Return of the Pole Lathe



Two years ago when my wife and I were out on a travel assignment, I spent some time building a pole lathe. I had never used one before and decided to build it from scrap materials that my father had at his house. The only thing I spent money on was a few lag bolts which cost around $5.

Not really knowing what I was going to use the lathe for I decided to build it more as a spindle lathe since I had used power wood lathes growing up. I didn’t really follow any plan just kind of made it up as I went.

After that travel assignment, it was taken apart and transported 1200 miles back home. Space was limited so only about half of the lathe got packed up while the other half as discarded. It wasn’t until yesterday that I finally had the chance to get it set back up.


This time I made the bed five feet long. Everything else is the same. The one modification I am going to do is to set it up as a bowl lathe. I am going to use the existing poppet, for now, but in the near future I am going to make a new one with a bent center to give better clearance when turning bowls.

One thing that I need that I don’t have, is a mandrel to use for bowl turning. I had already turned one out of hard maple when I took the bowl turning class at North House, but it needed to be trued up as it dried oval shaped. Surprisingly it turned just fine after drying out for several months. Now I just need to make some pins for the end that gets driven into the bowl blank.

Later this week I am going to cut down one of the birch trees at the edge of our property and start turning a few bowls. When I do I will post some pictures of the process and finished bowls.


Using Treenware (Wooden bowls and spoons.)



I get asked on occasion if I actually use the treenware I make. Treenware, by the way, is a word used to describe wooden objects such as bowls and spoons made from green wood. 

Using the treenware I make is something I most certainly do and enjoy. Here is an example of a two such items made from paper birch. This wooden bowl turned on a pole lathe and a hand carved spoon are two that I use often.

One of the reasons I enjoy green woodworking is because I like to make things that are functional. It took a while for me to actually use what I had made though in the beginning. Like most people I was worried that I might ruin the items I had taken the time to make. 

One day I decided to start using my wooden spoons and bowls and have really enjoyed the transition to their use. The more you use these items the nicer they get. The spoons get silky smooth and become very nice to eat with. The bowls insulate your food and are nice and warm to the touch but not burning hot like modern ceramic or porcelain. What’s not to like?

Will they wear out one day? Probably, but not for a long time. Case in point are several 1000 plus year old bowls I held and examined that belong to Roger Abrahamson. They were turned with primitive means by today’s standards on a pole lathe and have probably been used for most of their life.  Yet these bowls could probably be used for another hundred years if not another thousand. 

So, if you have some treenware on your shelf, pull it down and give it a try next time you eat. You might just like it. 

Off Topic Content — Whats your Opinion?


I have been thinking about this for a long time. Years in fact. Let me tell you a secret. I like writing! I do, I really do. However a lot of what I want to write about is everyday stuff. Well not every day stuff for most people, but everyday stuff for my crazy life.

"Saftey Point" Nome, AK - Photograph copyright © 2007 David Sims

“Saftey Point” Nome, AK – Photograph © 2007 David Sims

Let me give you an example.

My wife and I started building a house on an old farm we bought this last summer. We lived in a tent on the back of our 40 acre field with our 6 month and 3 year old children. For the first two months camping off grid in a tent like this we experienced a lot of crazy things. Get ready for a long list that screams run on sentence.

These are a few things that happened while living in our tent: a nearby tornado that almost blew our tent across the field, necessitating us bracing the sides of the tent for nearly an hour to keep things put, downpour after downpour that literally left our tent floating in flooded field, mosquito’s that were worse then anything I ever saw in Alaska (they formed clouds that covered us and our children as we ran from our sleeping tent to the screen tent we used for cooking), sleeping in one room with two small children for months, having coyotes and wolfs wandering around our camp at night, planning a house, building a house, having my dad and brother come up and live in their tents with us for 3 weeks while we framed the house, getting in the grove with the environment around us, etc.

Whew, I told you that was going to be a long sentence. Anyway, my point is that I have a lot of things I would enjoy sharing with you and others, but I usually do not because it is off topic to this blog. Part of me feels that keeping the blog strictly craft oriented is best, but I feel that both you and I am missing a lot of  things I would enjoy writing about.

Perhaps the hard core readers would be turned off to see me talking about how I nearly lost our tractor in the creak, or how the sunset makes me feel at the end of the day, or how I really feel about finally getting to build my own house on my own property (Its HARD!). However I feel like these are the things that I have passion in talking about and writing about. A more creative side to writing then the documentary / how to style I typically write.

Now don’t be alarmed. I am not talking about abandoning the current format of my blog or doing away with the crafts and skills I regularly write about. I am just talking about adding more content that is life related but not necessarily Traditional skills.

Homesteading, gardening, raising animals, photography, life, building a home, kids, nature, and other interests are something I would also like to share.

What does everyone think? Would you stick with me if I decide to go this route? Would this make you less interested or more interested in reading my blog?

Please comment and give me your thoughts. I would greatly appreciate it.



Hand Forging a Tomahawk


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Last weekend I had some free time to spend working at the forge. It has been a while since I did any blacksmith work and this tomahawk was a fun project to kick things off with. Here is a sneak peak!


I forged this small tomahawk from mild steel flat bar with a high carbon bit for good edge retention.

First I took the piece of mild steel bar and tapered the ends and bent it in half to form the initial shape of the eye.


Then I started forge welding the two bend halves together starting from the eye working towards the bit. I forge welded it up unto about 7/8″ from the end. This left space for the high carbon bit to fit in that was previously forged into a wedge shape.



Here the hawk is taking shape after I forge welded the high carbon bit in. I use the straight peen of my hammer to fuller and spread the metal out to widen the blade.


The tomahawk head is heated to non magnetic and quenched to harden the bit. It is then immediately tempered to soften the edge and reduce brittleness while remaining hard enough to hold an edge. This image is not of the hardening process, but I threw it in because it looks cool. :-)


At this point the final finishing is done and the hawk is cleaned up and fitted with a nice new hickory handle. To get the scale off I used a wire wheel on the bench grinder, and then forced a little patina with yellow mustard spread over the hawk head.

The handle is burned, which is something new I have been playing with. The process for burning the handle is simple. First the handle is wiped down with boiled linseed oil and then a propane torch is used to scorch the handle. After doing this the handle is sanded and oiled again, and then several days later coated with paste wax. This gives the handle a very nice feel to it and is suppose to help preserve the wood. Plus if you don’t overdo the burning it looks nice as well.

Here are some more finished shots of the new hawk. This tomahawk is the smallest one I own. At first it seemed too small, but I think it is going to make a nice little pack hawk that will travel well in the woods. The handle is just 15″ long.


I will probably be making a few more of these in the next few months. If there is any interest in a more detailed “How To” let me know and I will try to remember to take more pictures of the whole process.

Also if you are interested in purchasing one of these hawks hand forged by yours truly, send me a message via the “Contact” page and I will get one made up for you.

Thanks for looking,

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.