History of Woodturning

Woodturning 101... WoodWhirled Academy

Welcome to the beginning of a new adventure. Woodturning is ancient, there are depiction of men working at a lathe in the pyramids of Egypt, there are references to wood turners written in cuneiform tablets dating to the ancient Sumerians. The basic techniques have remained unchanged for literally thousands of years... it is only the tools that have changed, and most of this change has taken place within the past 200 years with the development of new materials.

egyptian lathe

Woodturning has developed, within the past 25 years, into the fastest growing craft in the world. This is due in large part to better tools, availability of machinery and tools, education and organizations willing and eager to assist those interested in having fun creating beautiful and useful objects from everyday materials. Quite often you will find, the best materials for woodturning are those which other wood craftsmen are reluctant to use, such as burls, highly figured or spalted woods and crotch woods.

The first turning tools were probably of stone, and the lathe consisted of rope twisted around a bit of wood held in place between two centers. Rotation force was provided by fastening the rope between a sapling and a form of treadle. The tool could cut only when the wood was revolving into the tool edge, but this was still a very efficient method of work, and is in fact in use today in some places. With the development of brass and bronze, tools improved markedly, and even more so with the advent of the Iron Age.


Early tools were forms of knives or chisels; scrapers of various forms were next developed. The last, our latest, tool to come into being was the gouge; and this was probably sometime in the 1400's.

With the advent of steel making, a lot began to happen in the wold: Machinery improved, weapons improved, and woodturning improved. Early tools were made of high-carbon steel, and economy tools are still using this material. These tools sharpen easily, bit do not hold an edge for vey long, and are very prone to loss of temper if subjected to machine sharpening. Because of this, these tools are not held in high regard by modern turners. High Speed steel was developed during WWII, and has had a tremendous impact on the Woodturning world. These alloys hold an edge form 4 to 20 times longer than carbon steels, and are rated as M2, M4, A11, 2040, 2060, and V15, with V15 currently enjoying the status as hardest and longest lasting.

Woodturning is something like music, in that the more you practice, the better you become, and the more education you receive, through classes, seminars and clubs, the more varied and expansive your turning repertoire will become. Local clubs are always a good source for education, as many clubs will have mentoring program; national organizations are excellent sources for contacts and seminars as well.  


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On our next blog well review the Parts of the Lathe.

If you like it share it with your friends.

 Thanks for reading!

- Capt. Jack Wayne

woodturning classes

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