New Pole Dynamics

When my previous/4th pole gave out, I replaced it with an even heavier pole, a practice I have followed with each successive replacement. With the heavier pole, I needed to make some adjustments. This one is a lot heavier than the previous one and with the extra strength of the heavier pole I had to move the support out a couple of feet away from the lathe. With the fulcrum/support point closer to the center of the length of the pole, the flexing is spread out along the length of the pole more evenly and should make the pole last longer. I also had to remove some material from the top and bottom as it was still putting too much stress on the cord. There is still plenty of resilience. (this is the same procedure (tillering) used by bowyers to even out the tension along the length of an archery bow).

I am limited as to how high the tip of the pole can be as it is inside the work hut. In order to maintain the support point position, I can adjust the height of the tip by moving the bottom support closer to the lathe. This repositioning of the support adds resistance to the tendency of the pole to be drawn toward the lathe in such a way that, if the end of the pole is not secured to the ground well enough, the pole will be pulled out of its base and toward the turner.



It should be noted that, in securing the end of the pole, if there are underground utilities they must be located and avoided. At home, I have a 30″ iron rod with a 3″ eye driven into the ground. The end of the pole goes through the eye and is held there with a wedge, all in a place that requires no grounds keeping other than leaf raking in the Fall. For events I have a wooden block with sand bags to hold the end of the pole in place. This not only avoids utilities but also keeps damage to the landscape to a minimum as well as making it easier to remove at the end of the event.


New Bowl/Spoon adze

My new bowl/spoon adze. The first photo shows the tool from the user’s point of view. The blade has a twist to the left which allows me to see the blade as it makes contact with the work piece. It also makes it very comfortable to use as it follows a natural swing trajectory. I had developed this design over the last few years and now my son has made this tool according to my specifications. The head weighs about 1 pound and is made from 4140 steel. It can be made for left or right handed use as well as inline as with traditional adzes.

This tool allows me to rough out small bowls and large spoons in quick order. There is enough weight/mass to be effective as a chopping tool but not so much that it becomes hard to control after an extended work period.


I got a request for plans to build this device, but, I have no plans for the peeling horse. It is based in organic design, which involves more than just natural looking components and structure. After some discussion, this device was built to fit Norton Nearly’s particular body size, his preference to be standing while he is using the device, and that it might be left outside in the weather on occasion. It is also as light in weight as could be for easy transport so it can be moved in and out of doors as well as to events for demonstration purposes. The devices I build are based in the context of 18th Century Early America, that is, if you were to come to the “new world” as a craftsman, how would you equip yourself quickly to get to actual work? The simplest and most effective but unrefined work stations would be in order. I use period tools and methods as well as available materials in their raw state. So, there is not much in the way of dimension but more of the specific measurement of the individual to comfortably perform the task at hand. (Although the instructions here give information about dismantling the horse, I did not apply these most of these methods.)

As to the components and other details, they are as follows. Beam is how I will refer to the top log/work surface piece. Legs are the 2 front, near the work end, and the rear one away from the work end. The brace is the stabilizing and strengthening piece beneath the beam and attached to the rear leg. Pins/pegs for holding joints together are whittled with a slight taper from split material, preferably white oak. The taper will help tighten the pegs in the joint and allow for disassembly. All the work is done with hand tools. The spring is the horizontal piece near to and parallel to the ground. The spring can be a wooden dowel or even a piece of 3/8” diameter steel as is found in most hardware stores. The clamp is made from a piece of 3/8” X 3/8” X 48” piece of steel.

To begin with, the most critical distance for the peeling horse is from the ground to the end of the beam closest to the worker. Standing upright (no slouching) with your hand across your belly, get the height from the ground to your elbow. A little higher is acceptable, but not any lower. Lower will cause you to work crouched over, will have an adverse effect on your posture, will waste or require extra effort in using tools, and will lead to unsafe and inaccurate work habits. The far end can be a couple of inches shorter so the work surface will slope up, similar to a shave horse.  So, that’s it. Everything else on the horse just serves to support that end at that height.

photo by Norton Nearly

Most of the materials for Norton’s horse came from a small white oak tree. All the materials can be home center/manufactured stuff if you like. This will make accuracy in laying out joints much easier. The beam/work top is the heaviest part. It is about 5“ diameter, from the base of the tree, about 40 inches long with a flat surface made by removing about an 1 ½” from one side with a hewing hatchet and cleaned up with a draw knife. This gives about a 4 ” wide work surface and a plane of reference for laying out the legs and leaves plenty of material for attaching the legs. The legs all started out about 54 inches long; Norton is rather tall. The back leg is made of the next section of the tree. It is roughly octagonal (because I like the look of it and it gives points of reference for measurement and for laying out joints and positions of other parts) and fits at the end of the beam which has been cut to allow the facets of the legs to fit up snuggly, basically an open mortice and tenon joint. The leg verticals can be left projecting up a bit to make a slot to give the back end of the stick a little more stability. The joint is held together with a tapered draw bore pin (https://www.popularwoodworking.com/techniques/joinery/drawboring-resurrected) which can be left long so the joint can be disassembled. The pin should be attached to the beam with a length of good cordage or leather so it does not get lost.

Put the assembly on the ground with the work surface down.

With the back leg in position, I drilled a 1 ¼” hole for the brace about half way down the leg and at an angle that would intersect the bottom of the beam at about 60 degrees. With the hole drilled, you can  pull a string through the hole to locate the edge of the hole on the beam and give you a feel for the angle at which to hold the drill when drilling the beam for the other end of the brace. The stick was just something lying about that had a consistent diameter and was long enough. A dowel might be easier to use. In any case, the brace must be able to pass through the hole in the leg. The hole in the beam can be a little smaller to ensure a good fit. Because my holes did not line up perfectly, the stick has some tension against the sides of the holes that keep it in place. I also pinned the ends with small wooden pegs to keep it secure

photo by Norton Nearly

The two forward legs are the next two sections of the tree.  About 30 inches between the ends of the legs where they touch the ground should allow plenty of room for you to put your feet and to move around some if you need to change the angle at which you are working the stick. Because of the way the stick is held on the horse, there will not be much repositioning done other than to turn it over to the next side to be peeled. With the flat surface of the work beam still on the ground, I used a 1 ½” T auger to drill sockets for the ends of the legs. Theses hole can be slightly offset along the length of the beam to keep from weakening the area. I angled the auger to allow some splay for the legs. With one foot on the work piece, I set my self in position so I was looking down the shaft of the auger from about where the end of the leg would be and drilled a hole about 2” deep. You could also scratch guidelines on the ground to help align the drill. (Wish I had thought of this when I was drilling these holes.) The legs are also octagonal and have a 1 ½“ diameter  X 2” tenon whittled/filed on the end.  A ¾” hole could be drilled through the bottom of the beam top from the 2” hole in order to be able to drive a pin to remove the leg. If the legs are loose, they can be pulled together with a cord and windlass (my preference) or pushed apart with a stick/brace. Either method will cause some tension on the tenon in the socket and help to keep them in place. If this is done, be sure you position the windlass up on the leg where it will not interfere with your legs trying to get in position for working. If this method draws the legs too close for stability or working clearance, the stick/brace method will have to be used.

With all the legs attached and braced mark the ends of the legs for cutting to length; the two legs to you elbow as described above. Mark the far leg, taking into consideration whether the top of the joint sticks up above the work surface and how far it does as well as how much, if any, rise you want along the top of the beam. It might be well at this point to cut everything a little long and try it out that way. You can always cut more off, but it is not easy to cut more on. Put the horse upright on the ground.

The spring that lifts the clamp rod is a piece of osage orange branch, about 1” in diameter and as long as the distance between the legs where they connect to the beam. There is a hole drilled through the back leg, the same diameter as the spring. Osage is a very resilient and springy wood, often used by Native Americans to make bows for shooting arrows. This piece is also pinned to the leg to keep it from working loose.

There is a treadle/branch fork tied to the end of the spring with a wrapped standoff connection to keep the fork in position but also to allow it to be adjusted so you can have your foot on it from where ever you need to stand. The fork is flattened on top for better traction and should be only as far off the ground as is needed to get a grip with the clamp on the smallest diameter stick to be worked on. If the fork is too high, it will be awkward to use. If it is too low, you will not get enough grip on the workpiece.  You must also account for the work area terrain.


I heated the end of the clamp steel with a MAPP gas torch (no, they did not have MAPP gas in the 18th century) and hammered it out to about 1/8” thick by ¾” X the width of the flat face of the beam, about 3”, and bent it to 90 degrees. The side of the beam (pick one) is notched for the clamp. To determine where the notch should be, stand with your belly against the end of the beam. With a drawknife or spokeshave in your hands, reach along towards the center of the beam. Ata a point that is comfortable, mark the beam and add 6 inches for the notch. Keep in mind again, that you are making a working device for your own body size and shape. If the notch is too far away, you will put excessive strain on your lower back.  The notch is just deeper than the thickness of the clamp shaft, enclosed with something to keep the clamp from falling out when it is not under tension. I fitted a piece of leather over the “jaw” of the clamp both to keep it from marring the work piece and to keep the steel from transferring rust stain to the work piece. The length of the clamp shaft can be determined by standing it on end with the jaw on the ground. Mark the shaft even with the top of the beam. The upright shaft is square lashed to the spring, again, allowing the proper travel of the clamp jaw.

photo by Norton Nearly









The half-round block of wood is used to shim a stick with irregular curves at the back end of the beam in order to have the portion of the stick being peeled as close to the work surface as can be. Being able to hold the stick against the work surface will maximize the control you will have with the tool.

A final word: if you have not made any of these joints or done these operations, may I suggest you try executing them with scrap material until you get them done well before you use the actual materials. This is what I refer to as tuition work and it will give you a real and working knowledge that can be applied to other, more interesting work, later.

That’s about it. If there are any questions, please put them in the comments and I will get to them pretty quickly.

So, I am ever adjusting my means and methods to achieve some accuracy for historical events where we participate. Last week I was discussing sharpening with a friend that does pottery. I had asked her to make a container that I could soak my sharpening stones in to replace the yellow plastic box I had been using. I told her I am using triangular ceramic files which led talking about the practice of using the unglazed bottom of mugs and plates for sharpening kitchen knives and such. She was not aware this could be done but immediately realized it could work, depending on the material. Then she told me about a back step made of slate that had been used for knife sharpening. I had heard of sharpening with slate but had not considered it for my self. Until today. I took a piece of a broken sandstone grinding wheel, soaked it in water, and used the side to grind the surface of a piece of slate I had in the shed. The slate and the sandstone worked to level each other. Voila! My new old sharpening kit; 2 stones + water + leather strop. I tried it on a chip carving knife with good results, then on a scraper with really good results.

Art, really

These photos are from the 20th annual Smyrna Opera House art show.  I don’t usually do art stuff, but I’ve had some ideas and raw materials for a couple of years now and I thought I’d give it a go.

The first three photos are of Table; top, front, and left side views.  The top is a piece of white oak, probably cut from one of the *buttress* projections at the base of the tree, with a satin lacquer finish.  It is irregular in thickness but has a wonderfully figured grain structure.  The *legs* of the table are a branch from a magnolia tree. The surface coloring of the branch just didn’t work well with the top so it has been coated with a blending of moss green and mustard latex paint.  The bottoms have 1/8 inch thick leather pads.  It stands 23 inches tall, 27 inches wide, and 18 inches deep.  As it did not sell at the art show, it is available for $225.00.top


















The next photos are the top, front, and left side of Milking stool.  The scooped top is a slab of timber cut from an elm tree trunk.  The base is from an apple tree.  It stands (or sits) 16 inches tall, 13 inches wide, and 11 inches deep.  Although perhaps a little too tall for actually milking, it is quite sturdy and comfortable.  The wood is coated with satin lacquer and the ends of the legs have 1/8 inch leather pads.  It is available for $115.00.


















Next is Compote 2, made form a single piece of spalted maple.  The three parts were turned on a spring pole lathe.  Although I generally use freshly cut wood, for art’s sake, I made this from a piece that was somewhat dry and cured.  The variation in coloring is due to the difference in the orientation of the grain.  The grain of the bowl and base are horizontal to the surface it is sitting on; the stem is perpendicular.  The diameter of the bowl is 9 inches and it stands about 6 1/2 inches tall.  This piece is no longer available.
















Finally, Blackstone Wallace Nutter.  This is a cut off from a length of black walnut lumber used in a project several years ago.  Unfortunately, the top 2 or 3 inches are not in the photo.  Wallace is 6 inches wide at the bottom, 32 inches high, and ready to be hung with picture hanging cable attached.  He sells for $85.00.










Other bits of information as to the origins of these pieces is available.  When they are purchased I will update this entry.  Thanks for looking.

Bark Peeling Stand

A friend of mine, who makes folk art walking sticks, needed something to hold the sticks so he could peel the bark with a draw knife. He also wanted to stand while he works. I suggested if it were portable, he could take it to events and incorporate some demonstration into his presentation. It’s a simple platform with treadle clamp. The upright jaw is a piece of 3/8″ square stock with the end flattened and bent. The spring is a piece of osage orange which lifts the clamp when you want to release it for re-positioning. I let the rear bridle joint stick up so it could keep the stick in line. All the main pieces are white oak left over from the last time I needed a new spring pole for my lathe. The brace is a piece of apple. I cut about 4″ off the rear leg to give the table some lift at the working end. The 4″ piece was split in half and hangs from a leather thong (this wasn’t done until later) so it is convenient to place under a crooked stick at the far end to keep the work down on the table











clamp - Copy




The iron clamp is covered with leather to keep it from cutting or staining the freshly peeled stick.






treadle 2



A small osage fork/treadle hangs from the osage spring. The leather allows the treadle to be positioned in the best place to allow the worked to be addressed from the best angle. It also lets you change position as needed or to stand on the other leg when one or the other gets stiff from just holding the treadle down.


The whole contraption can be picked up with one hand. I showed him how to hand a sand bag from the back end if he thought it needed a little ballast to keep it from hopping up when he caught a knot or some tough bark.
Fun stuff; building something to help someone execute their passion.

Reading and Ranting

Well, hasn’t it been quite a while since I’ve put anything here? I’ve been more and more busy as time has passed but I really haven’t done much to write home, or abroad, about. I will be putting up some new posts about: 1. started turning bowls and plates but also having to make my own tools to do this; 2. built a new travel lathe; 3. teaching my first class on green wood woodworking. Blogs with pictures, soon.
For right now, I have put together a list most of the books I have read, pretty much in chronological order, that have brought me along the path to where I am today, to be used as a handout for the class. (I’m told handouts are a must for this sort of thing.) I’m listing by Title, Author, publication date of the edition I own, and in parentheses, the original year (****) of publication as well as the ISBN, and finally, a small note about why the book is included in the list. Some of them are reprints of very old books. All seem to be from the early to mid 1900s.
I don’t seem to have much use for very new woodworking methods and notions. They all seem to be meant to sell us on the notion that we can’t do as good a job as a machine; as though the only acceptable standard should be “Get professional results, first time and every time”. Otherwise, we are wasting our time and resources in foolish pursuit of some unattainable excellence. Now, in terms of turning out massive quantities of a particular thing, I believe machines are the thing. In terms of accuracy and workmanship, not so much. Of course we must factor in the learning and practice of tool manipulation as part of our human adventure. In making things of wood, mistakes will be made.
The level of our abilities is being eroded away and reduced to low skilled mass production, both in our employment and in the day to day accessories of our personal lives. As woodworkers, instead of individuals with good skills and work ethic brought on by personal, hands on work, most have become a society of consumers whose main function is to serve and support the woodworking gadget industry. To our shame, little or less than what can be done with hand tools is ever produced. Countless power tools lie unused and even un-boxed. The limitations of tooling due to budget and a lack of practical experience as well as a lack of design capability keep most of us from ever actually making anything. If you can’t win, why play? In any case, not everyone who can purchase woodworking tools and gadgets will have the innate ability to produce at a level of true satisfaction. At least not immediately.
So anyway, here is a list of books from which I have derived instruction, inspiration, a philosophy of workmanship, and a broad general knowledge of woodworking over the last 42 years or so. Some I have not read completely. Some I have read several times and have gone through 2 or 3 copies. I refer to all of them as the need arises.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull- Richard Bach ISBN 978-0-684-84684-2 As I do not currently own this book. Lessons learned about how to go about self fulfillment in my pursuit of skill have been invaluable to me.

Audel’s Carpenters and Builders Library No. 1 through 4
LCCC 74-99760 (no ISBN in my copy) 1972 printing (1923) Lots of old school stuff.

Cabinet Making for Beginners- Charles Hayward (1948) Amazing that this was what he considered instruction for beginners in his day. Certainly a call to best practices in workmanship. ISBN 9780713514209

Craftsmen of Necessity- Christopher and Charlotte Williams 1974 Best book on “organic” wood working. Probably what led me to build my lathe as I did. Never throw away a good stick. ISBN 0-394-71022-3

A Museum of Early American Tools- Eric Sloan 1992 (1964) Drew me toward a love for pre industrial wood working tools and techniques. I wore out 2 copies. ISBN 0-486-42560-6

A Reverence for Wood- Eric Sloan 2004 (1965) Gave me an appreciation for what I was working with; wood, a once living material. Also on my 2nd copy.
ISBN 0-486-43394-3

Country Furniture- Aldren Watson 1974 (1957) Eric Sloan text tied to daily living in early America. Lots of good technical information about wood properties as relates to making things. ISBN 0-690-001909-8

Planecraft; Hand Planing by Modern Methods- C.W.Hampton & E. Clifford 1983 (1934) All about design, purpose and use of hand planes to do every thing you think you need a router for. “3 small cuts are more accurate than one big cut”

Country Woodcraft- Drew Langsner 1978 The introduction to this book reflects my woodworking philosophy and readily describes why I do what I do, pretty much. ISBN 0-8757-201-7

Adventures in Wood Finishing- George Frank 1981 Good read. Great life story. Best old school on wood treatments and finishing. ISBN 0-918804-06-X

The Practical Wood Turner- F Pain 1957 This is the very best book you can get on wood turning. Pain once taught a blind man to turn. My copy doesn’t have an ISBN

Modern Practicle Joinery- George Ellis 1987 (1902) When I was doing trim and stair work, this was very useful. It’s a little dry. ISBN 0-941936-08-2

Handbook of Doormaking, Windowmaking, and Staircasing- Anthony Talbot ed. 1980 Sort of an abridged version of Modern Practical Joinery; lots less science.
ISBN 0806988967

George Nakashima Full Circle- Derek E. Ostergard 1989 Furthered my appreciation of wood and workmanship, but not nail guns. ISBN 1-55584-376-X

Manual of Traditional Wood Carving Dover 1977 (originally Cassell’s Wood Carving 1911) A fairly exhaustive study of historical wood carving with a chapter on plaster modeling.

The Book of Wood Carving: Techniques, Design and Projects- Charles Marshall Sayers 1978 (1942) Best basic wood carving with excellent practice excercises; Manual of Traditional Wood Carving boiled down the essentials and without the plaster. ISBN 0-486-23654-4

The Nature and Art of Workmanship- David Pye 2007 (1968) An inspiring perspective on quality and excellence in doing what we do.
ISBN 970-0-521-29356-3

Green Woodwork; Working with Wood the Natural Way- Mike Abbott1998 (1989) A very good set of instructions for building a Pole Lathe as well as for constructing some furniture. Notes on wood behaviors and structure.
ISBN 0 96819 18 1

Country Chair Making- Jack Hill 1997 (1993) Somewhat power tool oriented but with good instructions and drawings for making a number of traditional British chairs and stools.