Roman Woodworking Tools


All photos and drawings by R.B. Ulrich, or in the public domain (for sources of individual images see the notes below the thumbnails). Photos I have taken in museums (ex: plane from Pompeii, the "Furniture shop" relief, can be reproduced by written permission of the museum.
Click on the thumbnails for larger views
Roman tools tend to be held in the collections of museums; image rights are held by the museums, and therefore many fine examples are not illustrated here, although I intend to add more examples as time permits. Sources of drawings and photos are listed in more detail in the notes below. Most of the pictures included here are also shown and discussed in my book, Roman Woodworking.

Axes
Lat: ascia, dolabra,
securis
Adzes
Lat: ascia
Chisels and gouges
Lat: scalprum
Drills (terebra), bits
Bow and Strap type
Lathes
tornus
Saws (serra)
Frame, buck, keyhole, etc.
Planes
Lat: runcina
Files
Relief of a Furniture Shop
Capitoline Museums, Rome
Priolo Relief
Celio Relief


NOTES ON THE IMAGES:
Axes (from left): A craftsman depicted on a gilt glass vessel using an adze or a hatchet (early fourth century,Vatican Museums); five military-style axes from Newstead; photo published by Curle (The Fort at Newstead) in 1911; hatchet from Pompeii, with traces of the original handle, Naples Museum, 19.20 cm long; axe from Combend, U.K., British Museum, 23 cm long.
Adzes: (from left): Reconstruction of a simple adze with iron blade held in place with an iron collar and a wedge; Roman adze-hammer from London in the British Museum, 22 cm long, late first century; Relief from the Vatican Museums (Museo Gregoriano Profano, inv. 3262) of a craftsman working on a table leg with a hand-adze. His apprentice (left) holds a small plane in his hand; Detail from Trajan's Column in Rome (ded. A.D. 113): A soldier appears to be working with a heavy adze-hammer. Photos by R. Ulrich; rights held by the Vatican Museums and the Museum of Roman Civilization, Rome.
Chisels and Gouges (from left): Socketed gouges from Silchester (U.K.), 25.8 - 31.5 cm long, published by Evans (Archaeologia vol 54 pg. 50) in 1894; Five chisels from Silchester, both socketed and solid. The largest is ca. 25.5 cm long (also from Evans, op. cit., pg. 149, fig. 15); Chisel from Aquileia, with wooden handle preserved; Museo Nazionale, Aquileia, 28.6 cm long.
Drills: (from left): (Bow)Drill with wooden stock from Hawara, Egypt (Roman period), 55 cm overall length, published by Petrie, Tools and Weapons, in 1917; a craftsman using a bow drill as depicted on the gilt glass vessel in the Vatican; a strap drill depicted in use to drill a sarcophagus, from the Museo Lapidario of Urbino; spiral or twisted bits from Aquileia, Italy, 12 and 15 cm long.
Lathes: Partially preserved image of a lathe powered by a bow from a Roman-period (second cent.C.E.) sarcophagus found in Greece, RBU image after Kontoleon Epigraphika in AM 15 (1890) 330-337.
Saws (from left): Craftsman using a bucksaw, gilt glass vessel in the Vatican; bucksaw and crosscut saw from an altar in the Capitoline Museums, Rome; handsaw blade with wooden handle missing from Verulamium, ca. A.D. 160, 41.7 cm long; backed saw, with tang for missing handle, Landesmuseum, Zurich.
Planes (from left): Reconstruction of a plane found at Verulamium (St. Albans), U.K.; plane from Pompeii, Naples Museum, 21.3 cm long, (photo by Ulrich, reproduction rights held by the Naples Museum); detail of a combination "adze-plane," shown in profile, on a Roman-period funerary stele now in the Louvre. The blade is attached to the bottom of the handle; Plane from the Roman town of Calleva (Silchester) published by Evans in 1894, now in the Reading Museum, 34 cm long.
Files: A flat file from Silchester, iron, five teeth to the inch (2.5 m), total length of face: 19 cm; published by Evans (Archaeologia vol 54) 1894, pg. 152, fig. 19.
Relief of a Furniture Shop: The marble relief of the woodworkers' shop is thought to have belonged to an altar dedicated to Minerva (goddess of craftsmen) that stood in Rome. Capitoline Museums (Montemartini) Rome. Note the tools "hanging" on the wall. Photos by R. Ulrich, reproduction rights held by the Capitoline Museums.
Priolo Relief: Funerary altar of Eutyches from the Priolo cemetery of Sicily, depicting a bow, drill, compasses, and a ruler. Museo Nazionale, Syracuse, Sicily. 1.07 m high. Published by Orsi in 1891 in Notizie degli Scavi.
Celio Relief: plumb line and bob, chisel, mallet, compasses and square carved on a small statue base dedicated to Silvanus, now in the Antiquarium del Celio, Rome. Photo by R. Ulrich, reproduction rights held by the Antiquarium del Celio.

Sample Photos of Roman Antiquities