woodwork

For years I’ve longed to learn to work on a lathe. I grew up working with wood as my parents renovated a house all around us, and pottered about with jigsaws, bandsaws, circular saws at art school, but I’d never had a chance to work on a lathe. This week I went with some of the homeschooling children to the beautiful, handmade, grass-roofed roundhouse on the old farm to help with woodwork, and our fine teacher told me I could join in and handed me a stick of cherry wood! Elation!

bodging © elisa rathje 2012

A week ago on the sodden farm, the children felled an oak and cut it up. They came home thoroughly dirty and very happy. They tell me that the wood must be split and worked in pieces, as the center dries faster than the outer parts, and will crack if a whole log is worked.

bodging © elisa rathje 2012

I’m so impressed with the children, safely handling axes, chopping at an angle in a few places along an edge, then slicing those away. My cherry wood was softer than their oak, but I still had a good wrestle with it to work it into a cylinder.

bodging © elisa rathje 2012

Then a fine antique tool, a draw-knife, or spoke-shave, used for making oak barrels. We secured our wood in a clamp and pulled the blade towards us, shaving the wood til it was a reasonably smooth shape.

bodging © elisa rathje 2012

And then. The part I have been aching for. Working on the pole lathe is a pleasure, like throwing clay on a wheel, like running a treadle sewing machine. Push with your foot, and brace against the guide, holding a chisel against the bound, pinned wood, touching it on the down-step, backing away a touch as the wood comes rolling back toward you on the up-step. Catching that rhythm and watching the wood as you move along it, roughing out an even cylinder, is just so gratifying.

bodging © elisa rathje 2012

I could happily spend hours with a chisel and a lathe.

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