The earliest evidence of true furniture is found in the Egyptian society that existed some five thousand years ago. the exceptional circumstances of survival in royal tombs have given us famous examples of furniture. It is apparent that beds, chairs, stools, tables and storage boxes had all been created by 3000 BC, and there is no doubt that skilled workforce existed in Egypt.
Beds were developed from crude frames lashed together, to sophisticated jointed frames and proper suspensions of leather thongs. They were supported on short legs, usually in the form of bull's foot. Beds were often supplied with a separate head-rest, as headboards were unknown.
Seats were derived from backless stools, initially having frame seats with carved bull's legs to the front, and then developing to armchairs by the fourth dynasty (2600-2500 BC). The most well-known example of an Egyptian seat is Tutankhamun's gold throne, both as a model of furniture making and also as the embodiment of the symbolic authority of the chair. On a more mundane level, stools remained popular, often designed with braced struts and a white paint finish. Folding stools were also used: they often had hide seats, and cross-frames decorated as carved duck;s heads inlaid with ivory.
Tables were usually small, hardly more than stands for food or offerings. Gaming boards were mounted onto legged frames to create the earliest example of games tables. Most boxes, whether of wood, papyrus or reed, were rectangular with short feet. Some were fitted with divisions for toiletries, jewellery and the like.
The selection of materials began in the locality and was extended to other sources. The only local timbers- acacia, sycamore, fig and tamarisk-were supplemented by imported woods, such as cedar, cypress ebony, juniper, and thuya. The shortage of timbers resulted either in use of veneer or a build up of smaller pieces of wood. In other cases, furniture was ocassionaly overlaid with gold or silver or made from solid ivory.
The construction of cabinets was based on the mortise and tenon, dovetail and mitred joints. Hinges were used from the eighteenth dynasty (1575-1300 BC) as a replacement for wooden pivots in chests, but locks were rare.
Woodworking tools included mallets, saws with cooper or bronze blades, axes and drills. For levelling timber, adzes were used since the woodworking plane was not invented until later. This is perhaps one reason why the Egyptians ground with timber surface with sand and overlaid it with gesso, ready for gilding or painting. In some cases, a transparent varnish was used.
The origins of techniques of wood-tumbing and bending have been the subject of some disputes amongst experts. It is probable that whilst bending was known in Egypt, the lathe originated in Syria (1000 BC) and was not known to the egyptians. However, the establishment of many type-forms, tools and techniques originated from this name.