by Jarrod Stone Dahl
My mind reels when trying to imagine what it would be like to be a woodworker in the era when the lathe was being developed. This was well over 3,000 years ago. Historians say the lathe is a direct descendant of the potter’s wheel, which was developed more than 7,000 years ago. And it was most likely inspired by the drop spindle, a simple tool for spinning raw wool into yarn that was in use 12,000 years ago.
I can’t help but be reminded of the concept of the Axis Mundi (or Cosmic Axis) when thinking about how these tools that involve an axis weighed upon the minds of the people using them. Staring at a spinning object for hours on end must have had a profound effect: a technological advance that both creates new objects never seen before, and does it through a process that also shapes the way we think and see the world.
Early lathes reciprocated, and so it was only a matter of time before craftsmen inspired by the motion of the pole lathe began to turn handled cups.
The Irish lamhog is one of the only examples of such a turned cup with an integral handle. It is a downward tapering vessel with a flared foot or base. It is turned end grain, which means the long fibers of the tree are running from the base to the tip of the cup and many, believe it or not, still with the pith in.
Lamhogs were made on pole lathes from the 16th century well into the 20th century and used as drinking vessels in inns and taverns in Ireland as well as exported to the west country of England.
These cups are a technical feat, and many of the examples we have today show very fine lines and sexy curves.
When the pole lathe was replaced by the continuous motion lathe, the form could not be made any longer so it fell into obscurity (though they show up every now and again on some of the online antique auction houses in England).
Article: “Split Your Own”
Website: Visit the author’s website at woodspirithandcraft.com to see more of his work and read his blog.
Books: “The Wooden Bowl,” by Robin Wood; “Treen for the Table,” by Jonathan Levi; and “Treen or Small Woodenware,” by E.H. Pinto.
In Our Store: “Traditional Basket Weaving,” by April Stone Dahl.
To Buy: “The Art of Spoon Carving,” by Jarrod Stone Dahl.