Wood Turning - Aerobic Exercise at its Most Productive

by Darrell Feltmate - Date: 2007-04-25 - Word Count: 773 Share This!

To look at a wood turner today, one sees a person standing before a fairly sophisticated piece of machinery with an array of tools to hand, making wood change before one's eyes into things of beauty. Listening, there is the sound of electric motors whirring belts around pulleys that pull shafts holding various implements to move the wood around in circles as the tools trim shavings off in whispers and whistles. Yet in some areas there is even more quiet as some turners return to the days of yesteryear and the physical exercise of wood turning.

Lathes have been around since at least the days of the early Egyptians and pictures of wood turning have been found on the walls of pyramids. Long before the days of electric motors or even water wheels these lathes had to be powered by limb and muscle.

The first lathes were a "cut and pause" situation. Wood was mounted between two points called centers and was rotated by use of a string wrapped one or more times around the wood. A helper would pull one end of the string and it would move the wood toward the wood turner. As it came forward he would make his cut but the helper would then come literally to the end of his rope and need to pull it back. While the wood reversed the turner would pause in his cutting.

Variations in the theme of wood pulling arose as at first a bow was used to hold the ends of the rope. This kept it under constant tension and made life a little easier for the helper who moved the bow back and forth in some what the same way as he might a saw. Some wood turners became so versatile as to manage the bow with one hand and hold the tool to cut with the other. In some areas of India and elsewhere this method of turning is still used.

The English chair bodgers who made spindles for chair making would purchase the right to cut the wood on a certain area of land and set up shop there until the purchased trees were gone. To power their lathes they employed a similar system with the rope around the wood but in this case one end was attached to a whippy sapling and the other to a stick at this feet. As he pushed down on the stick the rope turned the wood towards him and he cut. After the stick hit the ground he released the pressure and the sapling pulled the rope back up and the wood reversed while the turner rested. Pole lathes like this were brought into the shop by fastening a sapling to the wall or ceiling. There was a lot of exercise in turning by this method.

Also about this time that the great wheel came into use in England and Europe. Simply put, this was a large fly wheel turned usually by an apprentice. It powered a belt that in turn powered the lathe. This was a great innovation as the wood always turned in the same direction and cutting could proceed without interruption except for sharpening the tools. The apprentice received his training and a good bit of exercise.

No one is sure who invented the treadle lathe or for that matter the treadle drive but sketches have been found of such a lathe in the works of Leonardo DaVinci and have been used to make a replica which works quite well. Certainly treadle lathes were used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The crankshaft enabled a fly wheel to be driven by one's foot in much the same manner as the old bow lathe, however like the great wheel lathes the wood turned always in the same direction and more work could be accomplished. On the other hand, an apprentice to move the treadle would have been in the turner's way so it was now the master who received the aerobic benefit of turning wood.

The electric motor has removed the aerobic benefit of treadle turning but a renewed interest in the history of wood turning and of craft in general has begun to bring this back in a small measure. Some turners are now making their own treadle lathes in the manner of their fore fathers in the craft. One can see them not only at the historic villages but also at country fairs and craft shows. It does tend to get the old heart pumping to see the shavings fly in the old manner, not to mention the aerobic activity and heart pumping action of a steady treadle making the wood go round.

Related Tags: exercise, art, technique, craft, woodturning, lathe, wood turnng, treadle lathe, green wood turning

Darrell Feltmate is a juried wood turner whose web site, http://aroundthewoods.com , contains detailed information about wood turning for the novice or experienced turner as well as a collection of turnings for your viewing pleasure. You too can learn to turn wood, here is the place to start. Wondering what it looks like? Follow the page links for a free video. http://aroundthewoods.com You can easily ask your questions about wood turning at his blog at http://roundopinions.blogspot.com as well as comment on any thing related to the web site, this article or other aspects of wood turning, art and craft.

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