Spiffing up your Campsite...

A 10th Century Norwegian Bed


Charles. Oakley, Esq.

Being based upon an actual model removed from the 10th Century Gokstad ship.


Gentle folk of the SCA;

Contained within this pamphlet are the plans for the construction of a reproduction of an actual "period" bed. The original bed was made for a dear friend of mine and I know present you with these plans whereby you may also make such a bed.

The dimensions given in this pamphlet reflect the bed as I originally constructed it and they are intended for a bed that would use as its mattress a standard "full size" air mattress. Should you chose to use some other form of mattress please adjust these plans accordingly.

As always... these plans are for the general and free use of all who would find use in them. Please feel free to copy them and distriubute them to your friends, chroniclers, ets.

Have fun... make stuff...


The following is from the book. This is the source book in which I found the picture of the bed and that which inspired me to make it.

"Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Norway" by Marta Hofmann

In the famous Oseberg barrow, remains of five beds were found, all of beech, one of them very stately with carved animal heads at the top of the head-boards (3).This bed has now been reconstructed with great accuracy on the basis of the many pieces found at the excavation, and measurements, photographs and observations made at the time by Professor Gabriel Gustafsson .

The best-preserved of' this simpler type belongs to the Gokstad ship from the tenth century. Its state of preservation made it possible to assemble it completely with its four cornerposts. The only part lacking was the bottom, which could be reconstructed since all the holes for the slats were intact (Figure 18.2). This bed was exceptionally long, 227 cm, and 109 cm wide, while another bed from the Gokstad ship was only 140 cm long and 110 cm wide.

....Straw or hay seems to have been the common material to sleep on, but other similar material might have been used. In the Viking beds it must have been stuffed into a sack so as not to fall through. The same type of slatted base was common in western Europe. I In the beds with a solid base, the straw was probably placed directly on the bed, as it has been up to our time. The sagas mention the bed-straw, and it occurs in combination with lik, corpse (likstra -corpse-straw) meaning lying dead, or lying at death's door.

Now that we have the "documentation" dispensed with... letís make a bed......

List of Materials:

To make this bed (as I describe it here), you will need the following materials:

  1. (4) 3"x3"x29" posts. I used Basswood as it was the only material that I could find at the time with the appropriate dimensions... without a lot of resawing... the original bed used Beech wood... if you can find it... let me know...
  2. 1"x6"x80" pine... fir would be better if you can get good quality clear stuff... avoid knots... this will weaken the structure and as these particular boards will be used for the sides of the bed and will be carrying ALL the weight... get good stuff... as a matter of fact... you might even want to consider going with a hardwood for the frame... Its heavier but if you have the cargo capacity... go for it...
  3. 1"x6"x 61" pine... again fir would be better... hardwood better yet. These will be the end boards of the bed... they donít carry any particular weight.. but consistancy of appearance counts...
  4. 1"x8"x58" pine... (etc., etc.) This will be the middle "slat" on the bed. I made this one larger than the others for strength purposes.
  5. 1"x6"x58" pine... (hey... you know what goes in here....) These will be the remaining "slats" in the floor of the bed.

The wedges will be cut from the various scraps left over as you make the bed.

The First Process:

Figure 1Figure 2

A good place to start making the bed is to "machine" the leg blanks (figure 1). Figure 2 shows the decorative cuts made at the top of each leg. What I suggest is to draw each of these cuts onto the leg end prior to making the cuts... I used a bandsaw with a 3/4" wide blade to do this work... a good handsaw will work equally well. Each of the cuts are numbered in the order in which I made them when I made the prototype bed.

When you have finished all the cuts (there will be four sets of cuts per leg...), sand, scrape or otherwise finish and try to remove most of the tooth marks from your blade.

The Next Step:

Now... take each of these legs and lay out the mortises. (REMEMBER: the dimensions that I give here are for the bed as I made it... if you are planing on using different materials or changing the dimensions of the bed you may want to double check your measurements... they might differ from what I will give you.)

Figure 2 shows the locations of the mortises. All mortises go completely through the 3" leg.

If you look carefully at the layout though youíll note that while each of the mortises are 2 inches long the total run length from the top of first mortise to the bottom of the last mortise is identified as 5 ½" inches. Ah-ha!!! The reason for this is that a 1"x6" piece of dimensional lumber (i.e. thatís the stuff you buy out of lumberyards...) is not actually 6" wide... What this means is that you should lay out the double mortise (as shown in Figure 2) and then the single mortise that is cut through the perpendicular face (the middle 2" mortise) is centered. The mortises will actually overlap inside the leg... this is o.k.

If youíre not comfortable with laying out the mortises at this point... letís move on to cutting the side boards and then you can come back and cut the mortises after you have the tenons made so that you can verify how everything will fit through the leg.... Best to be sure. The legs are probably going to be the most expensive pieces of wood in your bed and you donít want to be buying any more of them than youíll really need.


The End Rails:

This is a pretty easy piece to cut. Take the 1"x 6"x 61" stuff and lay it out as described in Figure 3. Now... chances are youíre not going to buy a piece of lumber exactly 61" long... more likely your piece will be 72" long... er... 6 feet... cut the board to length before you lay it out and save those end pieces... weíll have 14 wedges to make later...)

figure 3

You should also make note of the mortise on the end of the tenon. This mortise will be where one of the wedges drives through. Note: One of the things Iíve found for cutting these and making your life easier is to lay out the mortise with a pencil and then, using a 3/4" spade or forsner drill bit, drill out the center of the mortise first... use a very sharp chisel to remove the balance of the material. If your chisel begins to crush the material rather than cutting the material give serious consideration to sharpening your chisel...

When you have both ends of both end rails cut as described above it will be time to move along to....

The Side Rails:

This piece has the most cuts of all. Layout is important here. Things need to line up properly. When you cut the tenons on the end of these pieces you should cut them out as described in Figure 4. Later in the process when we begin test fitting all the parts you will probably be triming these tenons down a bit... But for now go ahead and cut them out 2" wide.... (if they are a touch thinner than 2" though it shouldnít hurt anything...).


The next thing to do with each of the side rails will be to cut the mortises along the run of the rail into which the slats will be inserted. To begin this process, find the center of the run of the board (i.e. the middle of the board along its length). This will mark the location of the center slat (the 1"x8" piece).

The center slat mortise is 3/4" wide and 4½" in length. The other four slat mortises are 3/4" wide and 4" in lenght. Again.. drilling the centers first will help to simplify the process and... if you have a good jigsaw you can cut use that to cut out the mortises rather than chisling them all out.

When you lay out the mortises you should place the bottom of the slat mortise 2" up from the bottom of the rail... this will give good structural support to the slats and put the stress line even with the top of the bottom tenon.

Nearing the end....

The next process is to cut the tenons on the end of the bottom slats. Take the 1"x8" piece and lay out the ends of the board as described in Figure 6.

This mortise is made the same way as all the others.... you should be getting really good at it by now....

Next... take the rest of those 1"x6" pieces... (the rest of the slats... ) and layout and cut them as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 6

The Wedges:

Cutting out the wedges isnít all that much rocket science.... take up a bunch of the scrap pieces youíve got laying around and lay out some things along the line of what Iíve described in Figure 8.... youíll note that the measurements arenít precise. Iíve found that wedges get lost... joints shift with wear and mosture, etc., etc. etc... Now, nothing is worse on wood joints than forcing them... therefore I make lots of wedges... extras... if, on a particular day one wedge doesnít fit well... hummm... try another one. Lose a wedge at that last event... no problem... dip into the olí wedge bag and get another.

Fit and Finish:

O.k.... if youíve gotten this far you should have all the parts cut... (and have already tried fitting stuff together or else youíre actually reading the directions first.... hummm). Anyway... some words about fit and finish...

First: because the nature of the woods used in this project is normally considered to be "unstable"... that is, they have a tendancy to react dramatically to humidy levels as regards swelling and shrinkage... the mortise and tenon joints used in this project should result in a firm but not overly tight fit.... The same with the wedges. You might have to tap them a bit with a mallet to set them... but if you find that you need more than taps... break out the sandpaper and rasps and work with the tenon or the moritise to ensure a good fit... and stay consistant... if you are going to work with the tennon... work with all tenons. This will help to ensure that any wedge will fit into any mortise and tenons are interchangable... Consistancy counts.

Second: I havenít found anything that relates to what kind of finish was used... if any.. on this bed... I used 3 coats of tung oil, sanding between coats... You will probably want to use something to help reduce swelling.

A case for the use of beds in medieval camping:

This woodblock print was originally included in the great Cologne Bible of 1478-1480. The Cologne Bible was the first the printed bibles systematically illustrated with story telling pictures. The woodblock tells the tale of Judith, who according the story in the Book of Judith was a virtuous widow who was prepared to risk her honor to save her country. Holofernes (the guy missing his head inside of the pavilion) was the general who had laid siege to Judithís city. Judith made love to Holofernes in his pavilion and when he was Ďfilled with wineí took his sword and cut off his head. She put the head in a sack which her maid had brought with her and, under the pretense of going to prayer she made her way back to the city where she was hailed as a heroine.

Now, I wonít comment on the veracity of this heroic tale but will draw the readerís attention to several details in the above woodblock print.... note the bed contained within the pavilion. It is clearly a platform bed set up on legs and containing a frame. There is a bolster (pillow) on the bed and there are both under sheets and over sheets or blankets. Note also that there is a cloth laid-out on the ground where the poor deceased General had laid out his armor... however, his shield is stored within his pavilion and is set up against what appears to be an interior curtain.

While one can not make the case from the above evidence that the use of beds was necessarily commonplace, one can say with certainty that it was not beyond imagination the artist who executed the above woodblock to place a bed within a pavilion. As art relating to religious subjects was rather was required to meet certain rigid standards and conventions I am inclined to believe that, although the scene depicted is undoubtedly imaginary (lets face it... Judith didnít live during the time period depicted....) the scene in the illustration none the less depicts things that existed ... and the manner in which they existed... during or approximate to the time period in which the artist worked. If one accepts that artists draw from experience and life then a strong case can be made that, given the above woodblock print, at least in some cases beds were placed within pavilions.

Source: Pictures from a Medieval Bible by James Strachan,

Beacon Press, Boston, 1959

You are customer 4 since I installed the counter