Medieval eyeglasses

774781_520635617959736_820644459_oI browse the internet a lot, and keep a big album of all the pictures that interest me, so that when I come across something in an op shop that looks promising, I snap it up. I recently found these children’s sunglasses which look almost like medieval frames in shape, so this weekend I decided to have a go at modifying the shape and removing the tinted lenses so that I can fit some prescription lenses.

I removed the side arms and, using a combination of a small saw and some files, reshaped the bridge and removed the bumps from the nosepieces. I then cut off the part with the side arm attachment and carefully cut up the centre of the little stump that was left to remove the lenses. The lenses are circular, 38mm diameter.


This is the result after shaping the split part so that is can be wired shut again. I’ll use the old lenses as a template to cut down an old set of prescription lenses, and I’ll post again once I’ve got these to fit. If this pair works out they’ll do as a temporary solution while I play around with making some more authentic frames. Frame material options include horn, wood (particularly boxwood), bone and leather. Horn will be easy enough, I already have some horns, and if these are not thick enough I’ll track some down thick horn salad spoons from an op shop. Bone may be more difficult – the best piece is the metacarpal bone, and I don’t think that’s a piece that makes it to retail butchers. (I’ll add this to my wishlist along with the calves feet I recently needed for jellymaking, which were impossible to source retail in Melbourne). I’d probably have to import boxwood. Leather would be very easy to source but I don’t like the style of the leather eyeglass frames as much. I’ll probably get my optometrist to cut a set of lenses to size once I’m happy with the final frames.

Fire striker

A friend of mine in New Zealand, Scott Sanz, a superb sword maker and craftsman in damascus steel, invited me to have a try at forging. I had previously made a knife under his instruction, but ground rather than forged. As a step toward making a proper forged knife, I learnt the technique by making a couple of simple iron fire-strikers from two previously-annealed pieces of a metal file. I heated and hammered and bent these to shape. It’s quite hard work even for such small pieces. You’d get muscles very quickly!

Since then I’ve been searching for a supplier of flint, and managed to buy a piece at Great Northern War this year (where last year, I learnt how to use a flint and striker properly). Now I need to make a little box for my fire set, complete with some char cloth and tinder.

13th century Spanish tablas board with instructions

In the 13th century, King Alfonso X (Alfonso the Wise) wrote the Book of Games, which included instructions for chess, tablas and dice games Here I’ve made a copy of the tablas board depicted in the Book of Games, along with playing counters, dice and instructions.

The board is made from plywood with a face grain that looks similar to the one in the Book of Games (illustration above), with the surround and detailing in tasmanian oak. There is a chess board on the other side. The playing counters are made from contrasting timbers – jarrah and willow – turned on a lathe then sawed into slices. Medieval counters were often made of elaborately carved ivory, but simpler wooden ones also existed. I started making bone dice from a boiled and cleaned lamb shank, but mislaid the dice after cutting them and ended up making wooden dice instead. I later found the bone cubes, and will eventually make replacement bone dice.

The manuscript is written in pen and ink and painted in egg glair tempera on parchmentine. It is an English translation of the todas tablas instructions (the version of tablas closest to modern backgammon), in the same format as the original Spanish manuscript.