Biblical Woodworking

As a novice woodworker, I have an assortment of electric woodworking tools that allow me to quickly cut, shape, and smooth wood to whatever I wish it to be.   I’m grateful to have them, for I can do in a few hours what in biblical times would have taken weeks.  But I do miss the intimacy you get when working wood with simple hand tools, such as a chisel, plane, or axe.  Their use forces you to focus on the feel of the wood as you cut it and observe how the grain runs so it planes or splits easily.  You become “one with the wood” so to speak, and that’s very satisfying.  I have no doubt that Jesus the carpenter enjoyed the same satisfaction of using skill, muscle, and tools to create something useful and beautiful.  So I got to wondering what tools would Jesus have most likely used in his carpentry trade the 15 or so years prior to his ministry?

Indications are Joseph was not rich, so he probably had only the basic tools to teach Jesus how to use.  But with skill one can use them to not only build a house, but the furniture that goes in it.   So if you’re starting from a tree, you would need an axe to cut it down and perhaps cut it to the length you need.  Wedges and a mallet could split the wood closer to the desired size.  An adze is like an axe, but the sharp edge is perpendicular to the handle so when swung chips the wood flat so you can square it up to close to the desired size and shape. A plane would then be used to do the final shaping and create a smooth surface.  An auger would be used to bore holes for fastening different pieces of wood together using dowels.  Chisels and gouges would be used to shape wood, engrave it ornately, and to create mortises to fit wood joints together tightly.  A spring pole lathe powered by a treadle type action was a common tool in ancient times, useful for creating round pieces for chair legs and such.  A shaving horse is a portable work bench of sorts that that holds wood steady while you work it, and has also been in use for millennium.

There are a few references and examples Jesus spoke of that a carpenter would be familiar with.  He told of building a house “upon the rock” and not sand, a concept every good carpenter would know. He mentioned that his “yoke is easy” and he no doubt could make a yoke that was comfortable for beasts of burden.  There was the parable of a king building a tower but did not count the cost, and you know a good carpenter would do an accurate cost analysis before beginning a project.  He spoke about the “chief cornerstone”, another concept important to a builder.



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