Posted on 4 Comments

Pole lathes

I have been reading a very interesting blog by someone who is keen on wooden bowls. The author has done research on Viking woodturning, and has built a pole lathe in connection with her research, though she has not yet got to grips with the craft itself.

I’ve tried using a pole lathe and found it very difficult. You have to stand on one leg while thrusting the treadle with the other, and it is hard to keep steady. The rotation is slow and intermittent, the lathe rocks, and you have to keep advancing and withdrawing the cutting tool in time with your leg thrusts because the direction of rotation keeps reversing. And these lathes don’t have modern chucks etc. So, although the old-time turners did pretty well, and there must be a knack to it, it is no surprise to me that I have never seen any good quality modern turning produced on these primitive machines. (There are some skilled exponents, but the work you see at country shows etc is normally dire, of curiosity value only). Modern turning gear is much more effective.


4 thoughts on “Pole lathes

  1. Have you seen Battle of the Bowlturners?? Electric versus pole lathe!

    1. Yes, Robin does a great job and not just in keeping up with the electric machine. The bowl is quite nicely done, unlike the other one! Turning wet wood is fast, but what takes time is finishing, getting it smooth and polished. Robin must use very sharp tools and presumably doesn’t do any sanding. Most people don’t like an off the tool finish unless it comes from someone like him, then it’s part of the character of the piece.

  2. Thanks for linking to my blog! My first pingback, I’m very excited. In my limited experience of just trying to use a pole lathe, it’s certainly more difficult to learn than an electic lathe but by all accounts, with practice, it becomes a rhythm. There is some beautiful archaeological pole lathe produce,  to my mind certainly high quality. My own research has had to be paused but obviously that doesn’t stop me thinking about it! There are great examples in Robin Wood’s wonderful book on the wooden bowl. Like historic turners, Robin’s own skill likely attests to the hours of practice dedicated to the craft as well as his talent of course. I know Carole Morris attained a certain level of skill using her own pole lathe as part of her research of the Anglo-Scandinavian (Viking) turning. Her book has an amazingly detailed chapter on the subject 

    1. You’re welcome! The old turners did great work, though I don’t know how much was done on pole lathes and how much on treadle lathes, the next step up. I must look at Robin Wood’s stuff more closely. I’m sure you get into a rhythm with practice, but I do like my nice modern electric machines!

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