux of fashioning stone tools. When large and unidirectional forces needed to be applied, as in woodworking, in many phases of metalworking, or even in the manipulation of bone and horn, the advantage of a bench or a fixed rest became apparent.

Wood assumed its important role in structures, furniture, and fittings with the development of polished stone tools (axe and chisel) in the Neolithic Period and was skilfully exploited for finer work with the advent of copper and bronze tools. Most of the furniture of ancient times no longer exists, but much visual evidence, provided largely by sculptures, representations on vases, mosaics, and wall frescoes, depicts all manner of furniture, such as thrones, stools, benches, footstools, couches, cupboards, tables, chests, and beds.

Oddly enough, a stout table or workbench is missing from the renderings of busy Egyptian shops. The workpieces are on the floor, and the craftspersons are kneeling or bending over their work or sitting on low stools, even in those scenes in which tables are being finished. Perhaps the craftspersons used their feet to position the work on the floor while using a chisel and mallet to effect joinery work, a practice still known in some areas.

Evidence in Europe suggests that woodworkers made use of a table or workbench as long ago as the Neolithic Period. The simplest form of table bench was a short length of heavy board split from a trunk and supported on four legs made of saplings set into bored holes. This style of bench, with its four legs somewhat splayed for greater stability, became common in Roman times. As the first users of the plane, the Romans found that a stout workbench was a necessity; trueing a surface without a bench on which to lay and secure the wood was nearly impossible.

Two early methods, still in use, were devised for holding the workpiece. The simplest procedure was to use wooden pegs set into holes in the bench top; the other was to use what are variously known as bench stops, holdfasts, or dogs. The stems of these T-shaped iron fittings were set into holes in the workbench, and a sharp end of the horizontal part of the T was turned to engage the wood.

Other arrangements came into use, including trestles for supporting wood to be sawed and specialized benches—horses—on which the leatherworker or coppersmith sat while facing a raised workpiece. A small workpiece was often held by a strap that was tightened when the craftsperson placed a foot in a loop that formed the free end and dangled beneath the table. Such horses proliferated from medieval times onward as new specialties developed.

A frequent accessory of the metalworker’s bench was the anvil, which is still informally present on many machinist’s vises in a rudimentary form suited to light work. Aside from making castings, metalworking was largely concerned with forging. The earliest anvils were convenient flat stones, usable for only the simplest kind of flat work. Anvils with the characteristic overhang, or horn, were first cast in bronze and, later, welded from short lengths of iron. Bench anvils were necessarily small, and the large free-standing specimens of the smith had to await the development of cast iron. Only then were larger masses of metal conveniently available.

The medieval carpenter’s bench was still very much like the Roman’s, with pegs serving as end fixtures. The metalworker, especially when using a file to shape and clean small forgings and castings (harness gear, buckles, and so on), used a simple rest, essentially a notched post driven into the ground in front of the bench, to support the workpiece.

Within a century, according to the pictorial record, the metalworker’s rest was replaced by a screw vise, at first quite small. This vise was like a hinge; one leaf or jaw was fastened to the bench, and the other was pulled up to clamp the workpiece and was tightened by the use of a nut and bolt passing through the middle of the hinge. Portable clamp-on vises that can be attached to a plank, tabletop, or bench top date from 1570.

Closing the vise by turning the tightening nut with a wrench was a slow and awkward process. At the end of the 16th century the screw was inverted so that it could be turned from the front by means of the T-handle that is part of every modern vise. This form of vise would remain an integral element of the workbench of every smithy.

The modern machinist’s vise has jaws that run parallel, and some vises pivot as a unit on a vertical axis (swivel-base vise). Both of these features were in use before the end of the 18th century.

The carpenter’s bench developed more slowly. For a woodworker, workpieces could be firmly fixed only with a screw arrangement of some sort. Although all of the necessary elements were known as early as 1505, for centuries nothing came of the idea of bench vises using the screw.

The woodworker needs two types of vices. One holds (clamps) the board into place so that its long edges may be trued and planed; custom places this vice at the left front of the bench, a convenient location for the right-handed worker. The second vice is at the right side of the table; its moving jaw has an adjustable bench stop that permits long pieces of wood to be held between it and a fixed stop in the bench top. Both types of vices were developed and made part of the same bench by the early 19th century.

Plane

By Joseph A. McGeough

The plane is a cleverly hafted cutting edge, the function of which is to skin or shave the surface of wood. Used to finish and true a surface by removing the marks of a previous tool (adz, axe, or saw), a plane leaves the surface smooth, flat, and straight. The plane and the related spokeshave are unique tools because both depend upon a constant depth of cut that is given by the slight projection of the blade beyond the sole, or base, of the instrument.

The plane is an anomaly for which no line of descent has been identified. Pliny the Elder ascribes its invention to Daedalus, the mythical Greek representative of all handiwork.

It has been suggested that the Palaeolithic unifacial (flat) scraper is the remote ancestor of the plane. While it is true that localized planing of a very poor sort, such as removing high spots, can be done with such a scraper, the difference in design and action between the two is too great to proclaim the scraper the forerunner of the plane. The adz seems a more likely progenitor. Early adzes were bevelled (sloped) on the outside, although later, with better hafting and longer handles, the bevel was moved to the inside. The blade and handle of an outside-bevelled adz could be used in a plane-like fashion to lift a shaving; however, the control of the blade projection, or depth of cut (or thickness of shaving), is critical to the concept of the plane and is met in only one other tool, the spokeshave.

The earliest illustrations of wood finishing, the surfacing of pieces of furniture, are Egyptian and show the surfaces being scrubbed with flat objects that appear to be abrasive stones or blocks riding on abrasive sand. Presumably, the surfaces had been dressed by an adz, and the marks of this tool needed to be erased. Stone scrapers are not in evidence, and, although the adz is shown, it is being used as an adz, not as an improvised plane.

The Romans were the first known users of the plane, the earliest examples coming from Pompeii. In a manner of speaking, these planes are full-blown, without a prehistory and without even vague antecedents. The modern plane differs in details but not in principle or in general appearance.

These Pompeian planes were of comfortable size, about 20 cm (8 inches) long and 5.7 cm (2.3 inches) wide. The blade was relatively narrow, about 3.8 cm (1.5 inches) as opposed to the modern width of about 5 cm (2 inches). The sole was made of iron, one-quarter-inch thick, that was bent to form a shallow box filled with a wooden core; it was cut away at the back to form a handgrip, while the mouth was cut out about one-third of the way from the front. The cutting blade, or plane iron, was held in position by a wooden wedge tapped under an iron bar placed across the mouth. Frontier posts in Great Britain and Germany have yielded nearly a dozen Roman planes, ranging in length from 33 to 43.2 cm (13 to 17 inches). Three constructions are represented: iron sole with a wooden core, all wood, and wood reinforced with iron plates at the sides of the mouth.

Planes can be divided into two main categories: the first, typified by the common bench plane, consists of a straight iron and a flat sole and is used for working flat surfaces; the second includes a variety of planes defined by the profile of the iron and sole. If the iron has a concavity, a projection or moulding is created in the workpiece; if the iron has a projection, a groove is dug. Generally speaking, planes with profiled irons and correspondingly fluted soles are moulding planes. Some of the Roman planes had irons for cutting rectangular grooves.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, the plane apparently fell into disuse. Practically no planes, and only a few other tools, have survived from the period of 800–1600 CE. Secondary sources, such as illuminated manuscripts, legal documents, carvings, and stained-glass windows, do provide some information, but they lack details.

By the late 17th century the plane was firmly re-established in the craftsperson’s tool kit. Bench planes, or common planes, were used for surfacing panels or for creating straight edges on boards so that two or more might be joined into a wide panel. Boards were sawed or split (riven) from the log and were, consequently, quite rough. The first planing operation was done with the roughing, or fore, plane, which was of medium length, possibly 40.6 to 45.7 cm (16–18 inches). This fore plane had a slightly convex iron that removed saw and adz marks but left hollows that needed to be levelled by straight-iron planing. If the workpiece was long, a long-bodied trying, or jointing, plane having a length of about 76 cm (30 inches) was needed to remove large curves in the wood. Short planes—a common length was about 23 cm (9 inches)—were called smoothing planes for the final finish they produced.

Planes with straight irons and flat soles could easily be made by the craftsperson. Taste and fashion in 17th-century wood carving, however, prized decorative features such as mouldings and beadings, which led to a proliferation of plane types and established plane making as an industry.

The indispensable common (straight iron) plane was improved in a number of details throughout the years. In Roman planes the wedge holding the iron was jammed against a cross bar in the mouth of the plane. This feature, awkward because it impaired the free escape of the shaving, was eliminated in the 16th century by seating the wedge in tapered grooves.

Another improvement was the invention of the top iron, apparently an English innovation of the late 18th century. This top iron, or chip breaker, used an inverted plane iron placed over the cutting iron to limit the thickness of the shaving and help it to curl out of the mouth. Now called the double iron, it is a feature of all but the smallest of modern planes.

As advanced metallurgy and machine tools allowed good castings to be accurately mass-produced, wooden planes were gradually displaced in Britain and the United States by cast-iron bodies with wooden handles.

The 19th century saw much effort in Britain and the United States aimed at eliminating the wedge, which required the use of a hammer to adjust the iron. Various methods for the easy removal and accurate setting of the iron culminated in the screw and lever adjustor for the iron and the cam-actuated cap. This final evolution was completed about 1890, and changes since that time have been trivial. Despite their advantages, continental Europe has not been partial to iron-bodied planes with screw and lever adjustments, and such tools cost much more than the still common wooden plane with wedge and hammer adjustment.

The spokeshave, which may be likened to a short-bodied plane with a handle on either side allowing the tool to be pulled toward the operator, has left little in the way of a record. The term was first used about 1510, but the earliest known example seems to be only half as old. Both the English word and the German Speichenhobel suggest that it was originally the specialized tool of a wheelwright that became generalized for use on convex surfaces. As with the plane, the cutting blade (iron) projects only slightly from the short sole to regulate the depth of cut.

The drawknife is a handled blade that is pulled toward the operator. It is a rather questionable relative of the plane, for, though it lifts shavings in a similar manner, it lacks the positive thickness control of the plane. The tangs at the ends of the modern knife are bent at right angles in the plane of the blade. While it is used in much the manner of a spokeshave, the drawknife is actually a roughing tool for the quick removal of stock. Skill is required in its use because the depth of cut is regulated by the tilt of the blade, and the grain of the wood tends to assert itself. The drawknife appears to be an older tool than the spokeshave and has undergone a change since the Viking times when it was first used. Under the Vikings the handles were bent at right angles to the plane of the blade, and the tool seems to have been used for smoothing axed or adzed timber in medieval Scandinavia, Russia, and elsewhere.

Chisel

By Joseph A. McGeough

The remote origin of the chisel may lie with the stone hand axe, the almond-shaped tool that was sharp at one end. Although long rectangular chisel-shaped flints appeared about 8000 BCE, the later Neolithic Period evinced a version that was finished by grinding. With care, flint and obsidian chisels can be used on soft stone, as shown by intricate sculptures in pre-Columbian South and Central America. Gouges—i.e., chisels with concave instead of flat sections, able to scoop hollows or form holes with curved instead of flat walls—were also used during this period. Chisels and gouges of very hard stone were used to rough out both the exteriors and interiors of bowls of softer stone such as alabaster, gypsum, soapstone, and volcanic rock. The final finish was produced by abrasion and polishing.

The earliest copper chisels were long, in the manner of their flint forebears. Such so-called solid chisels of copper (and later of bronze) were used not only for working wood but soft rock as well, as many magnificent Egyptian monuments of limestone and sandstone testify.

By using bronze, a better casting metal than copper, and moulds, it was possible to economize on metal by hafting a short chisel to a wooden handle. This also resulted in less damage to the mallet. The round handle was either impaled on a tang with a cast-on stop (tanged) or set into a socket (socketed); both forms of hafting presaged modern forms. The Egyptians used the chisel and club like mallet with great skill and imagination to make joints in the construction of small drawers, panelled boxes, furniture, caskets, and chests.

The use of iron meant that tools had to be forged; no longer were the flowing lines and easily made cavities of casting available to the toolmaker. Consequently, early iron chisels were rude and solid. Tanged chisels were easier to make than socketed chisels, for which the socket had to be bent from a T-shaped forging. Hardened steel edges (first developed by accident) were created by repeatedly placing the iron in contact with carbon from the charcoal of the forge fire.

Chisels and gouges were made in great variety in later centuries as generally increasing wealth created a demand for more decoration and luxury in both religious and secular trappings and furniture. The rough and heavy tools of the carpenter were refined into more delicate models suited to woodcarvers, to joiners who did wall panelling and made stairs, doors, and windows, and to cabinetmakers. In the 18th century a woodcarver’s kit may have contained more than 70 chisels and gouges.