Rose Engine Approaches

There are a number of approaches that could be taken to achieve ornamental turning. This page outlines the ones I know, and will probably trigger new ideas in the reader.

Index of Approaches

Traditional Approach

Object Motion on a Rose Engine Lathe

The traditional approach to a rose engine is where the object rotates as on a traditional lathe, whilst also moving :

  1. back and forth, along the X axis (rocking),
  2. back and forth, along the Z axis (pumping), or
  3. both rocking and pumping.

To make these motions happen requires movement that would not happen easily on a traditional lathe.

Rocking requires the head stock to rock back and forth. In the traditional approach, the headstock is mounted on shaft that provides for the rocking motion.

  1. The upper shaft in the headstock is used to rotate the object.
  2. The lower shaft in the headstock is used to allow for the rocking motion.

Pumping is lateral movement of the uper shaft in the head stock whilst also rotating. This would be a problem if the shaft were held in bearings, so it is typically held in bushings, or the shaft may float on a layer of oil (e.g., journal bearings).

While all that object movement is happening, a cutter (held in either a cutting or drilling frame) is cutting into the object. The cutting frame stays fixed, held in the QCTP on a cross slide.

The video below shows all these things happening together.

Rose Engine Woodworking | Lesson 1

The MDF Rose Engine (shown below) was designed by Jon Magill, and uses the traditional approach. The first designs did not make pumping motions; however I believe he has added that functionality in later designs.

Others have also come up with designs to achieve this in different ways (see also, the YouTube video of Pat Miller's design).

The MDF rose engine is an excellent starter rose engine lathe, and many people have made their own. This is the way most people start into this craft these days.

MDF Rose Engine Lathe

Below is a YouTube video showing Jon's MDF Rose Engine in use :

MDF Rose Engine

  1. Watching Jon Magill demonstrate the MDF rose engine is awesome. This is what pushed me from "what is this all about?" to "Wow, I'm gonna pursue that hobby !"

  2. The MDF rose engine is widely used :
    1. There are loads of people who can help the new person get started.
    2. The community of users is continuously evolving the machine's abilities and developing add-on devices which allow for innovative approaches to the artwork.

  3. If you are considering whether you want to pursue this hobby, this can be a great way to get started.
    1. The investment is not high, and the pieces can be resold if the artist choses to abandon this craft.
    2. The design is well documented, and easy to follow.
  1. Depending on what the artist wants to do, the design may have to be started on a traditional lathe (or finished there), and moved to an ornamental lathe.
    1. These movements allow for the introduction of error.
    2. The anount of error could be small enough that it won't matter.
    3. Error introduction can be minimized by holding the chuck in the lathe via a Morse taper adapter, but that can slip if not held into place with a draw bar.

Coers-Colvin Approach

Richard Coers' Rose Engine Lathe
Images courtesy Richard Coers

Richard Coers came up with an approach where a smaller lathe (a midi lathe) is rocked. Fundamentally, the midi lathe becomes the headstock in an ornamental lathe.

Richard's approach is to mount a rosette on the outboard side of the midi lathe's headstock. Pictures of this approach are on the right.

I've not seen the work he makes with it (I think he does pen turning on it), but I like the idea of reusing equipment that is otherwise unused.

I took that approach and flipped it around. My rose engine lathe holds the rosettes on a shaft between the headstock and tailstock, and the object is held in the outboard position (the headstock was rotated 180°).

Videos of the Colvin lathe in operation are below.



  1. If you are considring whether you want to pursue this hobby, this can be a great way to get started. The investment is not high.

  2. This approach reuses older machines (which you may have sitting around, taking up space, or just something on which you stub your foot).
  1. The lathe is top heavy, and needs quite a bit of work to stabilize it's motion.

  2. Each of these machines is a one-off, and the artist who wants one will have to build his own.

  3. This lathe doesn't do pumping motion.

  4. This lathe also takes up quite a bit of space; far more than many other options.

  5. There is not a large community of people to help if you get into problems.

Update : I am abandoning this soon, and building an MDF rose engine lathe. There are a number of reasons, but suffice it to say, the user community for MDF lathes makes the change worthwhile.

Rod Tallack's Approach

Mr. Tallack told me that ornamental turning just took too long to make a piece. So he designed a lathe that moves the object quite fast, whilst a router cuts the object.

The video below shows his lathe in action. I watch this thing working and think something must surely be falling apart soon. But, I've corresponded with him, and he assures me the machine is quite stable.

Square Bowl in Yew

He wrote a book about it titled, Woodturning : Another Dimension. Quite the read.

  1. The system is really fast, compared to more traditional means. I read that his system could make a new object in 45 minutes !
  1. The machine is a one-off, and the artist who wants one will have to build his own (or contract it through a machine shop).

  2. There are limits to what can be made on this system.

Paul Cler Approach

Paul Cler Lathe

The Paul Cler lathe (shown in the picture to the right) works on a different principle.

  • The object is held in the rotating shaft (the bluish item on the left) which has a Morse taper to hold a chuck of some sort.

  • Also shown in the picture is a direct drive cutter in a horizontal cutting frame.

    This cutter is moved along the X axis, or the Z axis based on a cam which is driven by the shaft running laterally.

    The same motor that drives the object movement also drives the movement of the cutting frame.

  • This same motor also drives a leadscrew (the threaded shaft which can move the cutter in the Z axis, just as on a metal lathe).

    This provides for movement like needed on a curvilinear slide.

This approach greatly interests me. I believe a chasis can be made to fit on the bed of a traditional lathe. This chasis can work like the one on the Paul Cler lathe for driving the action of the cutting frame. The chasis can also be outfitted with a slow speed drive to make this happen, and to drive the lathe shaft's rotation.

  1. Adding a Paul Cler type chassis to a traditional lathe will allow the ornamental turner to :
    1. Make larger pieces.
    2. Add the ornamental embelishments to a piece which was started on the same lathe as it was finished. By not moving the piece between lathes, the ability for introducing error is minimized.
  1. The traditional lathe can't be used for other work until the object is finished.

  2. There are more moving pieces, so preventive maintenance will be quite necessary.

  3. There doesn't seem to be a large community of people to help if you get into problems.

Computer-Assisted Approach

Image courtesy Bill Ooms

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).

Bill is also the leading pioneer in the use of computerization as an approach to ornamental turning. In my correspendence with him, Bill has stated that he prefers the term "computer-assisted" over "CNC". His 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). CNC is identified with the repeated production of given object, not one-off artistic work.

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.
  1. The ornamental turner can add the ornamental embellishments to a piece which was started on the same lathe as it was finished. By not moving the piece between lathes, the ability for introducing error is minimized.

  2. Once this machine is up and running, it can be programmed to make a lot of the types of cuts that would have required expensive or complicated apparatuses. These include :
    1. Curvilinear slide
    2. Spiral apparatus

  3. This may be something you wish to pursue if you are interested in technological hobbies like these :
    1. 3D printing
    2. Arduino and Raspberry Pi
    3. CNC, especially LinuxCNC
  1. This requires the user to maintain the computer systems.
    1. All equipment in the workshop requires preventive maintenance, but patching, software maintenance, etc. are all activities I'd rather leave at work. I want this to be a hobby I can enjoy.
    2. Bill keeps his two computers networked together, but not connected to the Internet. This helps with not having to always keep the systems up-to-date to prevent viruses or other problems.

  2. The technologies being used require constant vigilance to keep them operational. If a technology is abandoned by a vendor, the user will have to step back and find a new path to address the need. As Bill notes on his site :

    Apple, Oracle, and Microsoft make changes faster than I can keep up with them. So now I'm only providing the compiled software package for the same version that I'm using on my own Mac computers in the shop.

  3. There doesn't seem to be a large community of people to help if you get into problems. But possibly, with the growth of hobbyist use of Arduino and CNC, that may change.