History of woodturning

The Egyptian lathe

The Egyptian lathe is based on a stone carving which may be the earliest pictoral representation of a lathe. Artifacts as early as the 7th century Bild-1B.C. have been found which appear to have marks consistant with having been turned.


There is some speculation that the Egyptian lathe may actually represent a horizontal set-up, and that it was been portrayed vertically because artists of the time lacked the knowledge of how to represent their subjects with perspective. Although with enough weight on the upper horitcal board, it may well have worked as portrayed with the worker holding the tool and bracing it against the upright

The origin of turning dates to around 1300 B.C. when the Egyptians first developed a two-person lathe. One person would turn the wood work piece with a rope while the other used a sharp tool to cut shapes in the wood. The Romans improved the Egyptian design with the addition of a turning bow. Early bow lathes were also developed and used in Germany, France and Britain. In the Middle Ages a pedal replaced hand-operated turning, freeing both the craftsman’s hands to hold the woodturning tools. The pedal was usually connected to a pole, often a straight-grained sapling. The system today is called “spring polelathe”. Spring pole lathes were in common use into the early 20th Century. A two-person lathe, called a “great lathe”, allowed a piece to turn continuously. A master would cut the wood while an apprentice turned the crank.


During the industrial revolution the lathe was motorized, allowing wooden turned items to be created in less time and allowing the working of metal on a lathe. The motor also produced a greater rotational speed, making it easier to quickly produce high quality work. Today most commercial lathes are computer-operated allowing for mass-production that can be created with accurate precision and without the cost of employing craftsmen.

A carved stone pictograph from the tomb of an Egyptian Priest. 300 B.C


darstellungDrechslerIn brightistic time, i.e. in the last centuries B.C., woodturning became generally accepted in the antique world more and more. it is represented also in Egypt with numerous workpieces. A carved stone pictograph from the tomb of an Egyptian Priest. 300 B.C. with a Woodturner and his equipment: the craftsmen are in side view, the turning lathe is shown in the plan view. Left the master, who leads the turning steel with both hands, knees on the right of the assistant, who works the blanks. The rotation axis is in vertical position. The two cheeks, between which the workpiece is clamped, represent the firm headstock and the mobile headstock; both cheeks are connected by a horizontal bar, which serves our current rail as edition similarly for the guidance of the tool. The turning of the workpiece happens by means of a cord, which is bolted around the workpiece and is pulled by worker, who represents to a certain extent the engine, back and forward. The woodturner could let the tool attack naturally only if this turned to him.






The hand cranked and lathe

One of the earliest reliable references to lathes is Theophilus’ “On Divers Arts,” probably written in the 11th century by a metalworker named Roger of Helmarshausen. In this treatise, he mentioned two lathes. The first is a hand-cranked lathe for turned heavy bell cores. The other is a pewterer’s lathe, which he describes as “set up in the same way as the one on which platters and other wooden vessels are turned.” This lathe is pulled by “a boy,” presumably pulling back and forth on a cord wrapped around the piece being worked. Such reciprocol motion is charactistic of most early lathes, particularly those used in woodworking.


The spring hole lathe

Medieval European turners favored a design called a “spring pole” lathe. In this form, a frame, usually of sufficient height for the turner to stand, holds the piece being turned between two upright posts (called poppets or puppets) on sharp metal points (called centers). One end of a cord is attached overhead to a pole or similar “springy” mechanism to provide recoil. The cord is then wrapped around the piece to be turned and attached to a foot treadle. The turner cuts on the down stroke, and then lets the spring pole power the return motion. Later variations of the design incorporated a lever arm so the spring pole could be mounted to the base of the frame instead of overhead, or replaced the pole entirely with a bow mounted on upright posts.



Leonardo da Vinci

It is a drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci C.1480 that affords us our first glimpse of what an early treadle wheel lathe looked like. The main eliminates required for self-propelled continuos rotation is clearly shown, the flywheel, crank and treadle. It was the crank in conjunction with the flywheel that provided a huge leap forward in technological advance. The crank, linked to a treadle provided constant rotation whilst the momentum of the large flywheel ensured the crank was carried over its ?dead spot?. The drawing also shows an adjustable tailstock with a threaded cranked handle. Leonardo is often attributed to the invention of the wheel lathe but I think it is more likely he was sketching something quite well known in his time. Indeed I think it almost certain that the cranked wheel lathe was known in Roman times.


One disadvantage of Leonardo?s lathe is that it only provided direct drive, so the speed of the machine relies entirely on the speed of the turner?s foot on the treadle, but it is beautifully simple and compact with its integral wheel. The next advance was to mount the wheel independent of the headstock and linking the two via a belt or cord, this allowed the use of stepped pulleys to be used. With this arrangement a number of gear ratios were available and could be chosen simply by moving the drive belt from one stepped groove, either in the wheel, the headstock pulley or both to another.


Artistic woodturning

An emphasis of the artistic woodturning was the city Nürnberg. Already emperor Maximilian was an inspired woodturner, also Peter der Große, who gave king Friedrich Wilhelm von Preußen a beautiful woodturning lathe. The princes found also taste at artisitc woodturned pieces and acquired them at high price. The design details were likewise kept secret like the tricks of the woodturner. Particularly “the Passigdrehen by cams for oval forms” was a work, with which everyone developed its own methods. Famous mathematicians were concerned in 18. Jahrh. with the theory of woodturning, whereby they advanced to into the last problems of mathematical curve tracings. Other techniques, which complicated equipment – because they deviated from the normal round forms, which could be manufactured with a circular movement of the workpiece – required, were the Ovaldreherei, which polygon turning lathe or the figure turning lathe, with which by a special control also reliefs could be scanned and after-turned such as coins and plaques.

The end of woodturning?

If one regards pieces of furniture or other utensils from the period of promoterism approximately around the turn of the century until approx. 1920, then one states that on the one hand a certain supersaturation with forms took place; on the other hand the increasing mechanization (copying milling and copying automatic lathe) almost caused the end of the handcraft. But in the meantime there is both in the professional relating to crafts and in hobby and range art-relating to crafts again a stately number of woodturner. Particularly abroad English-language (America, England, Australia, New Zealand) a arts and crafts scene of the woodturner was established; many exhibitions and a rich literature offer up to videos over woodturning testify this.