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)