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The Virtual othic Cathedral

Lend a hand as we spotlight the stone, glass and wood crafts - and more - that helped raise the great cathedrals of the Middle Ages.

The Stonecutters: Tools

stone pitchstone punch toolstone claw chiselstone chiselstone hammermason's mallet

'Pitch, punch, claw, chisel' was the medieval method for shaping stone. (CLICK on each tool to learn their name & function.)

The chisel and mallet, and the hammer and claw, above, are well-documented as those of equal importance in the application of medieval stonecraft. Although evidence suggests that many other tools were used, they are difficult to find in medieval written records. However, clues are found in graphic depictions in period drawings and illuminations:

stone masonadze or axe - in depictions of Gothic cathedral construction, the axe is seen wielded by French medieval stonecutters with the broad side down, used as a roughing out tool (as seen at right), or with pointed side down for finer cuts.

compasscompass, or dividers - medieval iconography shows only one mathematical instrument in the hands of the stonecutter - a compass - used for configuring arcs and intricate moldings. Artists of the period sometimes depict Christ as the Supreme Craftsman holding a compass.mason's set square

set square - the simple tool that ensured that the walls of Gothic cathedrals remained square and true at 90 degree angles.

straight edge - On completion of a flat stone, success or failure mason techniquedepended upon the straight edge laying perfectly flat across the face of the stone. So the use of this tool was a litmus test of the stonecutter's skill. If spaces appeared between the straight edge and the stone, it was evident the stonecutter had cut too deep. If the straight edge 'see-sawed,' more cutting was required.


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