The Pole-Lathe

If you’re following this blog, or even just popping in now and again to follow the progress of the Harwich Mayflower, you’re in a very privileged position.  You are lucky enough to be able to see how the Mayflower was built and watch as the shipwrights from the ship’s original home port, build the ship from old English oak using traditional methods where available. It’s one of those traditional methods that I’m going to focus on in this post.

You’re probably wondering what the shipwrights and carpenters building the Mayflower get up to when they’re not  working on the ship. Well, they work on making tools to help with the build!  A few days ago, I asked if there was anything that I could take pics of and was shown a pole-lathe that had been hand built by one of the guys working on the build.

A pole lathe is a wood-turning lathe that uses a long pole as a return spring for a treadle. Pressing the treadle with your foot pulls on a cord that is wrapped around the piece of wood being turned. The other end of the cord reaches up to the end of a long springy pole. As the action is reciprocating, the work rotates in one direction and then back the other way. Turning is only carried out on the down stroke of the treadle, the spring of the pole only being sufficient to return the treadle to the raised position ready for the next down stroke. Modern pole lathes often replace the springy pole with an elastic bungee cord.  [Wikipedia] Photography and content: James kelly.  Pole-lathe built by Tony Wilding.

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If you’re going to make a pole-lathe, then you’re going to need to make some chisels as well. The picture below shows some cold forged chisels made to work on the pole-lathe. In an age when people are straining to get the latest iphone or play the latest xbox or play station and where children are forgetting how to climb trees, I think it’s amazing that there are still craftsmen around that have a skill they can pass on. Not only that, but a skill that built The Mayflower and will build it again.

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One comment

  1. David Youngs

    Fantastic loving the Pole-Lathe! Great to see someone using traditional methods and skills when working with wood.

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