Wood was by no means so rare in early times as it is now in Egypt. Floyer has shown how much the desert has been stripped by the introduction of the tree-feeding camel. We see in the royal tombs of the Ist dynasty a large use of wood The funeral chamber sunk in the ground was entirely built of massive beams and planks. The area of this room was 900 square feet in the largest tomb, varying down to 300 in the lesser. The framing of the floor, the supports, and the roof beams were about 10 x 7 inches in section and up to 21 feet in length. The planking of the floor still remains 2 to 2 1/2 inches thick; and probably that of the roof was equal to it, as it had to bear about three feet of sand over it. The great scale of this timber work agrees with the "royal axe-man" being one of the high officials; before stone came into use, this title was the equivalent of chief architect. Such a free use of wood shows that the elaborate framing of facades, which is represented as a usual pattern in early stone-work, was actually copied from wooden mansions, just as the Greek architecture was an elaborate copy of woodwork. At the close of the IIIrd dynasty we have a glimpse of the large use of wood for shipbuilding, when Senoferu built in one year sixty ships, and imported forty ships of cedar. The great gates of the temple enclosures and palaces must also have been massive works; the outer and inner pylon at Karnak had gates fifteen feet wide on either side, and over sixty feet high.
The wooden coffins of the Old Kingdom are heavy boxes with sides two to three inches thick. They are fastened together by bolts of wood; and such wooden pegs are run diagonally in different directions so as to prevent the parts being separated. Coffins hollowed out of a single block, to fit the outline of the mummy, were also used in all the earlier periods. In late times such forms were built up of boards.
For securing the joints of furniture from racking, two correct systems were used. For chairs, angle-pieces were cut from wood with bent grain, and fitted on inside the angles. There must have been a constant demand for such bent pieces, and probably they were grown into shape. In other cases forms of wood have been found which had clearly been grown for many years into the shape required. The angle-pieces can be seen under the front of the seat in fig. 128. Another system for stands Was to put in diagonal bars, as in fig. 130. Sometimes merely the stiffness of deep panelling was trusted, as in fig. 129. For the backs of chairs an excellent triangular stay was made, as in fig. 127.
Chair, caskets, and bed of Amenhotep III.
The light and skilful forms of the woodwork are well shown in the furniture (figs. 127 - 131) from the tomb of Yuaa and Thuiu, the parents of Queen Thyi, in the XVIIIth dynasty. The reliefs on the chair are carved in wood and gilded. The decoration on the casket (fig. 129) is of blue glazed hieroglyphs and inlays.
Wood was also much used for statuettes. The ebony negress and other figures (figs. 40 - 42) show it on a small scale; larger figures were also made, such as several in the Turin Museum, and some of life-size, but the latter are coarser in work, as the figure of Sety I in the British Museum. A fine figure almost life-size remains from the XIIIth dynasty, King Hor, in the Cairo Museum.
A system of inlaying coloured stones, glazes or glass, in wood as a basis, is found as early as the Vth dynasty, in the model vases of Nofer-ar-ka-ra. In the XVIIIth dynasty this method of decoration is seen on the gigantic mummy-cases of the Queens Aah-hotep and Aahmes, which were inlaid, probably with lazuli. The inlay was so valuable that soon after it was all prised out with the corner of an adze, and blue paint substituted for it. In the XXIIIrd dynasty decorative figures were wrought in wood, with the whole detail in inlay, as in the group of Pedubast. And in the Greek period large wooden coffins were encrusted with inlay of coloured glass, and the sides of wooden shrines were similarly the basis for brilliant polychrome adornment.
Regarding the methods of woodworking, certainly the axe was the primitive tool, as shown by the royal architect being designated by the axe. In the scenes of the pyramid age we find the saw about three feet long worked with both hands, the mallet and chisel for cutting mortise-holes, and the adze in constant use for shaping and for smoothing wood. To this day the small adze is a favourite tool of the Egyptian carpenter and boat-builder. For smoothing down the caulking inside a boat, heavy pounders of stone were used, held by a handle worked out on each side of the block. Drills were also commonly used both on wood and stone, worked by a bow. The subject of tools and their variations is a very wide one, which cannot be entered upon here.