Traditional Woodworking Techniques


Richard has spent many years perfecting his use of traditional woodworking techniques and tools from the Stone Age, through flint, bronze, iron and steel to the 19th Century.

Stone Age

Stone axes chew wood away but despite producing a rough surface you can use flint blades to scrape the rough surface flat, producing fine finishes. This is time consuming.

Bronze Age

Bronze tools were much better than flint as they cut through the grain of the wood, which flint could not.  This was much faster at producing a clean finish.  Bronze tools were better than iron at holding a sharp edge.

Iron Age

Iron is often mixed with carbon, forming alloy compounds harder than iron (steel).  Iron really only becomes useful when hardened this way.  Some early iron tools were exact copies of bronze tools, but made with iron – including a loop on the side of the head (of unknown use).  In England only iron tools have a hole through to fit the handle, making the handle less likely to break when used with force.


Although the romans used both axes and adzes and still split wood with wedges they introduced the saw to Britain.  They seem to have taken all of them with them when they left too, as we never again find saw marks on Anglo-Saxon or Norman wood until after 1150AD (except for very small saws used to make the gaps between teeth of combs, and similar fine work).


In the Anglo-Saxon world axes become larger and heavier with wider blades, made of iron and steel. The earliest Saxon cross-cutting (or felling) axe has a blade 60mm wide and weighs less than 1kg, and the earliest broad axe blade was only 150mm wide.  By the 10th century broad axe blades were almost 300mm wide and cross-cutting axes 85mm wide.

The Anglo-Saxons are known to have built using unseasoned oak. This is oak that has been freshly felled. A comparison is made between personal experiences of working with both seasoned and unseasoned oak. Anglo-Saxon tools: wedges, axes and adzes were used in splitting, hewing and preparing joints. The choice of appropriate timber is important. The tool marks that different techniques left on the wood could be useful in identifying which techniques were used on archaeological material. It is possible to date some timbers by the tool marks left on them.  It is also possible to associate timbers by the signature of a single tool (that may have specific blade damage) across different pieces of wood.

This is a video of the process of reconstructing the Anglo-Saxon street House bed (Neil Jackson, Media Arts Digital Solutions, 2010):: (add link here – Richard to send Robin the DVD)

Medieval and Post-medieval

These axes continued to increase in size and weight until the 19th century, when a felling axe would weight more than 3kg, with a blade of 170mm wide.  19th century axes were used in a different way from earlier axes, with handles of nearly 1m long – earlier axes had handles only 0.6m in length.  Broad axes often have handles less than 0.3m long through the various periods.

This is a video from Beamish Museum of Richard splitting an oak tree using the traditional methods -

This is a video from Beamish Museum of Richard discussing traditional tools for splitting oak -