The Joy of Turning on a Spring Pole Lathe

"You do what?" is what I hear a lot from people at craft shows.  

"You know" I say "I turn on a human powered lathe."  

"Why?" is normally the second question.  

Why is like a book.

 Why started from a book series called the Fox Fire books.  There was a write up about a man who made chairs, I loved seeing his workshop and in there he had a spring pole lathe.  He would turn all his spindles for his chairs using something he made himself.

 I decided to search a bit more on the subject and found (A bodger is an person who would go out camp in a forest and made spidles for windsor chairs in England).  

This site opened my eyes into the world of pole lathe turning.  

I learned about Robin Wood and

Jarrod Dahl

I saw bowls that had character, that were not highly sanded, that had form, and handles! I watched Robin turn a nest and said to myself some day.  Someday I will be able to do that.  

 The forms and various designs danced in my head and  I tried making my own lathe and tools.  Both were poorly executed and so my dreams of turning on a lathe were put on hold.  Mostly because I tried to take a quick way out.  I used live centers instead of fixed points. My lathe was a spindle lathe I was trying to make into a bowl lathe and my tools were too small/thin.   

Hurricane Sandy came and Storm Spoons was born but I kept the dream of turning close to my  heart. 

Then in 2016 I was able to take a class with Jarrod Dahl in Utica NY.  Everything was covered from lathe building and set up,  hook design,  and turning.  My first bowl I went through the bottom.  

The next 3 I was able to keep.  

I then had to turn at home.  

That was not as easy as one may think.  You have to have the mind set that most of what you are going to make will be first attempts at learning.   This takes time away from other things you could be doing (carving spoons), while you struggle at learning a new concept.  Patience.  Breath. Do it again. 

After turning for over a year, I knew what questions I needed to ask to get better.

 Many times as beginners in a craft you have to just put the time into making to develop the specific task-based skills needed to move on to your next level.  With this comes the need to separate yourself from the object (being a crafts-person vs an artist) and take a long good look at where you are.  In this craft I feel you have to put time in making before you know what questions to ask. 

Much of this is time alone thinking about what your making.  If you just making and on automatic with out a thought about what your doing you will not be able to reflect. This ability to self reflect on your movements, on your work process, your "flow", allows you to improve.

Then came the grant.  Thank you PA Council of the Arts.

It came at the perfect time.  I had craft and carving issues that I wanted to address.  I went into the grant knowing this was an opportunity of a life time and tried to get the most out of it.  It was not easy, it was challenging, but it was worth it.  

Turning now is a joy, (not to say it wasn't before but its different now).  Watching long strings of wood come whipping off the wood, feeling your rhythm of moving and breathing, really makes the lathe, hook tool, and you one living breathing machine.  

Its a great work out. its being on a stair climber for hours at a time.  larger bowls will take hours to do.  My largest handled ones take 2 1/2-3 hours of straight turning.  

Here are a few videos of what turning looks like.  (links when I have them updated)

There is a joy in making, but the satisfaction I get is now from making what I want to make.  

This is not as easy as it sounds.  As a visual person the images I have in my head are not easy to capture in line, paint, or ink. But I am now able to capture the forms that I think about exactly the way I see them.  That to me is a huge step. I am not relying on happy accidents, but on deliberate action.  


Jeff Kuchak