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Leach Treadle Wheel History

There is surprisingly little written about the Leach Treadle Wheel design and functionality. Bernard Leach was a larger man (6’5″ or 197cm tall). He adapted a treadle wheel that potters had been using in England at the time, re-sized it and made some mechanical changes. This design has been used an the gold-standard of treadle driven pottery wheels since the middle of the last century. In working on designing a treadle wheel of my own. Discussing materials to use, and how to construct the joints, I have heard more than half a dozen times “If you change it too much then you won’t have a TRUE Treadle Wheel”. I don’t want to discount the power of myth or the mystique of the Leach Treadle Wheel, but I am not so much a Purist as to hold to the statement that the Leach Treadle Wheel is the only TRUE Treadle Wheel.

The Meriram Webster Dictionary defines Treadle as a noun from the Middle English treadle step of a stair and from Old English, from tredan: “a swiveling or lever device pressed by the foot to drive a machine”. I have seen and used many different styles of treadle action pottery wheels. From a standing model, to an all metal one about 2/3 scale that was very similar to the Leach Treadle Wheel.

One of the only known published plans for a Leach Style Treadle Wheel was in the book The Self Reliant Potter, by Andrew Holden. Unfortunately the book is out of print and is nearly impossible to get a hold of. I have two copies and am willing to share the information as long as no copyright infringements are perceived.

There are a few, rare, wheels that were imported from England mostly during the 60s and 70s in conjunction with Warren Mackenzie and his students at the University of Minnesota. The wheels that I have seen are generally still in great working order and are wonderful to look and and use. In speaking with Warren a few years back he told me about how the gentleman from Waves Of Grain came to his studio when Warren had a spare Leach Wheel for him to disassemble the entire unit and take measurements for creating beautiful working Leach Style Treadle Wheels.

Also, Doug Gates has been making Leach Style treadle wheels for the last number of years that are second to none in quality and craftsmanship. It was rumored that he had stopped making his fine wheels in order to go to medical school. I have gotten email from him and he intends to continue making them as long as there is demand. His contact information is located on my Treadle Resources page..

 

Updated 26 July, 2005 page views since July 25th, 2005