Simple Pole Lathe


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I built this pole lathe back in the summer of ’13, but never posted any pictures. I figure that now is a good time do a blog about it after posting about the class I just took at North House on turning bowls on the pole lathe.

This was built out of old lumber that was laying around from a dock that had been taken down a few years earlier. The wood was sound, but not pretty, however it was free and the cost of the lathe was only around $5-6 dollars since I had to buy the bolts.

I am going to start out with a picture of the lathe in use and then will show you the construction details. Here I am turning a piece of ash into a chisel mallet.


I am not going to go into a lot of detail as the pictures are fairly self explanatory. The basic frame consists of two 4×4 posts and 2×6 rails as bed ways. There is a 2×6 board on the bottom of the post forming a base or foot, and then there are two 2×6 cross braces per post for stability.





The poppet was aligned and hit onto the headstock center to mark the location to drill the hole for the poppet’s center.


The mortise was drilled and then chiseled out for the poppet wedge. For some reason I did not take any photos of the rest of the poppet build.


Here is how the lathe turned out complete with traditional spring pole and cross braces staked into the ground.




One of the first projects I turned after making the lathe was a simple ash mallet for use with carving chisels.



So there you have it. A simple but very functional lathe that can be built for next to nothing if you can salvage the lumber you need. I am thinking of making an extra poppet for bowl turning with the bent center. However I might try turning a bowl with the current configuration and see how it works first.


Bowl Turning on Pole Lathes – North House Folk School


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This past weekend I attended my first class at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. I have been interested in taking one of their classes for a while and it seemed like a good time to take a break from building our house and do something fun.

The class was entitled “Wooden Bowl Turning: Norwegian Ale Bowls” and instructed by Roger Abrahamson. He is a big fellow standing six foot six inches and a great teacher and all around good guy. He has been turning bowls and teaching his craft full time for the past 18 years. I am glad to have had the opportunity to learn from him, it was a lot of fun.

Roger Abrahamson

Roger Abrahamson

This class also happened to fall on the 2nd annual Wood Week. This is a time when all the classes are woodworking related and the school puts on an extra day of mini classes allowing you to try out some of the other class offerings. The main benefit to this week for me was that after classes we had open shop time where many similar minded people hung out till late in the evening working and socializing.

The class was held in the school’s red building, which was an old timber frame building built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp for the Forest Service. When North House began back in 1997, this was one of the main workshops and is still the center of much class work. Our class was held on one end and had four other students besides myself. This was nice as the class had enough people to make it enjoyable, but still allowed plenty of one on one time with Roger.


We started out on Thursday discussing a short history of pole turning and Norwegian Ale Bowls. The other students as well as myself were quite motivated and got to work shortly after.

Bowl blanks were split out of white birch logs of around ten inches in diameter. They were then hand carved to a roughly round shape, and then put on the lathe. I did not take many pictures at this point as I was pretty engrossed in the work.

Here is the initial roughing out of the outside of my bowl on the pole lathe.


Here is a look at some of the other students working.



Here is the start of my first bowl. Not a bad finish for the first time turning a bowl and a pole lathe.



Here is a poor quality picture of my first bowl. I took this in the evening after getting back to the motel and the color is a bit off, but you get the idea.


The second day of the class I turned two more bowls. I only took a few pictures of the second bowl. I will take more pictures later after they are dry and oiled. Applying oil will make the bowls look much nicer.




Saturday we did not have class as that was the Wood Week day with mini classes. I took the “Decorative Details with the Slojd Knife” class for adding simple details to spoons and carvings. It was a fun class put on by Mike Loeffler who is a nice instructor and easy going. I did not take any pictures during the class, but here is a picture of a sample detail pattern I did.


That night after the mini classes the school hosted a pizza cook out in their brick oven. North House provided the pizza sauce, cheese, and dough made by the interns. Thanks guys. The toppings were a community affair with everything from herring to boiled eggs(that would be Jarrod Stonedahl’s contribution, hehe). Ben, one of the four interns, had the honor of standing outside taking charge of baking some 70+ pizzas. Thanks Ben!

Ben Baking Pizzas

Sunday, which was the last day, I slacked off after staying out till three AM the previous night. :-) I slept in late and did not get to class till around 11am, but still managed to chop out a blank and turn a bowl before lunch. This bowl turned out the best and is a nice size and shape.


During lunch Roger and I talked about blacksmithing, and decided to head over to the blacksmith shop and make some bowl turning tools. He and I got the forge fired up and then both put on demonstrations of tool making to the rest of the class. That was fun for me to do a small demonstration and teach a little bit as I have been blacksmithing since I was a kid.

Here is Roger working on his bowl hook.



Then I made myself a nice bowl hook out of some W-1 tool steel that Roger had.



So in around two and a half days of class I was able to get four bowls turned on the lathe and forge a hook tool. I am happy with the amount of work I was able to get done. Roger said that most people in these classes only get one or two bowls made, so I guess I was doing alright for a first timer.



After the class was finished and everyone else had gone home, I stayed and helped Roger clean up. When I was done sweeping the floor, I decided to take this picture as a parting shot. This picture is of my last bowl on the pile of shavings created during the class. I thought it was kind of cool.



I am glad to have had the opportunity to take this class and get to experience the North House Folk School. They are doing a great job at this school to create a nice atmosphere with a wonderful community of people involved in the school. It was such an awesome experience that I would like to continue to be involved and would love to one day teach a class just to be part of the school.

I signed up for what North House calls a service learning program. This is basically an apprentice style program working in their blacksmith shop making tools for their school. It works out well for everyone, as they get tools made for the blacksmiths shop, and I will get the opportunity to learn a few things working under their experienced blacksmith Dave Hanson. I am really excited about this program and look forward to going back to North House in April for it.

I cannot say enough about North House. It is a unique folk school that is interested in building a community of craftsmen in many old world crafts. They are working with people like myself (service learning / work study) and the public to keep prices down so that the average person can attend classes which is very different than many of the schools of this type. Great job North House Folk School!!!

I would love to hear your comments and any experiences you have had with the school. If you have not had the privilege to attend North House, I encourage you to check them out and take a class or volunteer, you will not be disappointed.

Take care,

Our Homestead Progress — The Slab


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Gosh it is hard to believe so much time has passed since my last blog entry. I guess that is how things go when you are living a lifestyle like us building a homestead from the ground up.

I had wanted to do a more detailed documentary of the house project, but it has been really hard to keep this up while dealing with building the house and living “In the Project”. My wife finally did a blog post on her blog with a short blurb and a lot of pictures. I decided that would be better then not posting anything.

So here is photo essay of our progress, starting with the slab. This was in late August.

Working on tamping and leveling the ground for a slab.

Working on tamping and leveling the ground for a slab.

First stage of forming up the slab.

First stage of forming up the slab.

Putting in drain pipe below the slab.

Putting in drain pipe below the slab.


Vapor barrier in and ready for rebar.

Vapor barrier in and ready for rebar.

Concrete truck getting set up.

Concrete truck getting set up.

Starting the pour.

Starting the pour.




Slab mostly finished.

Slab mostly finished.



Yesterday marked the tenth week camping on our land. About two weeks ago we moved into the unfinished cabin, but it is still like tent camping as there is no water, electricity, heat, bedrooms, or privacy to be alone for a minute.

Today I feel physically and mentally exhausted. I need to get back to work, but I am having a hard time getting my head in the game.

They say that in survival situations, what kills most people, is when they get to the stage where they have a hard time doing what they need to keep fed, dry, and warm. I can completely understand that right at the moment. I would just like to go sit next to a tree for the rest of the day and not worry about anything. However if I do that the cabin will not be ready for winter and we would be miserable and probably freeze to death.

I do not typically write about stuff like this on my blog, but it is the reality of undertaking such a project. Lots of people have a glamorous view of doing something like this, but it is extremely hard living on property with very little and camping while you undertake building a home in a place like northern Minnesota where the closest hardware store is over an hour away.

So there you have it. I cannot afford more idle time so I must get up and finish getting this cabin insulated, for the cold nights are here and winter will be upon us very soon.

Off the Grid Living and Blogging!


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I just thought that I would show everyone how I am publishing this blog right now while we are off the grid.

Since we have no electricity on the property we are using a tablet and wireless satellite thing to get onto the internet. Not really sure how that works but it does.

As night falls the kiddos head to bed and we get a few hours of quiet time that consists of planning and working out the next days work. When that is done I sit down to write at a flimsy card table with 1920’s Rayo Kerosene lamp and a tablet that does lot of weird things.

It definitely makes things interesting as the sounds from outside come in, the Rayo Lamp radiates heat on my face, and the tablet randomly does whatever it wants as I type.

Since leaving our home and coming out here I have felt very much at odds with technology. From the get go when we were packing up after selling our house, we started having problems with our modern machines. One truck had electrical problems that caused run issues, while the other had its muffler blow up and leaf spring break.

The day we got here to our homestead, our four wheeler decided that it no longer wanted to run despite having less then 100 hours on it. Our lawn mower would not start to clear a spot for our tent, and when as a back up we tried the year old Echo weed wacker, it failed to run as well.

Soon after that both our laptops died within a day of each other for no apparent reason followed by our small 12vdc to 120vac inverter.

So all that to say that I am struggling with the fact that I question keeping the technology in our life as it seems like the more we lose these things the better off we are for it. It simplifies things while removing some of the stress of an already very stressful situation.

We supposedly have this technology to make life more simple, but what it really does is complicate things and cause stress where it is not needed. It has been freeing in a lot of ways and I am kind of nervous about having a house where these things might creep back in. Granted if we have electricity it will be via solar, and our water will still come from a hand pump well, but living simply in tents on our property has stripped away much of what modern society has imposed on us and it really feels pretty good.

Belongings are starting to lose their importance to me and I do not fear the loss of what I have. That was my biggest fear leaving our old house. I had worked and saved for so long to build the machine shop I had always wanted. For nearly ten months before leaving I stressed out so much about what I was going to do to move and store the equipment that needed fork lifts and semi trailers to move.

Now tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment is sitting in a storage over a thousand miles away and the stress and anxieties associated with this “Stuff” is gone completely. Do I want to have it back and build a shop to put it in and use again? Of course, but if I never see it again…….., well, whatever. That sounds really bizarre to read after writing it, but things are changing for me. My focus if redirecting and my priority’s are changing.

Interesting don’t you think. All that because I was going to post one picture of my blogging set up . I suppose I will do that now.


There you have it. I started this as a short post and got all lost in thought about a simple lifestyle decluttered of stuff and technology. We can build a better future with less and I intend to prove that. Stick with me and lets see where we go from here.

Take care — Dave