Carpentry in Egypt is first evident in predynastic coffins constructed of lap-joined planks held together at the corners with lashing tied through holes. Boxes with inlaid panels and mortise and tenon joints have also been found in predynastic tombs. Box construction became more sophisticated by the First Dynasty with sliding lids, lap-joined corners rebated into the sides, and leather ties through angled holes. Carpenters mastered the art without nails or glue. Glue began to be used after the Fifth Dynasty.
As early as the Third Dynasty coffins were made with plywood, which was made of six thin pieces of Syrian cypress pegged together with the grain in different directions. Veneer as thin as one-thirty-second of an inch was applied to cheaper woods to make them appear more expensive. The Egyptians mastered the art of decorating furniture with inlays of wood, ivory, semiprecious stones, and glass paste. Furniture was also decorated by gilding or silvering surfaces. Openwork, made of numerous openings usually set in patterns, was another decorative technique.
Most homes were equipped with many chests, boxes, and cabinets for storage. Carpenters also produced a variety of styles of beds, small tables, and chairs. These pieces of furniture often had legs in the shape of animal paws or hooves. Chairs tended to have low seats and straight backs, often intricately cut out. Folding stools were made with leather seats so they could easily be carried to the hunt or battlefield.
Carpenters used simple woodworking tools. Axes were used to fell trees and trim branches. They pulled, rather than pushed, saws made with two-foot-long blades attached to a wooden handle. Scenes depict upright logs lashed between poles with the sawyer working his way down to shape the plank. Two types of drills were used. One was a type of awl that was twisted by hand and the other was driven by a bow moved back and forth. The adze was used to roughly shape the wood and a chisel, struck by a stone mallet, was used for finer work. Blocks of sandstone were used to sand the finished wood.
Ancient Egyptians had to rely on imported wood for masts, large coffins, or temple doors. Cypress trees and tall cedar were brought from Lebanon and elm came from Palestine. Ash was brought from Syria and yew came from Persia. Ebony was imported from Somalia for solid furniture for the wealthy. There were several useful woods that were native to Egypt. Acacia was used for short ship masts and planking. Date palm trunks were used for roof beams. Boxes and coffins could be made from sycamore. The tamarisk tree could be pieced together into smaller boxes and coffins and willow was used for knife handles and box parts.
Woodworking experienced a revival in Islamic Egypt. Wooden panels and doors were either deeply carved or carved in the openwork fashion with plant-like and geometric designs and calligraphy. Beautifully carved and inlaid boxes were used to hold copies of the Qur'an. Chairs, tables, and food trays were also decorated with marquetry, which is the art of using inlaid wood to create an image or design.