National Museum of Scotland – Bone, Horn and Antler Gallery

Finally. Here’s the long promised skeletal materials gallery from our NMS photos.  Leather finds photos are in another post, and I’ve already done the leatherworker’s toolkit elsewhere. Click on the photos in the gallery them to ennoble if you want a closer view.

The full set of photos contain lots of stone and metalworking as well.

Stone, bronze and iron age

Leatherworking finds
Burnt stones and flint, leatherworker’s rubbing bone fragments and pebbles. Family cist grave, Patrickholm, 2100BC-1750BC

Bone axe-headed pins
Bone axe-headed pins. Orkneys, AD0-600

Roman leather fragments, 100-175AD
Weaving comb and leather fragments. The triangular piece looks like it might have been from a tent. Newstead, 100-175AD

Shuttle and weaving tablets
Bone shuttles, Dun Scurrival and Elsay, horn(?) weaving tablets, Burrian, Jarlshof, Keill, Tain, Keiss 200BC-AD200

Bone dice
Bone dice, Newstead and Sty Wick Bay AD1-200

Weaving combs
Broxmouth, Burgar, Hillswick, Howmae, Newstead and Thrumster, 200BC-AD400

British Leatherworking Tools
Bone, metal and wooden British leatherworking tools. Awls from Ruberslaw, Burrian, Druimvargie Cave, Foshigarry, Knop of Howar, MacArthur Cave, Skara Brae, Torran Dubh, Buiston and Newstead. 8500BC-900AD
Needles from Hillhead, West Grange of Conon and Laws of Monifieth. 300BC-800AD.

Unfinished pieces of bone work
200BC-AD800

Antler comb making
Making antler combs 200BC-AD800

Comb blanks and flat plates
Comb blanks and flat plates 200BC-AD800

Bone pins
Bone pins, Kerrera, Buiston, Burrian, Jarlshof and North Uist, Covesea. AD500-1100

Bone pins
Bone pins, Skara Brae, Broxmouth, Jarlshof, Roughout.

Bone pins and gaming pieces
Bone pins, AD600-1000 Burrian, Foshigarry, Jarlshof

Bone combs and decorative work
Bone combs, pendants, handles and belt sliders, AD500-1100. H.KL3

Bronze needles and bone cases
Bone needle cases, Freswick and Vallay AD800-1100
Bronze needles and bodkins, Balevullin, Freswick, Newstead, Swandro and Traprain Law 200BC-AD1000
Bronze shears, Loch Erribol, AD1-200.

Pin beaters
Pin beaters used in weaving. A’Cheardach Mhor, Dunbar and Jarlshof. 200BC-AD400

Bone needles and bodkins
Bone needles and bodkins. A’Cheardach Mohr, Burrian, Foshigarrt, Freswick, Jarlshof, Keiss & Newstead. 200BC-AD1000

Game Piece, 8-9th century
I think this little fellow is walrus ivory, a game piece in the shape of a cowled figure from Mail in the Orkneys, AD750-800. He looks similar to the hooded figures shown on the Pictish standing stones of the period.

Pagan Viking grave, Orkney
Bone comb from a pagan male Viking grave from a Viking and native cemetery on Orkney. Eighth-ninth century. The museum shows the grave as excavated.

Bone tools
Bone Mattock, knife and tool handles. Foshigarry, Vallay, Burrian, Cairston and Stromness. 200BC-AD800

Medieval

Antler comb
Antler comb from a woman’s grave, Cnip, c. AD1000.

Bone needle case
Bone needle case with remains of metal needles. Woman’s grave, Cnip, c. AD1000.

Bonework debris
Bonework debris, Bac Mhic Connain, Borough of Biordsay, Foshigarry, Gurness, Jarlshof and Westray, 4000BC-AD1500

Isle of Lewis Chess pieces - Knight
Knight from the Isle of Lewis chess set. This one’s a token effort. I’ll cover all the pieces in another post as I’ve been chasing them around the various musea that have them. Walrus Ivory, found in Uig, Lewis in 1831. Other pieces are in the British Museum. H.NS19023, H.NS 25-9.

Leather belt pieces and bone awls
Leather belt pieces and bone awls with off-cuts from leatherworking, from Fast Castle, Berwickshire.

Early Modern

Powder horn, James Graham Earl of Montrose
Powder horn belonging to James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose (25 October 1612 – 21 May 1650), his arms are engraved in the silver base plate.

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National Museum of Scotland – Leather Gallery

There’s a proverbial cow somewhere that’s starting to look nervous…

I’ve finally finished the first cut of the NMS photos. Here for your edification and viewing pleasure is the first lot of leather photos. I’ll do the skeletal materials photos in another post, and I’ve already done the leatherworker’s toolkit elsewhere. Click on them to embiggen if you want a closer view.

The full set of photos contain lots of stone and metalworking as well, I’ll also get the textiles and paint photos up in the Fullness of Time™.

Stone, bronze and iron age

Roman leather fragments, 100-175AD
Weaving comb and leather fragments. The triangular piece looks like it might have been from a tent. Newstead, 100-175AD

Decorated Leather panel, Newstead

Embossed and decorated leather chamfron panel, Newstead. 75-100AD

Roman and Celtic leather shoes

The one-piece shoe on the left is from Newstead (2nd C), the wooden last from Buiston and the two piece shoe from Iona (both 6-8th C). This is one of the problems with the NMS, they group similar items together even though there may be several centuries apart and from different cultures and imply a relationship between the objects that doesn’t necessarily exist.

Roman leather shoes

Multi-part shoes, Newstead 2nd Century AD. There’s at least two and possibly three different styles of shoe here.

Roman leather shoes

Multi-part shoes, Newstead 2nd Century AD. There’s some unrelated leather working tools on the top shelf.

British Leatherworking Tools

British leatherworking tools. Knives from Cairnholly, Cleughhead, Luce Sands, Traprain Law and Camelon. 7500BC-900AD. At least the dates are fairly obvious on this set, even if it does cover nearly 8000 years. The shoe is from Newstead.

British Leatherworking Tools

British leatherworking tools. Awls from Ruberslaw, Burrian, Druimvargie Cave, Foshigarry, Knop of Howar, MacArthur Cave, Skara Brae, Torran Dubh, Buiston and Newstead. 8500BC-900AD
Needles from Hillhead, West Grange of Conon and Laws of Monifieth. 300BC-800AD.

Medieval

Leather shoes 13-14th C

Leather shoes from the lead mining site at Sillerholes, West Linton, Peeblesshire. 13th to 14th century.

Leather belt pieces and bone awls

Leather belt pieces and bone awls with off-cuts from leatherworking, from Fast Castle, Berwickshire.

Shoe soles

Leather shoe soles. The one on the right is a child’s size. 15-16th century.

Early Modern

Shoe sole detail, Tomb of Mary Queen of Scots

Shoe sole detail, Tomb of Mary Queen of Scots. 1606-12. The cut in the sole for hiding the welting [see comment below] sole stitches can be clearly seen.

Bombard, seventeenth century

Large bombard from the 17th century, four layers of leather in the handle, possible traces of red paint on the back edge. H.JS32.

I have some detail photos here.

Scottish Bollock Knives, 17th C

Scottish Bollock Knives, 17th C

L: With gilt and engraved decoration indicating it belonged to the Master of Home. H.1991.1865.1

R: with scabbard and gilt and decoration on the blade, dated 1617. Scottish, probably Edinburgh. H.LC. 111a and b.

Note the diamond cross-section. Most earlier daggers of this type have triangular cross-section blades.

Tudor thread bobbins

I’m afraid this is another one of those posts where I show off while pretending that it’s really all to do with Tudor leather work. It was my turn on the lathe last Sunday afternoon, so I whipped up some copies of bobbins from the Mary Rose out of an off-cut piece of silky oak that was destined for the bin.

Mary Rose bobbins

One’s pretty much a copy of 81A1433, complete with hollow inside for storing needles, the other is similar but solid due to a borer hole that comes out the side.

Mary Rose bobbins

These are for my Stuart period leather worker’s tool box. See – it was relevant after all! As well as storing thread, the bobins can be used to maintain a tension on a thread when doing things like whipping rope.

They are just slightly under diameter because of the size of the timber I was using. 81A1433 apparently has some traces of paint so of course, I couldn’t control myself. The paint is artist’s oils because I wasn’t confident that ground pigment wouldn’t come off on the thread. Pigments are all ones in common use and the arrangement of colour is from seventeenth century painted furniture.

Mary Rose bobbins

Post script: even commercially prepared oil paints don’t stop lamp black from rubbing off over everything. Maybe I should use and iron or ivory black next time. I ended up putting a thin coat of varnish over the black to seal it and then waxed.

6-9th century leather worker’s toolkit

I’m about half way through the photos from the National Museum of Scotland, it takes a while to sort 800-odd pictures. I couldn’t resist the temptation to share this one. It’s a leather worker’s toolkit, dated from between AD650 and 950 * from Evie, Orkney.

Leatherworker's tool kit, 550-850AD

Leatherworker's tool kit, 550-850AD

The box is made from a single piece of timber, hollowed out so there’s no joint in the base for the heavy tools to push out. Some of the tinder boxes from the Mary Rose (82A0070, 81A1718, 81A3874 and 81A 5922) are done the same way, although in the latter case to keep moisture out of the tinder.

Leatherworker's tool kit, 550-850AD

Carving on the back of the tool box.

Leatherworker's tool kit, 550-850AD

Tool handles. The metal blades have obviously corroded, but many can be inferred from the handle shapes.

Leatherworker's tool kit, 550-850AD
Bone leather punches.

Leatherworker's tool kit, 550-850AD

Pumice, antler and leather thong. I wonder if the antler is an edge slicker?

The original can be seen in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.


* An earlier version of this post had incorrect dates of 550-850 for the finds.

Black jacks, part 2

So you want to make a black jack… You’ll neet to get the right materials, some equipment and the usual leather working tools. I’ll briefly touch on each of these before going on to discuss manufacture techniques. If you want to open part 1 in another window, you can cross-check the summary of requirements at the bottom to keep me honest.

Materials

I generally make my jacks and bottels from harness butt. It’s about 3.6 to 5mm thick, has a smooth matte surface and moulds exceptionally well. You need a thickish leather that moulds well and hasn’t been heat-treated.

You’ll need some dye, black is traditional. I’ve used a spirit based leather dye in the past, but am considering an iron-based dye for next time. This dye is chemically very similar to the ink Baker mentions, you could use ink, but avoid India inks as they are carbon in suspension and will shed black over everything.

Linen is the best thread to use, being accurate and strong. I have a 23km reel of fine thread I got on e-Bay from a mill that was closing down for not very much money. It is very fine, so I have to use six-ply on jacks. No, you can’t have some, get your own. Make sure you get enough, you’ll probably need to make two-ply if you use the thread that comes on cards in haberdasher or on reels from leather stores. You do that by cutting two equal lengths of thread, give them a moderate coat of wax and then roll them in one direction until they become a single thread. If the thread kinks or forms loops, you’re rolling them too tightly.

Which brings me on to the next item – wax. You can use pure beeswax quite happily, but if you are feeling adventurous, try coad, a 2:1 to 4:1 mixture of pitch and beeswax. The proportions are best worked out by experimentation, beeswax here is fairly soft for most of the year (and occasionally a sad-looking puddle) so I need more pitch. In Europe and North America, more beeswax may be beneficial. Have a look at this thread, but don’t get scared away by the technical detail some of the correspondents go in to. Plain wax works fine.

Equipment

Most of the equipment I use is in this photo below. The only thing missing is a short length of 90mm PVC storm water pipe that takes the place of the outer ring in Baker’s figure 72. If you have a tame blacksmith, by all means get a pair of iron rings made instead and earn bonus points for being hard-core.

Almost everything you need to make a jack.

Clockwise from the front left corner: there’s the wooden disk, 80mm diameter, 20mm thick that I use with the drain pipe as a substitute for Mr Baker’s paired iron rings; the hinged stretching frame, made from 100 x 50mm radiata pine  recovered from an old kitchen cabinet (the nine screws in the bottom right corner reinforce a split that runs along the grain); the mould/core turned up for me by a friendly woodturner from an old kauri pine table leg at the cost of approximately 3 beers and; the removable piece for moulding the spout made from offcuts of radiata.

Showing the way the frame boards are cut to match the mould core. ‘Scuse fingers.

Tools

You’ll need the usual implements of terror: harness needles or pig bristles if you can get them; a strong, sharp awl as some places are nearly 20mm thick; a sharp knife with a good point for cutting out the pattern and the handle – I use a Stanley knife/box cutter because I don’t yet have a half-moon knife and; a butter knife or embossing tool if you are going to do the parallel lines around the spout. You may also want some stamps if you are doing any stamped decoration.

Construction

Cutting the leather

Cut the requisite two pieces of leather. The main body piece should rectangular with the short side approximate the desired height of the finished jack and the long side equal to the circumference at the smallest diameter of the mould (near the top on mine) plus the width of the handle on each side, plus a bit extra for banging nails into. The long axis should lie across the hide to gain maximum advantage from the natural stretch of the leather. The other piece is roughly circular, the diameter of the wooden disk, plus at least twice the height. A bit more doesn’t hurt as it will be trimmed to shape later. I tend to hack these out of the odd sticky-out bits near the edge of the hide.

I didn’t do any photos of the cut-out bits, you know what a rectangle of leather looks like and should be able to infer from the later photos anyway.

Forming the base

Soak the leather, then place the wooden disk against the skin side in approximately the middle of the piece and then push the entire assembly into the end of the bit of drain pipe flesh side first. The pipe should compress the leather against the wooden disk, and if the sizes are right, result in a nice sharp transition. This is much the same method as used to form the ends of costrels, but a little easier as you are using a commercially available outer mould. Set aside to dry, the time will vary depending on where you live. If you live somewhere really cold or damp, put it in the oven at it’s lowest temperature for a couple of hours but take care it never approaches 70° C / 155° F as you don’t want the leather to harden. Again, no photos so have a look at the costrel end ones and imagine something similar… but round.

Forming the body

Watch carefully. Because there is some space at the top and bottom, draw some lines on the frame to help align the leather. Wet the leather and nail it in position on the back edge of the frame. This stops the leather stretching unevenly around the nails. If it’s too loose, you can always pry it off and re-nail it a little tighter as I had to on my first one.

The leather nailed in place and tightened around the former. I left the leather far too long on this first one, the second one was done with a shorter rectangle. You can see the crack in the frame opening up.

Then stuff the core in the middle and clamp, the threaded rods help the frame keep in alignment when tightening, but are probably unnecessary. Once that’s clamped properly and assumed the correct shape, squeeze the spout bit in. I found doing the two parallel lines around the spout with the back of the obligatory butter knife really worked the leather tightly in around the spout. Do any other tooling or stamping at this point.

The spout piece in place.

Once dry, remove loosen the bolts or unclamp and remove the nails and feel smug.

Dried, pried off and feeling smug.

How are we going against Baker’s list? I’ve used two pieces of leather, formed it on a wooden core with a removable spout piece and shaped the base using two iron ring substitutes. We did a little embossing around the spout while still on the core, although its a bit awkward working around the frame. So far so good.

Trimming

Pop the base out of the pipe, keeping the bit of wood inside. Trim the base to between 15 and 20mm high.

Take the body and cut out the handle, cut a couple of handle copies out of the waste. This one has a mid-17th century handle shape consistent with the double embossed lines around the spout.

All the bits cut out. The reinforcing pieces are cut from the waste. I suspect this is the stage Baker based his schematic on.

I’m cheating again. The photo below is from my second attempt at making a jack this way because my first was way too long and had more waste than I was aiming for. Let’s have a quick list check again: started with a single larger piece for the body, cut to shape and cut the reinforcing bits from the waste.

This is the waste from my second attempt. I doubt I could do much better starting from a rectangle.

You’ll need a welt the same height as the base with the length the same as the circumference as the base. I made mine up from several pieces cut from the bigger bits of scrap, beveling the ends so a single stitch could hold both in place. You could also use a separate strip, but I’m trying to stay within the confines of Mr Baker’s list. Now it’s time to dye all the parts (I’ve already done the base in the photo above) and let them dry.

Assembly

There’s not much to tell here, do the back seam first, followed by the seam that runs along the outside of the handle. The closer the back seam is to the crease between the handle and body, the stronger and easier to waterproof the jack will be. Then sew around the inside of the handle, and once done, cut out the centre of the handle.

Back seams done, handle cut and the base sewn in. I haven’t re-dyed the cut edges yet.

Pay close attention to the stitch spacing, and make sure the stitches are perpendicular to the surface. You also need to make sure they are in a straight line on both sides of the handle or it will look ugly and can lead to stitches being cut when you cut out the eye of the handle.

View from underneath showing base, welt and the intersection with the handle reinforcing parts.

Force in the base and welt and secure with two rows of stitching. That’s pretty much it. Do any trimming you need to tidy the edges, then re-dye. Neaten the cut edges by dampening and rubbing with a plastic slicker or piece of bone. I like using lamb bones as they bring the edge to a high gloss.

I usually do the painting at this point, but you can wait until after pitching if you’re worried that the heat will affect the paint.

Sealing

I have a hoard of black brewers’ pitch that I use for bombards and jacks.  I generally cover the outside with kitchen foil so any drops of pitch don’t mar the outside or stop the adhesion of the paint. Heat the pitch, pour in, slosh about so everything is covered and pour back in to the pitch pot again. The pitch should be hot enough to be runny, but not smoking. You can build up a good even coating with multiple coats if the first seems too thin. If blisters or runs are causing you problems, a couple of hours back in the oven at 60° C should help even out the surface although it will make everything slump towards the base slightly. Turn the oven off and allow to cool before removing the jack so you don’t craze the pitch. This step simulates the technique of hanging jacks in the smoke of a fire that Waterer talks about in Leather in Life Art and Industry.

Some people prefer to mix wax with the pitch to make it flow or to extend it. That doesn’t work for me as the pitch is soft enough as it is. Others use Envirotex or other food grade epoxy as some jurisdictions consider pitch to be a carcinogen. I’ll leave it up to you, but I think the risk is acceptably low as I use these less than once per month and am exposed to other carcinogens such as plasticisers on a far more regular basis.

Finishing

Varnish over any painting and then give the entire beast a good rub down with a wax furniture polish (or sealing wax dissolved in alcohol).

Summary

That more or less concludes the making of the jack within Mr Baker’s constraints. We’ve formed the base from a single piece of leather, worked over a round former. The body was cut as a single piece of leather, and after moulding around a wooden core with a removable spout piece, the waste around the handle was cut off and made into the reinforcing pieces. Embossing took place while still on the block and the handle wasn’t finished until after the stitching was complete.

I feel I have achieved all the self-imposed requirements based on Baker. My only additional step to those in the book was using a stretching frame. Other more skilled artisans than I may be able to mould a jack around a core with their bare hands, but I find it essential to compensate for my shortcomings and helpful in an early modern period style of mass-production.

I like to kid myself that if my methods approach the historical methods used to do something, my mistakes will resemble their mistakes. Here’s a picture of what uneven stitch tension did to one of my jacks, and to a seventeenth century one in the MoL collection.

This is what uneven tension did for me.

Similar problems in the 17th century. Sorry about the flash. For more information, see the MoL record.

Here’s two I prepared earlier. The one on the right is my first attempt.

Leatherwork at the MoL

These photos are from our visit to the Museum of London in 2006. The light levels in the museum can be quite low, so the photos sometimes are underexposed. The level of detail on the placards was also fairly limited, but most of these items have been published by the MoLAS if you want to read up further.

I’ll keep the captions brief and to the point.

Roman leatherworking tools found around London, 1-3C AD.
Roman leatherworking tools found around London, 1-3C AD.
Leatherworking tools, about 14th century.

Leatherworking tools, about 14th century. The small costrel in the middle is often cited as evidence for sand moulding. I can't see how you'd sand mould the ribs or why you'd need to once you'd moulded the ends and neck.

Small decorated knife sheath, 15th century.

Small decorated knife sheath, 15th century.

Leather glove, 15th c. from Bankside Southwark. The cutout for the thumb stall is teardrop shaped, there is a repaired tear across the mitten.

Leather glove, 15th c. from Bankside Southwark. The cutout for the thumb stall is teardrop shaped, there is a repaired tear across the mitten.

Leather costrel, 1400s. More on these in a later blog.

Leather costrel, 1400s. More on these in a later blog.

Arrow spacer, 1400-1500. These were sewn into linen arrow bags, protecting the feathers from crushing. The small notches allow small broadheads to pass through.

Arrow spacer, 1400-1500. These were sewn into linen arrow bags, protecting the feathers from crushing. The small notches allow small broadheads to pass through. We've made a copy of this one and found it worked really well.

Archer's armguard, 1500-1550. Found in Worship Street, another of virtually identical shape was found in Newport, Wales.

Archer's armguard, 1500-1550. Found in Worship Street, another of virtually identical shape was found in Newport, Wales.

Leather ink well.

Leather ink well.

Stylus case for holding styli for use with wax tablets.

Stylus case for holding styli for use with wax tablets.

Jack - the pewter lid is a later addition

Jack, 15th-17th century from the shape of the handle - the pewter lid is a later addition. Compare this with the ones at Warwick Castle.

Jack, handle view. The twist in the body is caused by uneven tension when sewing the back seam.

Jack, handle view. The twist in the body is caused by uneven tension when sewing the back seam. I've only done it this severly once.

Iron-bound leather fire bucket.

Iron-bound leather fire bucket. I suspect this is late 17th century or even more recent.

Sewn leather fire bucket. Decoration is painted, the letters "SB" on the top row, "B" in the middle and the date "1666" on the bottom row.

Sewn leather fire bucket. Decoration is painted, the letters "SB" on the top row, "B" in the middle and the date "1666" on the bottom row.

Pen knife and moulded leather case. Mid-17th century.

Pen knife and moulded leather case. Mid-17th century.

Front left: Leather tennis ball, stuffed with dog hair.

Front left: Leather tennis ball, stuffed with dog hair.