I found myself reviewing future projects that I want to do and on so many I’ve found some woodturning is. That’s an issue for me, I don’t own a lathe and I’ve never turned a thing. The most sensible thing to do would be make the project anyway and ask a local tuner to help me when required. That’s what we do at work and it’s always worked well. However, there is a desire within me to learn how to do it for myself. Further, I want to make my own lathe powered by my own muscle. I had a look around at options which fell into two main camps: treadle or pole.
I liked the idea of a treadle, consistent speed and all that, but I was drawn more strongly to the pole lathe. The rhythm of a pole lathe and its humbleness really do appeal. But pole lathes are for green wood, right? Well they do a fine job of that but they don’t have to be confined to that medium. Enter the Roubo pole lathe. As with many of Roubo’s drawings, there is a solidity that brings a robust beauty to his designs and the lathe is no exception. Four thumb x Four thumb is the order of the day to create a very sturdy platform. (A “thumb,” according to “To Make as Perfectly as Possible” (Lost Art Press) equals 1.066 Imperial inches.)
Roubo clearly describes this as a lathe for all woodworkers and there are appliances that can be added to broaden its use beyond the format shown above. However, the above image is what’s I’ll start with and it should see me right for most of my needs.
There are two main issues concerning me, although I’m sure many more will present themselves. The first is making the ironwork for the poppets. I thought I could improvise here but thought better and discussed the project Jim Hendricks of KT Productions, who has kindly agreed to help with the metal side of things. Jim is a hugely talented person and I’d recommend following his tool-making journey, I’ve found him to be very inspiring.
The second was actually how to use the thing if it ever gets that far. Luckily for me a skilled user of the pole lathe lives in my county. Sean Hellman demonstrated turning kiln dried oak on his pole lathe via his YouTube channel. Watching his rhythm and results assured me he was the person I was looking for, and as long as I can make the lathe properly I know a day spent with him will be an investment. We’ve loosely suggested a date next year which leads me onto when.
I have an aspiration to have the lathe finished by the middle of next year and I’ll be sharing my journey, so to speak, here. This is something I would very much welcome feedback from readers. If anyone has experience of turning on or making this style of pole lathe please do leave a comment with your tips. They will be appreciated!
— Graham Haydon
Thanks to Lost Art Press for the image above, a detail from Plate 309 in “André Roubo’s The Book of Plates.”