Hobbit Joinery a Custom Woodwork Feast

By Bill Esler | Posted: 12/26/2012 1:21PM


click image to zoomArtist John Howe's renderings of Bag End guided the crafting of sets for the Hobbiton dwelling.   Oak plank doors sawn, planed and joined in mythical Middle Earth's pre-industrial woodshops provide a home for the star of Peter Jackson's latest film, "The Hobbit,"  with the signature comfort described by author J.R. Tolkien. His original book describes the homes of  the short-stature hobbits:

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. . . it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel . . with panelled walls and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats. . . The tunnel wound on and on and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another.

The visual impact of the interior woodwork in the newest film is powerful, and the Tolkien series has spawned hotels, custom wood sheds, even several entire homes built after the style of the hobbit home, known as Bag End in the movie, such as that by a West Chester, PA architect working in Douglas fir and Spanish cedar. (See video below.)

Q&A on
Middle Earth

Dan Hennah Q&A with CWB

Q: Why do the houses in the Shire have round doors archways?
A: We used round doors to be true to Tolkien’s descriptions...and his sketches to inform our design of Bag End.
Q: What architectural and design reference points were used in the set?  
A: For Bag End we used English country cottage design. While no specific houses were used for design influence, the old pubs of Oxford gave some design leads.   
Q: Are the table and benches antique or created for the film?
A: The table and benches were inspired by English country kitchens of the 17th and 18th centuries. These were built from seasoned oak in our prop furniture workshops. The floors were made from terracotta tiles and also some were oak parquetry. The furnishings, rugs and seating were all made in our workshops or outsourced and made to our designs.
Q: Is there a purpose in all the arches?
A: Arches...maintain the premise that Bilbo’s house is underground.

In the film, perfectly circular doors are indeed set in matching jig-sawn door frames, components pegged into place. Exteriors of some doors use the green paint and centered knob Tolkein describes; interior faces of the doors are finished to a golden hue. Joint and tenon furnishings abound. Drinking flagons are shaped from wood staves of indeterminate specie, like tapering wooden barrels.

(That wood craft is important in the world of Tolkien is also evidenced in the history of another character, Cirdan, an elf who is a shipwright, and teaches his craft to succeeding generations. Cirdan appears in the Lord of the Rings trilogy movies. He builds swan-shaped ships, seaside buildings, and works with Mallorn trees - said to be similar to birchm with smooth bark and leaves that turn gold in the winter. )

Stone Street Studios, Peter Jackson's production facilities in Miramar, New Zealand, pulled from storage the original sets used in the "The Lord of the Rings" Trilogy for Bag End - the Hobbiton home of hobbit Bilbo Bagins, then built more tables, chairs, bookcases and kitchen cabinetry to accommodate the scope and style of the latest blockbuster film. (The Hobbit is now at more than $500 million in ticket sales less than two weeks after opening.)

Middle-earth is a pre-industrial society, so everything had to appear handmade and unique, which was made possible by the company's army of artisans, including a potter, a blacksmith, a glass blower, furniture makers, a food stylist, a saddler, a soft furnishing workroom, a boat builder, basket makers, and a fully manned foundry for aluminum and bronze slip-casting.

Building the world of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" took up the whole of the eight-acre site, encompassing six stages.  Three films for the Hobbit series were filmed at once and required hundreds of people, involved construction of nearly 100 sets. In  the case of the hobbit house, two sets in differing scales were built to accommodate technical requirements for 3D filming.

Design carried over from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, but "a decade later, a lot of the imagery of Middle-earth has become quite iconic," Jackson says. "But for 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,' it was important that it feel like a more idyllic time. The darkness that will descend on this world is brewing but hasn't yet expanded, so we wanted to reflect that visually by making it feel a bit more gentle, and have a bit more of a storybook quality in the design and photography."

The production's art department team of roughly 350 people, working under design leader Dan Hennah, was charged with designing a layered, multi-faceted and palpably real Middle-earth in the physical sets, going hand-in-hand with characters and environments to be created by Weta Digital, which made scale models.


About the Author

Bill Esler, Woodworking Network, WMS

Bill Esler

Bill Esler, Editorial Director, Woodworking Network Bill is responsible for overall content at WoodworkingNetwork.com Woodworking Network magazine, and related newsletters. Bill also manages event programs for Woodworking Network Live conferences at the Woodworking Machinery & Supplies Expo in Toronto and Cabinets & Closets Expo. He developing audience engagement programs using custom digital printing, live lead-generating events, custom websites, and custom digital and print content. Read Bill Esler's woodworking blogs. He can be reached at besler@woodworkingnetwork.com or follow him on Google+.

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Erie, PA  |  January, 10, 2013 at 11:54 AM

The interior woodwork in the Hobbit movie is spectacular. The cylindrical passageways make for some unusual and interesting geometries. I especially liked the carvings integrated into the mantel and in the uprights (pilasters?) used on either side of the passageway openings. Do we know the studio or craftsmen who designed or created this?

L. Binder    
USA  |  January, 18, 2015 at 04:31 PM

I have been looking for the area rug that appears in Bag End - the one with the cream border and stylized flowers that is in the living room area. Is there any place that this or something similar is available? Was it custom made for the movie?


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