Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

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

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Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby llwynog » Mon Dec 19, 2011 2:58 pm

Hello,
This is my first post on this forum and I hesitated for a long time whether I should post on the "Beginners' Corner" or on the "Pole Lathe turning" section.
I am a beginner and my questions pertains to pole lathes.

First question, is a pole lathe only usable with green wood or can it also be used effectively with seasoned wood ? If I built myself a spring pole lathe, it would be mostly used to turn dry wood in a first time.

Once or twice a year, I find that I need a woodworking lathe to turn a tool handle or a part of furniture but I could never justify the price of a powered lathe. I first learned about pole lathe by watching/reading Roy Underhill's "Woodwright's Shop" shows/books.
I am now very interested in the possibility of building myself a lathe and maybe making it evolve as needed.

Second question is on the design of the lathe, the 2 plans I have access to are the one from Roy Underhill (such as this one : http://lumberjocks.com/projects/49622) and the plan on this very website. Any comments regarding these plans ? Are there some other interesting plans online or in some books ?
I will need to keep the lathe as compact as possible (I live in an apartment so my balcony/workshop has limited space) so I am considering a bungee cord instead of a wooden pole.
Is it a major inconvenience if the cord is located to a fixed point on the lathe ? If the cord location is indeed fixed, is one side better than the center ? Roy Underhill's design calls for the cord to be on one side of the lathe whereas stretching a bungee cord between 2 uppers tend to locate the cord in the middle of the bed.

Finally, my 3rd question is about tools. I have access too a small forge and making my own turning tools is something I might consider in the future but I want to buy my first set of tools so that I have one less thing to struggle with in the beginning.
I have found the Ashley Iles starter kit online (http://www.woodsmithstore.co.uk/shop/Pr ... +Bundle+I/) and Ben Orford's hooks (http://www.benorford.com/GreenWoodTools.aspx)
Any recommendation between the 2 sets ? Can they be used one instead of the other or are they complementary ? Will they work equally on green and seasoned wood ?
I like the look of the hooks better as they may be easier to copy if I want to forge my own tools someday but they also look much more difficult to sharpen.

Making handles and parts of furniture is only an excuse, I have no doubt that I will probably also start making some small toys or small bowls if I indeed come to make a lathe. One last thing, I have very limited experienced in woodturning in general, I used a powered lather only 3 or 4 times to make furniture parts at some friend's place.

Thank you in advance to however might have time to answer some of these numerous questions.

Fabrice
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby SeanHellman » Mon Dec 19, 2011 9:33 pm

The pole lathe has for centuries been used for turning dry or seasoned wood. I have even been known to put square section billets on it. It will take a longer to turn dry wood, but that is just the nature of dry wood.
Tools, a smallish woodworking gouge and a straight chisel, you do not need to spend much money on these, anything will work as long it has a 30 ish degree bevel and is sharp. Must be sharp.
I started with odds and ends, my first lathe came from skip wood, even the centres were reclaimed bolts. Remember that the lathe is only a tool to hold a bit of revolving wood firmly in place with a sturdy adjustable tool rest, and a spring of some sort. They are made to all sorts of designs, just choose one you like the look of and one you think you can easily make. Tools can be almost any woodworking gouge or chisel, you can start with anything and they can work very well, no need to spend a lot of money just yet.
good luck with the project and have fun
"Scarcely anything is original- it`s very hard to be totally inventive, so I am not terribly interested in originality. Vitality is all I care about" Clive James
Green wood courses, tools, demonstrations.
http://www.seanhellman.com/woodwork/
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby Wiffa1 » Mon Dec 19, 2011 9:38 pm

Hello Fabrice,

welcome and I hope you find green wood working as wonderful as I have.
I am no expert and I am sure that there are some seasoned timbers you can turn on a pole lathe I have never tried as the pole lathe is perfectly designed for working green timber, I should imagine using most seasoned timber would be very difficult for a number of reasons on a pole lathe.
The two sets of tools you Identified are excellent but are designed to do different things. The Ashley Iles set is for spindle turning for making chair legs, tool handles and alike. The Ben Orford set are to be used for making bowls and goblets.
I use mainly old cast steel firmer chisels and large old curved carving gouges as my spindle turning tools, they are cheap to find at boot sales and allow me to practice sharpening my tools.
I do not possess a set of bowl hooks but I do have a Ben Orford crook knife and it is a joy to use.
Hope that helps. There is a real library of information both on here and on You tube which I have found invaluable.
Good luck
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby Paul Thornton 2sheds » Mon Dec 19, 2011 10:13 pm

as said above there is no need to spend much money to get going.
sort the basics and give it ago, i learned ( and am still learning) a lot from trying things one way, then another, from mistakes and then trying toatlly different things.
this forum and the internet are brilliant but can be confusing how to filter so much information - when i made my 1st lathe the internet did not exist (at least not in my house), i had a book, few tools and a little advice from a friend,

good luck and enjoy.
(and if you want to speed up the learning process seek tuition - as i did for bowl turning)
learning more every day
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby llwynog » Tue Dec 20, 2011 8:33 am

Sean, Wiffa1, Paul,

Thank you very much for your answers. I am glad that even if it might take longer, seasoned wood can also be used with the pole lathe.

I will also probably follow your advice and first start with old chisels and gouges. If I don't seem to get them to cut properly and if I am at a loss whether this comes form the tool's geometry or my turning technique, then I will consider buying some dedicated tools.

I'll be looking forward to this project.

Fabrice
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby gavin » Tue Dec 20, 2011 10:52 am

llwynog wrote:
First question, is a pole lathe only usable with green wood or can it also be used effectively with seasoned wood ? If I built myself a spring pole lathe, it would be mostly used to turn dry wood in a first time.

For your very first attempt, I suggest you cut yourself some green roundwood out of a hedge-row or the branch of a tree. The more circular the better. It seems you will lack shave horse and side-ax and drawknife and the space to use these items, so you should start with naturally round material. It will crack in time because the pith or first year's growth is included, but that does not matter for a proof-of concept test piece. What matters is you see how the process works - and you enjoy it. If you have to use dry wood on a first attempt, do use differing species and cross-sectional sizes. Both variables matter.
llwynog wrote:
I am now very interested in the possibility of building myself a lathe and maybe making it evolve as needed.

You can rely on it that it will evolve! As you mention you have a balcony, your downstairs neighbours may take it amiss if you rain shavings on them from above, so your out put may have to be small, or you will create some shaving and dust - catching sheet.
llwynog wrote:
Second question is on the design of the lathe, the 2 plans I have access to are the one from Roy Underhill (such as this one : http://lumberjocks.com/projects/49622) and the plan on this very website. Any comments regarding these plans ?

They all will work. Also refer Mike Abbott's Green Woodworking. I strongly recommend you buy or borrow that book. Personally, I don't care for his later model dubbed "Pole Lathe 2000". As your space is severely limited, you need some thing that will pack flat. I think Donald Todd posted something on this a while ago?
llwynog wrote:
Is it a major inconvenience if the cord is located to a fixed point on the lathe ? If the cord location is indeed fixed, is one side better than the center ? Roy Underhill's design calls for the cord to be on one side of the lathe whereas stretching a bungee cord between 2 uppers tend to locate the cord in the middle of the bed.

Yes it is major inconvenience if you have a fixed tether point. That said, I would not let that stop you constructing your first one - it won't be your last! In any event you can probably move your treadle-lever from one side to another, thus altering the string position on the rotating work.

llwynog wrote:
Finally, my 3rd question is about tools.
I have found the Ashley Iles starter kit online

That's a good set; do make sure you know how to keep them sharp. Out of the packet and new they may not be sharp - go see someone with a Tormek grindstone if need be. Whilst you can sharpen on a flat surface, a Tormek removes the guesswork.

I strongly recommend you go on a course - or at least spend a day with someone who has functioning kit. As you are in France, I can make no suggestion. Who lives in France that reads this board and lives near-ish our new member?
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby llwynog » Tue Dec 20, 2011 4:39 pm

Gavin, thanks a lot for this most detailed answer.
I don't have a readily available source of green timber but by the time I make my lathe, a friend of mine may be able to help me there.
As for generating shavings on my balcony, it is closed by a window so no risk for my neighbour there... my balcony is already filled with shavings from my planes anyway and the likeliest person to complain about more shavings is my wife..

Now if the tether point being fixed is indeed an inconvenience, then I will have to figure out a way to attach the bungee to a separate frame than the actual lathe. This should enable me to move one in relation to the other.

As for sharpening the tools, I do some amount of wood sculpting so I am used to sharpening straight and curved irons with sharpening stones and strops. There is always room for improvement when sharpening is concerned but I guess that if my tools are sharp enough to cut cleanly wood when they are hand pushed, they should be good enough on a foot powered lathe.

Thanks again for the kind answers,

Fabrice
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby jrccaim » Wed Dec 21, 2011 5:13 am

llwynog wrote:Gavin, thanks a lot for this most detailed answer.
I don't have a readily available source of green timber but by the time I make my lathe, a friend of mine may be able to help me there.
As for generating shavings on my balcony, it is closed by a window so no risk for my neighbour there... my balcony is already filled with shavings from my planes anyway and the likeliest person to complain about more shavings is my wife..

Now if the tether point being fixed is indeed an inconvenience, then I will have to figure out a way to attach the bungee to a separate frame than the actual lathe. This should enable me to move one in relation to the other.

As for sharpening the tools, I do some amount of wood sculpting so I am used to sharpening straight and curved irons with sharpening stones and strops. There is always room for improvement when sharpening is concerned but I guess that if my tools are sharp enough to cut cleanly wood when they are hand pushed, they should be good enough on a foot powered lathe. ...

Fabrice


I have used ordinary carpenter's gouges (outside cannel) for turning with great success. Somewhere on my blog, which by now has a great many posts, there is a picture of a 10-year old girl turning with a carpenter's gouge. It would be in the posts for 2010. I will take the liberty of reposting the picture here.
DSCN0387a.JPG
DSCN0387a.JPG (116.4 KiB) Viewed 11363 times

This girl is a "natural" as they say over here. She is better than I am! First time on any lathe at all. Inspirational. If she can do it then so can we.

What I have found is that the size of the handle and the shape/sweep of a gouge is relatively unimportant. This is foot-powered turning. So-called "turning tools" have very long handles because you need leverage to overcome the motor on a pwered lathe. But when it's your leg that is doing the work, you automatically adjust for the pull on the gouge. You will need a skew chisel, I think. I happen to have two of them, one purpose-built, the other I ground down from a cheap asiatic chisel. They work equally well. No need to bust the budget

What really is important is the edge on a gouge or chisel. If you know how to sharpen a gouge you are about six light-years ahead of the average turner. The tools must be as sharp as you can get them. To my mind, this is the breaking point. No matter what lathe design you use. They all work, as Gavin said. But if your tools aren't sharp, no muscle-powered lathe works at all.
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby llwynog » Wed Dec 21, 2011 2:39 pm

Thank you Jrccaim,
If your blog has any other information on pole lathes, then I would be interested in reading it. I could not find any address for a blog on your user details though.

Fabrice
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby Peter De Schepper » Sat Dec 24, 2011 3:14 pm

Hello Fabrice,

I made the Roy Underhill lathe a little over a year ago. If you like cabinet making then this is a fun lathe to build. It is also easy to take apart and put back together. The mortice and tenon arrangement makes that you don't get any sideways movement while turning. I made mine taller than the one in the plans from the book. Roy Underhill's lathes always seem a bit low. I also find this lathe too light and therefore not stable enough. I made mine from softwood and if ever I would build a lathe like this again, I would use something heavier or use bigger sections and make the feet a little longer. You could also bolt it to the floor. The two short spring poles need to be stiff enough. I made mine from cleft ash and shaved them down to an inch thick like in the original plans. I find they are a little to weak, so I will make some new and slightly thicker ones. Most of the time I use another, heavier spring pole lathe with the traditional pole permanently mounted in the workshop, but this little lathe works well enough if you only want it for occasional light work.

Where do you live in France? I live in the Ardennes in the south of Belgium. If ever you come this way,feel free to stop by and try out these lathes.

Peter
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby llwynog » Sat Dec 24, 2011 5:13 pm

Peter, thank you for your insight on Roy Underhill's lathe.
It is good to find someone with first hand experience on this particular lathe.
My plan is to build a lathe based on this design. It will probably be softwood as I don't want to invest too much in a first try. I am also planning to replace the double springs by a sjmple bungee in a first time. The 2 springs can be added at a later time.

By the way, I am based in Lyon so it js not that close to the Ardennes but I checked and bookmarked your webpage. I see that you give classes in chair making and I will definitely keep that in mind...

Tanks again and merry christmas.
Fabrice
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby Peter De Schepper » Mon Dec 26, 2011 11:41 am

I don't think the two springs offer any real advantage over the bungee cord, unless you want to use your lathe in a historic context. I also find they look nice. Another thing I forgot to mention is the tool rest. The adjustable tool rest as shown in the book is more complicated and takes longer to make than the simple long tool rest such as you see in Mike Abbott's books. A long tool rest is also a little handier in use as you don't have to change it's position over the length of the lathe to turn longer pieces.

Enjoy building your lathe and happy new year!
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby gavin » Mon Dec 26, 2011 8:15 pm

Peter De Schepper wrote:I don't think the two springs offer any real advantage over the bungee cord!

Having used both, I can tell you the 2 springs DO feel much better than a bungee. You can alter the tension by sliding the choke left or right. I also agree with other comment re Roy Underhill's 1 inch diameter springs - these are too small and need to be 30 to 35 mm diameter.
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby llwynog » Tue Dec 27, 2011 3:58 pm

I'll see what kind of usage I get from the bungee and then I will decide if I need to upgrade to the 2 springs design.
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Re: Pole lathe for not so green woodworking

Postby Simon Hartley » Wed Dec 28, 2011 12:26 am

If the pole lathe is on a balcony, would it be possible to fix the bungee cord to the underside of the balcony above?
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