Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

Build, Forge, Turn: Pole Lath Turning with Jarrod Dahl


Build, Forge, Turn: Pole Lathe Turning with Jarrod Dahl


The pole lathe is part of the ancient history of wood turning. The lathe was widely used around Europe, the Middle East and the Far East 2,500 years ago. There were a few different types of early lathes and one of them is the Spring Pole Lathe. This type of lathe is worked while standing, by pushing down on a foot treadle. The drive strap connected to the treadle is wrapped around the work piece and up to a springy pole and and when the treadle is depressed it turns the piece held between metal centers, then the spring pole returns the treadle back to it’s original position. So it reciprocates back and forth. With the application of a sharpened tool, either gouge for spindle work or a hook for bowl turning, a rough axe hewn piece of wood can be turned into shape with perfectly circular cuts.

In this way it was used to produce everyday objects like bowls, cups and plates, but also parts for furniture and architectural items for thousands of years. Pole lathes were still in use, although largely replaced by electric lathes, into the late 20th century.

Today, there is growing interest in this type of turning due to the popularity of “Green Woodworking” which has had a renaissance starting in the late 60’’s and early 70’s here in the West. People from all walks of life are enjoying the hand tool renaissance and using the pole lathe to make chair parts and bowls for everyday use.

This class will be a complete introduction into the world of pole lathe turning with a focus on bowl turning. Students will build their own lathe, forge their own tools, and learn to turn bowls.




Class Description

In this eight-day course we will begin by spending three days building a splayed-design pole lathe from sawn timber. The design also incorporates a bungee system in place of a spring pole so it can be used with either a pole or bungee. This design is very portable and can be taken apart easily to load up or ship home after the class. We will discuss various other designs and possible custom designs too. The joinery for the lathe is very simple and includes round mortises and tenons and a basic keyed or wedged through tenon.

After the lathe is complete we will spend two days on making the tools for turning which are known as hook tools. We will cover the various hook designs and their use, basic blacksmithing and heat treating of high carbon tool steel.

The last part of this class is the turning, October 28th-30th. We will spend the last three days turning bowls on our new lathes with the tools we made. In this segment we will cover the basics of turning, cutting techniques, and bowl design. We will also discuss in-depth subjects like handling and storing green wood, sharpening, axe skills, and how to dry and finish your bowls with oil, paint and decorative carving.

The instructor will present a slide show and talk about his travels and research on pole lathe turning in places such as; Borås, Sweden, an area where turning was a major industry for hundreds of years, York, England where he studied Viking turned cups from 1000 years ago, and more recently Japan, where turning is still done using hooks on a lathe that is a more recent version of their early reciprocating strap lathes—a distant cousin of the pole lathe.

This class is intended to cover all the basics. By the end of class students will have the machine, the tools, and the techniques needed to work independently at home. Students should be prepared for a physically demanding class that requires a certain level of stamina, coordination, and physical strength. Students must be able to stand on one leg for extended periods of time and have the hand strength to open a sealed jar or swing an axe or hammer repeatedly. If there are questions about this or if students have injuries or physical limitations, please contact the instructor.

Note: Students may be able to sell their lathe to the school, if they prefer not to ship it home. Lathes can be shipped anywhere in the US for about $140 USD.


You are not required to bring any tools for this course.


Please note this course is open to all levels, but requires a basic amount of hand strength, stamina, and focus to be able to complete the projects listed.

Class Information and Registration

Class runs from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday in Building #304 from October 21-25, then Monday through Wednesday, October 28-30. There is no class on the weekend. This is an eight-day class.
Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the school.
Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 10
Cost: $ 1550

Materials Charge: $ 725

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.