Spiffing up your Campsite...

A period "Chandelier"

Master Charles Oakley, Esq.

Over the years I've written a number of "how to" plans for building a variety of furniture items that could be used for SCA camping. Some of these are whole-cloth "SCA useful" items that I wouldn't be able to document as being historical if my life depended on it. Others, while staying true to a historic piece, fall into the category of "historically informed"1 pieces. Most of these pieces are "adaptations" of period pieces in which materials have been substituted, minor alterations in joinery have been made or other accommodations to the needs of our "current middle ages" have been employed. Let's face it... we don't have armies of servants and minions to haul our stuff around... nor do we have unlimited funds to add additional wagons to our caravans if our stuff exceeds our ability to move it.

By "historically informed" I refer to pieces that have historic models either in existing as surviving pieces that have somehow escaped all of the horrors that can befall things made out of wood over 500 plus years... or pieces that exist only in by the grace of some talented artists hands.

One of the most common questions I receive is "When you're looking at a medieval painting and building a piece from that... how do you know that what you're doing is historically correct?" Fact is... I don't. For example, there is no way of telling, from a picture; exactly what kind of wood was used. While some detailed artwork does do a good job of showing how a piece was joined and constructed... it may leave out certain details. Those details are left to the imagination... and educated guesswork.

This project is a period chandelier. The source is an picture from Rene d'Anjou's treatise (Bibliotheque Nationale MS Fr 2693 f.70v) and can be found in the book "Tournaments".2 Whether or not such a chandelier ever actually existed is, of course, open to a certain degree of speculation. On the other hand, the artist that painted the picture did set down something that seemed reasonable to his eye.

The arguments for the piece being historically informative are:

  1. The subject and content of the painting is secular and does not appear to contain allegorical elements.
  2. The painting, as a whole, is detailed and proportionally reasonable.
  3. The picture contains a high degree of information about the piece's construction.
  4. The construction elements appear to be appropriate to the piece.
Close examination of the chandelier shows certain details about it.
  1. The basic construction appears to be formed by two boards that are half-lapped in the center forming a cross..
  2. There is a mortise cut through the center of the cross into which the tenon from from a vertical piece of wood is inset. The top of this vertical arm has a hole through which a suspension rope is tied.
  3. At the end of each cross arm is a container that holds a candle.
  4. The entire chandelier construction is suspended from the ceiling by a rope from a block through which a pin is set.
  5. The candles appear to be bundles of smaller candles. This would create a flame from multiple wicks casting greater light (although probably burning pretty fast!).
  6. The construction does not appear to be highly finished or embellished in any way.

The picture does not provide the following information:

  1. The wood used in the construction is unknown.
  2. The actual size of the construction is unknown.
  3. The manner and construction of the block from which the chandelier is suspended is vague and uninformative beyond a general description of the mechanism.
  4. The manner in which the tenon is secured in the cross arm mortise is not defined.
  5. How the block arrangement is suspended from the overhead is not defined.
  6. How the candle containers are secured and what the candle containers are made of is unknown.

My version of the chandelier:

Not having a physical model to base my chandelier on, I chose to scale the design to one that would fit conveniently in my pavilion, suspend from the center pole and have what I consider to be a proportional esthetic to its surroundings. In other words, I made one that looked good where I put it.

My version of the chandelier, as seen in the picture to the right, is very similar to the one shown in the manuscript in all of the critical aspects. It is composed of two crossed boards, lap jointed and held together by a tenoned vertical board which is, in turn, suspended from a block. I used votive candles rather than the multi-wicked candles shown in the picture and put them into votive glasses that are glued to the cross pieces. The block is suspended by a rope from the peak of the center pole of my pavilion. The chandelier can be raised and lowered by means of the rope running through the block.

Constructing a "period" chandelier:

The chandelier itself is made of three boards.

and 2 - 14" x 3.5" boards 5/8" thick
1 - 10.75" x 1.5" x .75"

There is a small wedge to be cut as well... so look through your scrap pile for a small piece that will suit this purpose.

As you can see from the picture to the left... the construction is rather simple. On each of the 14" x 3.5" boards you should remove half the thickness of the boards across the center of the board. This "dado" will be the width of the boards themselves ... in this case 3.5". Then, "saddle" the boards together and set them aside for the moment.

Next... take the 10.75"x1.5" piece and do the following operations:
1. Round one end and bore a hole that will allow your rope to pass through it.
2. Cut two "shoulders" on the opposite end to form a tenon. The depth of these shoulders isn't all that critical... mine are a little less than a quarter of an inch.
3. Cut a mortise through the tenon following the general description in the drawing below.

When cutting the mortise through the tenon you want to be sure that the distance between the shoulder and the top of the mortise is less than the thickness of your crossed boards. This will help to ensure that the wedge will snug up the crossed boards to the hanger board when you set it.

4. Once the hanger board has been cut and all the machining operations finished, measure the size of your tenon and then lay out and cut... in the exact center of your crossed pieces... the mortise that will receive the hanger tenon.
5. Test fit the pieces and, after you have a good fit... cut the wedge that will fasten it all together.

Note: If you examine the picture of the original illustration you won't see the wedge underneath. One possible explanation is that the original was not intended to come apart. If that was the case, it is probable that the tenon was either glued into place or set with a wedge in the manner that ax and hammer handles are set. That is... the wedge was driven into a kerf in the tenon to spread it against the surrounding mortise.

6. Glue (I used a silicone adhesive) the four votive glasses to the cross pieces.

Constructon of the block:

The block isn't a particularly difficult piece to build.
1. Cut two pieces of .75" material 2" wide and 5.5" long.
2. To each piece, round one end.
3. Bore a 5/8" hole through the rounded end. The exact location of this hole is only somewhat important. The center of the hole should be located 1/2 the width of the piece... it should also be located far enough from the rounded end that the pulley in the block isn't exposed beyond the bottom of the block.

One trick to make sure that the holes are perfectly in line is to clap the two pieces squarely together so that when you bore the holes you bore both pieces at the same time.

4. Cut one piece of .75" material 2" wide and 2.75" long. Turning this piece on edge, drill a 1/2" hole through the length of the block....
5. When I made my pulley, I chucked up a piece of wood in the lathe (yep... they had em') and turned out a piece 1.75" in diameter with a groove running around the outside edge that the rope could lay in. This isn't specifically necessary though. You can also take a piece of .75" material and, using a compass, draw out a circle of that size and cut it out on a scroll saw or bandsaw. After you have done this, bore a 11/32" hole in the center of the pully. This hole is slightly larger than the dowel you'll be assembling the block with so that the pulley turns freely.
    6. Using a piece of 5/8" dowel rod, assemble the pulley. Push the dowel through one of the 5/8" holes of the long side pieces...seat the pulley over it. Put some glue on one side of the short block piece (the one you cut in step 4) and place it on the end of the long block piece away from the pulley. Put some glue on the other side of the short block and sandwich it between the two long blocks. Clamp all of this up (it should look like the block I made at this point... or something similar...) and let the whole mess dry. It shouldn't be necessary to glue the dowel that you're using as an "axle" for the pulley.
    7. After the whole mess dries (24 hours or there about)... take the block back to your drill and bore 4 - 3/8" holes in the thick end of your block along the lines shown on the pattern above. Bore all the way through the block. When you've finished, glue 4 pieces of 3/8" dowel into these holes.

    While not critically important to the block given the light load it will be bearing, it does give a certain appearance value and... if the block were being used for heavier weights, would actually contribute to the strength of the block.

    Hanging it up:

    At this point, all you have to do is to first (and it works better this way... believe me...) feed some rope through the long hole in the block.. Pull the end through and tie an overhand knot near the end of the rope. Trim any excess and then pull the rope back through the block so that only the knot is left inside.

    Then, tie a length of rope to the hole in the end of the hanger board and run the other end through the block.

    How you hang your chandelier will depend on your pavilion set up. In mine, I put a loop on the end of the rope coming out of the block (there is about 2 feet of rope extending out of the block) and then, when I set up the pavilion, I put the loop over the pole prior to raising the pavilion peak. The rope that raises and lowers the chandelier is tied off on one of the corner poles.

    Because of the angles at which the ropes pull, you'll find that (see the picture of the completed chandelier at the beginning of this article) the block is actually pulled away from the center pole when the chandelier is raised.... This ensures that your candles are not up against the pole.


    Just a few words about open flames and canvas.... NOT GOOD!

    1. Even though 4 votive candles don't put out a tremendous amount of heat at a few inches from the flame... if you do decide to build something like this, make sure that you don't raise it too near the peak of your pavilion. I generally keep mine at least 4 feet (length of rope to peak) plus 1 foot of rope from block to riser... plus riser... from the peak.
    2. Although I used votive candle glasses to put the candles in be careful not to let the candles burn too low before replacing them. Even using heat tempered glass it is possible for thermal shock to crack or otherwise damage the holders... you have fire and melted wax dangling above your head/bed... not a good thing. In no case should you put open candles up.... Always have them in a container... if you examine the original work of art you'll note that our forefathers understood this...
    3. Use common sense when dealing with open flame in a camping environment. Don't leave em' burning all night.... Don't leave em' burning while you're out partying...

    Have fun... make stuff...


    1 By "historically informed" I refer to pieces that have historic models either in existing as surviving pieces that have somehow escaped all of the horrors that can befall things made out of wood over 500 plus years... or pieces that exist only in by the grace of some talented artists hands.

    2 "Tournaments" Richard Barber and Juliet Barker, 1989, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, New York, ISBN 1-55584-400-6, page 1987 since I installed the counter