Use of the Lathe in German Wood Crafts
Use of the Lathe in German Wood Crafts
Many German woodcrafts, including the traditional Christmas ornaments, hand-hewn wooden nutcrackers, smoking men, and German pyramids, are made using a carving technique called woodturning. Woodturning requires a special tool called a lathe. The lathe and the wood turning art have been perfected over centuries. The way the lathe works is that it carves wood while the wood is turned, providing a rounding effect. This rounding is evident in many woodcrafts including the heads, limbs and torsos of the German nutcracker and the smoking men figurines, and other traditional German woodcrafts. Germany is one of the places where wood turning is a predominant art form - one can find many works made with these methods at Christkindlmarkts across Germany.
The early lathe devices were hand turned; this was a very laborious process. Later water mills were used to provide the mechanical turning of the wood. Once watermills became popular for woodturning, the crafts that the carvers made, serving utensils, buttons, table legs, bowls, German figurines, smokers, nutcrackers, and the parts of a candle pyramid, became produced on a larger scale. This was also the era where these goods became staples at German Christmas markets, or Christkindlmarkt and at the Weinachtsmarkt. Unlike whittling, woodturning is a carving method that can be replicated more quickly and precisely. Once the maker has a finished piece they have only to use those same measurements to recreate the next. This allows more uniformity between pieces (say legs of a table) and allows for manufacture on a small industrial scale. The ability for replication allowed many crafters to create a unique identity in their works and to poularize these styles. For example, in the German nutcrackers and smoking men there are slight variations in the body that can provide clues as to who its designers were.
The Erzebirge Mountains of Germany were a likely area for woodturning to develop into a fine-tuned craft. The heavily forested region is home to the Linden Tree; a very easy wood to carve known for its smoothness and creamy color, trademark of many German nutcrackers and incense smoking men. In addition the Mountains have numerous springs, which feed several creeks and three main rivers, the Elbe, Ipel and Slaná. It was along these rivers that watermills were established and the products of wood turning became more popular. It was with the power of these mills that crafters were able to produce products on a small scale. Just as these resources were cherished in the bygone years, modern residents of these mountains guard the assets of ores, trickling brooks, forested trees and peaceful calm.
The Erzebirge Region is a popular tourist destination, especially during the busy holiday season. These mountains are home to the Weinachtsmarkts and Christkindlmarkts, which provide a market for these wood-turned crafts to be sold. One of the more popular items that originate from this region is the Candle pyramid; the majority of the parts from the pyramid are created through the art of woodturning. One can also find German cuckoo clocks and advent calendars depicting the quiet mountainous village scenes with their water wheels.
Originally, wood turners made practical items, like bowls, cups, spooks to wheels, etc. as Christmas became a widely celebrated holiday, the wood turners branched out to include numerous Christmas related gifts. In the commercialism so prevalent in contemporary times much of the staple items, that woodturning made (like table legs) have become industrialized and mass-produced. It is only in the small items that we can still find the attention to detail and the unique personalization of works. The Erzebirge Mountains have been able to avoid massive industry and stripping of their forests choosing instead to focus on small crafts. It is from this region that many wooden toys and figurines are created (like smokers, nutcrackers and music boxes).