Life as a Professional Time Traveller

Last week a friend called me a “Professional Time Traveller”. A joke, but I think in a sense he is right…

I tend to take leapfrogs trough history one day measuring an original guitar from 1760, the next adjusting a replica of an Ancient Egyptian lyre while the yew ribs of a renaissance theorbo are are glued together.

Today it was time to hollow out two Trossingen Lyre bodies, and tonight some more stitches will be added to my new lyre banner (made in the Bayeux technique).

The last months have been a frenzy of historical events, travels, work and research.

It’s a beautiful journey, across time and cultures, tools, techniques and instruments. Along the way I’ve met the most fantastic people. Musicians and magicians, craftspeople and fellow crazies, re-enactors restorers and researchers, teachers, students and writers, old and new friends I feel very privileged to know. Having the opportunity to bring people and ideas together. Learning and teaching along the way, a natural synthesis.

Lately journey has been so busy and intensive, there was no time to write records from the road. Life has been better than ever since my burn-out 7 years ago. I finally have the idea that I am alive again.

I feel very grateful for all of this. For all of you, who take this journey.

As we make up for the winter, I hope to find some time to give you an update of everything going on.









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Printing for Copernicus

About a week ago my friends of The Paper Unicorn asked me whether I would like to bring out the Minion Press, for the official opening of an exhibition about Copernicus.

Location? The St. Walburgis church in Zutphen…

Where did we hear that name before? It must have been last May, when I made this portable version of a chained library…

The Walburgis church is home to one of the few chained libraries left in the world. Sacred ground for a book maniac like me…

Would I like to go there to demonstrate the Minion Press? – Hell yeah!

So we travelled to Zutphen, set up the press (under the most impressive chandelier I’ve ever seen) and waited for the events to start. Well, not quite. We took our time to explore the massive and beautiful church. And pay a visit to its intellectual heart: the Librije. A 16th century chained library, one of the first public libraries in the world.

It isn’t allowed to take pictures inside the library, but it was a fantastic experience to see the lecterns with rows of books. The intricate woodcarvings on the stands and benches. Loads of inspiration.

We found out that our attempt at making a small reconstruction for living history events and exhibitions is almost spot on. Especially when we look at how the chains are fastened.

In the middle of the library was a very special book; Nicolas Copernicus’ “Revolutionibus orbium coelestium”, about the tracks of the planets in our solar system. Copernicus was the first in our modern age to propose heliocentrism instead of geocentrism. Or to say that the sun is in the middle of the solar system, not earth. This could have brought him in great trouble with the church, were it not that he got the first print of his book on his death bed… But the Catholic church did place it on the index of prohibited books.

Standing under the most impressive chandelier I have ever seen: made in 1398!

The Librije is in posession of a beautiful first edition copy, which is regarded the best preserved example in the world.

It’s very special to stand so close to one of the most important scientific works in history. Even though it wasn’t completely right yet, (Kepler would correct some of the flaws), it was  one of the products of the enlightenment. A force of curiosity and exploration that went through Europe at the end of the middle ages, and eventually stopped them. It speaks to me in a sense that I have always been advocating science and the use of reason, rather than preconceived notions and teachings of doubtful origins, like the church. Believing can be fine, but knowing something for sure is better… We’ve come a long way since the times of Copernicus. But even now we have crazy idiots like the flat earth society and other regressive intellectual groups. It even seems they gained in popularity over the last years. Something causing a lot of face-palm moments, but also showing the relevance of the exhibition.

Opening the exhibit

The opening festivities of the exhibition was a true celebration of science. With lectures and speeches. After which the ambassador of Poland made the official opening gesture by printing a Copernicus quote on the press…

After which all visitors could make their own print of this quote…

Ter Apel

It was a wonderful evening. And a very nice preamble for next weekend, when we will attend the Medieval festival at Ter Apel in Groningen. Again with the Paper Unicorn. We will help people to make their own book. Printing the pages at the press, folding the quires and binding it, to make a complete book about book making.

We hope to meet you there on the 1st and 2nd of September!


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FREE Vihuela plans!

Yes you read it correctly. As a summer surprise I’m giving away one of my plans for free…

Javaca Vihuela Plan

Click here to download the plans

A year ago some of my students at the Bouwerskontakt lutherie course asked whether they could make some historical instruments. A baroque lute (plans to follow) and a Vihuela de Mano.

For the vihuela we decided on a smaller version of the Chambure model, kept in the Cité de la Musique in Paris. The reason is that a vihuela in G is very practical for players, especially in a 7-course version; it’s tuned the same way as an alto lute. You can make both 6- and 7-course models with this set of plans.

vihuela mini

This is an ideal instrument to start with. You don’t need huge amount of woods, and is rather simple to build. The construction is quite similar to a classical guitar. In a way it is a more basic version.

vihuela rose

The first built is well under way, and we hope to complete it in a couple of months.

You can download the plans here in PDF format and print them at your local print shop.

These plans are offered with a Creative Commons License. You may use them for non-commercial and educational purposes.


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A special parlor: The Grunewald “Harp-Guitar”

One of the perks of guitar making are the special guitars that sometimes pass the shop. And being a somewhat quirky person I somehow manage get some of the oddest pieces of guitar history. Like this 10-string “Harp-Guitar” made by René Grunewald at the turn of the 20th century.

A small parlor body, just like Martin and Washburn guitars from the same era, bound with a herringbone inlay. But it gets strange when we look at the head…

Instead of the usual 6 tuners we find a 6/4 configuration for the strings. The two highest strings are single, the g is double and the lower strings have octave stringing like on a twelve string guitar. What is this strange device about?

Daddy Stovepipe playing a Grunewald 10-string. And you thought Slash was the first guitarist to put om a tophat right?

The owner told me it is regarded one of the ancestors of the 12 string guitar. In 1896 Carl Brown, an inventor from Ohio invented and patented a 10-string guitar (but with a lute-shaped body) with this string configuration. In 1896 René Grunewald starts producing a guitar-shaped model in his New Orleans mandolin factory; the guitar shown here. Around 1902 they switch to a twelve string configuration.

These ten string examples are really rare produced for a short while by only one factory. But famous nonetheless, especially because it was the weapon of choice for blues pioneer Daddy Stovepipe…

Despite its age the guitar is in a great condition. The neck is straight, and the body solid. We only did some minor adjustments to the intonation and add the soundhole pickup, a goldfoil type blues monster…

The guitar has a simple ladder bracing. The tone is rich in overtones and surprisingly loud for a small bodied guitar like this.

Off course I couldn’t resist the temptation and in collaboration with the owner I drew up a set of plans for this unique piece of guitar history. For registration, and to make it available for other makers.

You can order it from our plans page. Or by clicking this picture →

But how does it sound?

You don’t have to be a psychic to know this question will come up. Because there are no sound samples available in Youtube or at other places on the net, I decided to put my terrible guitar skills at work and make a little video…

Off course with the mandatory top-hat or “stove-pipe” selfie…


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King David and his pretty little lyres

When researching the old European lyres there are two pictures that always keep surfacing:

The Vespasian Lyre

Probably the most famous is the one of King David in the Vespasian Psalter (Southern England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 8th century). In it we see David on his throne, surrounded by musicians, four horn players, two people clapping on the lower end of the page. He is flanked by two scribes, ready to write down the psalm lines. On his lap we see our focal point; a lyre.

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Vespasian Lyre (detail)

The model seems to be consistent with archaeological finds from the British isles, like the Sutton Hoo, Prittlewell and Morning Thorpe examples. Upon closer look we see a couple of things. The picture is a bit vague, because the lyre originally was covered with a layer of silver leaf, now corroded. But we can still distinguish 6 strings. David’s hands are in a normal playing position, the left touching the strings from the back of the lyre, the right plucking the strings from the front.

The Durham Lyre

The second one that often comes up in literature is found in the Durham Cassiodorus. This copy of Cassiodorus’ 6th century psalm explanations, was made in Northumbria around 730. One of only two illuminations showing David as Victor and Musician. We see David, again sitting on his throne, playing a lyre.

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Durham Lyre (detail)

We only see this lyre from the back. The model seems to be a bit more rounded, with a prominent trapezoid hole through which we see an indication of strings. But, even more surprising, there is a double line between the arms, crossing David’s left wrist. This seems to be a strap to keep the lyre in position. On the back of the yoke we see five (!) pegs, other than the usual six.

Why a lyre?

It seems a bit odd to depict David with a lyre, while the bible says he played on the harp. Perhaps it is because the Anglo-Saxon word for the lyre was “Hearpe“. Later this word would also be used for the triangular harps that came into fashion around the 10th century.

It is a rather nice exercise to look at all te different instruments and instrument forms David was depicted with through the centuries. This certainly holds some pleasant and confusing surprises…

Making reconstructions

I know what critics are going to say; these pictures were never meant to represent reality. And I agree with them. It is clear these are not naturalistic or realistic. They are made in a manner typical for their time, close to the Byzantine tradition. The thrones, for example, look very close to the ones depicted in the icons of “Christ Pantocrator”. And it would be quite a challenge to reconstruct a throne based on these illustrations.

Because we have no real objects on which we can rely for the scale I decided to use the width of one hand span (around 8″) to which all surviving lyres more or less adhere. As you know from my research into early measurement systems this varied between different areas. To my knowledge there isn’t a standardized system found for the Anglo-Saxon era, so I settled the modern Inch.

When I started to draw the outlines in my CAD program it dawned on me how small these lyres really are. With 47 cm body length the Vespasian lyre is the smallest example we know.

The lost lyre of st. Severin

Reconstruction of the st. Severin lyre

One article about historical lyres dismisses these examples based on their small size. But archaeological evidence shows there were small models of lyre in existence. The “St. Severin”  lyre was found in Cologne, Germany. Even though it was pretty far gone (it lay partly under the body of its owner), the length could be established at 51,3 cm. The original was lost in WWII, another victim of the bombings. But a copy and some pictures survive.

The two reconstructions
Vespasian (L) and Durham (R)

At 54,5cm the Durham lyre is slightly larger than the St. Severin. These smaller sizes demand for a higher tuning. So I opted for D (Durham) and C (Vespasian) to keep them compatible with the G lyre. This seems to work well.

The two lyres next to my “standard model” (in G).

On the back of these prototypes I made two laser engravings of the drawings. These are available on custom order…

I hope to make a short video with sound samples soon. Or come over to the shop (or a re-enactment event) to try them for yourself…

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A Dutch Tool Chest

During the days at the Batavia Shipyard it became clear to me that I want two new toolboxes, destined for the re-enactment events.

The reason is that some of my tools are simply too dear to me to expose them to the risks of the road (like my Nooitgedagt chisels) and being handled by the public (at their own risk). But also because they are not all that period-correct.

Last reason is that getting everything together every time becomes somewhat of a drag. A ready-to-roll tool chest is much more practical.

Why would you make two chests?

Because my re-enactment activities cover two time periods: the late middle ages/renaissance and early middle ages/viking age. Also the activities in both periods are quite different. For t renaissance I need a specialized tools for a luthier. For the viking age this is much more general. Also the shape of tools in both time frames is different. And last but not least; a viking with a renaissance tool chest looks like Adolf Hitler with an Iphone. It’s just a weird sight.

What to make?

For the viking age I want to make a slightly smaller version of the  “Mastermyr-Chest”. A bit like the viking chests I made for the Dorestad museum.

For the renaissance chest I have got a couple of options, but the so-called “Dutch Tool Chest” is most practical.

The Dutch Tool Chest

I first came across this type of chest on Christopher Schwartz’s Lost Art Press-blog and in his article for Popular Woodworking. Only none of the articles clearly states what is so typically “Dutch” about them. Perhaps because they are cheaper to make than English or “Anarchist” tool chests?

As all my re-enactment materials these chests will be made on a budget, from left-over materials and in  spare time.

It started with a design: what tools do I need to fit in the box, and at what size is it still transportable. Because of lack of a drivers license, I travel to a lot of events by bus and train. So it needs to fit on a lorry, along with a selection of lutes and guitars.

The result is this small table top version of the chest.

The chest will be filled with home-grown reconstructions of historical tools. Check it out at one of the medieval and renaissance re-enactment events we will attend…

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We have a theorbo!

Work continues on Jannemieke’s Sellas theorbo. We’re very close to completion…

The bracing glued and shaped

Time to close the box…

Installing the fingerboard points…

And time to attach the neck extention…

(Click to enlarge)

The instrument is finally at its full length. Even though it isn’t the largest theorbo I’ve built (that honor is bestowed on the large Schelle Dm theorbo) the size is still impressive. Moving theorbos in a shop with a low ceiling is quite a challenge.

I hope to complete this instrument over the following weeks. Even though it is quite busy in the re-enactment and lectures department:

May 16th – lecture about instrument making for the local library

May 19-21 – Viking event Eindhoven (lyre and rope making)

May 25-27 – Slag bij Heiligerlee (Minion Press, together with The Paper Unicorn)


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A chained library

During the weekends at the Batavia shipyard Paper Unicorn’s bookbinder Astrid spoke about the idea of making a portable chained library.

For many people this is one of the first things they think about when the subject of medieval books comes up: writing monks, calligraphy, parchment and books on a chain…

One of three chained libraries still in existence is located at the st. Walpurgis Church in Zutphen. The oldest public library in the Netherlands.

The chained library at the st. Walburgis Church in Zuthpen. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

To avoid theft, the books are secured to the desks by chains.

The idea ligered in the back of my mind, and returned when I came across this blog by Ercc Glaison. In a 3-part series he makes a table top book stand and the books too go along with it. Because it’s always better to steal a good idea than re-invent the wheel (better known as ‘inspiration’), I followed his basic design.

Stripping and cutting

A couple of months ago a friend gave me a couple of solid Parana Pine boards, left over from a closet in his house. At first I destined them to make chests, but this will be more useful…

So last friday I stripped the boards of their paint and started cutting. No real plans, just go along with what the boards tell me. A length of 1 meter seems fine, img_4068it will fit most of the tables at the castles and events we visit. Longer is impractical for transport, shorter makes them too small to hold the books.

img_4069The endboard triangles are cut at 60 degrees. In the middle a trefold clover, just for decoration. Inspired by some pictorial sources.

Unlike Ercc I didn’t make the chain myself. Perhaps in the future, but for now we first try a simple decorative chain from the hardware store.

To keep it a bit more transport friendly the library is foldable.

The whole chest was finished with a simple brown beeswax.

We will bring the library to the “Slag bij Heijligerlee” event at the end of may. Details soon to follow…


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A home-made drawknife

Another addition to my historical toolboxes just has to be a drawknife.

A tool that has been around since Roman times, it survived the ages very well.

I am always looking for suitable stock materials to make edge tools. Old saw blades are ideal to recycle. Chisels, knives and other special purpose cutters. 

This old 10″ circular saw blade can be cut up into multiple tools. A drawknife is shaped like an upside down Salvador Dali moustache.

After a little bit of forging, cleaning up, shaping, sharpening, hardening, quelching and fitting a couple of yew handles it looks like this…

A small model, ideal for a portable toolchest…

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Demodag at Baptist Tools

Last Saturday I attended the “demo-day” at Baptist Toolshop in Arnhem.

They invited three other woodworkers and toolmakers like Tormek, Record Power and Mafell to show their goods and innovations…

Baptist demodag

My neighbour was bowyer Simon van der Heijden, who makes long-and horsebows in various woods and materials…


My other neighbor was graphic artist Titia Sibson, who brought pyrographics.


Another craftsmen was woodturner Peter de Klein, allias “Peter Peer“.


He makes some of the most beautiful wooden bowls you have ever seen.
But also magic wands (Olivanders eat your heart out)…


And his “365-spinning tops challenge” in which he makes one whirl every day for a year.


This little bowl especially spoke to me, its simplicity, but also the ultrathin construction.


It reminded me of this maple pot found in Wijk bij Duurstede. One of my dearest pieces in the Dorestad museum.


I brought my trusty trolley, filled with a variety of tools and instruments…


 It was lovely to meet so many other woodworkers with a broad range of activities.

Walking trough the store is like being a kid in a toy or candy store again… Too many high-quality tools to mention. You have to take a look for yourself…


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