woodworking and furniture making in egypt

Charles Woods

Woodworking and furniture making has taken place in Egypt at least since the beginning of Dynastic times, around 3000 bce.  Generally, furniture was the prerogative of the ruling classes, although very simple furniture has been found to be used by the poorer classes throughout history.

The rich would have furniture made from quite rare woods in Egypt, for example ebony, beech, oak, yew, cypress, elm and ash.   Cheaper woods would also have to be imported, although some would grow naturally in Egypt such as date palm, fig, tamarisk, willow and poplar trees.  Even as far back as 3000 bce, craftsmen were confident in veneer work; laying and gluing a very thin strip or sheet of an expensive wood over a much cheaper one.  Ebony and maple, being extremely rare, would probably have been used as veneer. 

 The very rich would also have their furniture inlaid in veneers of  bone, tortoise shell, silver and gold.  For the extremely rich Ivory (more valuable than gold) would be inlaid into the wood.  At  other times, wood was gilded with very thin sheets of beaten gold which would be brushed on to the wood to give it the appearance of gold.  By around 2000 bce the lathe was invented, and from then on,  turned legs appeared on furniture and used as spindles and various forms of decoration.

Chair - woodworkingbow drillChair - woodworking
New Kingdom furniture and tools. Chair and stool from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Bow Drill 18th Dynasty.

The ancient Egyptians used very much the same kind of tools as used today, for example the chisel, saw, awl, drills and the adze which has been replaced by the plane.  Today, of course, the bow drill has been replaced by the electric drill, and saws have largely been replaced with the electric saw.  But for the minor details such as carvings, the making of joints and more of the detailed work, many of the ancient tools remain the same today.  Since circ. 2000, the ancients were conversant with all the types of joinery still  in use today, the peg joint or dowel, mortise and tenon joint, halving joint, dovetail joint and shoulder mitres.  

Furniture was often produced in the royal workshops.   Such factories or workshops existed at Luxor’s famous Malkata Palace built during the 18th Dynasty. .   This was the palace on the West Bank at Luxor built by the richest of all the Pharaohs, Amenhotep III.  Here very valuable furniture was constructed to the highest standards for the king, his harem and high ranking officials and courtiers.

Amenhotep’s uncle and father-in-law, Yuya, the father of his senior wife Queen Tiye, had a veneered bed which is now in Cairo Museum.  His descendent Tutankhamun had a range of valuable furniture amongst his funeral treasurers, which are all on display at the Museum.  Valuable pieces of furniture would be sent as presents to other illustrious kings all around the ancient world, to Babylon, Syria, Mitanni, Cyprus and Greece being but a few of them.     

funerary items


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