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A Short History of Woodturning

Since 1997, The ToolPost ( has ably served thousands of avid woodturners across the world, including not only those with many years of experience, but also many newcomers to this fascinating art. It is those newcomers, in particular, who may appreciate a quick summary of some of the major events in the history of woodturning, in so far as that is possible after all, it does date back thousands of years.

For many observers, the obvious place to start in the history of woodturning is around 1300 BC, by which stage, according to contemporary drawings, the Egyptians had developed a two-person lathe. It involved one person turning the wood with a rope, while the other cut shapes in the wood with a sharp tool. A turning bow was added to the design by the Romans, a feature that survived and re-appeared many times with France, Germany and Britain all playing their roles in the development of the bow lathe.

Hand-powered lathes were finally superseded in the Middle Ages by the introduction of a pedal that freed up both of the craftsman's hands to hold the wood turning tools. The pedal was frequently connected to a pole, creating the pole lathe, which remained common into the early 20th century. But in the meantime, of course, the Industrial Revolution had taken hold, bringing with it irrevocable changes in public life. It should certainly surprise no modern woodturner to learn that the motorised lathe was developed during this time, allowing for higher rates of production of turned items.

It was in the era of the pole lathe that the word "bodger" these days commonly referring to someone who starts a job, but doesn't finish it emerged, then in reference to the artisans who worked in the woods using such equipment. By the 19th century, there were many chair-bodgers in various parts of England and Wales, being particularly concentrated in Buckinghamshire, with the original bodgers dedicated solely to producing the turned parts rather than the whole chair perhaps explaining the present derogatory definition of the term.

Woodturning is a practice that has had major positive implications in the development of mankind, making it possible for simple domestic utensils, farm implements, furniture, musical instruments, sports equipment and more items to be created, at a time when there was no other way of doing so for many of them. Furthermore, many historians and woodturning enthusiasts ask whether the Industrial Revolution would have even taken place without the mechanical wood lathe.

These days, of course, many of the items that were once customarily turned from wood are either made from synthetic materials or no longer required. However, there's also no denying the continued strong following for woodturning among professionals and hobbyists alike, in an era in which the range of available machines equipment has never been broader. Here at The ToolPost (, we certainly take pride in offering some of the best, as well as in helping to further the continuation of such a wonderful and long-established art as wood turning.

Editor's Note: The ToolPost ( is represented by the search engine advertising and digital marketing specialists Jumping Spider Media. Please direct all press queries to Louise Byrne. Email: or call: +44 (0)20 3070 1959 / +34 952 783 637.

1997-2010 P. Hemsley.  The information on this website is the copyright property of Peter Hemsley.  Coeur du Bois and The ToolPost are trading styles of Peter Hemsley.  Whilst reasonable efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of information presented, no liability can be accepted for errors in this information nor for contingencies arising therefrom.  If you are inexperienced in any aspect of woodworking, we would strongly counsel that you take a course of formal instruction before commencing to practice