The stave churches were probably built by groups of highly skilled artisans specialising in the challenging processes involved.

They had sufficient knowledge and experience to know the possibilities and limitations of the wood. The timbers were shaped into structural elements using just a few simple tools. In an interplay of tradition and innovation, the craftsmen created buildings the likes of which had never been seen before. These churches, with their special design and structure, have weathered the elements for centuries. Borgund stave church was consecrated more than 800 years ago. We have been able to determine the age of the church by the growth rings of its timbers. Illustrations by Marianne Brochman:

The stave church wall

This special wall design is typical of the stave church. If a church has a wall like this, whether visible or covered, we know that it was originally a stave church. The load-bearing posts are called staves and have given their name to the stave church. The stave church is built on a frame of sills. The whole frame is raised off the ground and rests on foundation stones. The wall planks are inserted into a groove in the sill and another groove in the upper beam or ‘wall plate’.

The materials

The stave churches are built of heart pine. The timber has tight growth rings, and the heartwood has a high resin content. In Medieval times, the woodlands were full of large old trees that provided excellent timber.

The tools (draw knife, auger, axe)

Hans Maarumsrud – Borgund Stave Church Visitor Center (Photo: Håkon Li)


The axe was the most important tool. It was used both for felling the trees and working the logs. The surface of the logs was planed using the draw knife. This was also used for working the wood in places that were inaccessible to the axe. The auger was used for drilling holes for the wooden pins that held the building elements together.