Lee Valley Tools    Woodworking Newsletter
   Vol. 5, Issue 5
   May 2011
   Spring Pole Lathe

  Spring pole lathe
  Parks Canada heritage interpreter Joel Doucet using the spring pole lathe.
The spring pole lathe is said to be one of the earliest woodworking machines. While its origin is unclear, Egyptian tomb illustrations dated 300 BC show two men operating a lathe; however, it's thought that pole lathes existed well before this time. For thousands of years, craftspeople have relied on lathes to turn all manner of round objects.

Fast forward to the 21st century to Port-Royal National Historic Site on the shores of Nova Scotia's beautiful Annapolis River basin. This period reconstruction tells the story of renowned explorer Samuel de Champlain and the French colony established in 1605 by merchant and explorer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons. The wooden Habitation's buildings were constructed using mortise-and-tenon joints throughout and are filled with handsome period furnishings.

In the early 1990s, heritage interpreter Joel Doucet, one of the Habitation's staff, searched for a historically accurate way to demonstrate some of the woodworking skills practised by these early French settlers. In 1991, while watching an episode of Roy Underhill's The Woodwright's Shop, he was inspired to build a spring pole lathe. He first built a miniature prototype for approval by the Parks Canada historian. Once the project was sanctioned, Mr. Doucet teamed up with his colleague John Wooler to build a full-sized lathe using materials and tools that would have been available to the 17th century colonists. While the two upheld their commitment to use period tools, including an adze, chisels, a mallet and a drawknife, to construct the lathe, they admit they used a chainsaw to harvest the lumber from Mr. Wooler's woodlot and an electric hand drill to bore the holes required for the wooden pegs.
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