The History of the Spring-pole Lathe

* Take note that Issue Three will not be available in our store for much longer. If you don’t yet have a copy of this one, make sure you order now, before it’s completely sold out!


“The earliest depiction of the foot-powered spring-pole lathe is from the 13th century. An illustration (above) from the Bible of St. Louis (circa 1226-1234) shows a turner making a bowl. The pole is seen pulled into tension downward by means of a cord attached to a treadle.

Several writers throughout history have discussed the spring-pole lathe’s construction and use. Joseph Moxon (1678), Charles Plumier (1701), Andre Roubo (1774), and Peter Nicholson (1812) all provide remarkably similar commentary and advice. This ubiquitous style of lathe continued to be used even into the 20th century, most famously by the High Wycome “bodgers” who turned beech chair parts in great quantity for the furniture makers in that city.

While the spring-pole lathe was the most accessible turning technology available to pre-industrial artisans, its limitations have always been acknowledged. The reciprocal action is half as efficient as the continuous “great wheel” lathe powered by an apprentice or its foot-powered crank-shaft cousin, first depicted by DaVinci in his Codex Atlanticus (circa 1500).

Continuous rotation lathes had advantages; they lent themselves to utilizing power sources other than human muscle. In 1590, the first mention of a water-powered lathe came from the Nuremberg Council. Other power sources throughout history included horses, wind, and, eventually, steam.


Despite the mechanical advantage of these complex lathes, the spring-pole lathe held its own for centuries, offering simplicity and reliability for the average craftsman. It offers the same to us today.”


Joshua A. Klein, excerpt from “The Spring-pole Lathe: Design, Construction, & Use” in Issue Three, available (at least for a little while longer) here.