Letting a Long Pole Age?

discussion of the niceties of turning on a bow, bungee or pole lathe.

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Letting a Long Pole Age?

Postby KarlK » Wed May 27, 2015 1:26 pm

Hi folks,
So, I setup a new pole lathe last week. I cut a 17' birch, mounted it on the rafters in front of the lathe. The pole which runs 3" to 2 " tapered hangs over the lathe a foot perhaps. I tied off to the pole, then treadle and she worked fine. After 5 days of messing around it is warped a lot. It was 6-7 feet over head, now with the bend it is maybe 2 feet. It comes darn close to clonking me on the head. Why???

Should I have aged it? Maybe I should have loosened the rope more overnight (not that it was pulling down by itself)


Why did my pole warp so much?
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Re: Letting a Long Pole Age?

Postby Steve Martin » Thu May 28, 2015 3:24 am

I have not used birch for a pole but have used sweet gum and elm. I have lots of saplings of both, plus poplar, maple and redbud. I have tried all 5 over the last 14 years and am currently using an elm pole that I dried for 3 months before using it. This pole is now into the 3rd year but has begun to bow drastically and I will probably have to use a new one before the summer is over. I have started drying 2 new ones, one elm, the other sweet gum, just to see if one works better. My conclusion is that the green pole has so much water in the cells that they break down easily. I have not tried hickory, ash, or Osage orange which are used for archery bows, partly because I have so many of the others available, the cost of these "bow" woods which I do not have on my property, and because I regularly move my lathe, at least twice a month, to schools and other demos. However, since the current one has lasted so long, I may give one of the "bow" woods a try.

Good luck, keep stretching your knowledge base and you'll find a good pole that will give you the service you're looking for.
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Re: Letting a Long Pole Age?

Postby Ian G » Thu May 28, 2015 9:49 pm

Hi Karlk, Your pole seems a bit on the excessive side 3" tapering to 2", my wee skinny legs would be hard pushed to bend that. The one I use is 2" tapering to 1" at the tip. The thicker pole is probably warping because there just isn't the spring in it, that would be in a thinner pole and your slowly damaging the fibres. My friend who I turn with at demo's has had the same Ash pole for 14yr and it is still going strong and is still virtually as straight as the day he cut it. I use a hazel pole and have had the same one for years, never seasoned it just used it as I found it. It would be nice to see your set up. when I'm in my shed I just have bungie across the rafters. Saying that I have just been experimenting with a 8ft hazel pole along the front of the lathe attached on each leg and the string going up to a rocking arm above the lathe. This is working really well and I used it at demo last weekend to turn a cherry bowl.

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Re: Letting a Long Pole Age?

Postby jrccaim » Wed Aug 26, 2015 4:23 am

I have been away from the board a very long time. I have moved, and worse yet, have spent more time in a hospital than I would like (nothing fatal, obviously:) ). As to the pole. First I would not use birch. Long experience with birch. It is a hardwood when it dries, so unless you are prepared to laminate, it will not go as a spring. Second, what wood is good? Well, any wood that will make bows will work very well. The classic English is yew, but hickory (can't get it in the UK although back before the ice age you could), bois d'arc (which means "bow wood" in French). Lacking those things here, I use the humble willow. It holds its spring when dry quite well. Alder works. These are almost in the weed category but are very easy to find. I am supposing you scorn bungee. I don't blame you, in fact I admire you, but remember, the pole is just a spring. My first pole lathe used a door spring aand worked very well indeed.
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Re: Letting a Long Pole Age?

Postby simon » Thu Aug 27, 2015 10:54 am

Good to have you back jrccaim. Hope you make a complete recovery and enjoy your new home. And keep making shavings :)
Make it, mend it, wear it out,
Make it do or do without.
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Re: Letting a Long Pole Age?

Postby anobium » Mon Aug 31, 2015 4:41 pm

If you have a sweet chestnut coppice near you that could be a source for your pole.
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Re: Letting a Long Pole Age?

Postby gavin » Tue Sep 01, 2015 5:38 pm

Get as straight and long as pole as you can. Use it green right away. At the tip I say minimum 8 mm , and at the butt minimum 30 mm. I like ash.
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Re: Letting a Long Pole Age?

Postby Bob_Fleet » Tue Sep 01, 2015 10:00 pm

Several issues getting tangled in here.

1) You " setup a new pole lathe last week. I cut a 17' birch ". That to me spells out green.
I used to cut a fresh pole when I was going to a demo - along the roadside - plenty of Ash regen here.
It works great and is springy, they will bend though.
If I was doing several days I'd turn it up the other way the second and it straightens it.
Then I took the bark off one and dried it - inside garage roof.
It works great and has been in use for about 10 years - demos only so not overused. It gets a slight bend so next time I again use it with the bend upwards.
Nature, gravity and physics seems to do the rest.

2) The size is whatever is good for you. If it's too long though you'll find the pole has a spring in it like second bend as it moves.
A bit like a harmonic in a guitar string.
This is wasting energy.
Too short will limit the travel and snatch.
Too thick needs strong legs or use it for a bowl lathe which needs the force. May the force be with you.

3) Ash is good bow wood here and similar in use for axe handles as you'd use Hickory.
(Do you have Ash?)
However, I don't know if Hickory grows in long poles without knots but presume it's pretty similar.
I haven't used Birch myself but if it works it's good.
I've used Sycamore, Horse Chestnut and Ash and they all do the job.


Welcome back jrc too.

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Re: Letting a Long Pole Age?

Postby woodness sake » Sat Oct 03, 2015 12:37 am

I'm in Delaware on the East Coast.
Try using a white oak sapling, about 16 or 18 feet long. Support it at a branch node/junction of the bough about 5 feet from the end. If you leave the branch a couple of inches long, it will keep the grain structure intact and is useful for securing it to the support. This area has more strength than out in the clear wood between the nodes. Cut it; limb and bark it; go to work. If you're doing spindle work it should be about 2 1/2 or 3 inches at the butt and about an inch at the rope end. If you want to do bowls, 3 to 3 1/2 at the butt and 1 1/4 at the rope. Should last about 3 or 4 years with a lot of use. Coat it with boiled linseed oil after a couple of weeks (it will dry over night) and then once a year. This helps to keep the outer wood a little supple. White oak is more resilient than most species and the tannin in the wood helps it to be bug and rot resistant. Other oaks tend to get brittle when they dry out.
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