Currently viable crafts


Pole lathe turning


The turning of wooden items on a foot-powered pole lathe. See the separate entries for pole lathe bowl turning and wood turning.


Status Currently viable
Craft category Wood
Historic area of significance High Wycombe area for the making of turned components for the assembly of Windsor style chairs
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK Early Medieval
Current no. of professionals (main craft) Only a handful practice this full time as their main craft, and it is often supplemented by other craft activities, training, and writing etc.
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main craft)
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
There are over 1,000 members of the Association of Pole Lathe Turners and Greenwood Workers; most of these are leisure makers.
Minimum no. of craftspeople required



The Iron Age inhabitants of the English lake village at Glastonbury (c.100 BC) have been shown to be very competent wood turners. Excavations show these English West Country Celts to have produced some quite sizeable turned artifacts such as spokes and hubs for wooden wheels. Mallets, bowls, tool handles as well as smaller items like stoppers for jars are amongst items recovered by amateur archaeologist Arthur Bulleid (1862 to 1951) and Harold St George Gray (1872 to 1963) over a century ago. There has been much discussion as to the type of lathe used by these Celtic wood turners as it appeared that no archeological evidence of a lathe had survived. It is likely that strap and bow lathes were used for the smaller artifacts. It is certain that pole lathes were used, and evidence for this has been found within the original detailed drawings of Arthur Bulleid.

That the Romans were familiar with the lathe is testified by the wealth of both the exquisite turned treasures and the humble domestic artifacts recovered from all over Europe, they were particularly adept at metal spinning as is evidenced by many of their finely worked silver bowls and the bowls of silver spoons. Again we have the artifactual evidence but frustratingly not the lathes themselves. It is certain that the Romans possessed a great understanding of the principles of lathe technology and probably engaged all the disciplines noted so far. It is very likely that they also used the principle of continuous rotation; they were certainly familiar with the concept as is evidenced by their water-mill technology.

When the Roman influence diminished the Anglo Saxons reverted to making much of their domestic utensils from wood. The exquisitely turned walnut vessels from the Sutton Hoo ship burial c. 625 AD (British Museum) show us that they were very accomplished wood turners.

Archaeological excavations at York (Viking Jorvic) uncovered overwhelming evidence that woodturning played a significant role in daily life during the Viking period (9th to 11th century) of occupation. The Vikings were great artisans and natural woodworkers, like the Saxons they had a great affinity with the material and most every-day domestic items were fashioned from wood. It seems everyone used wooden bowls and goblets in Jorvic; these were turned in small timber buildings behind the houses fronting the streets.

Apart from complete bowls many ‘cores’, the waste centre pieces remaining after being turned on a pole lathe, were found. These cores and the discovery of what appears to be part of an adjustable tool rest provide enough clues as to what the lathe would have looked like and how it functioned.




Local forms




Issues affecting the viability of the craft


Support organisations


Craftspeople currently known


Other information