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A tragedy of epic proportions.
February 9, 2014 10:11 PM   Subscribe

What tools did the Vikings use to construct their ships? During the early years of the Song dynasty, while Sridhar Acharya's concept of "zero" was making it's way westward and a pair of anonymous Anglo-Saxon poets was committing the tale of Beowulf to animal skin, a Viking craftsman lost his tool chest. It is speculated that the chest fell overboard off a ship or through the ice into what was then a swamp on the modern island of Gotland, Sweden. The chest was unearthed in 1936 when a chain attached to the chest got caught on a farmer's plow. In it were the tools a Viking blacksmith/ship builder would need to ply his trade. Named the Mästermyr chest its discovery was a boon to archaeologists, historians, re-enactors, woodworkers and blacksmiths. The original tools (catalogue of the items) were restored and put on display. Numerous copies and tributes of the chest or selected tools have been made over the years including a complete replica of both the chest and contents made using period techniques as a 'net project of a blacksmiths and woodworkers.

The book The Mästermyr Find: A Viking Age Tool Chest from Gotland is a detailed examination of the chest and contents.

Good pictures of the exterior of the original chest approximately a 1/3rd of the way down this page.

While not concentrating solely on the Mästermyr chest the Viking Answer Lady page is probably the best overview out of everything I linked so start there if you don't plan on perusing all the links.
posted by Mitheral (37 comments total) 88 users marked this as a favorite

 
Heh, you've been looking at my vacation to-do list, haven't you?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:53 PM on February 9


It's odd to note that the tools depicted here were the server farms or 747's of their day. I boggle when I consider that we humans started with rocks and ended up, thus far, with computers. The Viking Answer Lady page is a feast amongst plenty here. Thanks for this.
posted by vapidave at 11:28 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]


The Mishna says that the first tools were tongs, and they were made by God - because you can build a forge out of earth and make a hammer from a rock, but you need tongs to make tongs. Once you have a blacksmith's shop, though, you can make anything.

My favorite tool is Johanssen Blocks: they're gauge blocks that are optically flat. The amazing thing is that you can make them with hand tools! My dad had to do it as part of his apprenticeship. In fact, a Viking could probably have made them with the contents of that chest.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:50 PM on February 9 [6 favorites]


Who is Sridhar Acharya? Ref concept of zero
posted by infini at 12:25 AM on February 10


That viking dude had a seriously shitty day.
posted by qinn at 1:13 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Heh, you've been looking at my vacation to-do list, haven't you?

* Step 1: Loot Monastery.

* Step 1: Build longboat, then loot monastery.

* Step 1: Obtain funds to replace tools, then build longboat, then loot monastery.


Step 1: Brainstorm plans to obtain funds to replace tools. (Loot monastery?)
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:24 AM on February 10 [11 favorites]


Interesting to see a padlock amongst the tools in the box.
posted by three blind mice at 4:36 AM on February 10


yeah, I want to see more about the locks too.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:01 AM on February 10


Viking locks! When you don't want Erik to plunder your own stuff! Caveat: I don't know anything about Viking locks, just some earlier locks, and indeed some of these look more advanced and tricky.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:08 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


The Mishna says that the first tools were tongs, and they were made by God - because you can build a forge out of earth and make a hammer from a rock, but you need tongs to make tongs.

I was once told that the Microsoft C Compiler was written in Microsoft C.
posted by Foosnark at 5:14 AM on February 10


I was once told that the Microsoft C Compiler was written in Microsoft C.

Not true -- it was built with a tong.
posted by NiceKitty at 5:18 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]


my work blocks the The Viking Lady Answer Page as cult/occult.

weird.

but this looks like an awesome post. nice to have something not completely controversial to read on a monday :)
posted by sio42 at 5:19 AM on February 10


I thought the first Platonic form was the cylinder.

"From these extremities depended the spindle of Necessity, by means of which all its revolutions are made to revolve. The spindle’s stalk and its hook are made of adamant, 5 and the whorl of a mixture of adamant and other kinds of elements."
posted by sieve a bull at 5:23 AM on February 10


It's amazing how little the hand tools have changed over 1000 years. For a second I thought that hacksaw was the rusty old one I've got in my garage.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:59 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


I was once told that the Microsoft C Compiler was written in Microsoft C.

Well, generally speaking, every C compiler is written in C. Except the first one. (That one, of course, was built with a tong.)
posted by illongruci at 6:29 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


So much cool stuff to dig through. I love hand tool woodworking and a lot of these blogs are new to me.

Roy Underhill (who should be designated a national treasure) did a Woodwright's Shop episode on it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:46 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Yes, tongs. I've made two sets so far in my brief tenure at the forge. I've just snapped up a copy of the book from the amazon link and now I have something to point to the next time I take a blacksmithing class or just get some forge time and I'm asked what I want to do, because, no, I don't want to make replicas of He-Man's sword.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:48 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


ursus_comiter: no, I don't want to make replicas of He-Man's sword.

what

I can't imagine ever being in a place in my life where I say those words in that order. May King Randor have mercy on your soul.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:51 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


We have wood working tools that belonged to my great-grandfather, and they nearly as alien to me as some of these in terms of what they're used for or how they're used in the first place. Be it 30 years or centuries, it's incredible the gulf that lost knowledge can create.
posted by Atreides at 7:07 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


It's odd to note that the tools depicted here were the server farms or 747's of their day.

i'm not so sure this would hold up if you compared these to Japanese and Chinese woodworking technology from 1000 AD. I think these Viking tools might be the rootkit written in Visual Basic of it's age: simple tools designed for piracy and brigandage.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:08 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


I just saw this DVD in an email in the last day, if you're inclined with tools: Build a Viking Tool Chest with Don Weber
posted by oddphantom at 7:57 AM on February 10


I have seen it theorized by a blacksmith that "the Mastermyr chest was not a smith's working toolbox at all; but a smith's project box/scrap pile." He noted that the chest contains files and a hacksaw suitable for locksmithing (and indeed finished locks), but the chest itself had a long-broken lock and was closed with a chain. The theory also explains why the chest contains several unhandled tools heads and various other bits of metal.

It's an interesting theory.
posted by jedicus at 8:07 AM on February 10


I think these Viking tools might be the rootkit written in Visual Basic of it's age: simple tools designed for piracy and brigandage.

I'm sure this is supposed to be a joke on Visual Basic's part, but I don't really agree that Viking age ships were designed for piracy and brigandage any more than any other culture's ships. They were just better at it for a short, extremely influential period of time. They get an outsized reputation for savagery in part because they were late converts to Christianity. When they started doing the same things under the Christian cross against pagan states, they were not called Vikings but Crusaders.
posted by muddgirl at 8:19 AM on February 10


jedicus: " The theory also explains why the chest contains several unhandled tools heads and various other bits of metal."

A lot of working toolboxes accumulate spares and detritus. Mine sure do requiring a good cleaning every year or so.
posted by Mitheral at 9:04 AM on February 10




I was once told that the Microsoft C Compiler was written in Microsoft C.

Not true -- it was built with a tong.


I've often daydreamed about taking a particular device in my house, listing the machines used to make it, then the machines used to making them, then the machines (and tools) to make those, and so on and so forth, to see how far you could go until it's some dude banging rocks together.
posted by ocschwar at 10:58 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


> I've often daydreamed about taking a particular device in my house, listing the machines used to make it, then the machines used to making them, then the machines (and tools) to make those, and so on and so forth, to see how far you could go until it's some dude banging rocks together.

Reminds me of The Toaster Project
posted by Space Coyote at 11:52 AM on February 10


I have made tongs in Smithy workshop back in engineering school in the third world.
posted by infini at 12:04 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Norse Rune code cracked
posted by homunculus at 5:14 PM on February 10


Not true -- it was built with a tong.

And I put my pant on and then I put the other pant on.

Well, dammit.
posted by bricoleur at 7:52 PM on February 10


Dagnabit, the link I posted broke. Here's another: 900-year-old Viking code cracked to reveal secret message
posted by homunculus at 9:35 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


We have wood working tools that belonged to my great-grandfather, and they nearly as alien to me as some of these in terms of what they're used for or how they're used in the first place. Be it 30 years or centuries, it's incredible the gulf that lost knowledge can create.

You may want to check out Anarchist's Tool Chest, which is about the hand tools one needs in a shop for woodworking, and how to use them, and so forth. Including building what's effectively the standard chest most trained western woodworkers used for their stuff, pre-powertools.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:24 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Witches, Wise Women, and Widows: A Cultural Look at Viking RPG The Banner Saga
posted by homunculus at 10:25 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


homunculus thanks for that link. It brings home to me again what I've tended to say, and perhaps now I might write it out on a blog somewhere. That our current day society has completely forgotten and erased the role of the middle aged women - the wise women, the healers, the witches and the seers. "The elders" or whatever we used to call them in each culture.
posted by infini at 11:55 PM on February 21


and perhaps now I might write it out on a blog somewhere.

If you do, please link it here.
posted by homunculus at 12:36 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Not quite the passionate, well worded rant that emerges when I declaim this to some young woman seeking guidance but tempered perhaps with the knowledge that it'll be a mefi comment, here's your link, homunculus. You inspired a whole new blog.
posted by infini at 11:58 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Excellent! Thank you!
posted by homunculus at 1:09 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Ah, Vikings is back. I was afraid they might have canceled it on account of Ragnarok.
posted by homunculus at 7:30 PM on February 27


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