The art of woodturning a bowl

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Karl-Åke Karlsson's speciality is the woodturning of beautiful boxes with lids. In this video recorded by Sörmland Museum, we follow his craft from start to finish.

Woodturning is a very old craft, known since ancient Egypt over 3000 years ago. Karl-Åke tells us that turning is also very old, and that the tool he uses to cut the bowl was already used in Sweden during the Viking Age, or at least the Middle Ages.

The first lathes used were so-called bar lathes, which worked by wrapping a cord around the lathe workpiece, which was then connected with a treadle and an elastic branch. When stepped on, the wound cord gives speed to the lathe head and when the cord is fully unwound, it is wound up the other way by sheer force. The turning piece thus changes direction with each step.

1923: Turning is demonstrated at the Gothenburg Exhibition 1923. Photo: Technical Museum

Towards the end of the 19th century, the more modern treadle mill became more common in the Swedish countryside as well. The lathe could be used continuously and the lathe head rotated in the same direction all the time. Then it was not many decades before the lathe was motorised.

1950-1955: Johan Nilsson, Hjortaryd's last tramp maker, turns a button stick. Photo: Hemslöjdens Samlingar

But still in 1950s Sweden there were turning machines that used treadle turning. Like 69-year-old Johan Nilsson in Hjortardy, Röke. Östra Skånes Hemslöjdsförening says that around Perstorp in Skåne there were about a hundred active turners in the 1890s, all turning aspen toys. In the 1950s, there were only 4-5 left. Of these, Johan was the last to work his lathe himself.

A relatively modern iron treadle mill that belonged to a Bror Johansson. He bought the lathe in the early 1920s and paid SEK 5 for it, and used it, among other things, when he helped the police in Uppsala to repair weapons. Photo: Upplandsmuseet (CC BY-NC-ND)

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