Wood Lathe History: More Non-Electric Advancements
Thursday, July 16, 2015

With the strap lathe and the bow lathe setting the stage, the history of the wood lathe has only just begun. The strap and bow lathes are noted being used well before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, with both machine tools dating back to ancient times. But between the usage of these two wood lathes and electrically powered lathes bursting onto the scene, other lathes contributed to wood lathe history in an essential way.

·      Pole Lathe
As the bow lathe was considered to be an improvement on the strap lathe, the pole lathe is considered to be an improvement upon the bow lathe. While the system of the pole lathe required the turner to yet again use his or her feet, the new design and added pole of the pole lathe meant the turner now could use both hands with this machine tool. Its invention is dated back to earlier than A.D. 13 but has no specific date, and signified a great advancement in machine tools. The pole lathe wasn’t exactly more complicated than its other wood lathe predecessors in use, but rather, in its framework. Along with a pole (instead of a bow), this lathe now had a treadle and the turner didn’t require aid. With the newly added treadle, the turner could stand while working, control the rhythm of the work, and apply more power while turning. The pole in a pole lathe simply acted as a return spring and kept the string taught. With all of these recently developed aspects, the pole lathe could produce larger items, such as bowls, dishes, large spindle turnings, large musical instruments, chairs, and wheels. And this final item brings us to the next wood lathe on our list. …

                                                                        Wood lathe, lathe, machine tool, turning, pole lathe, great wheel, turner, treadle
                                                                                                             An early pole lathe.

·      Continuous Motion (Great Wheel Lathe)

Often portrayed by cartoons and caricatures as the invention of cavemen, the wheel also has ancient beginnings. Just how ancient has been argued for years, but one of the earliest depictions of this turning apparatus is in a Sumerian pictogram from 3,500 B.C.  Regardless of when the wheel was initially invented, it was used in a specific wood lathe. Whether it’s referred to as the treadle wheel lathe or the great wheel lathe, this particular machine tool had the extra help of a wheel to complete turning a work piece. The great wheel or treadle lathe was another development for wood lathes because it provided continuous motion where other lathes could not. Because the great wheel had to be turned to operate this lathe, it mimicked older lathes in requiring an assistant to turn a crank that powered the wheel. But, using the great wheel instead of a pole lathe allowed for continuous motion, which meant there were no breaks in work other than examining the object that was turning to see how the design was coming along.

                                                                        Wood lathe, lathe, machine tool, turning, pole lathe, great wheel, turner, treadle
                                                                        A great wheel lathe in the 16th century. This lathe required an assistant.
                                                                                          (Image: Book of Trades, Jost Amman. 1568.)

While we know you may be itching to turn the page onto the next chapter of wood lathe history, you’ll have to wait until next month for the next installment in this blog series. But, you can Subscribe to our Blog and catch on all turning and machining topics we’ve covered in the meantime!


Blog Categories

  • General Interest
  • Historical Turning
    • 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

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