spring pole lathe

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Project by jdh122 posted 12-08-2014 12:39 PM 3644 views 5 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is based on plans provided by the master, Roy Underhill, from an eighteenth-century drawing. It’s made from 2-by construction lumber, as Underhill suggests. Unfortunately here that means spruce instead of much-stronger yellow pine, but it seems to be solid enough. The spring poles and rocker arms are made from yellow birch. The dead centers are just carriage bolts ground conical (they have to be quite exact or they’ll gradually wear a bigger hole in the wood until the piece being turned falls off).
I just finished it and have only done some practice turning on green wood. It works really well, although I can tell it’s going to take some serious practice before I can turn out a nice spindle for a Windsor chair. It really makes me smile when I use it…
If anyone has advice on how to turn on this, or good videos to watch, I’d appreciate it.
I spent about $50 on wood and $20 on hardware.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

18 comments so far

View jjw5858's profile


1135 posts in 3577 days

#1 posted 12-08-2014 01:12 PM

Great job on it! Once you get a good rhythm with your foot you will get better as you go. Have fun learning on it.

-- "Always continue to learn, laugh and share!" JJW

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 3462 days

#2 posted 12-08-2014 01:21 PM

Wonderful job!

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Oldtool's profile


3156 posts in 3165 days

#3 posted 12-08-2014 02:13 PM

Nice work, this is one sweet lathe. For videos just search YouTube for “spring pole lathe”, there is a lot of them.
Have fun with your new toy.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4309 days

#4 posted 12-08-2014 03:24 PM

Fun tool. I’ve wanted to make one of these for many years, but I just don’t have room for one. Have fun!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View handsawgeek's profile


663 posts in 2370 days

#5 posted 12-08-2014 03:25 PM

Nice…look forward to seeing some of the work you will turn out on this. Post lotsa pix !!

-- Ed

View bold1's profile


352 posts in 2822 days

#6 posted 12-08-2014 03:51 PM

Haven’t used one in 40 yrs. But one thing I do remember is keeping your drive line on a off fall part of the turning. That way you can leave that section larger dia. to get more travel on each stroke. The smaller the drive line dia. the faster you can spin. Makes a difference on how fast you can work down a piece, or if it’s hard wood or soft. You get into the rhythm of cutting on the downstroke and backing the tool on the up. You can vary your foot stroke/speed but most newbies seem to have enough trouble keeping a steady stroke and cutting on the down. Have fun!

View a1Jim's profile


118153 posts in 4552 days

#7 posted 12-08-2014 03:59 PM

Nice work,it looks just like Roy’s .During his visit to Portland a few years ago I actually had an opertunity to try his spring pole lathe out,very cool.


View J123's profile


361 posts in 3315 days

#8 posted 12-08-2014 04:42 PM

i’ve always wondered why this design over a foot pedal and fly wheel? it seems like the fly wheel would give more consistent cutting action.

View jdh122's profile


1216 posts in 3792 days

#9 posted 12-08-2014 05:27 PM

Thanks so much everyone for the comments, and the tips. I’m sure it’s mostly just a question of practice. I did a two-day turning course a year or so ago (on a regular lathe) so have some rudimentary knowledge (let the bevel rub,e tc) but am basically a newb.
jjw: I see you’ve made the same lathe a couple years ago. Looks really good.
Oldtool: I’ve seen a few videos on youtube and I’m sure there’s more to find. There’s a group of bodgers in England that look pretty interesting.
Bold1, your idea about where to have the drive line is interesting.
Jim: it’d be nice to try out Roy’s, or to take his course to make one. It was a surprisingly easy project to make.
Jeff. Certainly a foot pedal and fly wheel have the advantage of turning in the same direction all the time rather than reciprocating. I thought about making one, but find the idea of rigging up gearing a bit intimidating. An advantage of the spring-pole lathe is the fact that there are 2 dead centers and no bearings, so the turning is actually smoother. And you can generate more power (but less speed). but a foot treadle lathe would be great.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View J123's profile


361 posts in 3315 days

#10 posted 12-08-2014 07:12 PM

thanks, Jeremy, keep posting

View Tim's profile


3859 posts in 2936 days

#11 posted 12-09-2014 12:34 AM

Very nice job. I made an end vice version along the lines of this one:

But I kept having the hole in the piece get bigger and bigger, so thanks for the tip on getting the dead centers closer to perfectly conical.

View jdh122's profile


1216 posts in 3792 days

#12 posted 12-09-2014 01:10 AM

Thanks, Tim.
My approach to milling the dead centers was to grind them to approximate shape and then chuck them into my drill press. Then with a file held on an angled piece of wood to serve as a jig you can spin the bolt until it’s uniform.
This won’t work, though, with the 90-degree centers for the end vice pole lathe.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View Nickdarr's profile


76 posts in 3006 days

#13 posted 12-09-2014 02:51 AM

Looks like fun. I did not see any comments regarding Shannon Rogers. He is part of the WoodTalk podcast. He has built and uses a spring pole lathe. His website is He also has some videos on YouTube. Hope this helps.

-- Darren... Hmmmm, I got nothin.

View jdeefus's profile


15 posts in 2272 days

#14 posted 12-09-2014 03:00 AM

very, very cool. wanted to try something like this for a while. Nice job, thanks for posting this!!

-- Jdeefus, Canton, Ohio

View siavosh's profile


674 posts in 2846 days

#15 posted 12-09-2014 04:45 AM

This looks great, definitely on my to make list once I have the space. Where do you get your green wood from?

-- -- Discover the most interesting woodworking blogs from around the world

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