I have always been fascinated by the lathe. There is something mesmerizing about watching the shapes appear from the spinning wood. As much as I like the lathe, I never planned on adding one to my shop. There’s a whole list of excuses why and I had taken the lathe off of my to-do list and penciled it in on my some-day list.
Through a strange series of events however, things have changed. There’s a big long story that explains all of it, but I’ll just cut to the gist. I was recently given several turning tools. How awesome is that? There is a mixed bag of Craftsman, Buck Brothers and Vermont American. I think all of the basic profiles are here. A few gouges, a skew, a parting tool, thumbnail, ect. They are in need of a little love, but should get me more than started.
So now it seems silly not to delve into lathe work. Of course I need a lathe first.
The basic types of human-powered (I have no interest in electric) lathes are spring and treadle. Each has its pros and cons. The spring type lathes are simplest to build, are portable but work with a reciprocating action. Treadle lathes are a little more complex to build, are generally too heavy to be easily portable but have the benefit of constant rotation. So why choose one over the other?
Portability seems to play a big role in the decision process. Even still, there are several examples of historical shops with permanently installed spring pole lathes. So maybe personal preference has always played a part. For me, the combination of simple to build and portability is hard to ignore.
Roy Underhill’s version of a German spring pole lathe is a design that is hard to beat. It’s a self-contained, reasonably light and portable lathe. The only issue I have found with Roy’s version is that it seems a little short. In most of the videos I’ve watched, including The Woodwright’s Shop, Roy and others look stooped over while using this lathe. My suspicion is that the low height is a function of the novelty of building the lathe frame from a single 2″x12″x12′. That’s just my personal guess though. Anyway, I think I’ll have a go at building and using Roy’s version of the spring pole lathe but, I’ll build it a little taller.
Plans for the lathe can be found in a few places. One source is Roy’s book, “By Wedge and Edge“. Most recently, PWW magazine (August 2016) ran an article by Roy on the building of the lathe. Or (if you have the time and money) you could attend a class and learn to build this lathe directly from Roy.
As you may know, I like to work with proportions. Short of that I prefer metric. All of the plans for Roy’s lathe are based on imperial dimensions though. So I did a little CAD work, converted the plans to metric and tweaked a few of the details. My version will raise the work a few inches/centimeters, it will be a bit longer to ensure that I can work with table-length legs and I’m changing the decorative elements as well. No surprise there.
I’m building the lathe out of SYP and purchased a couple of 2x boards and will be utilizing the pieces left over from the recent table builds as well.
Step one was to break that lumber down into the required components and layout the joinery.
I then cut the large mortises that will receive the rails. I used an auger to remove the bulk of the waste and then used a chisel to finish off each mortise. The “spring” part of this lathe design is supplied by two wooden rods. These rods are contained in three holes and one slot. The slot allows the end of one rod to travel up and down creating the spring action. The three holes I simply bored through. To create the slot I bored a hole at the extents of the slot and used my turning saw to cut out the bulk of the waste. Finally cleaning up the walls of the slot with a wide chisel.
Greg Merritt Part 2