I had the pleasure of using a pole lathe at an SCA event in Ontario called Fruits of our Labour (generally known as FOOL) back a few years ago. I am not known for my woodworking skills but I did manage to turn a bowl, and I still actually have it (though it is cracked and worn).
Building a pole lathe isn’t particularly difficult, it is essentially a rope around whatever you are turning tied to some sort of spring mechanism and hooked to a treadle.
Using it is all a matter of rhythm. As you step on the treadle you put your tool to the wood to carve into the spinning wood, remove the tool as you step off and continue with this rhythm.
While you can use regular lathe tools to turn using a pole lathe, but if you want to be authentic there are specific tools that were used in period, you can’t buy them, but they aren’t difficult tools to make if you have access to a forge or know a blacksmith you can bribe to whip some up for you.
More pole lathe plans:
- A nice build from Instructables
- A nice detailed set of plans from The Association of Pole Lathe Turners and Greenwood Workers
- A couple of nice plans
- A handout from an SCA demonstration of the Pole Lathe