The Wood Turner


in Woodland Culture

The Wood Turner from Elliott Forge on Vimeo.

A note from Elliott

Shot in a couple of hours on 2 separate afternoons, this is Leo who lives in a yurt with his partner and a variety of animals on the edge of Exmoor in the UK.  He is a craftsman of many talents, and this film shows him turning a piece of wood into a beautiful bowl using a traditional foot powered lathe (which he also built himself).

We started shooting on the first afternoon, but one of his sheep escaped, so we had to shoot the rest the following afternoon. Unfortunately, the weather was far from perfect and was actually raining lightly.
It doesn’t take him long to turn one of these bowls, and watching him work was a real pleasure.


A note from Leo

Bowls have been made like this for centuries, the lathe I am using is loosely based on a Viking design. Made from a single ash tree, its ‘oversize’ construction reduces vibration during turning and allows the appropriate level of force to be applied on the cutting stroke without unsettling the lathe.

wood_turner_George_LaileyWooden bowls were still being made in this way into the 1950’s by George Lailey who lived and worked very close to where I grew up, in Berkshire.

Sadly, his craft died with him in 1958 until it was revived, primarily by Robin Wood who uses a replica of Laileys lathe today to make his bowls.

This Breakfast bowl was made from a piece of cherry which was first cut to length, split in half -through the pith, and shaped into a hemisphere with a carving axe. The blank was then fitted to the mandrel (the cylinder around which the drive cord is wrapped) and mounted on the lathe.

The outside profile of the bowl is roughed out using a bevelled hook tool, once all the axe marks are gone and the shape is acceptable a final pass is made taking a fine cut to give a smooth finish. The blank is then turned around and the inside hollowed out.

Working from the rim to the centre the bulk is gradually removed until the correct depth is achieved. The final cut is right into the centre of the bowl where the mandrel is still driving the workpiece -gradually reducing the size of the core until there is just enough to prevent the bowl breaking away. The turning is finished and the bowl is given a tap at right angles to the grain to release it from the mandrel. The final step is to remove the remains of the spiggot from the base and core from the inside.

Although considerable effort is required to fashion this humble, everyday item, the act of ‘making’ from the rawest of materials -a once living tree, gives a sense of place and ‘rightness’ which everyone should experience at least once.


Elliott Forge is a lifelong low impacter that now runs his own film production company in Bristol, Snowline Productions. His past lives as a musician, pioneering mountaineer, novice buddhist monk, Tinkers Bubble resident, part owner of a low impact small holding and other adventures help him to create beautiful films like The Woodturner.

Leo Singleton is a low impacter and lifelong craftsman. He lives in a yurt on his low impact, high welfare smallholding and manages coppice, oak woodland, high banked hedgerows, river, permanent pasture and meadow.



George Lailey photo credit: University of Reading

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Sew Recycled! February 26, 2013 at 13:51

That has been the most therapeutic, relaxing and mesmerizing 6 minutes of my life, thankyou! Love it and really want to have a go!

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