In the Viking Age, wood was used for homes, for ships, for barns and other buildings, as well as for farming implements and household objects, and many other uses. Some woodwork was very plain, others enormously complex with decoration carved and painted on.
The first job was to fell the tree, this could have been done with either a saw or a hand axe. Axes are relatively common finds and quite capable of doing the job, while saws are less commonly found and generally far too small for felling trees. The available illustrations always show the felling being done with an axe.
Having felled the tree, it has then got to be split into planks, squared up if it is to be used for building, or otherwise shaped. Timber can be squared using a side axe, as is illustrated in the Bayeux Tapestry. Most planks from the Viking age appear to be formed by splitting the wood in a radial manner. This would not be easy with a saw, but is the logical way of forming them if the log is being split with wedges. However, it should be noted that some wooden items are made from timber that has been split or sawn across the grain. Flat surfaces can be formed with the side axe, if the surface is not over wide, or with an adze if it is a large surface. More complex shapes can be made with an axe and then worked down with a drawknife. Where a higher standard of finish is needed this can be formed with a plane or spokeshave. The strakes of Viking age boats often had groves in their lands, so that tarred wool could be inserted as caulking. Special moulding shaves are known which could have been used to form these groves.
Joints in wood were made in various ways. The simplest have no special shaping and are held either with nails or with nailed on wooden battens, or metal straps. Mortised joints are relatively common, ranging in size from major structural timbers to joints used to make chests. They may have been glued but were also often secured with a wooden dowel. Morris (2000) also reports evidence for dovetail joints. A further method used to joint timber was to hold the pieces together with dowels, these joints may also have been glued.
Items such as cups and bowls were frequently produced using lathes.
References: Morris, Carole A. 2000. Wood and woodworking in Anglo Scandinavian and Medieval York. The Archaeology of York – The small finds 17/13. Council for British Archaeology.
Credits: with thanks to Robert Wilkinson and Steve Lines