Woodworking during Biblical Times

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Forum topic by ShannonRogers posted 01-05-2009 06:39 AM 18670 views 1 time favorited 42 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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540 posts in 5250 days

01-05-2009 06:39 AM

Topic tags/keywords: bible techniques roman woodworking

I am trying to help out my mother-in-law with her Sunday school class. She is doing a lesson on Jesus as a child working with his earthly father as a carpenter. I am cutting and prepping parts so that the kids can assemble a small stool using only tenons and wedges. I wanted to augment this with some background info on the tools and techniques of the time so I can weave a story into the lesson. Any thoughts out there on what kind of stuff was built and how way back in Roman and pre Roman times?

-- The Hand Tool School is Open for Business! Check out my blog and podcast "The Renaissance Woodworker" at

42 replies so far

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 5425 days

#1 posted 01-05-2009 07:00 AM

Check with Chris Swartz and Adam Cheribini at Popular Woodworking. It seems Chris duplicated a Roman plane from the time of Christ. It wasn’t much different from A Krenov plane. I’m sure chisels and saws were pretty similar as well.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View woodbutcher's profile


592 posts in 5628 days

#2 posted 01-05-2009 07:06 AM

Sorry that I’m unable to help with any historical information for your Sunday School Class-however I will share with you the fact that I just left another wood working site and requested that all information I had previously provided them be removed as well.My avatar seemed to violate the policies on their site.

Ken McGinnis

-- woodbutcher north carolina

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5681 days

#3 posted 01-05-2009 04:00 PM

Ken, can’t you just tell them it’s a photo of your favorite carpenter?

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Karson's profile


35300 posts in 5863 days

#4 posted 01-05-2009 04:16 PM

The only thing that I could present is that furniture was for the wealthy. The common people probably sat on the floor and ate there. There were few workers of wood and the wood was probably used mostly for fires.

So I would think a rustic chair, probably of half logs or boards with the wain of the edge still present. Todays milled lumber would probably not be available.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View 8iowa's profile


1591 posts in 5224 days

#5 posted 01-05-2009 04:53 PM

Back in ‘77 my family and I stood in line for five hours to see the King Tut exhibit in Washington D.C. Once inside I marveled at the craftsmanship in metal and wood. Obviously there were fine craftsmen as far back as 1200 BC.

An exquisite carrying chest, with poles that slid out from the bottom for two man carry caught my eye. I then realized that the chest I was looking at could have been made by the same craftsmen, or craft school, that made the Arc of the Covenant.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View Moron's profile


5048 posts in 5356 days

#6 posted 01-05-2009 05:04 PM

Google it

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View woodbutcher's profile


592 posts in 5628 days

#7 posted 01-05-2009 05:33 PM

I’m not sure what difference it would make to people who are this scared of art. The Avatar appeared on their site just as it appears here-untitled-My father who is now deceased painted this oil on canvas many years ago. The only thing I can imagine is that my father was capable of causing fear in the minds of Politicaly Correct Atheists simply by using a brush to create an idea he had. Surely this conceptualized painting of a man that my father created from his own mind cannot appear to be a definitive offense to all who view it! I maybe wrong-but i do not see displayed anywhere on this canvas-Prejudice,Race, or Religon-any of these offenses would have to be created and live only in the mind of the viewer. I can only feel sorry for people who have chosen to live in a fear filled world of their own choosing.
It sure is tough, living with any of ones own convictions,today in a world full of non-directional alarmists. Only goes to show that sheep will invariably follow the easiest path available to them. Take care my Friend and TY for your suggestion.

Ken McGinnis

-- woodbutcher north carolina

View YorkshireStewart's profile


1130 posts in 5364 days

#8 posted 01-05-2009 05:55 PM

Hello Shannon. It’s a question that I find fascinating. I can remember at Sunday School as a child, wanting to know more of that aspect of Joseph and Son. It seemed like such a big gap in the story after the birth!
There’s a summary of the little bit of research that I did here:

Click for details

So you see that recognisable planes did exist during Jesus Christ’s lifetime, but in Joseph’s workshop?..

-- Res severa verum gaudium - True pleasure is a serious business.

View gizmodyne's profile


1785 posts in 5553 days

#9 posted 01-05-2009 06:16 PM

This painting by Millais is titled Christ in the House of His Parents [Christ in the Carpenter’s Shop]

I saw it at the Tate Gallery in London two years ago. It might be an interesting visual for the lesson as several tools are visible. Can’t verify accuracy though. Source Page at:

Good luck.


-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View ShannonRogers's profile


540 posts in 5250 days

#10 posted 01-05-2009 07:03 PM

Great stuf guys! Yorkie, I agree that most of the tools we know today existed in some form during this time period with the Romans, but the Romans especially the army engineers that did most of the building had money backing them. I think in the much more pastoral setting of Nazareth and even considering the Jews were mostly nomadic at the time that something more akin to Karson’s comment (sitting on the floor or rough log furniture) would be accurate. Some of my internet research has yielded some specifics that put the techniques closer to what we think of as Asian woodworking (saws cut on pull stroke) as there either wasn’t a bench or a very low trestle was used. The cutting edges were flint or in rare cases bronze (expensive) but often housed in a frame or bow saw like we see on the wall in the painting above. I’m not sure about the Nicholson style bench though. Regardless this is a fascinating topic that merits more consideration.

-- The Hand Tool School is Open for Business! Check out my blog and podcast "The Renaissance Woodworker" at

View Texasgaloot's profile


465 posts in 5163 days

#11 posted 01-05-2009 07:31 PM

I can’t hardly resist this one! I’ll be watching it with a lot of interest!

Ken: their loss is our gain, and for certain! You’re welcome here! Let me publicly thank you for being man enough to honor your father by being proud of his work!

John, Shannon, & all… I’m worse than a loose canon when it comes to art history, but I’ve seen enough iconography (in seminary, etc.) to say “Hey… that looks familiar!” I know nothing of Millais beyond what can be learned by following John’s link for the painting source, which ultimately is that he completed this work abouit 160 years ago, not during the Renaissance which this painting reminds me of. Rembrant in particular would give his subjects special poses and such to imbue meaning to the painting, and the first thing I noticed was the position of the Christ-child’s left hand. After that I noticed that it was his mother holding him (I’m a really quick study) something that doesn’t seem like raw logic in the middle of a workshop in the middle of the day… I can’t really tell accurately what sort of tool it is laying in the middle of the workpiece, but it looks metallic, and yes, the bench gives one pause, as does the Western features of the idealize faces, etc. The point I’m trying to make is that I think this is a wonderful work of art, and I in no means intend to put it down. My point is this: since there is at least one bit of symbolism at work here, we might consider that there is probably a lot more lurking and therefore we might approach the historical value of our subject with a questioning eye.
I love this thread! I hope there are a lot more LJ’s out there that can contribute! Thanks for starting it, Shannon!

-- There's no tool like an old tool...

View Derek Lyons's profile

Derek Lyons

584 posts in 5031 days

#12 posted 01-05-2009 07:52 PM

Gizmo – you can’t really use older paintings as references for ancient times, as the painters generally included details they saw around them (like the 18th century workbench) not details they’d researched. When they weren’t doing that, they were concentrating on (as TexasGaloot correctly points out) adhering to iconography – that is, including the details that tradition said Must Be There rather than reflecting reality.

Karson – Keep in mind that then, as now, there were graduations of affluence. The very poorest might sit on the floor, but move up the ladder and you’ll find rough benches etc., with the quality of the work and the material rising with the status and the affluence of the owner. It’s nothing like today where 80% of the population shops at the same relatively limited selection of big box stores.

Shannon – yes, some Jews then were nomadic. Others were confirmed city dwellers.

-- Derek, Bremerton WA --

View gizmodyne's profile


1785 posts in 5553 days

#13 posted 01-05-2009 07:55 PM

Another interesting link: Woodworking in the Roman Empire

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View dlux's profile


54 posts in 4896 days

#14 posted 01-05-2009 08:15 PM

I will be very interested to hear what you find!

View SteveKorz's profile


2140 posts in 5177 days

#15 posted 01-06-2009 01:28 AM

Here are a couple links I’ve found… I don’t know how accurate it is… so, take it at face value… hope that helps.

-- As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) †

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