Finding flutes in the early 20th century, and an Irish pole lathe flute by Loftus

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GreenWood
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Finding flutes in the early 20th century, and an Irish pole lathe flute by Loftus

Post by GreenWood »

I expect the book

"Where Can I Get a Flute Like Yours?": Art and Material Cutlure in the Irish Flute Tradition
Kara Michele Lochridge


has been linked here before, but I just found it and am reading the chapters available online here (click a listed chapter under "contents")

https://books.google.pt/books?id=rcDWAAAAMAAJ

which are a "must read" for new players of traditional Irish music I think. Related to that is of an early Irish flute maker, this text contains a flute by Loftus

https://www.academia.edu/7511378/The_An ... Woodturner

And a Loftus family history is presented here

https://briby.tripod.com/id17.html
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Re: Finding flutes in the early 20th century, and an Irish pole lathe flute by Loftus

Post by Terry McGee »

Kara's thesis is a great read, and from memory, she did go on to do some flute making herself.

And I remember the "pole lathe flute" coming up somewhere before, and having my doubts about it. The image of it is very poor, and it looks like a lot of cheap 19th century flutes by makers such as Blackman. It's of course not impossible to make a flute on a pole lathe (I've often wondered about going down to the forest behind our place and finding a suitable tree to give it a go!), but it's a very big step from making butter churns and bowls to making flutes. I think we should expect a higher level of proof than this.
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Re: Finding flutes in the early 20th century, and an Irish pole lathe flute by Loftus

Post by GreenWood »

I loved the descriptions of early repairs and adapting the flutes to needs :-) , and also what players had to go through to find one.

The simplicity of the pole lathe makes turning on it very immersive. Some of the turning, for example bowls, is supposedly quite difficult compared to a cylinder. That is to say just about anyone could turn a flute cylinder shape first go with a bit of care, let alone after decades of experience. So the exterior would be to copy dimensions from another flute.

The difficult part is drilling the bore, and I expect in those days it would have had to be then formed using a reamer if it was conical. Both of those are somewhat specialised, and all I have as guide to unpowered lathes regarding flutes is

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k ... texteImage

from 1816. It is a french turners manual and pg43 is flutes. Apparently wood turning was something of a hobby or pursuit for some at certain times, possibly why the above manual was written . I still haven't read on reaming used, but the author recommends Spanish boxwood over French. I might write to Bridget Brennan to see if she might add more detail, for now it is the word of Loftus descendants who own that flute.


[ "...just about anyone could turn a flute cylinder shape first go with a bit of care" ... I didn't mean to belittle Loftus work by that, because the flute seems nicely finished and they were known as skilled carvers also apparently, which would account for managing related work on the flute. I was just looking for any obvious reason they might not have built that flute. ]
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Re: Finding flutes in the early 20th century, and an Irish pole lathe flute by Loftus

Post by Terry McGee »

I think we can probably safely assume that all our English makers back in the 19th century were working on foot-powered lathes, but perhaps treadle rather than pole. This gives them the advantage that you can keep cutting, rather than having take a quick cut on the downstroke and not cut on the upstroke.

This image of the Rudall Carte workshop from their 1922 catalog shows at least one treadle lathe (just to length of centre), set up for exterior turning, but probably not for boring long sections - how can you treadle the treadle while standing at the far right end to control the augur? (Though given his stance, the operator could be boring a short item.)

But note the chap on the right. We can't see any detail, but I'm thinking that the two wooden beams set at right angles, possibly with his left foot pressing on one of them, is another form of treadle, but optimised for long-boring. Or maybe long boring (driving with your left foot) and exterior turning (driving the other beam with your right foot)?

Image

I found the catalog squirrelled away in the Library of Congress. Nowhere is safe from this fiend. More images at http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/RC_Wshop1922.htm

Sigh. I like to think I'm pretty good at handling the tools, say when cutting the grooves for rings. These guys did it on one foot, while treadling with the other...
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Re: Finding flutes in the early 20th century, and an Irish pole lathe flute by Loftus

Post by GreenWood »

I suppose some might have employed juniors to do the pedal work, but at the same time there is a nice connect when all input is at discretion and under the control of the one worker.

I never could get the powering with the left foot right, and I'm quite ambidextrous as well, but each time I try that it improves a little. The timing for applying/removing the chisel or gouge on a pole lathe takes practice also, but it works fine just letting it in place on the reverse spin... I think it sharpens it continuously like that, and even leaves a sharp burr for edge :-) .

The only lathe work I'd done before this was at school workshop, hidden away in the basements of an old manor, next to the tuck shop. An old kind of school. There was even an original system of pipes installed between all rooms, for signalling and talking through, as was found on ships sometimes. Anyway, there was a green coloured industrial size lathe there, and I remember it as being like confronting a high powered monster with a square block of wood attached spinning at two million revs, armed only with a chisel and a pair of glasses.


So I'm no pro, and actually just pretty much stay with a gouge, move to a wider one near finish, then flat chisel used as scraper to even up, then sanding. Usually I leave a mm for sanding, to make sure I clear through any nicks I might have put in the wood :-) . It works like that though, but those who have mastered using proper methods (and not meaning modern high powered lathes and tungsten scrapers) are at a different level altogether.

I found the rest of the Berger manual, with pictures, but it is a 250 mb download.

https://www.e-rara.ch/zut/content/titleinfo/2931920

Page 1251 has picture and detailed dimensions for a one key and four key flute. There are other pictures that show various lathes and tools and wood, and all that is presented in the work I expect was state of the art of the day (around 1800).

I tried searching for Loftus instruments, but only came up with another Loftus who left from Ireland to the US around 1850 with a flute still owned by family, but not pictured

http://salabencher.blogspot.com/2010/06 ... livan.html

so that might be example of flutes made in, or that made their way to, Ireland around then. Also there is a nice tale of early flute playing pg26 at

https://docplayer.net/56573651-Lisacul- ... -2013.html
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Re: Finding flutes in the early 20th century, and an Irish pole lathe flute by Loftus

Post by Terry McGee »

I was interested in Loftus' style of holding the tool, with the tool pointing downhill and his hand underneath it. My tools all point uphill to the work. His tool was also much longer, probably because he needed more leverage for his low speed bowl work than I do with very sharp tools and very fast lathe.

The pole lathe at least in England was associated with chaps called Bodgers, who went into the forest, set up their very portable pole lathes taking advantage of a convenient and suitably flexible trees, cut their timber and rough-turned it green. It would then be carried away to season before final work. At least around here, calling someone a bodger is an insult - it means you don't know what you are doing and you do a very bad job. Unfair to the original Bodgers!

I was unaware of the surname Loftus. Seems that there are lots of them out there!
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Re: Finding flutes in the early 20th century, and an Irish pole lathe flute by Loftus

Post by GreenWood »

This video gives a nice explanation of turning bowls, and is by one of the first people to pick up the skill after it was abandoned

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GLpNNf4V5lU

For turning a flute, the chisel or gouge does not need a long handle, plain wood gouge or chisel is fine. There though the work is relatively close to the rest, and so doesn't have much leverage. For bowls they are working further away, so I imagine a long handle helps control the tool ? From the video above it seems like a relaxed sensible setup, in terms of posture and how he moves the chisel in at each turn ?

I had read a good article about bodgers somewhere, but I don't remember how it took a negative connotation, as in if someone has bodged it they have ruined it. I mean, it is easy enough to see how bodgers might have been looked upon as inferior tradesmen for not supplying a finished quality product, say in cities etc. , but they actually were very skilled and supplied the components for a large part of the furniture of the whole country.


Loftus is not a very Irish sounding name, so maybe that is why it doesn't register so much ? Whether it is held from a distant ancestor from England, or of having O'Loughnan anglicised

https://www.libraryireland.com/Anglicis ... Loftus.php

is not for me to guess and better left to those who hold the name to decide, I suppose.
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Re: Finding flutes in the early 20th century, and an Irish pole lathe flute by Loftus

Post by Terry McGee »

Ah, that video is a delight, Greenwood. And yes, helpful in understanding why the long tools and the very different grasp in use. A lot more muscle and movement involved.

I was amused to see him eating and drinking out of wood, but then notice the electric dishwasher in the kitchen! Best of both worlds, eh?

And the name, Robin Wood. A bit of nominative determinism going on there?

Another big difference between our work and his is that he's working the relatively soft native English timbers green from the forest, while we're working the hardest seasoned timbers we can get our hands on. And he'd be perfectly happy to end up within half an inch, where as we obsess about fractions of a mm!

We had a chap with a pole lathe in the Old Gold Colony at Mogo, about 15 minutes drive from here. He would demonstrate the art, and invite people to come up and have a go. Unfortunately, the entire place - a very realistic model 1850s village with pubs, church, diary, mines, blacksmiths, woodworking shop, etc etc - burned to the ground in the 2019 bushfires. It had been built up painstakingly over decades, by acquiring and transporting derelict period buildings to the site and "renovating" (re-antiquing?) them. So deemed impossible now to rebuild. Sad. We used to use the "tavern" (The Digger's Rest) for our folk club.
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Re: Finding flutes in the early 20th century, and an Irish pole lathe flute by Loftus

Post by GreenWood »

"Best of both worlds, eh?" I expect that is for the cutlery or something, because I don't think wood is very dishwashable...and having a maid is seen as extravagant nowadays, and a servant as oppressive, and a butler won't do the dishes either. Anyway, how are you going to volunteer to do them, or punish someone into doing them, with a machine there ?

I was once in a house that had one, and I found the ceremony very cold and uncommon compared to someone actually washing up.

Robin Wood must be his real name I think, and it leaves me guessing. Before turning bowls he was a wood keeper as well, so not a wood thief. So that leaves Wood of Robins, and also Robin Hood. I'll go with the Robins.

Apparently it was not always green wood they turned

https://www.chilternsaonb.org/news/377/ ... dgers.html

and for my part the only reason I don't bore and turn the wood when green is that I cannot keep up with the amount I find (so it is left to dry), or also that I find already seasoned wood. Ideally, and I would have to get drying conditions right, I would want to bore and turn to near diameter when green, then allow to dry (or season even) in a way that didn't alter shape much (so far they don't) and then just give the blank a light finishing. If I turned them before boring though, the wood might split for drying fast and not being able to contract around center. For all of it though, the difference more than anything is just time. Harder wood, more time and so more effort taken, but in terms of being doable it makes little difference I think...maybe slightly different tools or technique.

In the turners manual above it is all fully dry hardwood. That is all done with pole lathes or eq., your photo also. It is a shame there is no close description available from early flute makers, but there they would be shaving off fractions of a mm cleanly with chisel or similar. Tighter grain of heavy hardwoods might have made that work cleaner, I don't know. Near dry olive is the hardest I have worked and that was ok. For my part, if the wood is turning cleanly I will take it close to finished, but if it is rough in any way I resort to more sanding, or sometimes just leaving around knots for extra sanding.

I much prefer shaping by eye and tuning by ear, but there is usually a point where I start to take some basic measurements or compare with a tuner. With all that paraphernalia like tuning slides, keys, tenons and so on I'm not surprised some are counting the fractions though .

At least guitar players will be familiar with tuning to some degree, the more so if not relying on a tuner for that.

This site tries to sort out the origin of bodger

http://www.potterwrightandwebb.co.uk/wo ... -a-botcher


It's a real shame to see heritage destroyed. Personally I don't much go for the reconstruction scene, that is I think after experience of how they are in the states about that, where history sort of doesn't much go back before 16th century or so, and most physically existant is from later. I don't begrudge it either, because in a few centuries those buildings really would have been something exceptional if maintained, and there is nothing wrong at all with recreating a setting and associated crafts...grief, as expat I am very used to having to improvise own customs abroad in whatever way possible, and also am attentive to national historic presence in whatever form. I think in Oz it is still the same to a degree, even if it is now own country, and I think australians are generally much more down to earth than americans, who seem to have their own special approach to it all.

Well, I probably set the stage for some argument there but not on purpose. It's just one perspective and who am I to say really.
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