Spinning Wheels

by | Apr 3, 2023 | 4 comments

One of my readers sent me this video.  It’s from 1964 Sweden, of an old fellow making a spinning wheel.  The film is beautifully shot and silent, so you can can choose your own soundtrack.  There’s a lot of great parts, but my favorite is the boring and reaming jigs. One of Nancy Goyne Evans’s books references 18th Century American Windsor advertisements that mention a machine for letting legs into seats, but I could never picture what that machine might have looked like until I saw this video:

The tenon cutter at the 3:00 minute mark is like nothing I have ever seen.  It’s adjustable, it’s setting held in place with wooden blocks.   I had no idea that a handheld tool could take a shaving that wide.  I’ve started to make one for cutting leg tenons.  I used an old, thick plane iron, but it’s not stiff enough and jerks into the work with a noise fit to raise the dead.   I’ll try again when things slow down. 

The marking stick that follows the tenon cutter uses sharpened nails to mark the work.  Chair turners used sticks like this, which produced the score marks in the vases of baluster turnings. Most modern makers produce these marks with a pencil, followed by the tip of a skew. The old way works just as well and you don’t spend so much time hunting for your pencil (which you probably shoveled out the window after it fell in the shavings).

He bores the leg holes by eye (7:00), then uses a simple reaming jig to ream the holes. Brilliant.

He’s not the best turner in the world – he keeps catching(13:00).  Or maybe he’s going blind.  He uses a square tipped, double bevel chisel here, not a skew.

I want to find a use for the saw-upside-down-in-a-vice trick (16:40). 

Traditional woodworkers hit their work with a metal hammer (19:20). It’s the thing to do.

His treadle-lathe is pretty cool (33:40).  And he turns metal on it, which is also cool.  I wonder how many times he’s rapped himself on the knuckles with that swinging metal bit?

The drilling jig with the wooden morse-taper that fits in the lathe headstock is pretty slick (37:00).   They used similar jigs in 19th Century America – there’s one in the Wilson collection at Meadowcroft Village in western PA.  It’s a fabulous collection, though you have to ask to see most of it.  The 19,000 year old archaeology is pretty neat too.

Turning the 2′ diameter wheel is amazing.  The lathe is homemade, almost entirely of wood.  He seems to have a hook tool for cutting the rim, like pole-lathe bowl turners use.  It would leave a pretty nice surface on that wonky grain, I bet.

Now I want to make a spinning wheel….







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Sue Tolleson-Rinehart
1 year ago

Thank you for this, Elia — it was wonderful to see. Those jigs are just miracles of creative problem-solving, aren’t they? And Mr. Langsner’s comment below just continues my education. What a marvelous post!

1 year ago

Hi Elia-
i believe that the first Windsor chair makers were turners in London whose business included making spinning wheels. That’s why those Windsors look like what they look like. They took to chairmaking with the development of industrialization, which made home spinning obsolete.

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