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As kids, we admired the carved wood-and-steel sleds and polished maple rocking horses in storefront windows — even though we actually rode the hollow plastic Radio Flyer spring-horse or those plastic discs whose handles rip out on the first hill. But there is a way to revive our nostalgia: woodworking, the old-fashioned way.

The artistry and the history behind treadle lathes reminds us of the individual care and attention (and sweat) traditionally given to hand-made wooden objects. A treadle lathe requires the operator to move a lever up and down with his foot. The lever connects to a shaft attached to a weighted flywheel, and the continuous motion rotates the piece of wood around a set axis as it’s shaped by a fixed tool.

The Barnes #3 Wood Lathe, pictured above, dates back to around 1884 and is the best known lathe of its kind remaining. This one’s a newbie in lathe terms: the first illustrations of wood lathes were carved in an Egyptian tomb wall around 300 B.C. Even Leonardo da Vinci had his own sketched plan for a treadle lathe with a crank mechanism in the late 1400’s. (Check out the guy who recreated Leonardo’s lathe according to the plans.)

But you don’t have to foot the $7500 for this antique model. There are a ton of books and websites that detail how to build your own treadle lathe, most notably the 1986 book The Woodwright’s Workbook based on Roy Underhill’s long-running PBS series, The Woodright’s Shop.

So get out there and make yourself a little part of history.

http://www.finetools.com/treadles.aspx (source of the picture above)


5 Responses to It’s Just Cool: Antique Treadle Wood Lathe

  1. Pop JR says:

    Cool site, I like the old timer doing his thing. It reminds me of my Pops!

  2. Brau says:

    My god! They’ve invented the cordless lathe!

  3. James B says:

    And I thought my 1939 Rockwell wood lathe was old. A fella would get thighs like hams trying to turn out spindles for the front porch and stairwell.

  4. timothy fiske says:

    I have this lathhe in my barn.it was my fathers and my mom wants to sell it. phone607-648-8169

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