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.


Posted on Leave a comment

Yew and apple bowl blanks

Today I sawed the two logs I found yesterday to make some bowl blanks.¬†Here are the two logs, the “yew” on top.

yew and apple logs


I am fairly sure that the bottom one is apple. Its bark looks right, and it has the odd little mushroom shapes in the wood that seem to be almost characteristic of applewood in my experience. At least, it had them when fresh cut but by the time I got the camera to them they had faded. I will take a shot when I cut into the surface again – see below.

The other, which I was initially sure was yew, now gives me doubt. Its leaves look like yew,

yew leaves

and the exposed end grain has a definite red colour that I would expect (you can see that in the top picture). But when cut, the colour is wrong. Yew typically has a bright orange/red colour when freshly cut but this has pale brown heartwood. I cut the logs in half using my Startrite 352 bandsaw. The cut was about 11 1/2 inches deep, with approximately no clearance under the guides. It only just fit and I had to take it slow. It was hard to keep the cut straight and the pieces don’t have very flat surfaces for the faceplate. I should use a sharper blade next time. Here is the yew:

yew log cut for bowl blanks


and below is the apple

I cut these halves into bowl blanks. Here they are, with the apple on the left:

applewood and yew bowl blanks

I started roughing out one of the ‘yew’ bowl blanks and found it had the small dark knots common in yew, so I think that is what it is. There are many varieties of yew out there. It looks good anyway.

Here is a photo of one of the odd little mushroom/arrow markings that are found in apple and related species. (This one is perhaps too tall to be a mushroom, more a sort of Xmas tree shape). I don’t know what causes these marks in the wood, but I haven’t seen them in other species. The sap in the green wood darkens quickly, just as cut apples do, and these marks soon fade. They do show in the finished bowl though, as the wood is stable then.

odd mark in applewood

Here are photos of one each of the yew (upper) and apple wood bowl roughouts, ready for drying:

yew bowl roughed out

applewood bowl part turned

All four of the bowls are promising, with good colour and figure, though the yew has some heart shakes (cracks) that if turned away will make the bowl much shallower. Yew is very prone to cracks like this in the wet wood. Fruit wood often cracks on drying, so I shall seal these to slow the process and hope for the best.