Before turning can commence, a wooden ‘blank‘ of suitable size and form must be prepared:

Firstly – select and cut down a suitable tree…

Tree Felling

Tree Felling 1

Secondly – cross cut the tree into appropriately sized logs…

Cross Cut Tree

Transport Logs

For pole-lathe turning, these are a little on the large size…

The type and size of tree selected and the length to which the logs are cut will depend on the availability of timber and the products required. Unlike modern production methods where up to 50% of the wood may be wasted, greenwood working aims to make the most efficient use of material; whereby very little is wasted.

Sourcing of wood is very important to a pole-lathe turner. Unlike many Coppicepower lathe users, who will often select exotic imported wood for the visual impact of the finished product, a bodger will use locally sourced wood, selected mainly for the suitability of its characteristics for the finished product. For craft work at Redbridge Farm we use wood from the farm and from other local sources. Sustainable supplies from coppiced woodland is the preferred option, together with fallen trees when available and suitable.

Ash is possibly the most common type of wood used for pole-lathe turning as it is very easy to work when green, especially for someone new to turning. With experience, pole-lathe turners will experiment with other locally sourced native hard-woods depending on availability and the purpose and functionality of the finished product.


Roundwood (i.e. the complete cross-section of a tree, generally of smallish diameter) is used extensively in greenwood working as it is very strong, due to keeping the wood fibres intact. It Tree Sectioncan be up to twice as strong as an equivalent section of milled timber. However, in roundwood form, wood is generally unsuitable for turning as the differing moisture content across the section will almost inevitably result in the wood splitting along lines of stress (shakes) as it dries. Although this may have minimal impact on the integrity of roundwood structures, it is not suitable for turning (except where there is a requirement to retain the bark and outer sapwood; and it is the intention that the centre (pith) will be bored or carved out). If it is intended to retain the bark on the finished product, the tree should be felled during the Winter months when the flow of sap is minimal.

To minimise shakes and to make the most economical use of the wood, logs are split (cleaved) longitudinally along the grain into sections whilst unseasoned to make blanks suitable for turning.  Cleaving may be carried out both radially and tangentially to the growth rings of the timber. For making spindles and the like, cleaving is carried out immediately before turning, as it is better to leave the log intact until needed in order to retain its green state for as long as possible. An exception to this is for bowl turning, when it is common to split the log in half across its diameter as soon as possible to relieve stress and minimise splitting.

Logs may be cleaved using variously shaped wedges, an axe or most commonly, by using a froe.


A froe is an L-shaped tool which is positioned on the end of the log and struck on the spine of the blade with a mallet¬† to start the cleave. The blade is then rocked back and forth using the haft (handle) to widen the split progressively along the grain of the wood until the log is cleaved through. The progress of the cleave can be controlled to some extent by the direction in which the froe is rocked. The operation is repeated on a section of the cleaved log until a blank of suitable size is achieved. Any ‘waste’ wood is collected and suitably wrapped and protected from drying out, to be used for other products; thus ensuring maximum use of the available material with minimal wastage.


CAxe Trimmingleaving will produce a blank of the correct size to produce the required item. However, this blank will be of irregular section, and will need rounding off to reduce shock on the lathe and tools when turning. This process is normally carried out in two stages; the first of which is to trim the blank with an axe on a chopping block.


Draw-KnifeThe second stage of trimming uses a draw-knife to smooth out the surface of the blank and produce a circular section along its length. A draw-knife is a traditional woodworking hand tool used to shape wood by removing shavings. It consists of a blade with a handle at each end for use with both hands to pull (or ‘draw’) the knife towards the user. The depth of cut is controlled by the angle at which the bevelled edge of the blade is presented to the wood.

Shaving Horse

A shaving horse (or shave horse) is a combination of vice and workbench and is used by pole-lathe turners to ’round off’ the blank before it is mounted on the lathe. It is used extensively in other types of greenwood working as well.

As the name ‘horse’ suggests, the worker sits astride the workbench and uses a foot operated clamping system which can be applied and released quickly allowing the work piece to be mounted and rotated efficiently.

There are many different designs of shaving horse in use; however all serve the same purpose and it is a question of personal preference.

Two shaving horses built by BodgerJohn are shown below:

Shaving Horse

The bench of this shaving horse was made from a log and shaped with an adze.

The ‘flat pack’ shaving horse shown below was constructed mainly from recycled waste construction timber and was designed to be easily transportable.

Shaving Horse

How long does all this preparation take?

Assuming a suitable log is available and already cut to suitable length then about 10-15 minutes with practice.

A pole-lathe turner learns by experience how much effort to expend on the cleaving, axe trimming, and draw-knife stages to minimise the overall log-to-lathe time and effort.

Good preparation of the blank reduces the time spent ‘roughing out’ on the lathe as well as reducing wear and shock on the lathe, tools and drive cord.