any broken men out there?

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

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any broken men out there?

Postby DavidFisher » Wed Apr 13, 2011 12:57 am

I enjoy using my pole lathe, but it is certainly not a daily occurance. Maybe those of you who turn more regularly will be able to provide some perspective on this.

Recently, I purchased a copy of Treen or Small Woodware Through the Ages by Edward H. Pinto (1949). I know that Robin Wood Refers to a 1969 book by Pinto in his book the Wooden Bowl. Anyway, in the introduction to this book, Pinto refers to a description of turning on a pole lathe by Dr. Iorwerth :shock: C. Peate in which Dr. Peate writes, "...the working of the pole-lathe is much more laborious than that of an ordinary lathe, and when the vessel turned is of large dimensions, the energy required for working the treadle and manipulating the tool is such that one turner assured the writer that ten years at a pole-lathe would have made him 'a broken man'."

Seems like that might not necessarily be the case, but I am interested in what others think about this based on their own experience and knowledge of past turners. Did/do pole-lathe turners become "broken men?" Perhaps there is a risk of back, knee, hip problems? If so, I'd think the risk would be worth it, and probably not as risky in many ways as sitting on the couch.
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Re: any broken men out there?

Postby jrccaim » Wed Apr 13, 2011 2:59 am

DavidFisher wrote:I enjoy using my pole lathe, but it is certainly not a daily occurance. Maybe those of you who turn more regularly will be able to provide some perspective on this.
....
C. Peate in which Dr. Peate writes, "...the working of the pole-lathe is much more laborious than that of an ordinary lathe, and when the vessel turned is of large dimensions, the energy required for working the treadle and manipulating the tool is such that one turner assured the writer that ten years at a pole-lathe would have made him 'a broken man'."

Seems like that might not necessarily be the case, but I am interested in what others think about this based on their own experience and knowledge of past turners. Did/do pole-lathe turners become "broken men?" Perhaps there is a risk of back, knee, hip problems? If so, I'd think the risk would be worth it, and probably not as risky in many ways as sitting on the couch.


Good grief. People pay hundreds of pounds/dollars for the doubtful privilege of working out in gymnasiums. With a pole lathe, you get your cardio exercise and turn out something useful, or at least pretty, at the same time. Needless to say there are limitations to any form of exercise. I would not advise the average couch potato to go out and run a marathon, and neither would any doctor. If you get tired, quit. There is always a risk of "back, hip, knee problems" no matter what you do. Even walking around the block. Erratic exercise is terrible on muscles and joints. Stay in shape, and enjoy turning.

Oh yes. Pole lathe turning is "repetitive execise." You do the same thing over and over (push the treadle). So break it up. Switch legs. Use your other hand on the tool. Especially if you are older. Stop a few minutes and admire the view. Breathe regularly. As in Karate, breathing is half the battle. Breathe out on the downstroke, in on the return. Personally I find pole lathing much more pleasant than pushing the lawnmower!
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Re: any broken men out there?

Postby goldsmithexile » Wed Apr 13, 2011 8:22 am

dont forget years ago people lived in damp houses, no central heating, poor to non existent health care, still plagued by diseases like ricketts, typhus, diptheria etc, generally shortened life expectancy, no pensions so you had to work till you drop, no social security....plus you had to be at it continually to make money, no subsidies, grants or any thing like that. All against the backdrop of "the workhouse".
I remember on a Jack Hargreaves film he mentioned that old farm labourers or millers would inevitably get "the screws" (arthritis or lumbago??) after a long period of service. Now workers are only allowed to lift tiny little weights in case they hurt them selves....
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Re: any broken men out there?

Postby robin wood » Wed Apr 13, 2011 8:39 am

This is something that concerned me when I started out, when you are learning it can feel pretty hard on your body. The last bowlturner George Lailey turned bowls up to his death at age 89. Ion Constantin the turner I visited in Romania in 1998 was 70 and appeared in good physical shape.

I am very body conscious and think many UK tradesmen are not as conscious of their bodies as they should be, how many days work are lost each year due to bad backs etc. When I started turning the norm was to stand with one leg on the ground and the other up high on the treadle often at a slight skew angle. This felt like it gave a continual skew to the hips. I always have my right foot on a block so that when I push down with the left it goes all the way past my right foot and the right knee bends slightly, this keeps the hips square and allows both legs to share the work more like riding a bike.

The arms particularly elbows and wrists can take a battering too and the trick here is to learn to relax, it is being tense that causes the grief. It is difficult to do consciously though the natural thing to do is to tense up. The same goes for carving with axe and knife, learning to relax everything makes it far easier on the body.

Even when you can do it bowlturning is far more physical than spindle turning. I turned 8 bowls yesterday and feel like I have had a good workout afterwards.

Another lathe mod that helps is high centres. I remember meeting Keith Rowley at a show in the mid 90s he was a lovely bloke and gave me good advice but 50 years production turning had left him with his neck stuck permanently in the work position, I just tried to find a pic of him but this one of Larry Huach came up (he learnt from Keiths books) it shows the neck position typical of folk who work on low lathes.
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Re: any broken men out there?

Postby Paul Thornton 2sheds » Wed Apr 13, 2011 8:04 pm

goldsmithexile wrote:dont forget years ago people lived in damp houses, no central heating, poor to non existent health care, still plagued by diseases like ricketts, typhus, diptheria etc, generally shortened life expectancy, no pensions so you had to work till you drop, no social security....plus you had to be at it continually to make money, no subsidies, grants or any thing like that. All against the backdrop of "the workhouse".....


and whats changed? :?
learning more every day
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Re: any broken men out there?

Postby Terence » Wed Apr 13, 2011 10:39 pm

I've done very little bowl turning but I've 3 years clinical experience as an osteopath so here's my take on the subject of joint health in bowl turners... The fact is its manual and repetitive and therefore puts stress on joints, predisposing one to osteoarthritis/joint degeneration. Lots of factors will decide whether you become a 'broken man' or not, things like the ergonomics of youre lathe, youre level of skill and quality of tools (the more skilled/sharper youre tool the less effort and more relaxed you are), taking breaks every 30 mins or so, youre level of general health and fitness, even youre diet plays a key role. Common knowledge I suppose but something people often dont stop and think about.

I have treated a lot of people with severe arthritis who have worked hard all their lives but these people often have the least symptoms. X-rays/MRI scans show serious degeneration but they are almost pain free. Their attitude is the key - they are highly motivated to remain physically and mentally active, some even into their 80's and 90's. Obviously its important to take every step you can to look after youre body, but in the end mind over matter is the best approach.

You have to be careful with injured joints though, if you twist a knee, start getting repetitive strain injuries, or damage ligaments its important to take the appropriate time away from manual work to let things heal. For instance continuing on a pole lathe after tearing a cruciate ligament and preventing it from healing properly will strongly predispose you to osteoarthritis. The joint is unstable so doesnt transmit force efficiently and youre cartilage gets damaged (this applies for any joint, including youre back). Ease back into the hard work and get advice from and osteopath or physio on how quickly to do this.
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Re: any broken men out there?

Postby DavidFisher » Sat Apr 16, 2011 12:37 pm

So... keep the centers high, consider using a block under your supporting leg to force it to bend, relax your body, exhale on the downstroke, and maintain a positive and enthusiastic attitude. Great ideas.

Terence wrote:Their attitude is the key - they are highly motivated to remain physically and mentally active, some even into their 80's and 90's. Obviously its important to take every step you can to look after youre body, but in the end mind over matter is the best approach.


It's better to wear out than to rust out!
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Re: any broken men out there?

Postby jrccaim » Sun Apr 17, 2011 3:09 am

Terence wrote:...
You have to be careful with injured joints though, if you twist a knee, start getting repetitive strain injuries, or damage ligaments its important to take the appropriate time away from manual work to let things heal. For instance continuing on a pole lathe after tearing a cruciate ligament and preventing it from healing properly will strongly predispose you to osteoarthritis. The joint is unstable so doesnt transmit force efficiently and youre cartilage gets damaged (this applies for any joint, including youre back). Ease back into the hard work and get advice from and osteopath or physio on how quickly to do this.


Good advice indeed. Last year I was visited with severe back pains. I thought it was due to having one leg shorter than the other. So my doctor sent me to a Physical Therapy outfit. A very smart young lady pulled, twisted, pushed and prodded; at the end she asked me to stand up and told me I indeed had one leg shorter than the other, but my back pain was caused by toeing out (throwing the toe out as you walk; a very common defect). They gave me some stretch workouts, and I am learning to walk again (at my age!) and toe in as I do so. No more back pains! No medication, no orthopedics, just learn to walk again. A lot of aches and pains -- broken men, women and backs -- are caused by simply not thinking about what we are doing.
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Re: any broken men out there?

Postby NorfolkNige » Wed Apr 20, 2011 8:08 pm

My left knee is made of titanium and chromium steel :) Reckon a lot of other stuff is going to give out before that does, well I hope so anyway. :D It will be the plastic pad between the top and bottom of the joint that wears :( I asked the surgeon to put a grease nipple in both side of my knee and he laughed and said I'd be surprised at just how many people ask that!!!

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Re: any broken men out there?

Postby Davie Crockett » Thu Nov 10, 2011 9:53 am

Regarding looking after your back: From a medical point of view, your spinal discs are 90% water and as the day goes on and you're in a vertical position, fluid is squeezed out of the discs, putting pressure on your nerve roots, (the main cause of back related pain). As you get older, the body doesn't replace the fluid as efficiently and the discs start to degenerate.

Rehydrating sufficiently last thing at night gives your back the best chance of recovery as, when you're laid flat, the pressure is off the discs and they can swell again. (From a personal point of view, sports drinks rehydrate quicker than water but they do contain salt or a salt substitute).

I've got no solution for the nocturnal trip to the loo afterwards though! I guess this is the lesser of the two evils!
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Re: any broken men out there?

Postby jrccaim » Mon Nov 14, 2011 3:33 am

Davie Crockett wrote:Regarding looking after your back: From a medical point of view, your spinal discs are 90% water and as the day goes on and you're in a vertical position, fluid is squeezed out of the discs, putting pressure on your nerve roots, (the main cause of back related pain). As you get older, the body doesn't replace the fluid as efficiently and the discs start to degenerate.
...
I've got no solution for the nocturnal trip to the loo afterwards though! I guess this is the lesser of the two evils!


In my case the cuprit was not the spine. It was the pitiformis muscle, which runs under your gluteus maximus and bears on the sciatic nerve. Very often "back pains" are not really "back" pains. They are can be caused by something else. If you have 'em, find a good physical therapist. Be that as it may, you advice on hydration is extremely sound. We tend to dehydrate ourselves at all times. I keep a one-liter carafe of cool water in the kitchen, and try to drink it all up during the day. I would say a liter is a bare minimum, but you do get water out of cups of tea or coffee. Drinking it up during the day avoids those nocturnal safaris.
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Re: any broken men out there?

Postby Windsorman » Tue Nov 15, 2011 5:08 pm

Yes! I am a broken man! It is very true what will happen eventually! I started making Windsor chairs when I was about 38 years old. I started with a log, split with a wedge, then froe. I used a shaving horse and draw knife to shape bows and spindles. I did this full time as my living, supporting a family. By the time I was 48, my shoulders were shot! When I finely saw a doctor, he told me it was time to get out of my line of work. But, people have done this for hundreds of years I said. Why am I any different? Because by the time they hit 50, he said, they were dead back then!
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