Line Shaft Setup

It has taken just a little longer than I was expecting when I purchased some line shaft pulleys and belts 10 months ago, but I have finally had a chance to get them up and on display as I originally intended.

They do look a bit out of place, but that is in part the contrast of the old technology with the new, and also the clean, yet to be really filled (and ‘shedified’) workshop. Working on it!




A Package

The line shaft pulleys and belts have arrived, and they are as good, if not better than their photos.

Definitely showing their near 100 years of age (which is fine, in fact desired), they are a fine example of an age just passed.

Photo 6-05-13 10 44 35 Photo 6-05-13 10 44 45 Photo 6-05-13 10 53 03

I will definitely talk more about these when they are being set up as a display in the new shed, but just to mention, I was really intrigued by the 3 different leather belts.  One was thin strips of leather stitched together.  One was a single long length of leather (sure there are some joints in there, otherwise it would have been a world-record cow!) which is two wide pieces stitched together.  The last are short strips, with metal joiners ever couple of feet.  Sort of like a modern link V belt, you can increase or decrease the belt length by adding or removing segments.

Two of the belts are really cracked (the solid leather ones), but still pliable (just).  The third is very still indeed, so I will have to find out how to soften the leather enough to be able to properly install it around a couple of the pulleys.

Edit: I still have the plans for a small water wheel.  Be cool to scale the plans up a bit, and have this on the outside of the shed, perhaps even with a water pump providing a stream to turn it.

Line Shafts and Powering Machinery

We have not always had the luxury of small, compact, powerful electric motors for powering workshop machinery.  Instead, once workshops moved to having powered machinery at the start of the Industrial Revolution, they were using water, coal and fuel oil to to power the workshop.

Deutsch: Erste Dampfmaschine in der Dillinger ...

Deutsch: Erste Dampfmaschine in der Dillinger Hütte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would not be economic to run tiny steam engines, let alone split a river into multiple streams, one to each machine and its individual water wheel!  So instead there was one power source that drove a primary line shaft across the workshop, which with a series of pulleys and belts drove ancillary shafts, and from there to individual machines.

Line shaft and belt driven machinery. MACHINE ...


I posted a video on one working setup at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat where they demonstrate wagon wheel manufacture, back at Episode 79

Episode 79 Wagon Wheel Manufacture
Formats available: MPEG4 Video (.mp4), Quicktime (.mov), MPEG-4 Video (.m4v)

With the prospect of a new shed on the horizon (and especially one with a higher ceiling), I have already been visualising what the workshop may look like, including giving it some real character.  The romance of the old industrial age is something that does appeal, and where I can’t convert a workshop to run on line shafts (and the OHS implications in this day and age would melt the internet), I can still have some of the relics of this bygone age around, including a pseudo line shaft or two!

I already have one pulley that I bought from Chris Vesper a year or so ago – a very nice example of one, with classic timber laminations.


While one pulley is nice, having a small collection would be even better, and so I had a bit of a search around eBay.  The timing was perfect, as I not only found the following, I was very fortunate in winning the auction.

But this was was not just an auction of a few of the pulleys, but much more rarely, some leather belts as well.

w3 w1 w4 w5 w6

With such a cool collection, I’m thinking of recreating a bit of a line shaft setup, and the belts will really add to that effect 10 fold!  Now I just have to get them from the Blue Mountains to Melbourne!

The Camera is Mightier than the Pen

With the upcoming Carbatec pen demo (31 July), I have been giving some thought to the whole pen-turning process, and just what equipment I use these days when making a pen.

Before I start (and you may have already glanced ahead at the collection of photos), remember that pen turning is a good beginner exercise, and as such you do not need such a collection of tools to produce a pen.  They help obviously, but are not mandatory.

Even the lathe is optional. You can turn a pen using other means, the primary alternative being the humble drill press.  You don’t even need turning chisels – many a pen has been made using a sharpened screwdriver.

Mini Lathe

A lathe makes life a lot easier of course.  I haven’t used a dedicated pen lathe, but my feeling is they would be too underpowered to really be effective.  You can use a belt-driven one or variable speed – I tend to run it flat out for pen turning, so that makes the decision rather moot.  I have a mini lathe, but it would be no issue using a larger lathe as well.  So long as the lathe is accurate (the two ends (head and tail stock being directly in line).

Variable Speed Mini Lathe

A variable lathe does have the advantage when dealing with larger, or more out-of-round blanks – being able to change speed easily without having to move belts between pulleys.

Drill Press

A drill press can substitute as mentioned – turning the pen vertically rather than horizontally. It also is particularly useful for drilling the centre of the blank to insert the brass tube core. This drill press has the laser attachment for centering the bit on the blank.


A bandsaw is useful for easily trimming the blanks and can also be used to knock the corners off before turning if the blank material is prone to chipping/splitting during the initial turning to round.

It also has a major advantage in preparing blanks – scavenging materials from offcuts, resawing dried branches/logs etc.  You can take a lump of timber full of defects and still extract plenty of material for pens.  If you ever get into segmented turning (and yes, you can do segmented pens), then the bandsaw becomes critical. Not sure where the photos of my harlequin pen have gone…

Harlequin Pen

…..found a poor version back from about 2006.  Made from Red-gum, Pittosperum and Purpleheart. I only made the bottom half of the pen in harlequin – wasn’t happy with the result to justify continuing this experiment, but the principle is valid.

I also made this slimline for an informal pen comp where the theme was cross.

Cross Pen

I went with a traditional cross, with the obvious religious overtones. So I decided to take the photo on the woodworker’s bible (no insult intended).

Disk Sander

I find I use a disk sander for some jobs as well – trimming the ends of a blank down close to the length of the brass insert ready for the pen mill.  It isn’t particularly critical – I use it because it is available, and convenient.

Spindle Gouge

As far as turning tools, you can go the whole hog – roughing gouges, skews, gouges.  For a long time this was the only one I needed – a basic spindle gouge.  Used it for roughing and finishing, and details.

Detailed Pen

Captive Ring Pen

Even with a pen, you are only limited by imagination.  The captive ring was made by taking a very cheap skew and sharpening it to a much longer point so it could reach right under the ring as it was forming.  You can buy dedicated captive ring chisels – never tried one (yet), but the basic tool still achieved a perfectly good ring.

Hamlet Mini Turning Chisels

For very fine detail, a set of mini turning chisels can be quite effective, but again not critical – I got these more for dollhouse furniture than pen turning.

Wood Pen Blanks

The blanks themselves can be either timber, acrylic, bone, horn, metal (cartridge) etc etc.

Acrylic Blanks

Acrylics are interesting to work with, producing some quite colourful results, but I never feel like the pen is fully my own, and it won’t until I get into producing my own acrylic blanks.  This isn’t too difficult, but I need to learn how it is done so I can really feel like some of  these pens are really fully my own creation.

Laser Cut Blank

You can get very elaborate with blanks.  This for example is a laser cut kit from Rockler, and is a development of the segmented turning concept.  Pens made from these sorts of kits are also very interesting, but you are nervous the entire construction because of the cost of the ‘blank’ (around $US50 for this one, and the one below).

Fire Pen

%d bloggers like this: