Full Chisel Blog

February 13, 2012

Turning on a Fiddle [Bow] Lathe

I haven’t got my current treadle lathe finished yet and I needed to turn a small decorative turning for the Montana Spinning Wheel that I have been working on for way too long.  I turned to my fiddle lathe or bow lathe or clockmaker’s lathe which I showed in detail earlier.

Here is a short video on turning on the fiddle lathe, I started with a gouge and finished off with a skew.  The gouge is a small carving chisel and the skew [and flat chisel] are ones I made.  The material is birch to match the original.

fiddle lathe  You have to click on this, for some reason that is the only way I can get it to work?

The video is short because the leather strap was stretching and had to be adjusted.  Then the leather strap broke.  I have tried several types of leather for this purpose, going to have to try some braided hemp, too bad I can’t get cello gut strings, they should work.

I did manage to get the turning finished, it took about a half an hour, the tool rest is quite small and had to be adjusted frequently.  It does take a few minutes to get use to turning with one hand while the other works the bow.



  1. Stephen, great post and video. I could put one of these right at my desk. I think I’ll call it a pencil sharpener just so no one thinks I’m goofing off when I should be working.

    Comment by Shannon — February 13, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

  2. The bow makers use a drill that is very similar, the drive bow of choice I believe is a fencing Sabre with as you noted a cello string to drive it, although I’ve not seen it done with gut, just modern strings. The steel bow keeps tension on the string so stretch is not much of a problem. Any luthier should be willing to part with a used cello string probably the C is best, it’s nice and fat, if not they respond well to cash, say 5 to 10 dollars for a couple of used strings. And when they break you can try to salvage the silver in the winding!

    Comment by Philip R — February 13, 2012 @ 8:09 pm

  3. You should put some tallow on those points so the work will spin with less friction!

    Great video–it is interesting to watch you get the rhythm of the turning in time with the bow. I would love to rig up a lathe like this and try it out. It does look like a lot of work compared to a treadle lathe.


    Comment by Brian O. — February 14, 2012 @ 9:04 am

  4. Shannon,
    I am in the process of finishing working full size drawings of a bench lathe made of wood and will be offering the plans here soon.

    I am going to have the blacksmith make me a metal bow, my hickory bow works to keep tension on the cord. I am going to start making my own gut as it is difficult to find.

    You should have heard that birch before I put some beeswax/tallow on the dead centers, sounded like a bird call. It is handy for small stuff, but I must finish my treadle lathe for some larger projects.

    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — February 14, 2012 @ 11:35 am

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