Building the Pharaoh’s Chariot

Inspiration can be found everywhere. In my opinion a luthier shouldn’t only look at his or here own field of knowledge, but broaden the scope. We’re essentially making air pumps, constructed of a tightened piece of material over a box. When set in motion, the string brings the box in motion, which moves the air around it. This moving air moves the parts in our ears, which translate them into in electric pulses, which our brains interpret as sound. This process can be adjusted in various places, but we’re concerned with the first part. We tweak the shape and materials of the boxes and strings, looking for an optimum in both.

This process is quite universal and is also found in other places and times. Often a result of a lengthy development over time by various makers. All pitching in something of their knowledge and expertise. Experimenting (risking failure) to improve their field.

One very interesting example can be observed in the design of the Ancient Egyptian Chariot.

Just look at the technical sophistication, disguised as a simple construction. This is using wood at the very edges of what it can withstand. The use of bent pieces of wood leaves the long fibres of the material intact, so it’s full strength remains. While there is optimal utilization of the elastic properties.

The v-design of the spokes for the wheel is just plain genius. Lighter and stronger than any other way of wooden wheel construction. The force doesn’t focus on one point (like in later cart wheels), but is distributed over a larger area of the hub and also both nearby spokes.

Same thing for using the central pole for a leaf spring. When you would just nail it to the rear axle the joint will wear out and break, due to the torsion and movement of both pieces during a ride.

This whole chariot design is very clever. There is literally no superfluous part, everything has a function, combining an optimal ratio of strength and weight. It shows the Ancient Egyptian chariot builders had a keen knowledge of the strengths and limits of their materials.  Like engineers who make today’s high performance modes of transportation, from race cars to airplanes and rockets. Something I also observe in other places where we have high expectations and demands from our materials: tennis rackets, motorcycles, bows, skateboards, surfboards, bullet proof vests, kites, mountain bikes, – and yes – lutes and guitars. Working towards that sweet spot, where the ratio of strength and performance is optimal. A symbiosis between material properties and clever engineering, the ultimate relation between head and hands, object and ratio.

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