Fellow blogger Bob Easton has started building a treadle lathe, courtesy of the weather that prevents him from working in his shop building a second boat, the “Eva Too”. In the introduction to his latest blog entry he shares some of the results of his research, including photos of various foot-powered lathes. These triggered memories of two lathes of old Sandy and I saw last October in New England.
First things first, however.
Fond memories at the lathe, making pens early in my woodworking efforts many years ago, made me appreciate the fine workmanship of superb craftsmen. Although I never really mastered the skew chisel, for example, I am always amazed and intrigued by the results that woodturners get using even rudimentary tools. My wife Sandy took to the lathe with gusto over 25 years ago. One of her early projects at the lathe was a pair of extremely long knitting needles. Made without the benefit of a steady rest for the thin form, it was a wonderful project that my Mom enjoyed for years. She used the needles until her eyesight started to fail.
During our visit to the Sloane-Stanley Museum in Kent, CT, in October 2009, we saw the following knitting needles — I am familiar with the pair in the foreground, but I have no idea what the pair of headless needles in the background might be used for (Note to self: I should check with our daughter, as she spins her own yarn, and knits a lot!):
I would imagine most readers would think these are not so special. However, the needles were next to one of the following two lathes, suggesting that the needles had been turned on a very, very old lathe. The Sloane-Stanley Museum has two old (treadle?) lathes – notice that the pedal mechanism is not visible. The first, from 1815:
The form of this lathe reminded me of the first pair of saw horses I ever made. However, the details are amazing — a massive drive wheel, huge chunks of wood and large through mortise and tenon joinery:
The construction suggests sturdy, vibration-free turning at this lathe — but no treadle mechanism can be seen anywhere; the flywheel is wide enough for a single belt, and so is the drive pulley:
Details of the tool adjustable tool rest and the centers (click on the image to enlarge):
Only two years after the American Declaration of Independence, an even earlier lathe:
This lathe is also likely to have been powered by a treadle mechanism, although I was unable to see evidence of the foot pedal anywhere:
A little closer, details of the drive mechanism — the multiple pulleys suggest a treadle mechanism; the tool rest is adjustable left-and-right, but the height does not appear to be so, unless a longer rest was used; note also the bolts to hold the centers:
My thanks to Bob Easton for triggering these still-fresh memories of our visit to the Sloane-Stanley Museum, and to the New England region at the height of foliage colors last Fall.
— Al Navas
More about the Sloane-Stanley Museum: Click on this link