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p-lathes-bib – 7/2/03


A bibliography and sources for information on period lathes and turned objects by Master Magnus Malleus, OL.


NOTE: See also the files: tools-msg, tools-bib, wood-bending-msg, wood-msg, woodworking-msg, wood-utensils-msg, wood-bending-msg, wood-finishes-msg, merch-woods-msg.





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                                    Mark S. Harris

                                    AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                         stefan at florilegium.org                                        



From: rmhowe <MMagnusM at bellsouth.net>

Date: Tue Jul 1, 2003  8:11:28 PM US/Central

To: - Atenveldt MoAS - Dame Fiona <moasnewsletter at cox.net>, "- Stephan's Florilegium" <stefan at florilegium.org>, "- BARONY of WINDMASTERS' HILL" <keep at windmastershill.org>

Subject: Pole Lathes


Once upon a time an adventurer named Ken wrote:

> One of the infinite questions that I was saving ...

> was about pole lathes. I saw one being used by a guy

> in Wiltshire and wondered if they were around in

> Anglo-Saxon times. I guess the answer to that is ...

> Next question please !

> I would like to learn to use these... <


The biggest problem I can think of is you are going to be walking around like John Cleese for a while after you are done pumping the silly thing. ;) They are certainly period.


A few references for you:


There is a picture of a primitive ground-mounted lathe being used to turn bowls in:

Basilov, Vladimir N. (ed.): Nomads of Eurasia; Seattle, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in association with University of Washington Press, 1989. First Edition. Quarto hardcover, 8.25x11.5”, jacket, xiii, 192pp. including contributors, extensive bibliography, index, 99 full color plates with 128 b/w illustrations; hardback, , index. Published to coincede with "Nomads: Masters of the Eurasian Steppe," exhibition from Feb.1989 - Feb. 1990 - a touring exhibit which featured 1,100 artifacts from Soviet museums. ISBN:029596815X  A number of Steppes dwellers turnings of bowls, vessels and kumis cups of wood are included in it. Available through http://www.bookfinder.com/ or http://www.abebooks.com/ usually.


A wonderful late period illustrated discussion of lathes is in:

Daumas, Maurice: A History of Technology & Invention - Progress Through the Ages, Volume II,The First Stages of Mechanization; Translated by Eileen Henessy, Crown Publishers, New York, English translation 1969, originally published as Historie Generales des Techniques, 1964, Presses Universitaires de France. Hardback, 694 pages. This book begins with the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries. It includes lathes for glasswork and screw cutting and early jeweller's/watchmakers type lathes. Curiously one large bow lathe illustration is upside down in its room. I saw one of the keyed multiple screw cutting wood lathes once at Williamsburg in an exhibit. A very similar one is depicted here. The head had a variety of threads cut on the central spindle, any of which could be engaged for bow lathe work by raising or engaging the key which would then move the spindle in and out. Obviously this was for turning objects not mounted on the end-stock. But it was bow lathe operated. It had to be reciprocal. There are a number of different lathes in use at Williamsburg - I've photographed all of them in the different shops. Wheelwright, Cabinetmaker, silversmith, pewterer. And that one complex one at the Decorative Arts Museum exhibit.


Hodges, Henry: Technology in the Ancient World; 1980, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. With drawings by Judith Newcomer. About 300 pages. Attributes the earliest lathe depiction to a Ptolemaic tomb painting [this would have been after Alexander the Great, or third C BC at least]. Says Theodorus of Samos invented the lathe [doubtful claim]. Depicts a vertical and a horizontal Egyptian lathe. Photograph of modern Hunzas turning a cup on a primitive bowl lathe. The cup is held by three or four metal or wooden dowels set into the base from the human powered lathe shaft end. Depicts another lathe device for holding a charged [with abrasives] copper wheel for cutting stone [lapidary] or glass. The invention of the lathe was again attributed to Anarcharis. ISBN 394448081


A particularly good one for turners:

Müller, Ulrich: Holzfunde aus Freiburg und Konstanz;

[Wood finds from Freiburg and Konstanz]

Theiss, 1996, 328p. + 52 pls., Hardback.

ISBN 380621266X. $84.00

"Wooden objects from waterlogged deposits in Konstanz and Augustinian drains in Freiburg range in date from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Not only an extensive        illustrated catalogue that will be invaluable for reference and identification, but also an extensive study of how the objects were made, what timber, how it was cut, how it was       worked and what they were used for. Ranges from combs and beads to a complete backgammon board; lots of turned objects." [Their take.]

Have it, like it. Similar to the woodworking book from York. Many turned objects in it. Got it through Oxbow listed below.


and another good one for turners:

AY 17/13  Morris, Carole A.: Craft, Industry and Everyday Life: Wood and Woodworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York; 2000, 400pp, 37 half-tones, 8 colour plates, 185 line-illustrations, ISBN 1902771109, £34.00 "This important fascicule is the definitive study of over 1,500 wooden objects and woodworking tools of both wood and iron, recovered from 16-22 Coppergate and the surrounding area, and from the Foundry and College of the Vicars Choral sites at the Bedern." [Their take.]

(Do not buy the Bedern Foundry book, you'll be terribly disappointed in it.)


Morris, Carole A.: Craft, Industry and Everyday Life: Wood and Woodworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York: The Archaeology of York - The Small Finds Series 17/13, 2000, app. 400pp, 225 illus., (Council for British Archaeology, Bowes Morrell House, 111 Walmgate, York, Y01 9WA), pb, ISBN 1902771109, Printed by Henry Ling Ltd. The Dorset Press, Dorchester, Dorset.

   Has a lot of information on medieval turning. Depicts woodworking tools and techniques, the craft of lathe turning, vessels, and resultant waste; coopered vessels; domestic equipment and utensils; boxes and enclosed containers; furniture bits; personal items; manual and agricultural implements; textile implements; implements used for non woodworking crafts and activities; games and pass-times; building bits and fragments; pegs and miscellaneous implements; 2 saddle bows; and a willow shoe last; with a large bibliography and a small glossary. [My take on what's in it.] Obtainable from: York Archaeological Trust, to C. Kyriacou at Cromwell House, 13 Ogleforth, York, YO1 7FG. (We accept Mastercard and Visa. We now have an on-line order form (which can also be printed/faxed). For further information contact YAT by telephone (01904 663000), fax (01904 663024) or  e-mail (postmaster at yorkarch.demon.co.uk). York Series: (AY) http://www.yorkarchaeology.co.uk/index.htm Direct or through http://www.oxbowbooks.com/ if you like to wait.


Richards, Julian D.: Viking Age England; Tempus Publishing Ltd., The Mill, Brimscombe Port, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 2QG UK; PB 190pp., ISBN 0752414895 £14.99. Wooden cups, plates and bowls with turning waste from York (p. 109). Otherwise sparce for turnings.


Sim, David: Beyond the Bloom, Bloom Refining and Iron Artifact Production in the Roman World; edited by Isabel Ridge, BAR International Series 725, 1998, 155pp., published by Archaeopress, PO Box 920, Oxford OX2 7YH England, printed by the Basingstoke Press, ISBN 0860549011, available from Hadrian Books, Ltd., 122 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 7BP, England.

"The major part of this work details practical experiments that replicate the working environment of a Roman blacksmith. The tools and equipment used were as far as possible copies of Roman originals. A record was kept of time taken to turn raw bloom iron into workable iron and the amount of fuel and other materials consumed. Similar records were made of the times to make Roman iron artifacts together with the amount of metal and fuel consumed." [Their description.]

[My description]:

Various ancient to 16th C. forges, furnaces, hearths, tools, weapons, etc. are depicted. Examples would be drawplates, a mandrel / die used to make solid rings for mail, pattern welded blade, pilum, *pole lathe, stylus, hammer head, nails, ballista bolt head, fire arrow head, bow drill, swages. A three page glossary and a three page bibliography are included. For some reason the author also includes quite a bit about firescale including many pictures of it...


Sim David, and Isabel Ridge: Iron for the Eagles, The Iron History of Roman Britain; 2002, Paperback, 160 pages, black and white diagrams and photos, and a number of color photos of Roman stuff and reenactors there. Tempus Publishing Ltd., The Mill, Brimscombe Port., Stroud,  Gloucestershire, GL5 2QG UK/ Tempus Publishing Inc. 2 Cumberland St.,

Charleston, SC 29401 USA http://www.tempuspublishing.com/ http://www.tempus-publishing.com. ISBN 0752419005  $30. How blacksmiths made weapons for the Imperial Army. It is full of progressive diagrams of tools and making the artefacts like arrowheads, pilum heads, plumbata heads for pila, spear heads, tools, *portable wooden lathe, etc.


Singer, Charles (ed. et al): A History of Technology, Volume II, The Mediterranean Civilizations and the Middle Ages c. 700 BC to c. A.D. 1500; 1956, Oxford University Press, New York and London. Should have lathes in it. Volume I certainly does. Unfortunately my second volume has gone walk-about for the moment.


Singer, Charles Joseph. Ed. (1954 - 84). A History of Technology. First 4 of 8 Volumes. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.


On medieval carpentry tools Singer states:

"His main tools ax, adze, hammer, saw and chisel, had been in use for millennia; his bag of tools hardly differed from that of an Egyptian carpenter." (pg. 240). [The Egyptians definitely had simple framed lathes, and the oldest depiction of one is in an Egyptian tomb.] [11th century] "Italian craftsmen were practicing inlaying and veneering and using mortise-and-tenon and dove-tail joints long before the craftsmen of northern Europe." (pg. 240). It is possible that the brace was in use by Assyrian times, for the Theben hoards contained what appears to be crank pieces and centre bits from a brace. ...Roman bits with square-section shanks are known, though the braces have not so far been traced." (pg. 230).


Volume I  From Early Times to the Fall of Ancient Empires. Lathes pp. 192-3 discussion of earliest lathes., p. 518 discusses the spread of the lathe from the Mediterranean to Northern Europe from Greece where it was possibly in use from the middle of the second millenium BC., 680 and 688 depict turnings by the Phoenicians in the 9th C BC..


Strong, Donald and David Brown (editors): Roman Crafts; 1976, ISBN 0715607812 Duckworth, The Old Piano Factory, 43 Glocester, Crescent, London, NW1 7DY. Covers a little Roman lathe work, in particular the turning of cast metal pans on an illustrated wheeled lathe.


Theophilus' On Divers Arts contains a number of instructions and illustrations of early lathes for such stuff as bellfounding and pewterturning. Circa 1122. Dover ISBN 0486237842


Woodbury, Robert S.  1963.  "The Origins of the Lathe." in _Scientific American_, vol. 208, no. 4 (April 1963), pp. 132-143.  The short version of this man's longer work on the history of the lathe in industry. There is also a brief list of references for this article on page 202.


His longer work: History of the Lathe to 1850: A Study in the Growth of a Technical Element of an Industrial Economy.  Cleveland: Society for the History of Technology, 1961. First Edition. 124 pp; 49 figs.


Ranulf of Waterford mka Gary R. Halstead



Robin Wood  http://www.robin-wood.co.uk/ Robin does museum quality work on a pole lathe (and has some advice on how to build one).


A past issue of Woodwork, A Magazine for All Woodworkers #73 - Feb. 2002 has an article on Robin Wood of UK Medieval woodturning fame (he does the stuff full time) visiting a woodturning demonstration in Germany with a bagful of tools and producing a pole lathe out of a mostly 10" by 6' oak trunk. http://www.robin-wood.co.uk/ There is a subsequent article on making hooked gouges to turn with by him.

  The Robin Wood articles run from page 24 to page 31 so it's larger than most. There is also an article in the magazine on Rumanian spoon carving and one that contains some gothic carving including a pretty gothic chest picture.

  The only things in the photos that seem to be missing in explanation is the spring pole and there is no indication of the construction of the cord wound mandrel which he is using to turn the bowls with. Such things are covered in the York Book on Woodworking Crafts available from the York Archaeological Trust.


Woodwork No. 73 ISSN # 1045-3040

Woodwork Magazine  woodwork at rossperiodicals.com

(415) 382-0580

P.O. Box 1529, Ross, CA 94957

(published by Ross Periodicals, Inc.

42 Digital Drive #5, Novato CA 94949)

     No website as of yet.





Haven't checked these recently. At one time they had articles on lathes. http://www.historicgames.com also had a page on lathes.


Master Magnus Malleus, OL, GDH, Manx, Regia.org

© 2003 R.M. Howe

*No reposting my writings to usenet newsgroups, especially rec.org.sca, or the SCA-Universitas elist. I view this as violating copyright restrictions. As long as it's to reenactor or SCA -closed- subscriber based email lists or individuals I don't mind. It's meant to help people without aggravating me.* Inclusion, in the http://www.Florilegium.org, Atenveldt MoAS newsletter, or Regia’s Chronicle as always is permitted.


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There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading,

the few who learn by observation, and the rest of them have to

pee on the electric fence for themselves. - Will Rogers


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org