Pann Mill is now the only working water mill on the river Wye, High Wycombe

Pann Mill is now the only working water mill on the river Wye. The first recorded mill on this High Wycombe site is in the Domesday census of 1086.

Pann Mill is now under the gardianship of the High Wycombe Society and is open to the public on ‘Milling days’ several times a year. The stone ground flour from this mill makes the best apple crumble ever.

Edwardian Farm cherry ladders and fruit picking

Stuart King’s home village of Holmer Green, high in the Chiltern Hills of Bucks, has a fruit growing tradition that goes back several centuries. In 2010 Stuart took part in an episode of the popular TV series Edwardian Farm where the Chiltern tradition was compared with that of the West Country in the Tama Valley.

The lost tradition of rake making

Trevor Austin is the last of the English rake makers. This video, taken in the Kentish village of Smeeth, shows the rake workshop established in 1870 and the nearby Ash coppice that provided the rake handles, and Trevor then demonstrates how he makes a rake.

Spinning metal on a lathe

Bronze age folk turned metal on a lathe. The early Greeks also did it, the Romans were experts at it and the Anglo Saxons were doing it in the Dark Ages.

For this short video Stuart King has filmed a 19th century lathe whilst it was being used to spin flat sheet metal discs. These metal discs would then be shaped into pans and containers.

Stuart would like to thank the craftsmen of Ballarat in Australia, where this video was filmed.

The Bodgers Ball 2009 – the Log to Leg race

The Log to Leg Race is just one of the fun events that take place at the annual Bodgers Ball, a gathering of British pole lathe turners and green woodworkers. It is organised by the Association of Pole Lathe Turners (APT). This film was made by Stuart King.

Moroccan bow lathe turner

This young woodturner can be found plying his trade in the medina of old Marrakech. With just one tool (a skew chisel) he turns a chess piece on a bow lathe that would have been a familiar sight in ancient Greece or the Pharaohs’ Egypt.

Romanian Sawmill

I filmed this sawmill in 1998 during a tour of romania to record some of Romania’s woodworking traditions. This is very rare footage of a ‘gang saw’ in action. The newly felled logs were delivered at the top of the mill, progressed down through the mill machinery to the bottom road and loaded onto a lorry to be delivered to the waiting builders.

Fan bird carving

Fan bird carving is a form of folk art woodcarving that has been practised all over Europe, from Romania to Russia and from Poland to Scandanavia, and was often executed with nothing more than a pocket knife to while away the time. I shot this video at the annual gathering of the Association of Pole Lathe Turners, an event known affectionately as the Bodgers Ball.

I built an Automaton

We all like objects that move and do things, and this electronic age has brought us some fantastic toys and novelties, but they all need batteries! Fun objects such as this automaton can amuse and entertain using the simplest of mechanical technology and can be made by anyone using basic woodworking skills.

This example of automata started out as being just a rat catcher and rodent but, having available spare space for extra cams etc, I ended up adding other moving parts. It’s called “Catch Me if You Can” and I’ve made a video to show you how it works.


History of the Lathe: part one – reciprocal motion

Chinese pedal latheAll lathes by their very nature rely on a revolving work piece. To capture and impart this motion, to devise and create the required force has challenged mans ingenuity back into pre-history. Man has been using the momentum provided by a spinning weight for tens of thousands of years in the form of drop spindles for spinning wool. The potter’s revolving ‘wheel was almost certainly the first machine used by our ancestors. It maybe that the reciprocating bow drill and pump drill in it’s many forms was the first mechanical hand tool, Certainly it could be used to create fire as well as bore holes and with a profiled cutter fitted could be used to produce buttons, counters and beads. Continue reading

History of the Lathe: part two – continuous rotation

French giant wheel latheThe wheel is probably man’s most important technological discovery.  A Sumarian pictogram dated 3500BC is the earliest reference for the wheel. By 2000BC man was making spoked wheels yet the earliest pictorial reference we have of a wheel driven lathe seems to be from the 15th century.

The great advantage of a wheel driven lathe is that continuous and controlled rotary motion is possible. This was not an automatic benefit to every aspect of woodturning though, as is illustrated by the continuing use of the reciprocating bow, strap and pole lathes. These ancient, simple lathes could still compete and perform efficiently in certain specialist areas such as small spindle and bowl turning. Continue reading

History of the Lathe: part three – mechanical power

Electric power drillFrom classical times man has harnessed wind and water to work heavy machinery, to relieve him of hard physical labour and to speed up production. A Roman settlement C.200AD in southern France boasted sixteen water mills for grinding corn. It may be that this form of motive power was used to drive lathes also but if it was there seems to be no record of the fact. If this were the case, it would have probably have been the exception rather than the rule.

It does appear that the woodturners of old were content to continue with their tried and trusty traditional methods long after other sources of power were available to many of them. There were good economical reasons for this. No advantage was to be gained by expensive investment when the simple reliable technology of the strap, bow, pole and latter wheel lathes was usually just as efficient and more reliable. Continue reading

History of the Lathe: part four – the machine takes over

Man has always tried to find ways of making manual tasks easier and the businessman methods to reduce manpower, speed production and lower operating costs. A good illustration of this was the manufacture of rifle butts. Hand held firearms have existed since the Middle Ages and virtually all these weapons incorporated a hand fashioned wooden butt. Making rifle butts was a highly skilled and time-consuming occupation and in time highly protective guilds were formed and prices kept at a high level.

This was just the sort of situation where a machine solution would be welcomed by firearm manufacturers, and in 1820, an Englishman, Thomas Blanchard designed a ‘reproducing lathe’. Blanchard’s lathe was capable of making two rifle butts an hour and it was not long before he had built one capable of producing ten or twelve in an hour. He went on to devise other reproducing lathes to manufacture shoe lasts and axe handles. Continue reading