Ark

Medieval clamp-fronted chest

September 2004

Ark, closed

Ark, closed

Somewhere between the early coffers and six-board chests, and the later joined or framed panel chests, medieval carpentry produced the clamped-front ark-lid chest.

The clamp-front is a partial development of the framed panel. The front panel is placed between two vertical-grained legs, held in grooves and pegged in place by oak pegs or treenails.

Most arks were around 3' long. This is a half-scale model, because I wanted something small and portable. I have evidence for clamp- fronted chests of this size, but haven't yet found an ark-lidded example.


Ark, half-open

Ark, half-open

An ark's lid is a development of the earlier flat board lid. They have three sections, forming a shallow trough. Large examples are claimed to have been used as bread-making troughs over a flour-storage chest. I find this somewhat hard to believe - grain stores well but flour does not. I doubt that ready-milled flour could have been stored in such a large chest, without spoiling.

Slightly inspired by photos at Early Oak furniture


Ark, with lid open

Ark, with lid open

I began this piece because I was interested in building a clamp-fronted ark. Also I was given some timber that was suitably-sized and well-aged oak, whilst a friend's parents were clearing out a shed. Some more of this timber went to make a Stickley 603 table. In under two weeks from collecting the timber to having finished it entirely, it's also one of the faster pieces I've made!


Construction

Materials: quarter-sawn oak

Historically they'd have been made from riven oak, timber made by splitting a log with wedges, rather than sawing. Quarter- sawing gives a similar effect, but riven boards are tapered as well.

End of the ark, showing the mortice and tenons holding it together

End of the ark, showing the mortice and tenons holding it together

Construction is very simple - no glue, no nails, no iron. Most joints are simple mortice and tenons. A few are blind, some are held by oak pegs. Apart from some initial dimensioning, all work was carried out entirely by hand tools. The base is supported by grooves in the lower edge of the sides.

The lid is hinged by extending the lid end-plates into notches in the rear legs, and enlarged oak pegs as hinge pins.


Lid, with moulded edges

Lid, with moulded edges

The most complex tooling was a single moulding plane, used to form beads on the edges of the lids panels and the fronts of the legs.

Finishing was some ammonia fuming to age it, then brushing with a plain beeswax polish.