Wood Turning

The art of wood turning has been in practice for nearly 4000 years as is evidenced by Egyptian pictograph representations depicting the use of a primitive bow-driven hand drill. Employing the use of the bow as a spinning a tool, this instrument was a precursor to the modern lathe.

The bow lathe employs a small bow to spin wooden stock mounted between two centers. The bowstring is wrapped around the wood stock, and drawn back and forth creating the lathe engine. This process is by nature tedious, requiring the artisan to produce the means of locomotion with a single hand while holding the cutting instrument with any of the three remaining appendages, or employ a helper.

The Middle Ages experienced significant advances in the lathe with the introduction of the pole lathe in Europe. The pole lathe uses the tension of a pole or branch to provide a more convenient turning apparatus. Coordinated with the pole was a treadle that acted as a return, leaving two hands free to manipulate the chisels. Although a significant advance, the pole lathe did not address was the need for continuous motion. As with the bow lathe, the artist could only cut while the piece spins in one direction making it necessary to wait for the piece to return after each revolution.

Examples of the first continuous drive lathe can be dated to the fifteenth century with the use of cranked flywheels, and giant wheels powered by man and beast. Continuous-drive lathes resulted in vast improvements in speed and precision, while making the use of hard woods as well as metals practical. During the period between the mid sixteenth century and the nineteenth century, use of the continuous-drive lathe became widely adopted resulting in the zenith for the craft of woodturning.

Although certain innovations would not become common until the turn of the twentieth century, woodturning technology and expertise are much the same today as they were in the early 1800?s.

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