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The Humble Grumble

Jean Turner, RPT

   ...the sporadic annoyances & humble mumblings of a Jeannius.

Monday 24 March 2014

Holtzapffel Excitement

I am afraid I have just become one of 'them' - one of the few priviledged people who get to be a custodian of a Holtzapffel original.


We found it recently, listed on an auction site, and although it is absolutely basic, almost totally naked, it was at a price that we felt we were prepared to pay - even if it turned out to be a 'not an ornamental lathe', it was interesting enough to commit.



We pressed on the buy button, paid by virtual magic, and arranged the collection to take place the next day - down in Dorset from a farm remote enough that the scenic route showed tractor tyre tracks on both sides of the lanes which were just wide enough for one car, and very little air over tarmac to either side.


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It was just as well we chose to take my car as the boot on it opens that little wider than on the Jazz. I was amazed at how easily the lathe 'comes apart' for transport and goes back together again.


Everything on top unscrews and lifts away. Just beware that you catch the spacers from the screw shafts or else you could have a very bruised toe at the end of the day! Once we were all packed up and ready to come home, we drove carefully, visiting our favourite farm shops on the way for a spot of lunch, a lemon drizzle cake and freshly harvested farm kale and rhubarb.


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All we needed to do when we got home was carry all the parts in, and while one person positioned the shaft end of the wheel, the other lifted the heavy end in place and screwed in the point. A bit of grease, and job done, ready for a drive belt.

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1274 has a non-standard bed structure. Instead of the wheel fixing to each upright, it fits to the upright on the headstock end, but on the tailstock side of the wheel shaft a poppit is attached to a small 'step' which is neatly dovetailed to the main frame, obviously at the time of the build. We wondered if it was an extended length (done as a special order build), but new information points to the possibility that the lathe frame was simply adapted to fit an available wheel and shaft. We have been told that the wheel is of the 'older' type, and probably not made by the Holtzapffel company. The bed length is also not vastly different from the norm.

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The top of the lathe is of wood in my model - No 1274. No metal bearers, just beautifully smooth polished mahogany. The head and tail stocks simply drop into place and are tightened by hand using the characteristically ring-shaped nuts supplied. If you want to tighten them up a smidgeon more than your hand can do, you simply insert a metal bar and twist a bit. Easy peasy, even for a girl with weak(ish) hands.


We put it together and today I had a play, using a makeshift drive belt made of some 90lb breaking strain kevlar kite line wrapped twice around the pullies. At the end of a very tiring hour's session, I came away with a rather badly proportioned and roughly finished bobbin, along with a totally new appreciation for the wood turners of old that used a treadle lathe for their production turning. I was exhausted, and this evening I know I have muscles in the butts, thighs, lower back and around my knee joints.

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Our intention with 1274 is to use it as an ornamental lathe. We were hoping that someone somewhere has parts that belong to the lathe and will be prepared to reunite them with it. What we can't acquire we will attempt to make.

Holtzapffel1274.n.jpg We have since learned from John Edwards, keeper of the Register of Holtzapffel Lathes, and very knowledgable about them too, that our lathe was first sold in 1823 for 18 Pounds. This sum would not have been enough to pay for a lathe with ornamental turning additions - those went for a great deal more - so we have to assume that it was made as a plain turning lathe, using an old style wheel made by someone other than Holtzapffel, as it differs from those typically made by him.

Holtzapffel1274.o.jpg In some ways it is a relief to know that the lathe was not broken up sometime in the past, with the parts sold off by someone looking to profit on the situation. As there are apparently no 'missing' parts to be found, any bits and pieces that we make will be additions to the lathe rather than substitutions, and the fact that they were never there in the first place makes us less reluctant to make new parts for the lathe.

Instead of hiding the lathe away and regarding it as an investment, we have agreed that we should respect it, treasure it and value it, but above all, use it as it was meant to be used. I think Holtzapffel would be pleased with that choice.

Welcome to our house, No 1274.