How do you build a guillotine?

Updated: 4/28/2022
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14y ago

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  1. Construction of the guillotine began with the platform or scaffold. A skilled carpenter cut the lumber for the major pieces including post supports, interconnecting beams, the floorboards, and the steps for the stairway underneath the platform. The stairs bottomed at one open end of the scaffold (on the front side of the guillotine) and opened in an entry or hatch near the other end of the platform at the back of the guillotine. The platform also had an open railing around three sides of the scaffold; the side without the railing was toward the front of the machine and the bottom of the stairs.
  2. The supports and beams were all nailed together to form a base. The floor was either built as a separate unit with an underside of wood sheets, much like modern rough-grade plywood, and a top face of long, thin floorboards. The two layers reduced weathering and other damage. The unit could then be lifted in place and nailed to the edges and cross beams of the scaffold.

    If the guillotine was constructed at the execution site, construction of the platform continued by adding the side rails. The stairway was built while the platform was being constructed by making a four-sided base with interior braces for strength. One side was the front face of the first stair, the back extended from the ground up to form the back of the top stair, and the two identical sides had bottom and back edges forming a 90° angle. Both sides were cut to hold the tops and backs of the set of stairs.

  3. While the platform was being constructed, work began on the steel blade and mouton. The width between the posts and the maximum thickness of the blade were provided to the forger or blacksmith. This specialist made a mold for the blade. The cutting edge angled up from one side of the blade (in an oblique angle) to the opposite post. The angle allowed the blade to cut more quickly and cleanly; a blade with an even edge (parallel with the upper cross beam) would have encountered more friction as it tried to cut through the wider back of the neck. Molten steel was poured into the mold. The craftsman sharpened the cutting tip by repeated filing, hammering, and reheating. Worn blades were also resharpened this way. The steel blade generally weighed about 15 lb (7 kg).
  4. The mouton was manufactured the same way. The craftsman would melt the metal down and pour it into a mold. After the mold cooled, it would be taken out. The mouton typically weighed 66 lb (30 kg).
  5. Workers would then screw the blade to the mouton with three bolts, two in the bottom corners and one in the middle. The bolts would then be welded into place.
  6. When the platform was complete or if other carpenters were available, construction of the machine frame began. A small-diameter tree for each post was cut to create a four-sided post, then a groove was cut out on the inside of each post and chiseled so the falling blade would drop smoothly. At the base of the machine, the posts were mounted in a wide crossbar. The blade and mouton were fitted in the post grooves, and a crossbar at the top that was exactly the width between the side posts was fitted in place. The upper crossbar also had a hole in the top for the rope and a groove along the top and side to guide the rope. Metal rings were fixed to the outside of the top crossbar and one or two points down the post to guide the rope. Wood braces were fitted to the outsides of the posts and extended down at angles to the base crossbar for added strength.
  7. On the back side, where the victim and the executioner stood, another crossbar was mounted to hold the lunette, which consisted of two separate pieces of relatively thin wood with a hole big enough for the victim's neck. Half of the hole was in the bottom section of the lunette, and the matching half-moon was in the top portion. The upper half was hinged on the post so it could be raised for the prisoner's head. The machine as a separate piece was complete and could be hauled on a cart to the site.
  8. The bascule was carved out of wood by a carpenter and transported to the site of the execution. The end of the bascule nearest the blade had leather straps to restrain the victim's arms, and straps crossing the bench kept the back and legs tied down.
  9. The déclic was a wooden handle that opened the grooves in the posts. It was attached to the outside of one of the vertical posts so that the executioner could easily release the blade.
  10. The rope was is made from natural fibers and twisted into yarn. The yarn is then woven and twisted rope. The rope is tied securely to the top of the mouton, through the hole in the upper crossbar, through the rings, and wrapped around the déclic. In the early days of the guillotine, the executioner cut the rope with a sword to drop the blade, but it became too time-consuming to readjust the rope so they changed the design to incorporate the déclic.
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Q: How do you build a guillotine?
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