"I don't know exactly when the earliest wooden lathes were invented," writes Joel Moskowitz, de facto woodworking historian and founder of Tools for Working Wood. "I do know there are turned things from ancient Egypt, and earlier."
"The most primitive form of lathe, a bow lathe, is powered by a bow going back and forth on the work held between two pivots. This type of way is still being used in parts of the world for making beads and other small things. The movement of the work is intermittent, and backwards and forwards, but with sharp tools this type of lathe is remarkably efficient."
This video, shot on a sidewalk in Marrakech, Morocco, shows the incredibly skilled craftsman Mostopher Dnouch using a bow lathe to crank out chess pieces:
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