History of wood carving – Ancient Egypt by John Adamson

This post was originally published in the now defunct British Woodcarvers Association’s magazine

During the time of the Pharaohs reigned in Egypt, 2500BC to 30BC, the materials from which tools could be made changed from stone, through copper, to bronze, and finally iron.  The usability of tools improved with the sustainability of a sharp edge.    However, the introduction of new metals did not necessarily mean the abandonment of older materials that were effective. Egyptians continued using copper chisels, flint scrapers, and in embalming work, exclusively stone blades. Available woodworking tool included:- axe, adze, chisel, bow drill, mallet awl, pull saw, vice, lathe, rule, set square, file, glue, and scraper.   It did not contain a plane and a stone was used to smooth the wood surface.   The earliest example of a plane is found at Pompeii and at other Roman sites.  The earliest gouge I can trace is also Roman.  The adze and the axe would seem to be the most useful tools for general shaping    

The Egyptians used a variety of wood. The wood came from native acacias, local sycamore, and tamarisk trees. However, when deforestation occurred in the Nile Valley in about the Second Dynasty, they began importing cedar, aleppo pine, boxwood, and oak from various parts of the Middle East and ebony from Egyptian colonies.   The dryness of the Egyptian tombs provided almost perfect preservation of wooden objects, sculptures, and furniture.  Woodcarving presumably progressed in line with the sustainable sharpness of the tools. 

Many ancient Egyptian drawings going back to 2000 B.C. depict wood furnishings such as beds, chairs, stools, tables, beds, and chests. There’s also physical evidence of these wooden objects, as many were found well-preserved in tombs due to the country’s dry climate. Even some sarcophagi (coffins) found in the tombs were crafted from wood.




























750 B.C. Mummy Mask
1991 B.C.    Butchers at work
1981 B.C.  Procession of offering bearers
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