The Nydam Quiver – part 1

Those of you who have stumbled over my other blog may have seen the series of posts on my reconstruction of a leather quiver from the Danish town of Hedeby. This series is on the reconstruction of a 4th century wooden quiver from Nydam Mose, Southern Jutland, Denmark. The standard reference for the quivers is Rau  Remarks on finds of wooden quivers from Nydam mose Southern Jutland in Archaeologica Baltica 8, 2007, which is conveniently available as a pdf on Academia. I’m making the solid wooden quiver that starts on page 145 of the ref.

Fig. 4 from Rau. The partly assembled fragments of the solid wooden quiver (left), and the single fragments immediately after the discovery in 1997 (right). The numbers are find numbers, not dimensions.

The theory is that the outside of the quiver was turned on a lathe, it was then taken off, split down the middle, hollowed out by hand and then all glued, pegged and tied together again.

For another account of making a Nydam quiver, have  a look at Einarr Josepsson’s account. Einarr uses cherry, I’m using field maple (as probably was the original). It’s considered a weed here because it grows quickly and distributes seeds copiously. The different properties of these timbers and the differences in the growing conditions account for a lot of the differences in our experiences and approaches.

I’ll divide this account into a few parts to keep it manageable.

Start with a tree. Here’s one I prepared earlier. I’ve stuck with the estimate from Rau and started with a section of log about 800mm long.

Start with a tree
Section of field maple log, circa 2005

This one is from a tree mum had lopped about 12 years ago. You can see that it it splitting at the top, but I suspected that the ugliness down the left side had twisted the grain and didn’t think I’d get a sufficiently large piece if I split it. I’ve only ever seen one tree from this area that had straight enough grain to reliably split, that was a Silky Oak I’ve just finished turning into bowl turning blanks. I do have green field maple from another tree we’ve had to drop recently, but nothing was longer than 600mm.

Sawn log
Sawn log with rough quiver size marked. The red, grey and brown are all stains left by a naturally occurring fungus. If the Nydam quiver was made from seasoned wood, it would have had these marks too.

I’ve run the chainsaw down the centre of the pith, which was off to one side of the log. The remaining pith will be removed during the turning process because that’s where all the cracks will start. I can only get away with it because I’m not leaving any time between cutting and turning.

Log on a lathe
Mounted on the lathe. I lost my nerve at this point, took it off again and knocked the corners off with a bench plane.

As Einarr mentions, the original would have been turned on a pole lathe. I don’t have a pole lathe, and as your quintessential 120 pound weakling, I don’t have the weight to keep something this big turning. I compensate by having several hundred kilos of the finest Kiwi cast steel with a bloody big motor attached. Stand well back and light blue touch paper.

Rough out a cylinder at a bit over the maximum diameter.
Refine the shape, then mark on all the grooves and flats.

Each of the grooves held some organic material, which Rau suggests would have been sinew. Real sinew has elastic properties when damp, shrinks as it dries and a collection of proteins that act like a glue.

Refine the shape and cut all the grooves.

The turning is largely finished at this point. I had a brief discussion with Einarr on my leatherwork blog about why they didn’t hollow out the quiver while on the lathe. The response was that there was no way of holding an object on the lathe while hollowing it out, and there wasn’t a treadle/pole lathe with the torque to take the job on. I thought I’d try with the modern weapons of turning to see if we could do it now.

This is about as far as I could get. There isn’t really room to get tools in on a modern lathe. At least I did manage to define the shape and curves at either end.

Slitting the outside, repeat on the other side.

Despite the grain turning out to be straighter than I had expected, I still didn’t really trust my ability to split it straight without splintering the turning or chipping out the grooves, so I made a pair of guide cuts with the finest saw I own, and then split it with a wedge at either end.


Now to hollow it out. This seems to be a good spot to stop for now. If you’re wondering what happened to the ugly part of the log, it made a couple of bowls.

The originals of these were found in waterfront contexts in London, the bowl is dated 1230-70, the two shallow dishes are 1270-1350. The originals were made from ash.

2 thoughts on “The Nydam Quiver – part 1

  1. It’s fascinating for one who has absolutely zero experience w wood. I’ve always wanted to learn, but it wasn’t allowed for girls, when I was in school. Nor was there the money, while raising our family. Now, I’m too frail. 😢

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