by Roy Underhill
Wood turning on a spring pole lathe is all about reciprocation, all about back and forth. For example:
Q: “Don’t you get tired of standing on one leg?”
A: “Sure, but if you try to work the treadle with both legs – you fall over.”
Q: “Bet you can’t wait for electricity!”
A: “Well, this is an alcohol-powered lathe!” (Said while taking a drink from your big colonial mug.)
Q: “That’s a lot safer than a power lathe.”
A: “Unless you lean forward too far!” (Said while tilting your head into the path of the descending spring pole.)
But snappy comebacks won’t win anyone over to your side of the spring pole lathe. The response that does win a true believer is this: “Here, give it a try!” (Said while passing the turning gouge into the questioner’s hands.)
Adapted from an old German technical encyclopedia, this lathe is precise, portable, powerful, adjustable, adaptable and self-contained. The two dead centers permit no play in the workpiece, and the direct drive of the cord wrapped around the wood loses no power in transmission, friction or vibration. The great virtue of this particular lathe is that it uses two wooden springs, linked by a sliding collar, to make the tension instantly adjustable. The overhead rocker arm lengthens the throw of the springs and puts the drive cord right where you need it.
Equally important in this design, however, aside from how rewarding the lathe is to make and use, is how accessible the materials are. I based the entire design on readily available pine construction timber and you can just about build the entire lathe from a single 12′-long 2×12 ripped down to the actual 4″ and 7″ widths required.
Model: Download a free SketchUp model of the pole lathe.
Website: Take a class with the author; find out more at woodwrightschool.com.
Article: Read “Roy Underhill: Still an Agent of Subversion,” by Christopher Schwarz.
In Our Store: You’ll find the first 31 seasons of “The Woodwright’s Shop” available on DVD.