Williamsburg Treadle Lathe from the Gunsmith Shop

Compact Treadle LatheOn a recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg, I snapped a few photos of this treadle lathe.  Having been to the Anthony Hay shop several times as well as the Joiner’s shop I was surprised to see this lathe.  Usually the Hay shop has a great wheel powered lathe and the Joiners have a massive treadle.

It turns out this model was on loan from the Gunsmith’s shop.  I recognize the eventuality that I will be making a treadle soon.  Maybe it is the hand cranked grinding wheel or possibly my ever increasing collection of hand saws, but it seems only a matter of time until my Jet mini lathe gets replaced by a meat powered version. As an aside, notice the treadle powered grinding wheel in the background.  Maybe that will be my next acquisition??  I really need to seek professional help.

Up until now the issue holding me back is space.  My shop ceiling is just too low for a spring pole lathe.  I would be bumping my head on it all the time.  A treadle lathe suits me better and I have experience working with one at my volunteer job at the Steppingstone Museum.  However, this is like bringing another stationary power tool into the shop.  It has a footprint that demands space.  I foresee a major shop reorganization soon and plan to allow for some space for a turning corner.  This lathe from the Gunsmith shop seems like a great option.  I like the variable speed option of the geared headstock.  I always thought variable speed on a treadle lathe meant, pedal harder, but it looks like this model has added in some more oomph to help things along.

At any rate, I have many things to do between now and when I start building my own treadle, but in the meantime you can expect to see some further musings from me about which design and how I intend to integrate it into my humble little shop.

5 Responses to “Williamsburg Treadle Lathe from the Gunsmith Shop”

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  1. Wesley Tanner says:

    I think this kind of lathe would fit right in to your shop. But I would recommend you consider steam power. If you’ve ever been to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, you’d know how attractive an idea this can be.

    • Shannon says:

      yikes, but then I would have to add a boiler and feed my precious hardwoods to the fire. I visited a steam powered shop down in the Shenandoah area years ago and it was a sight to see. Somehow I think getting this past quality control (my wife) would be tough.

  2. charles goodnight says:

    Would you feel that a treadle lathe had to use traditional materials, or would you consider using modern bicycle components. What I am thinking of is that modern bearings, free-wheels and bicycle chains might make the system more efficient and a lot less work.

    • Shannon says:

      Not at all Charles, in fact that would be really cool. I’m sticking to wood because that is what I am set up to work. Even when I was racing, the team had a bike mechanic so I can say I was ever really good at that stuff. I can change a bike tire and swap out a rear derailer, but that it all I ever had to do.

      The Victorians experimented with a lot of this stuff. We have a Victorian lathe at the museum where I volunteer that is set up like a bike. It has a cast iron wheel and two pedals. You sit to operate it and it runs like a dream. One of the thing that I think is key though is that your fly wheel have some mass so it takes some force to slow it down. Remember that you are applying back pressure with your gouge on the wood and to compensate for a light fly wheel you would end up pedaling more and some of the efficiency you mention would be lost.
      If you’re interested I shot a quick video of the museum shop and you get a glimpse of the treadle lathe at the 3:16 mark. Here are some still images as well to get your inspiration going.
      Victorian Pedal Lathe
      Lathe Pedals
      Lathe Flywheel

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