Posted tagged ‘treadle lathe’

Farewell, old friend

September 14, 2014

In every life there comes a time to cast off most of the material things that we labor to gain and maintain, those possessions that, ultimately, possess us.

Pretty philosophical, right?  Well, the truth of the matter is that I need space.  Anyone who has walked into my little shop in recent months has found it more cramped than ever.  I’ve just got too much stuff in there.  So I decided to take an inventory and get rid of things that I hadn’t used in the last year or items that I possessed in multiples.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that gaining some much needed space would not, necessarily, be that difficult.  If reality could talk, it would have said something like, “Hey!  Dumb Ass, you’ve got three full size lathes here!  Why?  Who needs three lathes in a one man, 400 square foot shop?  What are you thinking?  You’re not thinking!  One of them has to go!”  There it was.  Cold.  Hard.  Reality.  Ugh….

The main lathe is a Nova 16-24-44 that I bought several years ago.  Couldn’t get rid of that.  Then there’s a Powermatic 45 that’s next on the list for restoration.  It’s the lathe I’ve always lusted after.  That one’s staying put.  So.  There it was.  It had to be the Treadle Lathe.  What?  The Treadle Lathe?  The heavy duty, double spring, spring pole lathe that could swing 20″ and center 48″?  That lathe?  The one I built with my own two hands?  That lathe?  Yep.

I’m a great believer in the notion that a true craftsman finds his joy in the process, not the product.  But still, this was my baby.  I was more than a little attached.  But after thinking about it awhile, I decided to call a friend of mine.  This particular friend is a hand tool aficionado, collector, student of woodworking history and a guy who, along with his family and friends, is building a log cabin with hand tools (non-powered).  So I called him, explained the situation and, to my relief, he agreed to “adopt”  the lathe.  There it was, the lathe would have a new home.  It would be well cared for, appreciated and I could visit occasionally. Several days ago we loaded it up into his truck. I suppose the feeling that I had, as the truck pulled out of the drive, was like the guy just gave his dog away (right after the dog had chewed up his new $500.00 Italian loafers).  It was a mixture of emotions.

So now I have desperately needed space that I can use for assembly and finishing.  But it is an unusual feeling.  The shop seems to have lost some of its intimacy.  Hmm?  I wonder… Could there be some other unique project out there? I mean, hey, now I’ve got some room…

cone pulley reeving



Spring pole lathe details

December 14, 2012

The most popular topic on this blog, over the past few years, has been my spring pole lathe.  It is a heavy duty version of Roy Underhill’s German style lathe.  It is very rigid and stable, quite capable of doing large work.  Hope these detail shots will help anyone who decides to build a reciprocating, foot-powered lathe.  You’ll become a better turner for your efforts.

A tale of two planes

August 18, 2010

Lie-Nielsen has benefitted the entire woodworking community by providing bench planes based on the venerable Stanley Bedrock designs.  The Record company provided bench planes that were clearly based on the Bailey patent system.  Interestingly enough, Garrett Wade Company also became involved in the “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery” business when it offered the Paragon Plane.  The Paragon brand was identified as a “Premium” plane and carried a reasonable, but somewhat higher price than its competitors.

I had pretty much forgotten about the Paragon, until a friend of mine gave me one that he had purchased when Garrett Wade first introduced the line.  I knew that I had seen that design before, but where?  It didn’t take long for me to identify the design as that of the Millers Falls Type 4, that was produced from 1955 to 1966.

The Millers Falls plane was made in the United States, the Paragon in England.

The unique, two-piece lever cap, patented by Millers Falls was incorporated into the Paragon.

While the cheeks of the plane are a little higher on the Paragon, the similarities between the two planes are striking.  The M-F used Padauk for the knob and tote.  It appears that the Paragon also uses the same specie with a little different finish. Note the “upright” design of the totes.   The massive adjuster nut is common to both planes.

Both planes are excellent in performance.  But, I’d have to give the edge to the M-F.  The casting, machining and plating just seems to be a little better.  But, in fairness, the adjustments on both are smooth and with minimal lash.  Either one of these smoothers would be an excellent addition to the shop.

Spring pole lathe details

March 12, 2010

I’m always surprised by the number of people who are genuinely interested in my spring pole lathe.  Many of them have asked me for more detailed information about its construction and use.  So I thought that I’d take the opportunity to post some detail photographs of the lathe.  Discussion about reciprocating lathe turning techniques will continue to be the subject of frequent posts for some time to come. 

First, let me say that I learned of this design from Roy Underhill’s writing  (human powered lathes play prominently in several of Roy’s books and I encourage anyone who may be reading this to become familiar with all of his books).  I believe that he referred to it as being German in origin.  It is quite sophisticated, as spring pole lathes go, as it uses two spring poles that are completely contained within the lathe’s framework.  This makes the lathe both highly portable and amazingly stable.  My lathe differs from Roy’s in several ways.  First, it is larger; center height is 46″, swing – 20″ and capable of nearly 60″ between centers (tailstock removed and dead center positioned in the right side frame member).  Second, the lathe is fitted with a fixed treadle that can be operated at any spot along the entire length of the lathe.  Lastly, the ways are wider and deeper,  and a set of lower “stretchers” were incorporated into my design.  The stretchers may be overkill, but I wanted to insure the lathe’s rigidity and stability and that was accomplished. 

The ability to adjust the amount of tension is very, very important.  This design provides a number of ways to “tailor” spring tension and stroke length.  The spring bridle, upper and lower connecting rod position, line position and treadle adjustment all come together to optimize the lathe’s performance. 

Enough talking, let’s get to the pictures! 

The "finished product"

Getting started

Tool rest - note steel wear bar

Tool rest slide

1/2" handle nut locks dead center into "weld nut" (available from

Dead center (1/2" carriage bolt) held in place by "weld-nut"

Hickory wedges hold frame together - spring poles are "jam fitted" into "head post" (note grain orientation to avoid splitting)

"Main spring" with connecting rod (1/4" HR bar) and retainer

Crossarm rides on 1/4" carriage bolt in bronze bearing - notched keep connecting rod in position selected

Toolrest locking bolt - 1" wooden screw

Treadle - 3/8" rods ride on bronze bearings that drop into slots in the feet - allows for easy removal of treadle for transport

treadle detail - from rear

treadle detail - from rear

treadle detail - from rear

Spring bridle - note relief so spring is not damaged during movement

Tailstock or poppet, if you prefer

Just a couple of other points…


Frame, toolrest and tailstock – Yellow pine dimensional lumber (2×12)

Treadle – Ash and yellow pine

Springs – laminated hickory

Threaded and tapped parts – cherry, maple, apple

FINISH – 50/50 Boiled linseed oil and Pure Gum Turpentine (elemental “long oil” spar varnish)

Sidewinder Lathe Project Update

February 21, 2010

Well, I’ve completed a number of “required” projects and now I can get back to the “fun stuff”.  The Sidewinder lathe is taking on “a life of its own”.  I’ve done some re-examining of my goals for this project.  Here’s the current list of things that I’d like to accomplish by building this lathe:

  • design and construct a lathe that is human powered, but still capable of a range of speeds that will allow for high quality execution of the work on a reasonbly broad range of diameters, up to eighteen inches;
  • be able to turn pieces up to sixty inches in length on a fixed bed (perhaps longer with a bed extension);
  • minimize the footprint, by positioning the driving wheel parallel to the lathe bed;
  • utilize contemporary work holding devices

In short, the goal is to build a big lathe that will be capable of turning large parts using modern chucking while occupying a small amount of floor space and – DO IT WITHOUT A MOTOR!

Okay, so I’ve got to start somewhere.  And, it seems to me that the logical place to begin is with the drive mechanism.  This, it would seem, would consist of the power supply (Me!), the power transmission apparatus, and the speed control system.  Alright, you’re right to ask the question – if I’m using a treadle, which is driven by human power, why do I need a speed control system?  Can’t I just increase or decrease the treadle speed as required?  Well yeah, I could.  But if anyone has every ridden an old single speed bike up a hill, you’d immediately know why some method of speed control (or more appropriately power control) would be so desirable. 

I plan to use a large drive wheel, forty-two inches in diameter.  From working on my springpole lathe, I know that about one hundred treadle strokes per minute is a pretty comfortable pace.  The math is realatively straightforward, I’ll be able to generate a pretty good amount of speed.  Ahh, here’s the problem.  The springpole lathe, you see, is all about torque.  It is a “torque monster” (as Underhill says, great for cutting multiple threads).  The “big wheel, high gear, high speed” lathe won’t be very torquey.  It’ll be kind like when Honda brought out their 250 cc four cylinder motorcycles to the race track.  Everyone thought their little rubber bands would break (but they beat everything in sight).  However, when I’m roughing in a large piece of stock, I’m going want to run at a slower speed with adequate power (torque).  Therefore, the need for some type of gear change mechanism.

So for the past few days, I’ve been thinking about methods of gear changing that I might use.  The whole issue is pretty well complicated by the fact that I have a right angle change of direction in the “power supply” line.  I thought about a step pulley arrangement but that would require the use of some kind of tensioning device (idler, etc.).  That device would not only take up valuable space, but it would also alter the direction of the power transmission (spliced rope or round leather belting).  Then there’s the problem of the type of belting I would use between the two step pulleys, as I invision them as being supported at both ends, not cantilevered.  Then, EUREKA! – a flash of insight.  Why not use two cone pulleys with a transfer idler?  Truly variably speed.  After a little simple mathematics; Speed of drive pulley X Diameter of drive pulley / Diameter of driven pulley = Output speed,  I figure that if I pump the treadle 100 times per minute, I can realize spindle speeds of between 175 rpm and 2950 rpm by simply moving the transfer idler.  Here’s a diagram of the “theory”,

So…If there’s anyone out there in “Lalaland” who’s as goofy as I am, let me know if you think that my theory holds up.  I’d be most appreciative of any input.

Obviously, this little project isn’t going to be completed within the next couple of days, so I’ll keep you posted.

Sidewinder project update

January 24, 2010

“Coupe de fleur’, who in reality is friend, workmate and nationally recognized expert and author on Craftsman furniture, raised a question on the Sidewinder’s drive arrangement and whether or not I planned to use a tapered drive and a multi-diameter headstock pulley.  He also mentioned the possibility of a set up that would allow for the use of a shell auger.  Fact of the matter is that I am contemplating using a MT2 drive and some type of quill set up in the tailstock that will allow me to use a live center and permit me to thru-bore.  Still doing a little contemplating regarding the need for anything other than a single diameter headstock pulley.  Here’s a “cartoon” of the reeving pattern.  If anyone sees any obvious flaws, please let me know.

Also, I’d like to thank Roy Underhill.  I asked Roy if he was familiar with this style lathe and what he felt was the best material for the drive connection.  He responded the next day, identifying the machine as being very similar to the one on display in the Norwegian Folk Museum and, in his experience, round leather belting was the best choice for the drive connection.  Roy is a “national treasure” and he proves the old adage that if you need something done quickly, ask a busy person.  Thanks again.


January 20, 2010

Call me irrational, illogical and a spendthrift, if you will.  But I’ve concluded that one can never have too many treadle driven lathes.  After all, God saw fit to give us two feet, so…  Over the next month or so, I’ll be working on a “sidewinder” style, continuous rotation lathe.  This is a curious configuration, with the wheel sitting parallel to the lathe bed, that offers a number of distinct advantages and challenges.

The advantages of this design are; the wheel diameter is only limited by the number of pulleys that are required to create the appropriate reeving path.  The larger diameter wheel can generate much higher spindle speeds with fewer treadle strokes.  The crank link will be in the center of the treadle.  This will allow me to build a trapezoidal treadle which will be both stronger and lighter than a “side load” treadle (type seen on most treadle lathes).  The actual depth of the lathe will be much narrower than one with the wheel perpendicular to the lathe bed, therefore saving valuable floor space.

I’ve only seen two partial photographs of this style lathe.  If anyone out there has any information that they could share with me, I’d certainly appreciate it.  Stay tuned.  We’ll doubtlessly uncover some arcane information about gear ratios, reeving, pulleys, bearings and rope splicing.  Should be fun.


January 16, 2010

When I first became interested in spring pole lathes I assumed that I would simply use the same tools that I used everyday on my powered lathe.  I remember reading that a spring pole lathe was “safer” than a powered lathe due to its lower operating speed.  Well, it turns out that due to amount of torque generated and the fact that a spring pole lathe is a reciprocating tool, I’ve re-thought my tool selection.  Perhaps I can save some novice pole turners some frustration by sharing a few thoughts about some tools that I find useful when using my lathe. 


My little "Pride and Joy"

 Understanding the “Catch” 

Most  turners  use the word “catch” to describe the moment in which a shearing tool, more often than not the skew chisel, decides to take off, seemingly of its own accord, and leave a deep diagonal line across the face of the work.  This, invariably, happens when the surface is nearly complete, necessitating an unexpected “design change”.  This phenomena might better be referred to as a “chase” or “skate” as it is created when the cutting edge has an insufficient clearance angle.  The workpiece literally drives the tool which acts like a threadchaser.  Due to the high torque of the spring pole lathe, a “skate” can happen very easily. 

The classic skew "skate"

 Rolling Beads 

Rolling beads with a skew is the mark of a skilled turner.  That said, the fact that you are presenting a cutting edge that is diagonally positioned to the rotation of the work is “flirting with disaster”.  The skew chisel will remain the best finishing tool, bar none.  However, when rolling beads on a high torque, reciprocating lathe, there may be other options that will make life a little easier.  The first is the beading and parting tool.  It is simply a narrow, double-edged chisel.  It is simply presented perpendicular to the workpiece axis, then rolled in either direction to form the bead.  The finish left by the tool is quite good as the double bevel burnishes the surface as the cut is made. 

The Beading and Parting tool - note the perpindicular presentation

 A second option for rolling beads is the bedan.  It is similar in size to the beading tool.  However, it is a single bevel tool.  This means that the cutting edge is ground at a steeper angle than the beading tool.  “Bedan afficinados” will typically work the bedan in an “upside down” manner, meaning bevel up.  I becomes a very agressive shaping tool when used in this manner.  The surface finish created when using the bedan in this manner is rather “open” and may required a little additional burnishing or sanding.  Using the bedan with the bevel down yields a nicely burnished finish.  The steeper cutting angle will require some adjustment.  The turner may find that a “bevel down” bedan offers a somewhat better finish when turning figured workpieces. 

Running the Bedan with the bevel up

Gouges – Shallow is good 

For me, a shallow gouge and a perpendicular presentation seem to work best on the spring pole lathe for creating longer or varying radius curves.  The classic “English” grind or a shallow “Ladyfinger” work especially well.  That said, I’ll frequently use a very exaggerated detail gouge for rolling convex, as well as concave surfaces.  With gouges, like straight or skewed chisels, the turner must be aware of the cutting and presentation angles.  

"English" grind shallow gouge

"Ladyfinger" shallow gouge

Sharp tools, understanding cutting geometries and practice = Great results
Practice, practice, practice.  And, when you get a little discouraged, just remember that some of most complicated turning ever accomplished was done on a spring pole lathe, well before the discovery of electricity.
“It’s a poor workman who blames his tools”

Spring pole lathe. Why would anyone want to build one?

August 6, 2009


75-Amb-2-317b-83-r.tifWell that is the question?  Why would anyone at age sixty-three and supposedly in his right mind want to build a springpole lathe and actually use it to turn something?  Well there are several obvious answers:

1. Should a nuclear halocaust, extraordinary civil unrest or the arrival of space invaders disrupt the power supply, I could still work on the lathe;

2.  I could get a fair amount of low impact, anaerobic excercise while I was turning;

3.  I could demonstrate how turning used to be done;

4.  I could replicate 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th century furniture and architectural pieces with complete authencity.

Well number 4 was the real deciding factor.  But the others certainly came into the decision making process and don’t be fooled, thinking that I was just having some fun with you about number 1….hey, you just never know.

So I began an exhaustive search for all of the information about springpole lathes on the internet.  Surprisingly, there’s a lot of information out there. 

First, what is a springpole lathe?  Well, it’s a reciprocating lathe, meaning that there is a cutting or down stroke and a return stroke.  The power for the cutting stroke is furnished by the turner depressing a treadle.  The power for the return stroke comes from the “springpole” which has been energized during the cutting stroke.  A line is used to connect the treadle and the springpole.  Right between the treadle and springpole sits the workpiece, with the slacked line wrapped aroung, waiting to be trimmed to size, so to speak. 

Springpole lathes come in all sorts of sizes, shapes and configurations.  Just Google any of the words highlighted in the text and you’ll see what I mean.  But it’s interesting that the actual technology employed certainly predates recorded history.  And springpole lathes were used commercially much more recently than you might think.  Bodgers (chair parts makers) took them to the woodlots in England where they turned parts and left the shorts and chips on the forest floor well into the period just before World War II.

Historic re-inactors, restorers and ancient industries devotees are renewing the interest in this simplest of woodworking tools.  And, it’s important to note that some of the most ornate and technically challenging turnings ever made were produced before the discovery of electricity on springpole (reciprocal), continuous (treadle & flywheel) or great wheel (turned by your apprentice) lathes.  Some of these turnings have never been duplicated on modern power lathes. 

Some noteworthy contemporary springpole turners are Peter Follansbee, Don Weber, Roy Underhill, Drew Langsner and Robin Wood. Much more information on springpole lathes is to be found at The Association of Springpole Turners. And for more general history on the art and craft of Woodturning, be sure to visit the Worshipful Company of Turners of London.


Chapter 2 is all about what style of springpole lathe did I want to build?  So I set about creating some parameters for my decision making process.  First, this was a lathe that I wanted to use in the shop.  I had no visions of tramping through the woods with this thing strapped to my back.  Second, I wanted to be able to turn 48″ between centers as I invisioned doing some formal bannister back chairs.  Third, I wanted enough swing that I could do some bowl turning (after seeing Robin Wood turning bowls at his home in England).

Ultimately, I settled on a design that Roy Underhill has used for a number of years, with a few modifications, of course.  The lathe is a double springpole design.  This simply means that there is a primary and secondary springpole linked to one another by means of a bridle device.  This design offers infinitely variable torque and resistance control.  The springpole is linked to an overhead crossarm via a connecting rod (1/4″ hot rolled steel rod).  The line connects the crossarm to the treadle.IMG_1530

Roy’s lathe seemed a little small for my purposes.  So I set about to build a large, heavier duty unit.  Also, it seemed that the work height was quite low.  So I designed a lathe with a 20″ swing, 52″ center width and a 44″ working height (at 6’3″ and with a bad back, I need the height).  The ways and stretchers were beefed up considerably to create a very stable platform.  Lastly, I found that I just wasn’t as lithe as Roy and decided to build a full treadle that would allow me to use either foot at any workpiece position to power the lathe.  This has paid huge dividends, although it has caused me to redesign the primary springpole.  The original springpole, prior to the addition of the permanent treadle, was 1″ diameter yellow pine.  But after the placement of the treadle, it was necessary to go to something stiffer and more durable.  Option 1 was to increase the diameter of the springpole which would have been easy enough.  But I opted to make a laminated springpole by simply gluing two pieces of hickory together then rounding them on my shavehorse.


For the frame of the lathe I selected Yellow Pine.  My northern friends might say why in the world would you choose pine, it’s so soft.  Well my friends, yellow pine ain’t soft, no way, no how.  Yellow pine was the most popular framing lumber in the eastern half of the US for generations, prior to the advent of the pneumatic nailer.  Yellow pine is prone to splitting unless the craftsman takes precautions to prevent the nailed fastner from acting like a wedge, splitting occurs.  One only need imagine an enthusiastic young carpenter shooting nail after nail after nail into a YP 2×4 and it becomes clear why beautiful, strong, stable yellow pine has been replaced by “white wood”.  In any event YP was available, it was cost effective, strong and, doggone it….that’s what Roy built his lathe from- enough said.The cross arm is white oak (scrap), treadle is ash and YP and, parts of the toolrest are cherry and, as I mention earlier, the springpoles are hickory.

The torque and subsequent energy requirement to operate the lathe are infinitely adjustable due to the variable connection between springpole and crossarm, bridle adjustment between springpoles and extendable treadle arm which allows for increase in rotational stroke.




Another consideration was the toolrest.  Due to my height, I tend to work “over center”, a lot.  So I wanted a toolrest that would allow for some vertical adjustment.  Also I wanted to be able to angle the rest in relationship to the ways.  What I came up with was, essentially, a wooden banjo.  The toolrest has a steel wear strip.  All in all, the banjo and rest work great and I’ve had numerous compliments stating that the rest looks sculpted.  Pretty? maybe…but it works and works well.


Centers were simply made from 1/2 x 3 1/2″ carriage bolts, ground to a conical end.  Weld nuts and handle nuts were used to support and clamp the centers tight.  Both are available from McMaster.



When all is said and done, this is what it’s all about, legs for a joynt stool.  But, to those of you who are already proficient turners, making four duplicates of anything on a springpole lathe will test your skill.  But make no mistake, you’ll be a better turner for your tribulations.


If you have any more questions about why anyone would want to build and use a springpole lathe,  just look at the picture of the guy at the beginning of this post.  Is there any question as to why SOCCER (futbol) is the most popular sport in Europe?  Just look at that guy’s calves.  But then…take a look at that face – is that a happy craftsman?

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