You’re Gonna Build a What?

Preserving history at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival

A lathe, my dearest, an ole time treadle lathe.

Re-enacting at Fort Osage Missouri

We looked at some pictures a while. She said “Sure, get to it … but, if you show up in one of those costumes…”

These top two photos are thanks to Jerry who preserves history by working with the Institute for Historic and Educational Arts in Kansas City. THANKS Jerry! (As always, click a small picture to see a larger version.)

It’s still too cold in the shop for epoxy based boat building, and another 5 inches of “global warming” just fell today, I’ve been considering two other woodworking paths.

Beautiful old clocks (or replicas), complete with mechanical movements, are things I have built in the past and have considered for the future. Previous clocks were built from kits. I would like future cases to be built from scratch. I fancy clocks such as regulator wall clocks, and Vienna Regulators. As near as I can tell, some of those would require a half set of hollows and rounds, a plow plane, and maybe a pair of snipe bill planes. The wait queue at Clark & Williams, as well as the cost, make that path one that won’t be taken this winter.

So, let’s pursue the alternative, the lathe. Why a human powered lathe?

  1. Because I like human powered things, hand-tool woodworking and paddle powered boats, for example. Treadle powered tools have always caught my attention, and now I have time for them. In short, I see a treadle lathe as a neat machine.
  2. There’s no shortage of turned things I find interesting: mallets, tool handles, more tool handles, toys, lidded boxes, chairs (not Windsors), and exquisite wooden bowls. I’m not interested in pens or bottle stoppers.
  3. The lathe will also be the power base for a scroll saw. I have some very interesting scroll projects in mind.

To which design or plan? Choices, choices, lots of choices on the internet. I collected several comprehensive plans (Roy Underhill’s, Steve Schmeck’s, Mike Adams’ and Howard Ruttan’s), and plenty of pictures. All have great merit, and I will build not to one specific plan, but will take bits from here and there. From Roy’s, I will take the concept of the scroll saw. His lathe has one aspect I didn’t care for, an inboard flywheel. It was also skimpier that the lathe he uses on his TV Programs. Mike’s and Steve’s are more robust and have flywheels held between two uprights, not cantilevered like Roy’s. I like the full width treadle of Mike’s, and actually a sturdier one like in the Ft. Osage picture at the top. Guidance for bearings, various shafts, and centers come in bits and pieces from all of the plans and from an email exchange with Jerry.

The attractive feature (to me) is that any of the above designs can be made from readily available “Nbr 2” construction grade SPF (SprucePineFir) lumber. The big orange store up the road has some fairly good Doug Fir that I’ll use for most of it. Some Ash or Oak will fill certain roles.

Oh, for those who like the idea of a treadle lathe but would rather not build one, Chris Yonker makes beautiful lathes and sells them through his CME Handworks eBay store.

OK. It’s time to get to it.

UPDATE: When I wrote this entry this morning, I was getting a 404 error when trying to reach Mike Adams’ TreadleLathePlans site. That site is still not responding, but I have found an alternate source for his plans.

UPDATE 2: Stephen Shepard suggested (in the comments) another set of plans that I had overlooked. They are Stephen’s own plans which are sold by Joel Moskowitz’s excellent Tools for For Working Wood store. You’ll find Stephen’s plans here.  TFWW always ships very fast and I live close enough to expect receipt in the next day or two. Thanks Stephen.

9 Responses to “You’re Gonna Build a What?”

  1. John Says:

    Wouldn’t mind one of those, myself… so many projects, so little time!

    I better stay focused…

  2. Shawn Says:

    I’ve had a treadle lathe in mind too, so I will be following your projects closely, since you are a guy who seems to actually get around to doing his projects! One adaptation I wanted to include in my design, would be to turn the external flywheel into a big disc sander/grinder…

  3. unpowerd lathe - Woodwork Forums Says:

    […] Easton is starting to build a treadle lathe and his first blog entry on this has some links to other sites with designs that others have built. Interesting subject – […]

  4. The Village Carpenter Says:

    What a fun project! I’ll look forward to reading your progress posts. Thanks for all the great reference material links.

  5. Bob Says:

    I thought of you Kari when I saw the beautiful chip carving on Rev, Jim Paulson’s lathe. Maybe you can stop by and teach me how to do that.

  6. Al Navas Says:


    A pretty cool project!

    Maybe you could come to Kansas City and look at some of the details in person. We are located only 32 minutes North of the International Airport. It might be worth your while, as you would be able to snap all sorts of photos… 😉


  7. Bob Rozaieski Says:

    I think you’ll like it once it’s built Bob. I built my version of Roy’s spring pole lathe a little over a year ago. And while I have not used it that much to date, it is fun to use. After building and using the spring pole lathe, I think the continuous rotation flywheel lathe would actually be a little easier to turn on, if slightly more complicated to build. It requires more floor space than the spring pole lathe though (a major consideration when I built mine).

  8. Stephen Shepherd Says:

    You might check out the Treadle Lathe Plans that Joel sells at Tools for Working Wood.


  9. Bob Says:

    Yes. You have a boat to build. Stay focused.

    hmmmm … a sander attachment shouldn’t be too difficult … a disc and any ole (appropriately thick) block of wood to act as a table across the ways. Good idea!

    The last time I was in KC was for an education course sponsored by the company I worked for then. They had leased classroom and student housing space from TWA, space often used to train stewardesses (long before we found stewards in that business). The notable memory was the shower heads placed low enough to avoid getting one’s hair wet. We clearly didn’t have enough time there to see the wonderful sights. Maybe I’ll see KC again someday. …

    Yep, you have a very fine looking spring pole lathe. I collected a lot of plans for them too. I’ve decided to trade a little more space for continuous rotation.

    Thanks for mentioning your plans at TFWW. Even though I’ve gotten a start, I’ll see what details I might glean from your experience, esp in the area of the metal bits. I just now ordered the plans, and some hide glue too.