Very long shaft

discussion of the niceties of turning on a bow, bungee or pole lathe.

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Re: Very long shaft

Postby AlexanderTheLate » Tue Dec 31, 2013 5:07 pm

Peter Follensbee (spelling?) wrote on his blog about a 'shaving ladder', as an earlier alternative to a shaving horse, used in house finishing (I think) for long lengths (clapboards?)

I'll go dig up the post now.
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Re: Very long shaft

Postby AlexanderTheLate » Tue Dec 31, 2013 5:08 pm

http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=shaving+ladder

Likely easier to shave long lengths of wood.
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Re: Very long shaft

Postby goldsmithexile2013 » Wed Jan 01, 2014 2:25 pm

My guess is they used a similar method to a Navajo flute maker. Shape the outside with drawknife/shave etc, like tillering a bow.Then split or saw it in 2, hollow it out to the desired thickness, then reassemble it with maybe metal or leather bindings?

BTW there are quite a few pictures of pole lathes from mediaeval manuscript's, why wouldnt a longer specialist lance making lathe be simmilarly shown, if such a thing did exist?
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Re: Very long shaft

Postby Brian Williamson » Wed Jan 01, 2014 3:43 pm

Kaven wrote: As far as I know, medieval spear shafts, tournament lances and flag shafts should be turned out of greenwood poles.


Do you have any particular reason for saying this? It seems a most compicated way of trying to attempt to make these items.

here are a few random thoughts on the subject.

Early boat masts would have been made out of solid, grown poles with however much 'shaving' done as was needed to make them workable.

Flag poles would not be dissimilar in size and would be carrying much less loading, so would probably be made the same way.

Small round (grown) poles are not neccessarily the strongest option. True, the grain is continuous, but they will almost certainly contain grown-in knots and they will not be straight (or round). Trees never are. Any attempt at straightening (or rounding) them will result in 'short' grain and weaken them.

Later boat mast-making techniques would have seen them being made out of sawn baulks of timber. Sawn timber will often be potentially stronger than its grown counterpart, because the grain straightens itself out as the tree enlarges and the early knots get left behind near the heart. Such masts/spars would have started as a sawn square in section; been taken down to an octagon and then planed down to a, more than accurate enough, round.

Now, the further back in time you go the less efficient sawing becomes, but I see no reason why a good craftsman couldn't make, for example, a spear-shaft out of cleft material simply by shaving/planing. Or, for that matter, a jousting lance. The human eye can detect very small variations from the straight and string-lines would have been readily available.

So I return to the original question and ask another. Why assume that they were turned? Why could they not have been shaved/planed?

And if jousting lances were hollow at some point, then that is not too difficult to achieve within a solid structure. Just think of the oriental ball-within a ball-within a ball-within a ball.

Just some ideas.

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Re: Very long shaft

Postby Robin Fawcett » Thu Jan 02, 2014 11:26 am

Kaven wrote:Was something like a modern lunette available in medieval times, or did they use some different technology?

What is a lunette? When I googled it there were some strange suggestions!
There was an episode of Time Team where they used a Strap Lathe to turn the axle for a Roman chariot - I think Rob Wood was involved. Basically the billet is roughly shaped and mounted in centres which are banged into the ground, a leather strap is passed round the billet which has rope attached to the ends. The ends are pulled in turn by teams (2,3,4? people) on either end a bit like a tug-of-war. The Master stands with the tools and does the shaping on some form of rest. I always thought I might see more of this kind of team turning but never have...
Can't imagine that technology was used for masts or flagpoles though - they probably were shaved.
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Re: Very long shaft

Postby TonyH » Thu Jan 02, 2014 9:14 pm

Robin Fawcett wrote: Basically the billet is roughly shaped and mounted in centres which are banged into the ground, a leather strap is passed round the billet which has rope attached to the ends. The ends are pulled in turn by teams (2,3,4? people) on either end a bit like a tug-of-war. The Master stands with the tools and does the shaping on some form of rest. I always thought I might see more of this kind of team turning but never have...


I would have thought that there ought to be enough people about at the Bodger's Ball who'd be up for a go ? Sounds like good entertainment value at least.
Last edited by TonyH on Wed Jan 08, 2014 9:10 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Very long shaft

Postby jrccaim » Wed Jan 08, 2014 5:39 am

Wow, lots of posts on this somewhat academic (but fascinating) subject. OK, very interesting. Peter Follansbee's shaving ladder is a nice way to hold very long stuff. I really like it. May even adapt it someday. Would also double as a peeling jig for poles. If there is anything more frustrating than peeling poles on a horse I don't know it. I improvised a peeling jig out of X-shaped pieces pushed into the ground but Peter's version is much better. If you have headroom of course.

Perhaps the first lances used were poles. Can't say, but not a Good Idea (TM) :) This is because poles are (a) not straight (b) contain lots of defects such as pinwood knots, and the defects are magnified by the relatively narrow diameter, and (c) break very easily. A pole, in fact, is a teen-aged tree, with all the defects that impllies. No insult to teen-agers, once was one myself. Bad news if you are Sir Lancelot. Agree with Brian totally and probably the first lances ship's masts, etc made were just that, poles. Look at the parallel -- bows. The first bows were made out of poles. But somewhere somehow somebody got the idea of riving the yew, and so the famous English longbow was born. It is still alive today, and it is made out of riven wood. I am willing to go out on a limb (no pun intended :) ) and say lances were made same way; rive and shave.

As an interesting aside, the late Eric Hiscock was a very famous UK yachtsman and writer. In his first book he relates how the mast of his first boat was made. Somebody (this was in the 1920s) started with a big square piece of timber and hewed it out with an adze! It was mirror-smooth when he finished. This is a level of skill that fully justifies that currently abused word, "awesome." And masts are tapered, too. Maybe somebody in mideval times was very, very skilled with an adze.
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