Wood Lathe History: Common Types before the Industrial Revolution
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
For those in the machining and
turning crafts, it’s common knowledge that the Industrial Revolution had a significant
impact on the evolution of the lathe and additional machine tools. As humans
began developing tools and technology, honing new skills, and began more
efficient ways of production, different power sources started to become standard.
Motors now required electricity, meaning the conventional way of operating
machine tools by human touch was being phased out as more and more machinists
were “turning” to automation. But
before automation and metalworking became regular practices in the machining
world, there was woodturning and thus, wood lathes.
The wood lathe is commonly the
typical lathe that is widely known because of its ancient beginnings and continued use. But as many
machinists know, these ancient machine tools also saw several developments,
which caused them to differ from place to place and change over the centuries. However,
a few manifestations of the wood lathe contributed more so to the lathe’s
history than others did. Highlighted below are a couple of different wood
lathes that played a part in wood lathe history.
An indicator of its name, the strap lathe used
just that to turn objects into useable items and tools: a strap. Considered to
be one of the earliest forms of the lathe, the strap lathe technically required
two people to work it, who would have to be sitting down for this lathe to
operate. The turner and the turner’s assistant worked in tandem to have the
work piece become an item or a tool, such as a bowl. To power this wood lathe, between
the turner and the assistant, one person had to pull the strap (typically made
of leather) back and forth to provide a reciprocating motion that would create
this lathe’s power. While the first person was controlling the strap, the other
individual would do the actual carving of the wooden work piece to turn it into
its final form. The first instance of people using the strap lathe was seen in
ancient Egypt in roughly third century B.C.
A schematic diagram of a strap lathe without the tool rest.
(Image: The Woodturner's Workshop)
• Bow Lathe
Though similar to the strap lathe because of how
it receives its motive power, the bow lathe is considered by many to be an
improvement on the strap lathe. Another wood lathe that is described through
its name, this particular one also had a similar design as the strap lathe, but
it required a bow’s string to be wrapped around the work piece in order for any
turning to be completed. The bow lathe is considered to be an improvement on
the strap lathe because it only needed one person to work it. But now there is
less motive power for the lathe and the turner only has one hand available to
control the machine tool. This minor setback caused many people to steady the
bow lathe with their feet.
Though the bow lathe became a “foot tool,” multiple countries developed their
own form of the bow lathe years after the strap lathe had been designed. The
Romans are said to be the first society to create the bow lathe, with Germany,
France, and Britain also creating similar wood lathe designs using a bow. And
with each incarnation of the bow lathe, numerous items were created. But,
because this machine tool oftentimes required a foot for operation, only small
items, such as chess, backgammon, or other game pieces, could be produced on
the bow lathe.
A turner working at a bow lathe, late 19th century.
(Image: The Woodturner's Workshop)
Contributing to the evolution of
the lathe, these two varieties are “pivotal”
to wood lathe history, as they are considered among some of the oldest of
wood lathes, and lathes in general, in history. Because of the use and progression
of wood lathes, machinists, hobbyists, and other people involved in the turning
trade, can continue to produce tools, game pieces, toys, and countless other
items the world has never seen before.
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miss a post! Don’t forget to tune in next month for more history on wood
09/18/2015 - Wood Lathe History: No, That’s
08/10/2015 - Wood Lathe History: From the F
07/16/2015 - Wood Lathe History: More Non-E
06/17/2015 - Wood Lathe History: Common Typ