Guest Author - Helen B. Wharton
During the Medieval and Renaissance Periods there were many skilled craftsmen that not only provided vital items of daily life but made a living at their craft. In this article I will look at a few of the more common skilled crafts.
Every village, city and castle needed a blacksmith, since he made anything that was made from metal. Nails to build a small cottage, hinges to hang the door and a key to lock it are all part of the trade of smithing. The blacksmith provided small knives to eat with as well as large knives to carve a roast or swords to carve the enemy. No army went to battle without their armor for the men and the horses, plus the shoes on the horse! Since the smith was such a valuable member of his community he could make a good living and could become wealthy in a larger city.
Carpenters worked with wood. They were responsible for building houses, of course, but also were involved in building carts and carriages as well as ships. Many of the items which we use today are made from other materials but during the Renaissance would have been made of wood, especially in the homes of common folk, for example, bowls and plates. Many farm tools were also wooden. Furniture for simple houses and large castles were all made by carpenters. Many of the tools used by a carpenter in the Medieval and Renaissance are the same tools used today; axes, adzes, hammers, chisels and awls.
Masons were responsible for building the Gothic Cathedrals for which the Medieval Period is so well known. To be a stone mason required a long period of training known as an apprenticeship. This was necessary because a stone mason not only carved the stone but had to have an understanding of geometry and architecture. All the decorative stone work that is still seen today on Gothic Cathedrals was carved using hand tools by masons. A master mason also needed to be able to draw the designs and keep a large work force of varying skill levels working together.
Most women were weavers, at least for their own families. In large cities men were also weavers who made cloth for sale. Frequently a weaver's wife also worked in the shop and carried on running the business after her husband died. Cloth during the period mostly came from two sources. Sheep provided wool and the flax plant provided linen fibers. The wool or flax would need to be spun into yarn before it could be woven into cloth.