What is Reifendrehen- Making Toys at the Seiffen Freilicht Museum
Before my trip to Seiffen, my friend Richard told me that I should NOT MISS the Reifendrehen. I was confused… what is Reifendrehen? Wheel turning? Do people in Seiffen watch wheels spinning? Turns out Reifendrehen is a special technique for making toys and other small objects known mainly to Seiffen and the surrounding area of the Erzgebirge.
We were lucky enough to see the technique up close, and done the old fashioned way, at the Erzgebergische Freilicht Museum in Seiffen.
And I KNOW you will love seeing the video of the Reifendreher in ACTION!
Using a sort of Lathe, craftsmen can take a disk of wood, and while it spins, carve away the unneeded bits… and end up with a notched ring. Looking at the end, you can sort of see the figure he’s making. Then the Reifendreher (wheel turner) slices pieces off… and before you stands a horse, a cow, a lamb…. or even a giraffe.
But how were they able to power a a machine like this?
Powering the Wasserkraftdrehwerk
The first water powered Wasserkraftdrehwerk (Lathe) was built in 1760 by Johann Heinrich Frohs. Believe it or not, it’s still around! (it’s been under “monument protection” since 1951… so they must have used it until then). The concept of a water wheel is was not new. Millers had been grinding grain with Water Wheels for years. But this kind of wheel would need to move faster, and with more power.
Here’s where it gets a bit technical…Instead of using a river or stream, water would be dammed into ponds. The water level of the dam was level with the eves of the house. This way the water would flow onto the water wheel from the with the right force. The 5.2 meter waterwheel would turn, and rotate series of wooden wheels with cogs that turned other wheels… and transmit the turning power into the lathe inside the house. (Honestly, ask an engineer to explain it to you.)
What is Reifendrehen?
Reifendrehen starts with a disk of wood. Using a template, and a LOAD of carving tools… the Reifendreher would carve out bits from one side of a ring, then the other. (Honestly, I have no idea how they can see it.) To me the object was always invisible from the side. You can only see the profile once it’s off the lathe.
The carved wheel is then sliced. And like magic, there stands an animal!
Each Rohlinge (ring) could be cut into 40 to 60 figures, that could be finished and painted. Often the whole family would be involved. This unique means of “mass production” meant that craftsmen could put out hundreds of small figures… animals, houses, toys… much quicker than carving each one individually by hand.
The Reifendreher will also make small village scenes, like the one I brought home!
Reifendreher of Seiffen
Why read about it… when you can see it for yourself…..
(by the way, I think I should get triple bonus points for pronouncing Erzgebirgisches Freilicht Museum without crying)
Sadly, the art of Reifendrehen may vanish. The Reifendreher at the Freilicht Museum is one of the few of these craftsmen left, and he doesn’t have an apprentice. Maybe it’s something a young woodworker can aspire to?
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Seiffen Ergebirgisches Freilicht Museum
The Erzgebirgisches Freilicht Museum is a fascinating place for anyone to spend a few hours. You really get a sense of what it was like to live in the 1900s to early 20th Century. Small rooms, tiny kitchens, big tile stoves! Kids can roam freely and touch the exhibits. And adults can imagine what it’s like to trade in their lives for one without TVs or Microwaves.
The Seiffen Erzgebirgische Freilicht Museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm in the summer, 10 am to 4pm in the Winter. The Reifendreher takes lunch from 12-1 pm.
Get more information here–> Seiffen Erzgebirgische Freilicht Museum