The Dug-Out Chest – Design Origins (Part 1)

by | Nov 9, 2012 | 2 comments

The design for our Medieval cupboard was put together rather quickly. We didn’t have a specific example in mind to take measurements from and instead we choose dimensions by its intended use – a compact wall cupboard for storing small household items. So if it isn’t a replica why have we called it Medieval? This comes down to the origin of its boarded construction and not its appearance (the hinge motifs and mouldings are closer to 16th / 17th century in design).

We all know that dovetails are the sign of a ’proper’ woodworker today so I want to give you a bit of background to explain why we feel this nailed construction is worth attention. This could turn in to a history lesson (yawn) so I’m going to break it up in to separate posts. Bear with me… it will become relevant as the posts continue.

Before we had boarded furniture there were ‘dug out’ pieces – huge logs hacked out with adzes and axes to create a hollow for storage or seating. This is a fantastic example of how to make furniture in the most wasteful and laborious manner giving results that were heavy and would crack horrifically as they started to dry. I think it’s fair to say that the craftsman at this time had very little knowledge of the wood although it’s interesting to note how advanced the ironwork appears in comparison; straps for strength, hinges and functioning locks all featured on many chests. I should think a great deal of these straps were added much later to help hold the splits together but it makes a lot of sense that man would require skill with metal work before he could craft wood with any finesse. Fine saw blades and sharp tools are required before it would occur to man that wood could have the potential that we see of it today. It’s the 12th century in the English countryside and man has an axe, a tree and brute strength. The result is a nice dug out chest – well at least its too heavy to steal!

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About Helen Fisher

About Helen Fisher

Helen seeks to explore ways to live with greater joy & sustainability for both ourselves & the planet. Concepts which have led to the launch of her second business We Are Carbon. As the producer of our videos, Helen brings a unique perspective & injects life to our education ensuring it is both a pleasure to watch & easy to follow & learn from. Learn More About Helen & The English Woodworker.


  1. Ken

    What a great post, I love that dug out chest. Looking forward to the rest of these. Good job.

    Very Best

    • Helen

      Thanks Ken. I do think they have quite a sweet character really, but just a little too big and heavy. Richard thinks it could be fun to make one sometime and says he’s got a log put aside that’s too twisted to rive. I don’t fancy helping with that one!


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