Tag Archives: Pole lathe

It feels like progress

It may not look like much, but I have made some progress on my White Wolf Fian challenge. Observe, the pole lathe bed in its natural habitat…

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Alright, for now it looks like a tree trunk with a groove knocked out of it. I am not ashamed to admit that it took a lot for me to cut into the log. Here I had a seemingly perfect ash log that split so beautifully; I really didn’t want to screw it up! So, I did what any resourceful Norseman would do when faced with unease and anxiety. I went to the internet.

You see, the internet is full of wonderful and helpful people. People that have built spring pole lathes before. I decided to take advantage of their wisdom and experience. It is from these wonderful folks that I learned that 3″ is a pretty good width to make the groove in my lathe bed wannabe. The groove is for the poppets to sit in (the poppets will hold the work piece, allowing it to be, well, worked). The poppets need to be able to move along the bed to accommodate different sized work. 3″ is a good width because it will allow the poppets to be plenty thick and strong. It will also leave me with a substantial surface for the bearing surface of the poppets to register solidly.

“But Einar, how did you actually create the groove?”, ask the fans, hanging on my every word.

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I used a chalk line to “draw” parallel lines, 3″ apart done the length of the bed. The brace bit you see in the above picture allowed me to drill holes through the bed that would establish the end points of the groove on either end of the bed. Next, I cut along the grooves outline with a tool that the Norse probably wished they had (chainsaw). I know that sounds easy enough but a chainsaw is a tricky thing to use to cut to an exact line. Basically, I started at the drilled out hole at one end and finished at the other end. Repeat on the other side of the groove if you are following the home version.

wpid-20141112_141758.jpgHere you can see the two holes at one end of the groove and the cuts I made down the length. With those steps done, I was left to knocking out the wood that remained between the holes (and cuts) on either end. This task fell to tools that the Norse were very familiar with, a mallet and chisel. I had to work from both sides of the log because it is still close to 7″ thick (including the bark). In this picture, I am working the underside.

The process is fairly simple: Drive the chisel straight down along the line marking the end of the groove. Cut and lever away the wood by then coming at that chiseled line from the waste side (what will be the groove). Continue these steps until you break (on) through to the other side (any Doors fans among my readership?). Repeat at the other end.

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A close up of the completed work. Its not the neatest bit of woodwork ever completed but it will serve. The important thing for me was to begin the process and get the groove cut before the cold weather hits. I really don’t want to be working on this in sub zero temperatures and with snow up to my knees. I am hoping that by getting the groove cut and the waste wood removed, the log will be under less tension as it seasons and dries a bit over the winter. This should help minimize any cracking that normally accompanies drying wood. To further help with that, I coated the ends of the log and the ends of the groove with a commercial end sealer. This product (called Anchorseal) helps slow down the loss of moisture from the end grain, which eases the tension the wood will experience. I also blocked up the ends of the log to protect them from the wind over winter. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t have a bunch of firewood by the time spring comes around.

The next step with be rough cutting the poppets from the other half of the log I split. There is not a tremendous rush on that as much of the work will be done inside the toasty confines of the shop. I also need to get moving on building my forge because I need that in order to make the tools to use with the lathe. Again, work that can happen indoors. As near as I can figure, I am still very much on track to present the finished lathe and some bowls produced on it this coming summer at the War of the Trillium.

Got questions or suggestions? Leave a comment and hit me with ’em.

Thanks for stopping by.

White Wolf Fian

There is an Arts and Sciences group in Ealdormere called the White Wolf Fian. It is a challenge-based order where membership and successful completion of a project conveys no rank or award beyond being able to say, “I did it!!!”. The goal of the Fian is to push artisans to a higher level of skill and knowledge in a particular field or topic. Challenges are to be of an intermediate level (with the Kingdom A&S rules as a guideline) and require between 6 months and 1year to complete. During Royal Court at Pennsic XLIII, I challenged for admission to the Fian.

My challenge is  straightforward…build a pole lathe, the tools needed to work on it and produce some functional bowls. Sounds simple enough but I think this poses a few significant challenges for me.

1. The tools used for making bowls and cups are called hook tools. The only way to acquire them in the 21st century is from a few select blacksmiths, most of whom live in the UK and Europe. These smiths charge a fair rate for their work but it is out of my price range. So, I need to make my own. Lots of greenwood turners do this but my only attempt thus far was a dismal failure, which makes me a little nervous.

2.  The lathe itself, while not requiring a high level of precision, is nonetheless a very large project for me. I mean, I’m a woodturner. I make wooden bowls, cups and urns. A lathe is a large piece of furniture! Heck, it’s  industrial equipment! Oh, did I mention that I am inept at measuring anything accurately? Yeah, furniture sort of depends on measurements for its creation so this will be a challenge for me…a very big challenge.

3.  As I said, I am a professional woodturner and I am pretty good at what I do. I know my way around my lathe and arsenal of gouges and chisels. Woodturning on a pole lathe requires very different tools and techniques to what I used to. Imagine putting a 9ft spear in the hands of the best fencer in the Kingdom. They still understand distance and timing but can’t make it work with a log in their hands. When it comes to hook tools for making bowls, I am that fencer. I understand wood and how steel can be used to cut it but this will demand a whole new set of biomechanics (never mind that I’ll be standing on one leg while the other pumps up and down on the treadle!).

The first will be building something I can use as a forge. I will not be using a coal forge because while that would be a more period method, I am not up for the mess and expense. The challenge is to create bowls using period techniques, not become a blacksmith (I’ll save that for another time). I’ll be using some firebricks and a propane torch for my heat, a hammer and anvil to shape the tools.and a combination of my modern grinder and slips tones to create the cutting edge.

Of course, I will document the entire process here. You have been warned.

Thanks for stopping by.