The spring-pole lathe operates on a very simple principle. A cord is tied to the tip of a sapling fastened overhead, which connects to a treadle on the floor after wrapping around the workpiece. As the treadle is depressed, the work rotates toward the turner to engage cutting, also pulling the sapling down into tension. When the treadle is released, the sapling snaps the treadle back up into position, ready for another cut. This back-and-forth pumping enables the turner to cut 50 percent of the time. Although it’s not as efficient as a continuous-motion lathe, I wouldn’t call this work slow. It’s hard to do any hot-dogging with foot power, but a steady rhythm does get the job done.
One of the most common remarks I hear when I demonstrate my lathe is that it must be tiring to pump the treadle. People assume the work requires considerable downward pressure to function properly. It’s not true. In reality, it’s no more tiring than a casual bicycle ride, and alternating your pumping foot doubles your endurance. I admit it is more work than standing still – but a little exercise never hurt anyone.
It is important to focus on developing a steady rhythm, because you don’t want to be thinking about what your foot is doing when you’re shaping details. If your foot is moving at a consistent pace, it’s easy to forget you’re pumping at all.
–Joshua A. Klein, excerpt from “The Spring-pole Lathe: Design, Construction, & Use,” in The First Three Issues