Ornamental Turning Book of Knowledge
Making a Rose Engine Lathe

The lathes are shown in order of popularity based on commentary from users with whom I have spoken.

Index of Known Options


Jon Magill's MDF Rose Engine Lathe

MDF Rose Engine Lathe

In 2007, Jon Magill designed a Rose Engine lathe using half (½) a single sheet (4 ft. x 4 ft. x ¾ in. sheet) of medium density fiberboard (MDF).

Jon has written a number of articles about this machine, and these are linked on the For More Information page.

Parts You Will Need

The items listed below are described in greater detail on the Ornamental Turning Language and Terms page. No attempt was made to duplicate the definitions shown there. This list is only to outline the specifics for these items.

  1. Lathe Proper
    1. MDF Rose Engine base (as designed by Jon Magill)
    2. MDF Rose Engine Kit. You may have to order rosettes separately.
    3. Self centering, 4-jaw lathe chuck
    4. Quick Change Tool Post
    5. Cross Slide
    6. Lathe Drive Motor - if you don't want to drive the work by hand.


    Left side, showing the drive
  2. Cutter
    1. Cutting Frame

  3. Overhead Drive Assembly (if you don't use a direct drive cutting frame)
    1. Overhead Frame
    2. Drive Motor
    3. Drive Cable

Notes :

  1. The MDF Rose Engine is oftentimes how people get started in this craft / hobby. This machine may look pretty basic, but don't be fooled. There are some very awesome aspects to this machine.

    1. Two rosettes can be mounted onto the headstock for driving motion.

      1. These rosettes can be used together for forming a complex form (i.e., one touch can be disengaged whilst the other is engaged).

        The picture to the right shows how, as the two rosettes (one red; the other blue) rotate together, the rosette driving the cutting will change from the blue rosette to the red rosette, and back. Every revolution will engage the blue rosette twice, for about 20° of the rotation each time.

      2. These rosettes can be phased relative to each other. Using the picture to the right again, the red rosette has 36 lobes, so rotating it 5° relative to the blue rosette would produce a wave-like pattern.

        This is a feature that I've only seen on this machine. The typical approach is that many rosettes are secured together as a barrell, and all are rotated together, not relative to one another.


    2. There are many of these machines in use, and thusly, there is also a huge user community driving constant innovation.

    3. The machine was initially designed for rocking motion, but a number of great approaches have been implemented for adding pumping motion -- whilst using the same rosettes.

    4. The machine was also designed to have the object be rotated by a hand crank (the little black handle). This works acceptably; however after a while it can get a bit tedious.

      Hand Crank

      Stepper Motor Drive on the
      MDF Rose Engine Lathe

      At the 2018 Ornamental Turners International Symposium, three different demonstrators showed their MDF Rose Engines, and all three showed how they had modified their machines to use stepper motors and a very sophisticated drive mechanism based on the Teensy Microcontroller (a variation of the Arduino controller). This provides for rotation with a motor which has a wide range of rotational speeds, and slower speeds don't sacrifice torque, as is seen with variable frequency drives. If you are thinking of going this route, contact Jon Magill. He can assist with process, and may even be able to provide you parts.

      Interesting side note: Since converting my MDF rose engine to use stepper motors, the quality of my cuts have gotten better (i.e., smoother). My supposition is that this is due to the more even, steady rotation of the spindle.

      Fear not though : the programming efforts for this are being led by an awesome set of programmers who are posting their efforts on GitHub in the RoseEngine_SpindleAndAxis project.

      Jon discusses stepper motors in this video from the 2018 Ornamental Turners International Symposium.


    5. Similar drive mechanisms have been used for implementing a leadscrew.

    6. The leadscrew movement can then be used to implement curvilinear slide type of movement.

  2. On the forum for the Ornamental Turners International (OTI), George Balock noted in the MDF Rose Engine section that he was able to acquire rosettes from Wade at Mandala Rose Works which were created especially for the MDF rose engine, including the phasing holes and hold-down screws.

    Please note however, that the rosettes I have from Mandala Rose Works are ¼ in. thick (vs. the ones provided by Jon Magill which are ½ in. thick). This is not an issue when using these rosettes for rocking; however, the ½ in. thick ones are needed if pumping is to implemented on the machine.


Below are two YouTube videos showing the MDF Rose Engine in use. The first is from Jon Magill, and the second is my machine.


MDF Rose Engine



MDF Rose Engine Lathe : #1 - Overview


Computer-Assisted Ornamental Lathe

COrnLathe™
Image courtesy Bill Ooms

There are two ornamental turning artists who are at the leading edge of driving the craft forward with the use of computer assistance : Bill Ooms and Dewey Garrett. Both live in the Prescott, Arizona area.

Bill Ooms is an accomplished artist who has created great works. The piece that I consider to be his most beautiful is on the opening page to this web site (he was very kind to share it).

The August 2014 edition of "American Woodturner", Vol 29, #4, has a great article about Dewey Garrett and his art.

In my correspendence with Bill and Dewey, both have stated that they prefer the term "computer-assisted" over "CNC". Their reasoning is that the use of a computer to help the artist achieve his goal is quite different from the typical use of computer numerical control (CNC), especially as CNC is identified with the repeated production of given object, not one-off artistic work.

Interesting side note : The drives now commonly used in MDF Rose Engine Lathes are the same stepper motor functionality used by Bill's COrnLathe™. Certainly brings into question the definition of "traditional".

Bill documented the building of his Computerized ORNamental Lathe (COrnLathe™) on his web site. That site has a load of great information, and I won't take the time to repeat it here.

Bill is to be greatly commended for freely sharing three things :

  1. the COrnLathe "hardware" designs he has created,
  2. the software he has created, and
  3. the designs he has created for ornamental cutting frames.


A "very economic rose engine using parts taken from an old bedstead"

Very economic Rose Engine using parts taken from an old bedstead
Image courtesy Adrian Jacobs

Adrian Jacobs built his own rose engine lathe using parts from "an old bedstead". His notes about doing that process are below. Whist these instructions are not detailed enough to be followed, they show how much fun you can have just building a machine (if that is something you like). And, it shows a really cool use of the rose engine lathe with a laser for engraving.

Having got thoroughly immersed in building the Rose Engine, I thought that I would share some further thoughts about building and using it.

    1. The process of building the machine was long and protracted because I was forever redesigning it. Each time I though that I had finished, I thought of a new idea to improve it – clear evidence to support Darwin’s theory of evolution!

    2. The machine started out as a manually driven machine with a complex pulley system but when I came across Gary Liming’s work on YouTube it was clear that stepper motors were a better option especially as they can be used to any indexing work to a high degree of accuracy using electronics.

    3. I had to build in a clutch mechanism between the rosettes and the main drive shaft so that I could do phased work. This also required a simple friction brake on the main shaft. When this was installed, phasing became very simple and extremely flexible.

    4. Fine tuning the machine remains a bit of a problem. Rubbbers seem to work best when presented at the midline of the rosette but I still have some problems with too rapid fall off from step angles on rosettes. It is also clear that milling bits have to be correctly aligned at dead centre of the chuck if the finished result to be central on the workpiece.

    5. Building a Universal Cutting Frame was a bit of a challenge. In the end I machined it out of a brass bar and used a small motor to drive it from a single pulley. The cutting bit is HSS drill bit ground to a rounded profile and mounted in a brass pulley.

    6. The electronics were easy for me because I have always enjoyed messing about with electrical gadgets and computers. Others may find it more challenging but there is lots of help available on YouTube, especially Gary Liming’s website.

    7. Bill Ooms and Jon Magill were very helpful in pointing me in the right direction on many issues.

    8. Pat Miller’s YouTube Video on the Spirograph attachment was very influential in the final design.

    9. I cannot remember what gave me the idea to try a laser engraver instead of a milling cutter but now I use it a lot, especially for Spirograph designs. I have messed about with 3 laser heads:
      • 500 milliwatts (mW) is not powerful enough
      • 2,500 mW is too aggressive
      • 1,000 mW seems fine


    10. The electronics are not difficult but soldering in some large press switches makes using them easier and you can hide the laser electronics in a small box.

    11. I had so much fun building the first RE that when we changed our bed and threw out the old one, I decided that the box section steel frame would make an ideal bed for a lighter, more portable machine that I can use for demonstrations. At the same time I acquired a 3D printer and used that to print out quite a few parts including:
      1. Rosettes
      2. Clutch plates
      3. Bearing housing
      4. Tool rest rubber mounts

    12. Building and tuning the RE is only the start! After 3 months with a finished machine that I am only just beginning to get to grips with what it can do.

About this site
Disclaimer : eMail comments to me at OTBookOfKnowledge @ Gmail.com. The process of woodturning involves the use of tools, machinery and materials which could cause injury or be a health hazard unless proper precautions are taken, including the wearing of appropriate protective equipment.