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How to Make a Spring Pole Lathe for Bowl Turning, Part 1

I like making bowls more than I like making money.

H.V. Morton, In Search of England, 1930

I've been wanting to make a new spring pole lathe for the last 2 years or so and now that I have 5 acres with trees again, I decided that making such a lathe would be a good winter project. If any of you happen to have a copy of the February 2002 issue of Woodwork you'll know that there is a wonderful article in that issue about Robin Wood, a bowl turner in England. (If you don't know about Robin already please visit his website at www.robin-wood.co.uk/index.htm, he is simply an amazing woodworker and you should see his work.) In the article there is a photo essay of him building a spring pole lathe out of a log using just an small broad axe, centers made from 5/8 inch rod and several different sized augers. That is what I am working on, making a lathe from a tree with just a Jersey pattern axe and a brace with a bit.



There was a Douglas fir near the house with a dead top that had a little bit of lean to it, but it looked like a decent tree. I felled it with my Husky 385 chainsaw and bucked most of it into firewood except for the butt of the tree which I cut to a six foot length. Then I started to split it with wedges.


When I was a teenager back in the mid to late 1970's, I split incense cedar trees for fence posts for our property in northeast California, my parents and brother did too, it was a family affair, each one of us seeing who could split out posts faster and straighter then everyone else. Splitting this log brought back many memories. I knew that the Douglas fir would be tough and stringy, I've split Doug fir before and this one was no exception to the rule.


The tree had more of a twist then I expected, so to shorten the amount of time I needed to swing an axe I scored the log with the chainsaw, okay, so I cheated from my rule of using only an axe, etc. Those little pieces are a lot easier to split off then big chunks.


Here's what it looks like after some hewing, as you can see I have more work to do.

I don't own a broad axe, but I do have a nice Jersey pattern axe that works well and a little double bit cruiser axe that I use for carving. I would like to get another Jersey pattern axe and re-grind the bevels so that it would be better at hewing. Wow, I guess I'm tired after a day of tree falling and hewing, my sentences aren't making much sense. I'll post more tomorrow, there's a snow storm coming in with strong winds and a high of only 17 degrees F.!

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