History of Pole Lathe turning

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

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History of Pole Lathe turning

Postby turn4better » Sun Mar 25, 2012 4:49 am

Greetings, all,

I'm looking for references about the history of pole lathe turning. I have Robin Wood's book, and have looked through a number of other references - Morris' book on Anglo-Scandinavian Woodworking in York, etc. What I'm not finding is anything about the changes and developments in the lathes themselves over time.

I found a book called Technology in the Ancient World, by Henry Hodges (Knoph, 1970). Hodges talks about strap lathes shown in Egyptian hieroglyphics and then shows an undated picture with the caption reading, "A similar simple lathe as used by the Hunza today." It's a strap lathe, yes, but it incorporates a wooden thrust bearing and a crude friction chuck for hollowing a cup. When and where did the idea of thrust bearing and chucks come into use in wood turning?

Roy Underhill has two different lathes in different books that incorporate a short, stiff spring pole along the back or bottom of the lathe and a rocking beam. The first, in "The Woodwright's Eclectic Workshop" is a reproduction of one shown in "L'Art du Torneur Macanicien" by M. Hulot from 1775. The other, in his latest book (The Woodwright's Companion?) he says is from a German woodcut, but he doesn't know its date or origin. When and where did this type of lathe first appear?

How far back do bows, with or without a bobbin, show up replacing the pole? Somewhere on this site (or one it led me to), I found images of a lathe with two tall poles, on on each end of the bed, with a long cord winding back and forth, and the drive cord for the lathe connected to it. Stepping on the treadle caused both poles to bend towards the center, allowing the drive cord to pull down as needed. Again, when and where do these appear?

I regularly demo at medieval recreation events, and people always ask me the when and where questions. Any help you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

Ron Williams
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Re: History of Pole Lathe turning

Postby gavin » Sun Mar 25, 2012 7:58 am

Let's hope Robin Wood reads this & responds!
If you could source a copy of Philip H Dixon's The Reading Lathe refer p35 et al for more comment.
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Re: History of Pole Lathe turning

Postby robin wood » Sun Mar 25, 2012 9:44 am

Well if you have my book then you have all the medieval pictures there are, all the other images, and there are lots are from 17th C onwards. I didn't go there in the book since it was focused on bowls, but then very little spindle turning was done in Medieval period anyway. Sorry am too time pressured to dig out later lathe images just at moment.
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Re: History of Pole Lathe turning

Postby turn4better » Sun Mar 25, 2012 8:13 pm

No worries, Robin. I'm primarily a bowl and cup turner, so spindle turning images, while interesting, don't really apply to what I do. I play with a group of medieval recreators who focus on 600 - 1600 AD, and my local group does a fair amount of Viking recreation, so I've done a fair bit of looking at Viking grave finds for inspiration for pieces. Outdoors, and playing Viking, I tend to use the long pole, but for indoor demos, I've been using the short pole/walking beam combination. I was hoping to find some evidence that such a device could have been used in my period. I've considered switching to the bow and bobbin, but again, when did that come into use?

Thanks for all your help!

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