Whatever Happened To That Line Shaft?

by | Feb 5, 2016 | 28 comments

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Not a lot really. Like the dog it just sits there.

My last post was all about ridding my workshop of machines, which strums up questions about why we rescued that line shaft machinery a few years ago. Where is it and what will we be doing with it?

First off, it’s still with us. All safe and secured waiting to be put back to use. At the moment we’re working in a building that would be unsuitable for fitting it in. It’s such an old building that I’d have questions whether it would withstand the vibrations, and it’s also the barn that will eventually become our home, so the line shaft can’t come in here. We have another building which in need of a complete re-build, and we plan to house the machines in there.

The idea is to create a hand tool workshop with the line shaft incorporated in to it. The machines will add great interest when filming as well as in photos, and although they won’t be used extensively I do plan to use them.
Unlike modern machines these will make me have to work to put them to use, so it won’t be a quick and dirty flick of a switch to make a cut. You should see some of the railway type levers required to engage some of the machines; they’re just brilliant. But it means some heavy weighing up whether a job really requires them.

We’d like to preserve them in a way so that future generations will be able to see this type of operation, I think they’ll be useful for learning in that way. And ultimately they won’t take anything from what my work is as a hand tool woodworker. I think it would be wonderful to be able to make a limited run of workbenches on them one day as well. After all it was the workbenches that made saving these possible.

I’m actually itching to get the bandsaw operational and I’m toying with getting a little lister engine to power it on it’s own in the current workshop.

Finally, without getting soppy, there’s a sympathy thing. At one time it was machines like these that would have put people like myself out of work – I would have been stripped of everything I am because of them. Now, with our modern machinery, computer aided and all that, it’s the cast iron that has become like those craftsmen.

I thought it would be nice for two outdated, unneeded, workers, to come together and maybe give that modern world a run for it’s money.

When do we intend to get this done? Well, you’re asking a man who doesn’t wear a watch. Some time… in the future.

lineshaft grinder and bandsaw

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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Ian Watson

    Hi Richard/Helen,
    So glad you produced this. I have been wondering about that machinery for a while now. I’m keen to see the final outcome for these old workhorses.
    Ian W

    • Richard Maguire

      Hi Ian,
      They’ve been on the back of our minds for quite a while now, but as soon as I start giving it any thought I get over excited, and then feel the need to get on with it now!
      Since posting I’ve already been out to weigh up what work’s going be involved to get the bandsaw in to shape… That’ll probably be the next post!

    • Mike Kellar

      if you like that sort of thing … check out this waterpowered grist/sawill still operating in Tyrone, Ontario, Canada

  2. Sam Thompson

    I am so exited by this you have no idea! haha, woodworking by hand and steam powered machinery from the past are each end of my business as a furniture maker and boilersmith. so many people tell me that i have conflicting trades but they go together so well.
    flat belt driven machinery has a very honest quality, that matches my style of furniture. a ‘Gothic’ element, everything should show its workings.
    and i’m sure i have said before, but if you want any information for the setup of the shafting, power input, or the machines themselves then contact me, i have a tone of late Victorian and early 1900’s books on vintage woodworking machinery and workshop setup, i’d be happy to send them to you.
    kind regards. Sam Thompson.

    • Richard Maguire

      Hi Sam,
      I’d imagine we’d enjoy a pint together, or a very large pot of tea!
      Thank you for your very kind offer, I’m sure we’ll take you up on that, we’ll need all the help we can get.
      I also have very conflicting interests… and personalities.

  3. Paul Bouchard

    I’m wondering whatever happened to that wall cupboard project!

    • Richard Maguire

      Ha, we’re wondering that too!

  4. Jim Hendricks

    WOW…it only seems like yesterday that we were down in Minster!

    It’s so nice to see that you will be getting it up and running and what a fine backdrop that will make!

    Cheers guys


    • Richard Maguire

      Hi Jimi,
      It would have been such a shame if yourself and Douglas didn’t stubble across them, and we’ll always be grateful. But you’re right, it really does seem only like yesterday.

      I’ll look forward to catching up at Mr Arnold’s this year.


  5. John

    Very interesting Richard …..could be the basis for a tool museum with hand tool work in progress

    There is a great revival of interest in hand tool use as apposed to mechanical and you could, over time, with your enthusiasm and experience turn your barns into a hub for that interest

    Well done

    • Richard Maguire

      Thanks John, what a wonderful thought. It would be a smashing long term goal, even if we could just rustle up some sort of one year event.
      The only thing is, getting to the depths of Lincolnshire’s like getting to Mordor. It’s not the mountains, just the orcs.

  6. davidos

    i have absolutely no idea what a line shaft means or is. but ever so interested

    • Kermit

      More than you want to know, I’ll venture. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line_shaft

      My grandfather suplemented his farm income by supplying cord wood to a cabinet/door/millwork shop in town. It was cut 4′ long to be burned in a boiler to power a steam engine that drove the shaft that in turn powered all the machines in the shop. He delivered the wood in a wagon drawn by his Percheron team, “Ginger” and “Snap.” That shop operated that way until WWII. I used to have an enormous lathe that had been a line shaft machine. It was impossibly heavy and totally vibration free, running smoothly on its ancient babbit bearings.

      • Richard Maguire

        Thanks Kermit, what a lovely story.
        I wonder if they appreciated it back then or if it was just the norm? You’re certainly right about the heaviness, every single ounce of it.

    • Richard Maguire

      Hi Davidos,
      Think of the heaviest, most dangerous, dustiest machines, and then add some spinning belts bridging the length of the workshop. Ohh… and a man with a ponytail, and you’re somewhat there.

      • Sam Thompson

        haha. i found it interesting in books from around 1930 for workshops still using line-shaft that they dug a basement under the workshop floor just deep enough to house all the line-shafting, and all the belts pulleys and interesting bits where hidden under the machines, a good idea if you work with excessively large lengths of timber but not as good for maintenance, and you have very little adjustment for shaft alignment.
        its safer but doesn’t have the same appeal. and building that re-enforced floor to stop vibration of the machines could be a challenge.

        • Richard Maguire

          Thanks Sam,

          The original line-shaft for these machines was also underground and in this case I think it must have been due to headroom as the workshop was low. Some of the larger diameter pulleys were actually protruding out the floor – just right to snag an untied bootlace.

          I agree with you about overhead being far more interesting.

  7. Kees

    These things are really cool. I would love to see them running again. Well, glad that you are still making plans around them.

    • Richard Maguire

      Thanks Kees, When we first ended up with them we thought that the hardest job would be getting them back. Now that’s changed somewhat!

  8. Duncan Davidson

    Ah, the bandsaw! The one tool that does what hand woodworkers can’t really do –
    resawing. We can do a bit of heroic ripping alongside our bench work, but virtually all hand work relies heavily on mechanized milling. Without a bandsaw, this is an enormous limitation: we can’t really explore thick, wide boards and so we start work much further from the tree. Pit sawing is beyond almost every bench worker and it seems that this has been so for a long time. The sawyers were a race apart with their own skills in sharpening and sawing. The arrival of the bandsaw must have been a wonderful thing for bench woodworkers, especially cabinetmakers. So to set up a demo of an old bandsaw would be a great reminder of how much we can gain from resawing in the shop.

    • Richard Maguire

      What an excellent comment. That was going to be my next article, only you’ve written it better!
      I couldn’t agree more.

    • Jasper

      Yes, the bandsaw is an excellent machine for making the heavy work light, without overcomplicating things. It is also very versatile, so plenty of material for a next article.

      If you have the pit sawing spirit but not the stamina, consider the walking beam saw. You can build one yourself, in any size from scrollsaw to oil well pumpjack. Just do not be in a hurry when using it.

  9. T Caveny


    I worked some years in a woolen mill. The overhead line shafts had all been removed, and replaced with individual electric motors, but the cards still had flat belts on them.The ‘fixers’ (millwrights) could never keep them adjusted because even then it was a lost art.

    Looks like your glue pot has seen better days.

    Bestof luck in your new venture.


  10. Keith T Pullin.

    I don’t really understand the them or us approach to woodworking, I’m 69 for a few more weeks yet, and have and use some of the nicest hand tools both young and old, including Disston panel saws, braces by several manufactures, planes by Stanley, Lie-Nielson, Clifton and a plethora of other tools. I do however have the most fabulous planer thicknesser and band saw from Hammer and portable table saw from Makita cross cut saw and bevel drive saw all of which I swear by and use. Being born and bred in Sheffield and having my family involved in the production of steel and hand tools for generations I just don’t see any conflict, perhaps the arthritis is a big influence in my thinking ? Planing an 8′ foot board from rough sawn to the finished article for me is no decision, Hammer wins every-time. Please don’t be offended bye any of this it’s only my view point. And one day I would love to be able to come and order one of your lovely benches. At the moment I’m spending all my spare cash with the best saw maker in the World another Yorkshire man in Scarborough.

  11. Lawrence

    Hi Richard,
    If you ever want to see a line shaft wood shop, powered by a water turbine, that’s still in working order, visit Hancock Shaker Village in Western Massachusetts. It’s a remarkable feat of engineering, and they fire it up for tours in the summer. If you ever come to the States, I hope you check it out. There are bits and pieces of videos showing it in action on Youtube.

  12. Peter

    “I’m toying with getting a little lister engine”.

    Just a thought for you to consider. Many years ago, I actually powered up an old belt-driven metal-working lathe with a rotavator – a Howard ‘Gem’, in point of fact. This managed to not only power up a lathe, but also worked our garden in its ‘spare time’. It was a wonderful old machine in its own right to boot. So; power up the bandsaw and sort out your vegetable garden at the same time…


  13. Gareth Bath

    Dear Richard, I live in the North of Scotland … up very near to the Moray coast; ‘home’ to the Highland Malts! Unfortunately we missed the opportunity to purchase a water mill which was originally set up as a water powered wood workshop. The mill had been restored but was largely devoid of its ‘tools’. It’s owners had wanted to restore it to its original use but we’re ‘touting’ it for conversion to a dwelling! Such a great pity!

    Yours Aye


  14. Cam

    Richard, I admire your ambition and ultimate goal of preservation through use. I have a couple buildings full of old machines that are steadily being restored(or in some cases, just patched up) and put into the rotation. I keep the majority of them separate from my hand tool shop, as those old gals tend to sling oil and other undesirables all over everything. It’s also a result of the shear size of them, and my hand tool space being partially underground. No plans for a lineshaft over here, though most of the machines were at one time or another thusly driven. So, big electric motor retrofits and 3 phase power conversion is the name of the game as it pertains to THAT part. I have also found it necessary to set up a small machine shop in order to fabricate missing parts, most of which are unobtainium. It’s funny how these little obsessions have little obsessions of their own. Good luck to you!


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