Although the tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress is outdoors and the castle is under construction, guests have nevertheless asked: “What kind of furniture did they have in the Middle Ages?” Basically their furniture was like that of our early colonial times on the eastern frontier. Most of it was oak. All of it except special items for the very rich was very plain but practical. A flat board in the Middle Ages had to be either split and smoothed or hewn with an axe and smoothed or painstakingly cut with a pit saw and smoothed. My point is that finishing the oak to the point where people didn’t get slivers was a lot of work.
People of the Medieval had no excess furniture. A basic chest of wood was much valued over keeping possessions in a basket. The early chests were made of hollowed logs or tree trunks and, therefore became known as “trunks”. Beds were made of heavy boards raised off the floor on low trestles or on logs, with straw filled mattresses. Later the Normans developed the enclosed, curtained bed that predated the four-poster beds. The curtains were for providing warmth and privacy.
Tables were also made of flat oak boards, primarily set on trestles as well. A trestle could be made like a modern saw horse to allow for the table to be easily moved or stored away. This was especially the case in the Great Hall. Otherwise, it was common to build the table with the legs or “trestles” attached. This would be the case in places like the kitchen, workshops or at the community oven. At the Ozark Medieval Fortress this is the type of trestle table seen. Similarly, benches were made like the table with shorter legs. Even though the furniture was simple, the carpentry work was carefully done to make the pieces strong and durable. Mortise and tenon joints, lap joints and dove-tail joints with wooden pegs all provided reliability. Stools and benches were the rule: chairs were the exception.
At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, the carpenters have made tables and benches in the Medieval style for outdoor use by our guests. Later, as the castle nears completion, they will be busy making interior furnishings. Even before that can be done, however, many oak boards will have to be sawed and carefully prepared for floors, roof beams and doors.
There is a lot more to building a castle than first meets the eye!