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Early Man-powered Wood Lathes

When I first started experimenting with man-powered wood lathes, the sources I found were piecemeal bits and occasional illustrations in various books on modern motorized woodturning. But as a member of a historical re-enactment group with a firm educational mission, I was interested in not only the machines, but also period techniques, tools, and accessories to help me talk about the history of the trade in front of the public.

This site is an attempt to collect and share various sources, and illustrations I have found on early turning to assist others who are interested in experimenting with these machines of the past. My interest has been in pre-industrial turning so there is little here about the manufactured lathes of the 19th century.

At the right is your host, sittin' & spinnin' at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival (photo courtesy of Bryan Patzke) -Since I switched to my small hand-pumped lathe I've been turning mainly smaller items like simple cup & ball toys, game pieces and lace-making bobbins in wood as well as bone.

Please! feel free to suggest links for traditional/historic woodturning and historic woodworking, or books and articles on historic turning and early lathes for the bibliography

Latest Updates:

4/17/10 Added 2 videos to the Youtube page
1/20/10 Added a pic of a potter's "lathe" to Related Machines page.
7/29/08 Added a new video to the YouTube page.
5/10/08 Updated the Bibliography
3/22/08 I started a new page with embedded YouTube Videos on traditional turning
3/13/08 Added a video showing My bow lathe in use

Ancient lathes Continual rotation lathes Spring-pole lathes
Bow lathes Tools Related Machines
Specialty Lathes Quotes about turning Notes on a 17th Cent. turner
My bow lathe Bibliography Links
YouTube Videos on traditional turning

 Bibliography now has links to titles that are available through:

"An Informal look at Wood Turning Through the Ages " CD-rom

If you like this website, I am offering an expanded version of this information on CD-rom with additional features and many larger graphics and scans of full pages from some of my primary sources so you can see the illustrations in larger size and in their original context.

Included on the disk:

  • All 86 plates from Denis Diderot's  L'art du Tourneur (1775)
  • Selected plates from Charles Plumier's D'art de Tourner (1706)
  • All the turning-related plates from from Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises (1678)
  • Dozens of other illustrations I have collected, as well as notes that I have made
    on the history of turning from various primary and secondary sources.
  • Simple design plans for the two lathes I have built and experimented with.
  • Mac and Windows compatable.
    $20.00 + $2.00 shipping

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