Foot Power Woodworking Tools

Written by jonathan d. septer
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Foot Power Woodworking Tools
Woodworkers at the end of the 19th century often utilised foot-powered woodworking machinery. (planing a table top image by leemarusa from

Foot-powered woodworking and metalworking tools, commonly manufactured in the same factories, often appeared in professional and amateur workshops around the turn of the twentieth century, states The WF and John Barnes and Seneca Falls companies, two popular manufacturers, originated in America, according to online tool information resource, Union Hill Antique Tools. Foot-powered woodworking tools operated with treadle, one foot--or velocipede--two foot mechanisms. Common foot-powered tools included scroll saws, lathes and circular saws.

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Wood Scroll Saws

Scroll saws, similar to band saws, allow for intricate curved cuts. While band saw blades continuously loop, scroll saw blades reciprocate or move steadily up and down. The non-continuous blade of a scroll blade allows for woodworkers to cut intricate designs within wood instead of allowing only edge work cuts.

The WF and John Barnes company manufactured several amateur and professional foot-powered scroll saws, reports Unique Hill Antique Tools. Amateur saws lacked the adjustable tilting tables found on professional models but did come equipped with boring attachments for starting scroll work without an edge. WF and John Barnes foot-powered scroll saw machines existed in both treadle and velocipede versions.

Wood Lathes

Wood lathes spin a piece of wood allowing various tool applications for symmetrical sanding, knurling or cutting actions. Woodworkers, metalworkers and glassworkers often use lathes. Foot-powered woodworking lathes allowed small factories and workshops access to faster methods of wood turning not requiring engine power.

WF and John Barnes manufactured treadle and velocipede lathes. WF and John Barnes manufactured their number one treadle-powered lathe for six years, between 1874 to 1880, before the number three velocipede lathe replaced it.

The Barnes velocipede lathe existed for the next fifty years in various incarnations featuring minor upgrades. The last recorded sale of a Barnes number three lathe occurred in 1929 as electricity became more widely available throughout America and the reign of foot-powered machines quietly ended.

Wood Circular Saws

Besides scroll saws allowing intricate detail work, several companies built foot-powered circular cutting saw machines as well. WF and John Barnes manufactured a combination saw, a ripping saw and a table saw, according to Unique Hill Antique Tools.

The combination and ripping saw utilised treadle power to spin the circular saw blade while the operator hand-guided wood being cut. The combination saw offered a scroll saw attachment in addition to the circular table saw. The ripping saw also ably performed rebate, bevel and tenon cuts besides ripping boards up to three and three-quarter inches thick. The Barnes table saw utilised treadle power for automatic feeding of wood while the operator cranked a handle powering the spinning saw blade.

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