Currently viable crafts


Pole lathe bowl turning


The turning of wooden bowls on a lathe, traditionally on a foot-powered pole lathe. See the separate entries for pole lathe turning and wood turning.


Status Currently viable
Craft category Wood
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK Early Medieval
Current no. of professionals (main craft)
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main craft)
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required



This traditional form of bowl making has been used at least since the Viking age. This craft fell out of favour with the Industrial revolution, and died out completely with the death of George Lailey of Turners Green, Bucklebury, Berkshire in 1958. Lailey was reputed to be the ‘last bowl turner in England’. Lailey’s lathe and tools are housed at the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading. The craft of pole-lathe bowl turning was revived in the 1990s by Robin Wood.




Local forms




Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: There is a demand for hand-turned bowls but the need to charge relatively high prices to make a living suppresses this demand.
  • Skills issues: It takes a long time to develop the skills to produce items of a saleable quality. A lot of people have a go but very few have the time or inclination to stick at it for the necessary years.


Support organisations


Craftspeople currently known

A fair number of members of the APTGW turn bowls, and there is a good level of interest in this, with the skills being shared.


Other information

Status: The craft of bowl turning on a pole lathe died out in England in 1958 with the death of George Lailey. It was revived in the 1990s by Robin Wood and today is popular among green wood workers and pole lathe turners.

Pole lathe bowl turning has been gaining in popularity over the past few years with an increasing number of practitioners making bowls, turning tools and teaching. For this reason it has now been moved from ‘endangered’ to ‘viable’.