Our local North Canterbury Branch of the Farm Forestry Association had a visit to Canterbury Rails on the 25th of September. I’ve developed an interest in greenwood working which has a focus on using riving, shaving horses, foot and pole powered lathes and pegged joinery. From that I’ve got used to the idea that a ‘pole lathe’ is a centuries old footpowerd machine for turning spindles, bowls and plates. So it was interesting to see the heavy duty antique machine at Canterbury Rails using diesel power to turn heavy posts and poles from what would otherwise be firewood.
The pole lathe is around 120 years old and would have been steam powered originally. Don is using it to make equestrian jump rails from the top logs of Douglas fir that would either be left in the forest or go for firewood. He also makes dimensioned poles for building purposes from good old Radiata pine but these then have to be tanalised. Standard poles from roundwood suppliers are uneven, tapered and often crooked, Don’s poles are straight enough, perfectly round and without taper.
The Douglas fir poles are lightweight and being centred on the pith are mostly heartwood so they are reasonably durable off the ground. If Don stops the pole from turning and runs the cutter along, it will cut the channel for log building and every pole will be identical.
When it’s running sweet, Don can cut 6 poles in an hour, but it takes a while to set up and like anything this old, can be temperamental and has been known to send cutter blades through the wall of an adjacent shed.