Books on Medieval & Renaissance Woodworking Tools

Arwidsson, Greta.
The Mastermyr find: a Viking age tool chest from Gotland.
(original) Stockholm, Sweden: Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien : Almqvist & Wiksell International, c1983.
88 pp. ISBN: 917402129X

(reprint) Lompoc, CA: Larson Publishing, 1999
ISBN: 0965075516

A detailed look at an 11th Century tool chest from Sweden and its contents. This book has recently been reprinted by Norm Larson Books of California.
Buy at

Bernt, Walther.
Altes Werkzeug.
[Old Tools]
München: Callwey, 1977.
113 pp.

Focuses on 16th-19th Century tools of a variety of trades. Not much text, but contains pictures of several 16th Century planes from the collection of Elector Augustus of Saxony.

Find at Abebooks

Bindung, Günther.
Der Mittelalterliche Baubetrieb in Zeitgenössischen Abblidungen.
[Medieval Construction in Contemporary Illustrations]
Stuttgart: Theiss, 2001.
216 pp. ISBN:3806216347

In German. A collection of line drawings of medieval builders at work, based on period illustrations (although about 10% of the illustrations are the actual sources, instead of reproductions). While these are secondary sources, each drawing includes the original source as well as references to published works. The book is organized by location, rather than by date or subject, which can make it difficult to find works by date or subject, although there is an index by tool type.

Buy at

Bober, Harry.
Jan Van Vliet's Book of Crafts and Trades: With a Reappraisal of his Etchings.
Albany, NY: Early American Industries Association, 1981. 
33 pp. with 18 loose plates in portfolio.

A reprint of mid-17th Century plates on various trades. Includes 18 loose plates in a portfolio. Some interesting details in a couple of the plates, but not terribly helpful.

Find at Abebooks

Centre archeologique de Normandie.
Corpus des objets domestiques et des armes en fer de Normandie : du Ier au XVe siecle
[Corpus of iron domestic objects and arms from Normandy: 1st to 15th Centuries]
Caen: Centre archeologique de Normandie, 1987.  
255 pp. Cahiers des Annales de Normandie ; no 20

In French.  A catalog of iron objects from excavations in Normandy. There are a number of carpenter's tools illustrated including some spoon bits. Dates range from the 6th to the 15th Century.  Mixed in with everything else are some bits of furniture hardware.

Christensen, Arne Emil
"Viking Age boatbuilding tools"  in
McGrail, Sean, ed.
Woodworking Techniques before A.D. 1500: Papers presented to a Symposium at Greenwich in September, 1980, together with edited discussion.
Oxford: B.A.R., 1982.
ISBN: 0860541592

David, Johan.
Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1997.

164 p. Typologie des Sources du Moyen Age Occidental; fasc. 78  ISBN: 2503360785

In French. A scholarly bibliography of sources on medieval tools in all occupations.  The book also includes a typology of tool types and suggestions for further research.

Find at Abebooks

Dixon, Philip H.
The Reading Lathe: A link with the Anglo-Saxon Migration.
Newport, Isle of Wight: Cross Publishing, 1994.
ISBN: 1873295650, 95 p.

An examination of an English bowl-turner's lathe still in use in the 20th Century. Includes a chapter on the history of lathes and one on Anglo-Saxon turned bowls.   There is also a section on the types of woods used for bowls (largely maple, but also alder, ash, and elm)
Buy at

Feller, Paul and Fernand Touret.
Werkzeug aus Alter Zeit.
[Tools from Old Times]
Stuttgart: Belser Verlag, 1980. 
ISBN: 3763021000. 224 p.

A German translation of L'outil. Dialogue de l'homme avec la matière. Tools of various trades from the 16th - 19th centuries. Mostly a picture book, but there's some useful dating material in the back.

Find at Abebooks

Finsterbusch, Edgar and Werner Thiele.
Vom Steinbeil zum Sagegatter: Ein Streifzug durch die Geschichte der Holzarbeitung.

[From stone axe to sawmill: A journey through the history of woodworking]
Leipzig: VEB Fachbuchverlag. 1987.
280 p. 413 ill. 31 cm. I
ISBN: 3343002755. LC No. TS 820 F55 1987

In German. A history of axes, saws, and sawmills from prehistoric times. Lots of good information on medieval and renaissance sawmills and several good pictures of medieval saws from both artistic sources and archaeological finds.  In addition, a number of the "saw" pictures also include other tools in use or in the background.  The chapters on sawmills contain a history and enough illustrations and diagrams of the machinery that you could probably build your own. 

Find at Abebooks

Gaitzsch, W and Matthäus, H.
"Schreinerwerkzeuge aus dem Kastell Altstadt".
[Joiners' Tools from the Kastell Old Town]
Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 10 (1980), Mainz.

In German. A journal article covering finds of Roman joiners' tools (primarily adzes and planes) from the Roman settlement at Kastell.  Well illustrated, including a number of comparable finds from other Roman sites in Germany.

Goodman, W. L.
The History of Woodworking Tools.
London: G. Bell and Sons, 1964.
208 p. ISBN: 66004893

One of the standard references. Some of what's in there is a little dated (and some of the medieval stuff is plain wrong), but it's a good history of the subject.

Greber, Josef M. translated by Seth W. Burchard.
The History of the Woodworking Plane.
Early American Industries Association, 1991. 
398 pp.

Everything you ever wanted to know about planes. Includes coverage of Asian as well as European planes. Probably the best coverage available of Medieval and Renaissance planes. Comes in two parts, the German original (with the pictures) and the English translation of the text.

Grieg, Sigurd
Middelalderske Byfund fra Bergen og Oslo
[Medieval Finds from Bergen and Oslo]
Oslo: A.W. Brøggers Boktykkeri, 1933.
430 p. LoC No: DL576.B4 G7

In Norwegian.  Descriptions of finds from excavations in Bergen and Oslo.  Not too many tools, but lots of LMS (Little Metal Stuff).

Heavrin, Charles A.
The Axe and Man.

Mendham, NJ: The Astragal Press, 1998.
173 pp. ISBN: none

More than you ever wanted to know about axes. Heavrin concentrates most heavily on two periods of axe development, the Stone Age and 19th Century America, although there is some good information on other periods. The Medieval section is rather sparse and there are some rather broad over-generalizations about the use of the axe in Medieval warfare. The book is redeemed by its numerous full-page pictures of actual artifacts; there are 10 good pictures of Medieval and Renaissance axes ranging from the Viking period to the 17th Century.

Heine, Gunther
Das Werkzeug des Schreiners und Drechslers.

[The Tools of the Joiner and Turner]
Hannover: Thos. Schaefer Verlag, 1990.
239 pp. ISBN: 3887462289

In German.  A good source for information and illustrations of medieval tools.  Well referenced, with good citations to the sources. Lots of pictures, including some I haven't seen anywhere else.  One interesting bit is the pictures from the 1505 manuscript of the Nuremburg engineer Löffelholz which illustrate an all-metal brace and a workbench with the two-vise arrangement that was to become standard in later years.
Buy at

Henry Disston & Sons, Inc.
The Saw in History, 6th ed..
Philadelphia: Disston, 1922. 62 pp.

An occasionally dubious history of saws which (of course) reaches its peak in Disston's product line. Some interesting tidbits on the development of mechanized sawing.

Hewitt, C.A.
"Toolsmarks on surviving works from the Saxon, Norman and later Medieval period" in
McGrail, Sean, ed.
Woodworking Techniques before A.D. 1500: Papers presented to a Symposium at Greenwich in September, 1980, together with edited discussion.
Oxford: B.A.R., 1982.
ISBN: 0860541592

An examination of the tool marks found on surviving doors and building timbers.  Presents evidence for the use of saws and planes in the Saxon and Norman periods.

Hibben, Thomas.
The Carpenter's Tool Chest.
Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott, 1933.  209 pp.

This is actually a children's' book, but it appears as a source in a number of other books. It's not bad, but there are no sources for any of the illustrations.

J. Pascal Hardware Co., Ltd.
The Arthur Pascal Collection of Antique Woodworking Tools. 
Montreal, The J. Pascal Hardware Co., 1975.
36 p., no ISBN. 

Illustrates 80 17th - 19th Century tools from the collection.  Of interest mostly for its pictures of a large number of Continental tools.  It is interesting to note that the Continental planes illustrated use a wide variety of woods (hornbeam, walnut, pearwood, linden, and maple) in contrast to British planes which are almost always of beech.

Jones, Peter d'Alroy and E.N. Simons.
The Story of the Saw.
Sheffield, Spear & Jackson, 1960.

A decent history of saws produced for the centennial of famous Sheffield sawmaker Spear & Jackson.  There are some illustrations that aren't reproduced very often.

Kebabian, Paul B. and William C. Lipke, eds.
Tools and Technologies: America's Wooden Age.
Burlington, VT: Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Vermont, c.1978
111 pp.

Papers originally presented at a lecture series and a symposium held concurrently with the exhibition at the Robert Hull Fleming Museum, Oct. 30, 1978-Jan. 15, 1979. Wonderfully illustrated.  Focuses on 18th and 19th century America.

Kolchin, B. A.
Wooden Artefacts from Medieval Novgorod: BAR International Series; 495.
Oxford : B.A.R., 1989.
ISBN: 0860546357,Series: British Archaeological Reports International Series

Excavation reports from Novgorod.  Scattered through the book are information on the kinds of woods in use, a diagram of joints used in medieval Russian woodworking, illustrations of woodworking tools, and some furniture remains.

McCann, John.
"A gauge used for the alignment of medieval roofs"
McGrail, Sean, ed.
Woodworking Techniques before A.D. 1500: Papers presented to a Symposium at Greenwich in September, 1980, together with edited discussion.
Oxford: B.A.R., 1982.
ISBN: 0860541592

Mercer, Henry Chapman.
Ancient Carpenters' Tools: Illustrated and Explained, Together with the Implements of the Lumberman, Joiner, and Cabinet maker in use in the Eighteenth Century.
5th ed.
New York: Dover, 2000.
331 p. ISBN: 0486409589

A Dover reprint of the 5th Edition of 1975.  The book that started it all. Originally written in 1920 and still the classic in the field. Mercer's thesis is that woodworking tools haven't changed much since Roman times. While the book concentrates on 18th and 19th Century American tools, there are several illustrations from period sources scattered throughout the book.  The 5th edition has an interesting article in the back on a medieval English saw (which, incidentally, makes a good case that medieval saws were pushed rather than pulled).
Buy at
Buy at

Moxon, Joseph.
Mechanick Exercises or the Doctrine of Handy-Works.
Morristown, NJ: The Astragal Press, 1989.

ix, 352 pp. ISBN: 1879335859 LoC: TT144.M93 1989

In 1678 Joseph Moxon published the first English "Do it Yourself" book in serial format. This book is a facsimile reprint of the edition of 1703, and covers smithing, joinery, carpentry, turning, and bricklaying. On the downside, this is a facsimile edition which means that you need to deal with idiosyncratic spelling and the occasional weirdness of 17th Century grammar. I find this more than balanced, however by Moxon's ability to describe tools and procedures clearly. The most valuable parts of the book for the student of old tools are probably the engravings, which depict tools of the period and are largely drawn from older Continental works, and the descriptions of the tools.
Buy at

Navarro Palazón, Julio, et al.
Liétor : formas de vida rurales en æSarq al-Andalus a través de una ocultación de los siglos X-XI.
Murcia [Spain] : Centro de Estudios Arabes y Arqueológicos "Ibn Arabi," Ayuntamiento de Murcia : Comunidad de Castilla-La Mancha : Diputación Provincial de Albacete : Ayuntamiento de Liétor : Instituto de Cooperación con el Mundo Arabe, 1996.
139 p. Serie Islam y arqueología DP402.L37N3 1996 ISBN: 8492113006 Summaries in English and French.

In Spanish.  Excavation report on an Andalusian village, lavishly illustrated with photos and drawings of the important finds.  Illustrated tools include several adzes, augers, and a bit of a saw.  There's also the remains of a bed.

Norman, Gustav Adolf.
Hovelens historie.
[History of the plane]
Lillehammer: 1954.

This one's in Norwegian, so I'm having trouble translating it. It looks like there's good coverage on the Bergen plane.

Sachs, Hans and Jost Amman.
The Book of Trades (Standebuch).
Dover, 1973.
ISBN: 048622886X

16th Century engravings depicting a variety of craftsmen and their tools.
Buy at

Salaman, R.A.
A Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, c. 1700-1970 and Tools of Allied Trades.

Astragal Press, Mendham, NJ, 1997. 
546 p. ISBN: 1879335794

Every woodworking tool you can imagine (and some you probably can't). Theoretically starts at 1700, but there are occasional references to earlier stuff scattered through the book. Great for identifying strange tools in the background of old illustrations.
Buy at
Buy at

Schadwinkel, Hans-Tewes.
Das Werkzeug des Zimmermanns.
[The Tools of the Carpenter]
Hannover: Thomas Schafer Verlag, 1986.
ISBN: 3887460707 253 p.

In German.  A well-illustrated coffee table book.  Covers much of the same material as Heine's book (q.v.) but with an emphasis on carpentry and carpenter's tools instead of joinery.
Buy at

Sterre, Gerrit van der.
Vier Eeuwen Nederlandse Schaven en Schavenmakers/Four Centuries of Dutch Planes and Planemaking.

Amsterdam(?): Primavera Pers, 2001
ISBN: 9074310621

In Dutch and English.  A look at Dutch planes and planemaking mostly focusing on the period after 1600.  There are some interesting earlier tidbits including an as yet unpublished toolbox from a Dutch wreck of c. 1590.
Buy at

Tyghem, Frieda van.
Op en om de middeleeuwse bouwwerf
Brussel, Paleis der Academiën, 1966.
2 v. illus., facsims. 26 cm.
LOC: AS242 .B624 jaarg. 28, nr. 19

In Dutch. An invaluable two volume set covering Medieval and Renaissance building tools. Volume I contains descriptive text as well as line drawings taken from period sources. Volume II contains 286 black and white reproductions of period illustrations depicting building site and workshops. Detailed notes for each illustration are included in Volume I. Tyghem's coverage of woodworking tools is broad and includes what would ordinarily be considered joiner's tools as well as those of the carpenter.

Walker, Philip.
Woodworking Tools: Shire Album 50.
Princes Risborough: Shire Publications, 1980.
ISBN: 085263501X; 32 p.

A brief, but well illustrated introduction to the subject.
Buy at
Buy at

Walker, Philip.
"The tools available to the medieval woodworker" in
McGrail, Sean, ed.
Woodworking Techniques before A.D. 1500: Papers presented to a Symposium at Greenwich in September, 1980, together with edited discussion.
Oxford: B.A.R., 1982.
ISBN: 0860541592

Wattenmaker, Richard J.
European Tools From the 17th to the 19th Century: Woodworking, Metalworking, and Related Trades: Flint Institute of Arts, April 26-June 7, 1981.
Flint, Mich.: The Institute, c1981. 76 pp.

Just what the title says. An exhibition catalog for tools. Well-written and lots of pictures.

Whelan, John M.
The Wooden Plane: Its History, Form, and Function.
Mendham, NJ: The Astragal Press, 1993. 
ISBN: 1879335328
503 p.

A general history of planes. Not as much on medieval planes as Greber, but still a good book. One of the standard references.  Includes an extremely detailed typology of molding plane shapes.
Buy at

Wilson, D. M.
"Anglo-Saxon Carpenters' Tools" in Studien zur Europäischen Vor- und Frühgeschichte, ed. Claus, M, Haarnagel, W and Raddatz, K.
Neumünster, 1968.

A listing, with illustrations, of all known Anglo-Saxon carpenter's tools.  The most interesting piece is a 6th Century plane.

Contents © 2003 Gary R. Halstead