Using medieval bow making technology to improve performance on the springpole lathe

When I built my springpole lathe I decided to make it larger and heavier than Underhill’s model.  The capacity increase has really paid off as I can turn up to fifty-five inches between centers and and swing twenty.  However, there was one thing that I overlooked.  I never gave a thought to the diameter of the springpoles.  With the added weight of the crossarm, treadle and larger workpieces the one inch diameter is a bit on the “skinny” side, especially as the original main spring was made from yellow pine. 

The yellow pine is more than adequate in the area of stiffness.  But after about a month, embrittlement set in and, SNAP went the original mainspring pole.  The I tried white oak.  It had plenty of flexibility.  Too much in fact.  So, ultimately I used some bowmaking techniques to improve the performance of the mainspring while staying within the 1″ diameter.  I’ve used both ash and hickory.  I’ve split them in two, then glued them back together.  The increase in stiffness is remarkable.  I’ve joined three pieces to form a sandwich of hickory and ash.  The result was a strong, durable main and secondary spring that has performed extraordinarily well for more than a year.

The Bowyer's Shavehorse

Rounding an eight foot long 1″ square block is best accomplished with a stale engine.  Most people don’t have stale engines or rounders, so they opt for the next best thing, the drawknife.  Well anyone whose attempted to shave an eight foot workpiece on a conventional shavehorse, knows that it can be quite a challenge.  So, I remembered a video I had seen on YouTube of French Medievalist Longbow maker Denis Mairine using a shave horse that allowed him to work in a standing position on overly long, thin workpieces.  It is simply a ramped bed, legs that support the ramp and allow for some height adjustment, a lever board and some rope.  In fact it would probably be best described as a rope vise that has been specifically designed to hold this particular type of work.

Simple, effective and highly portable

Note that the drawknife position is just about ergonomically perfect.  That said, it does get a little bit tricky standing on one and a half feet.  But hey, this certainly is no problem for a springpole turner.

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4 Comments on “Using medieval bow making technology to improve performance on the springpole lathe”

  1. paul Says:

    When I was in High School. I had wood shop my favorite projects were performed on a lathe. I beleive it was the feel of the chisel in my hands or the way the chips went flying but thus sparked my love of wood. But I could not have completed the project without a plan. Diy Woodworking plans are crafted by professionals who have decade’s worth of experience in woodworking and are thus quite detailed and also self explanatory. Maybe the biggest benefit of acquiring Do it yourself woodworking plans is always that they give you a great deal of additional strategies to play with; because they’ve hundreds upon hundreds of plans, blueprints and schematics you possibly can literally start out any Diy woodworking undertaking without having performing exploration just about every time.

  2. Craig Says:

    Good Day

    Is it just me, or are the pictures on your site not loading?

    I am interested in your lathe and shave horse work.

    Thanks very much

    Craig

    • D.B. Laney Says:

      I’m using Google Chrome as my browser. Everything seems to working fine on this end. You should be able to view and download everything that’s on the blog. Hope you find it helpful. BTW, there may be some related posts that have escaped my categorizing. So, a quick scan through the blog might prove beneficial. Thanks for you interest.

  3. Julie Says:

    I know this is an old post but I do have a few novice questions.
    I am new to woodworking and on a limited budget (they all say that!).
    My woodworking short term goals are varied:

    Chris Schwarz’s Campaign Chairs — i.e turned legs (want to build 6 of them for gifts)
    Greenwood working -J Alexander and / or Brian Bogg’s (without the electric machinery)
    Some flat, case work – the dovetail thingy

    So I need:

    Workbench
    Shavehorse
    Lathe

    Now the question — Since I have never used a lathe, the learning curve for a spring pole vs a modern electric should be similar.

    Can I get decent and repeatable results with a spring pole in a reasonable amount of time or should I spend the $800 – $1000 for an electric?

    I can build the workbench and shave horse. Might not be pretty with the handsaws I have, but at least usable.

    I can build the spring pole too if it will do the job I want.

    Your advise on the lathe.


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