Monday, September 30, 2013

Finally, Something Useful Off the Spring Pole Lathe

I've been slowly trying to gather a collection of tools for windsor chair making over the last year or so. This  past Father's Day my wife got me the large Lie-Nielsen/Drew Langsner froe. I'm sure it's going to be a great tool, but without something solid and wooden to whack it with it's kind of useless. Time to make a froe club.

A while back, we lost part of a maple tree on the property to a storm. While cleaning up the mess I saved a section with the intent of turning a club and that's what I did last week. I peeled the bark off, (which I should have done earlier; a couple wood worms had gotten to it), found the approximate center, and chucked it up in the spring pole lathe. Took about an hour and a half, but eventually I ended up with what I think will be a nice froe club; heavy, dense, and hard.

It was fun to actually turn something other than a practice piece but I proved to myself again that I really need practice on the spring pole. I guess my technique is just poor because the only thing that I really have any success with is the roughing gouge. Can't get any kind of acceptable results with the skew or the 2" straight chisel. Anyone know a good place to learn turning techniques for a spring pole lathe? I think it's a whole different ball game than a regular powered or even a treadle lathe. Don't get me wrong, the spring pole is a blast to turn on, just wish I could get better results.

Ready for a log.

The tools. Ashley Iles carbon steel turning tools from TFWW.


Shannon said...


Everything I have read relates to continuous motion lathes. There are some good texts out there from the mid 19th century but alas they are all flywheel related. The thing is I don't think the technique is much different, it is just that the reciprocating motion is much less forgiving. I'm sure you have experienced those moments when the tool is gliding along and cutting great then all hell breaks loose. This is because as the shape of the wood changes under the cutting edge it become unsupported and you dig in or chatter results. Ultimately a light touch on the tools is mandatory. I don't mean a light cut, but a light touch so the tool can remain agile to match the contours of the wood yet not to the point where it jumps when the motion reverses. Think of a hand saw. When you grip it too tight, you force it to follow the line created by your body. A light grip and it will follow the ling dictated by the set and tooth geometry.

In the end, I think it is a touchy feely subject that is hard to put into words and must be experienced first hand. Thus no one has written much about it.

Jamie Bacon said...

Thanks Shannon. I too believe that a reciprocating lathe is a totally different animal than a continuous motion lathe. I have to believe that the speed the work turns has something to do with it also. I know we're not talking electric powered lathes here, but when I watch Curtis Buchanan turning a chair leg on YouTube, it blows my mind seeing how quickly and cleanly he takes material off. Bear in mind that I've never turned on a electric powered lathe before, so that may look like no big deal to someone who has.
Guess it just comes down to practice. And I'll try to practice with a light touch.

Charles said...

Jamie, Modern or continuous turning lathes will allow you to have a little bad form but pole lathe not so. Must have fairly good turning technic and big thing to learn is getting timing down to ony move tool on the down stroke. Just a lot of Practice.

Jamie Bacon said...

Thanks for that Charles. Is it wise to only reposition the lathe tool in between downward pumps of the treadle or do you actually move the tool along the rest during an individual pump cycle? Hope this phrasing makes sense.

Jason Breen said...

Jamie, try connecting the motion of your foot to a slight motion of your arm/hands such that when you step down the tool is tilted into the work. On the return stroke, the tool is tipped up slightly removing it from the work. Check out Robin Wood's video showing his pole lathe work.
I agree about speed. Try turning a small diameter on the work first, just to get a wrap that will spin the work as fast as possible.
Lastly, sharpen tools with a curve, so that there are no straight edges and corners to catch. When so much of the body is moving, I find it hard to keep the tool in perfect alignment. This is especially true of gouges and skews. Fingernail grinds are a big help. You might also try using a stout but shallow carving gouge in place of a spindle gouge. The shallower curve will catch less and make wider shallower cuts.
Time and practice, too.
Good luck.

Charles said...

Jamie.. The way I do it, is only move the tool in conjunction with the downward stroke. I do not let the tool come out of the cut as tipping the tool up slightly off pulling the tool slightly back awards. Find a comfortable smooth pace to pump the treadle is helpful.

Shannon said...

I think Charles hit the nail on the head with his last statment, "a comfortable, smooth pace". I have a tendency to get a little frantic and my frequency on the treadle increases thereby increasing the amount of directional shift on the work piece. When I relax and focus on long, smooth strokes of the treadle that move through the full arc of the spring, the turning goes much better. I compare this to sawing with a bow saw: long, easy strokes with a light grip cut more accurately than "trying to saw".

Joshua Klein said...

Great tips, guys. I've had the same questions as Jamie. I always have considerable sandpaper work to do. I still get the product in the end but I'd rather finish off the chisel.

It looks good, Jamie. Keep it up and fill us in when you gain insights into spring pole work.

Pollacks Stogies said...

Hi Jamie, your blog has blown me away and inspired me more than you can imagine. It got me to finally build my new pole lathe and quit using the prototype I knocked together years ago. I really followed your design and hope you don't mind.

I'm on instagram as toddswoodshed or look at #polelathe.

My advice would be to spend time watching youtubes. Look up making a spinning top on a pole lathe and Ben Orford and Robin Wood.

It is different then a powered (electric, great wheel, water) and a lot less dust! The cool shavings that fly out of a piece of fresh green maple are dreamy!

Thanks again and keep up the strength! Todd

Pollacks Stogies said...

Duh, my point with the youtubes was to get an idea of the rhythm and when the various tools are used. I really practiced on the skew and get decent results when I pay attention but you can do loads of work with a gouge. Get different size gouges and don't ignore the effectiveness of scraping will wear you down on a pole lathe!