Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Traditional Turning

About a year ago, as I became more and more frustrated with the noise, expense and dust involved in "brown" woodworking (using seasoned wood and power tools), I came across the following video.  It is a gem, and well worth 7:43 out of your day.  This video changed my whole perspective on woodworking.

Lovely, yes?
In the video Robin Wood describes his first encounter with George Lailey's work, and has this initial response: "I imagined it would be quite straight forward" and  "It can't be that hard, why is no one doing this?"  I have to admit, upon seeing Wood's video I thought the exact same thing--how hard could this be?  Looking at the lathe, there is nothing too complex in its construction, right?  And the tools--they are dead primitive.  So why not do it?

I looked on line for plans for a bowl-turning treadle lathe, and some exist, but most plans are for spindle turning lathes.  Such a setup is much lighter, as the machine does not have to resist the mass of the spinning bowl as it changes direction.  So, I took the basic design elements from the spindle-turning lathe and just overbuilt it.  Overbuilding is not hard to do.  In fact, I think it is our default mode whenever making anything.  Expertise is shown in what you can take away.  It is about simplifying, as Robin speaks to.

Anyway, first I sourced the beams.  There is an old, dilapidated barn near our home in New Hampshire and I figured the owners would not mind if I repurposed some of the hand-hewn beams lying about.
These are amazing beams, with axe marks from the hewing process, mortice joints with pegs, all the details of a past art.  After hauling them back to my driveway, I removed the nails and washed the wood with a deck cleaning spray that stops mold from spreading.

Once dry, I set to building the lathe.  3/4" threaded rods are all that hold it together.  I did cut notches for each piece to fit into, but really it is the rods that holds the whole thing together.

Leveling the bed

And now, the lathe lives!
But I will tell you something--when Robin Wood said it took him five years just to learn the basics, he was spot on.  I would be lucky to learn the basics in five years.  There is so much to consider, including the state and type of wood, preparing the blanks, sharpening the tools, making sure everything is in alignment, how to use the tools, how fast to push the treadle, etc, etc, etc...  This is not easy.  And yet, one thing amazes me.  With such little precision (the "centers" aren't even in the same plane!) and such crude construction, that darn thing works!  I can't believe it actually works!  Magic.

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