Which wood to use?

Types of wood

In our regions, the pumpmaker used hardwood to make a water pump, mainly oak and elm. The drill bits in the MOT and in other Flemish museum collections are usually specifically intended for these types of wood. He selected a piece of trunk that was as straight as possible, 4 to 5 meters long and about 25 cm in diameter, with as few branches and irregularities as possible. Knots in particular, traces of old side branches, create transverse threads in the wood, which make it difficult to square the trunk and drill along the center line straight through the heart of the trunk. 

Oak wood is tough and durable. After a storm, the MOT was able to obtain two straight oak trunks from a forest in Antwerp. Pump borer Oscar De Wagter testified that his family used to go to the Ardennes to choose an oak tree that was as straight as possible without branches to have it transported to Nevele for drilling. 

Elm wood used to be very commonly used by woodworkers such as the pumpmaker, but nowadays this tree species is difficult to find in Flanders. Fortunately, for this project we were able to use a few rare beams of good-quality elmwood to make the internal parts and some accessories on the lathe. 

Apparently, wood from the larch tree was also used in our regions.

Selecting a suitable trunk 

video: types of wood to make a water pump (Dutch spoken)

Forest transport

The pumpmaker used a variety of forestry tools for taking the tree out of the forest or for transporting it from the timber company. There are double-handed crosscut saws to cut the trunk to the appropriate length, cant hooks, sappies and ring dogs to rotate the trunk or timber lifting tongs to carry lighter trunks. In the forest it is common practice to work with at least three man.

Letting draft horses do the work for heavy trunk hauling is part of our heritage. Using horses in forests instead of heavy tractors is a good way to prevent soil compaction. Horses need less space in between trees and can go deeper into the forest. They present a big ecological advantage.

The 'triqueballe' is a two-wheeled vehicle that was commonly used to move logs or heavy beams. It is a cart with two big wheels up to two meters in diameter attached to a heavy wheel block, to which one long drawbar is connected transversely. The drawbar remains upright due to a heavy counterweight. After the 'triqueballe' is driven over the trunk, it is fixed with a chain at the bottom of the wheel block. By pulling down the upright drawbar, it acts like a lever which lifts the trunk up from the ground. By carefully choosing the balance point of the trunk it is suspended slightly above ground level to be towed away by the draft horses. Smaller models of this cart can be towed by hand.

video: move logs and watering (Dutch spoken)


Our oak trunks have been submerged in the moat of the Prinsenkasteel  for two years. Pumpmakers always kept their tree trunks in water. Depending on differtent sources, this lasted at least a few months, usually two to three years and even longer. The long-term water storage of tree trunks is a time-honored practice of sawyers and woodworkers, which offers several advantages. Relative to its importance for many crafts, scientific research has only been carried out only recently. 

First of all, it is a form of stock management to keep the wood at the ready, both for sawmills and individual craftsmen. A suitable trunk could be obtained from this stock at any time. Watered oak logs for pumps were sometimes offered for sale in series. Pumpmakers often left several logs in a local ditch or pond for years, choosing the most suitable from their stock for each particular job. 

The water stops the drying process so that the trunk does not start to split. Moreover, certain types of wood are much easier to drill when wet. This advantage is even more important for the pump borer who has to drill quite a lot of meters. 

Another reason that is often quoted specific to pumps is that the water washes away all kinds of nutrients from the outer layers of the trunk, especially wood saps and tannins, which give off a blue color and an unpleasant taste. The wood saps attracts fungi and wood-boring insects, which can cause material loss, possible leakage and accelerated weather deterioration. 

Elm especially has to water for a long time before processing. The internal pump parts made out of elm stay permanently wet when a pump is used up to 10 or 20 times per day. After installing  the pump, it has to be used regularly not to run dry, risking the wood to burst. Oak wood can leach tannines, which make the water turn brown. Frequent use of an oak pump ensures pure water.

The use of cant hooks 
Using timber grapples to carry the trunk 
Hauling the trunk out of the forest 
Transporting the trunk to the drilling site using a 'triqueballe' , a specialized horse cart 
Launching the trunk in the moat