Making a treadle or pole lathe

Written by Hugh on .


Material considerations

The polelathe is constructed from timber in such a fashion as to make it portable but still rigid enough to turn accurately. There are a number of points that you should take into consideration when building a lathe, some of which will be important to you, some of which should not be ignored and others where you can use your own judgment. Use structural or furniture grade timber. The better you make your lathe, the more likely it will be a joy to use. Choose hardwood for preference or dense softwood if you have that. The lathe will take a lot of knocks and blows so resilience is a prime consideration. I used mainly english chestnut, because that is what was available. Others have used oak, ash, beech and pine. Some have recycled timber from sofas, tables and floors. For those of you in the USA hickory could make a fine lathebed. None of the metalwork need be anything other than mild steel, including the centres. Threaded rod of 10 & 12mm together with nuts and generous sized washers will suffice for both centres and fixing bolts.
Design considerations

Firstly, you will be standing at this lathe balancing on one foot and pumping the treadle with the other. Your hands will be busy and your back must be straight. The effort involved is about that of a brisk walk. The ergonomics of your lathe are important. Take a tape measure, hook it under your heel and measure to the top of your hip bone when you stand up straight. You are building a lathe for You and this is the height of the top of the lathe bed. It may seem tall but stick with it or suffer back pain and misery. The centres will be between 6" & 8" ( 15-18cm) above the bed. Make the bed as long as you can reasonably accomodate, this may be dictated by how long a piece of timber will safely and comfortably fit into your car. Remember, any turning over about 2'6" (76.2cm) is likely to need a 'steady' to prevent it whipping and chattering as you try to turn it. Polelathes may have a double or single piece of timber serving as the bed. The design described is a double bed. The end frames are made in such a way as to have parts under tension, torsion and compression when assembled. This gives a rigid support that does not work loose or slacken with age.