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As we wait for final electrical approval for our new shop, we can’t help but consider alternatives to 220 volts. In the late 1800s and early 1900s there were many non-electric choices, including lathes, table saws, scroll saws and combination machines. If you’re curious about these devices, there are plenty of resources online. The first place to look for information about old woodworking machinery is That’s where I found this old advertisement, and it’s well worth a look.

If you want to see some of these old machines in action, take a visit to Blue Ox Millworks in Eureka, Calif. If you can’t make it in person, the web site is a great way to spend an hour or so. Back in 1973, Eric Hollenbeck started a salvage logging company that grew to include a millwork shop that specializes in authentic Victorian era details, a living history park  and a hands-on educational program in conjunction with the local school. Among the highlights is a great collection of pancake-powered woodworking tools, with photos available online.

Click Here to See Photos of Human-powered Tools at the Blue Ox Millworks.

– Robert W. Lang

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

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Showing 9 comments
  • woodrouterman

    I don’t have any vintage woodworking equipment like this but sure would enjoy it. My dad has a collection of hand and scrolls saws, but they need to be reconditioned. These are great resources…browsing them now.

  • Scroll57

    The Sawdust & Woodchips Woodworking Association, Central NY’s premier woodworking group, demonstrates on a Seneca Falls Manufacturing Challenge scrollsaw each year at the NYS Fair (in the Agricultural Museum). We got lots of great comments from folks about our demonstrations and fascinate the kids. We create small animals which are give to the “polite” kids.

  • HarryRudin

    I have a Swiss drill press which is pedal powered. It is cleverly built with a offset weight in the flywheel so that the bit rotates in the proper clockwise direction with the first push.
    Should I make a photo?

  • metalworkingdude

    Thanks for pointing out Blue Ox — I think a road trip with my son is in order!

  • The offcut

    Way to go, Bob – you’ve got to get one of those machines for the new shop.
    As kids we had a Hobbies treadle fretsaw in the shed and, next to the firewood axe, it was our favourite thing.

  • David Cockey

    Berea College has the Saulmon Early Technology Lab collection of human powered woodworking machines: Roy Underhill visited the collection in an episode of the Woodwright’s Shop. Roy has also featured a Barnes lathe in several recent episodes.

  • renaissanceww

    We have exact replicas of many of these tools at the Steppingstone Museum up in Havre de Grace, MD too. I can say first hand that turning on a Barnes pedal lathe is a life changing experience. Not sure what that says about my life but there it is. Also the treadle scroll saw is great fun to work with. The infinite variable speed nature of it is great for really detailed work. Finally, once you get the wheels turning on the treadle table saw, it is exactly the opposite of a SawStop.

  • andrae

    another resource about vintage foot-powered or hand-powered machines is


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