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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, 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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