Rose Engine Lathe


A rose engine lathe is a specialized kind of geometric lathe. What sets it apart from the "standard" lathe are:

Rocking Motion

Pumping Motion
  1. The headstock can rock back and forth along the spindle axis in a manner defined by a rosette or cam-like pattern mounted on the spindle, while the lathe spindle rotates.
  2. The spindle can be pumped back and forth, again controlled by a rosette or cam-like pattern mounted on the spindle, while the lathe spindle rotates.
  3. Finally, the rose engine lathe differs from the "standard" lathe is in the tooling. The user of a rose engine lathe has the ability to used fixed tools like the other lathes, but he can also use tools which have rotating cutters (as with routers or milling machines). These cutting tools can be positioned in a myriad of ways to enable the artist to achieve quite unique outcomes.

Rose engine work can make flower patterns, as well as convoluted, symmetrical, multi-lobed geometric patterns.

The patterns it produces are similar to that of a Spirograph, and no other ornamental lathe can produce these rose patterns.

One type of decoration produced by a rose engine lathe is called guilloché. Guilloché sometimes confused with "jewel finishes" or engine turning, a much cheaper process of making swirly marks in metal by a rotating abrasive peg or pad, which is repeatedly applied to the surface to make a pattern of overlapping circles. Jewel finishes used to be common on stereo faceplates and automobile interiors.

Beautiful wooden objects are also made with a rose engine lathe, and that seems to be the primary purpose for most hobbyists these days.

At a simplistic level, a rose engine lathe makes three sets of movement happen at the same time.

  1. An object, held in a chuck, is rotated very slowly around the Z axis (typically <10 RPM),
  2. The headstock is rocked back and forth (basically in the X axis) with movements which are based on the shape of a rosettes, and
  3. A spinning cutter (held in cutting frame) is engaged to make the cutting.

But what makes a rose engine lathe really fun is that there are so many variables that can be brought into play.

  1. There are a whole host of chucks which can present the object in different ways to the cutter,
  2. The headstock can:
    • Rock back and forth,
    • Pump to the left and right,
    • Be held fixed, or
    • Be indexed using an indexing wheel.
  3. The cutter can:
    • Rotate horizontally, vertically, or somewhere in between,
    • Rotate elliptically,
    • Spin like a drill, or
    • Simply be a fixed scraper.

There are other approaches that can be taken, but this gives the general idea.

The videos below show these activities working in harmony to produce a nice design. Watching the shape emerge from the wood is truly magical.

To me, another excellent part is the way it can work relatively unattended. This means:

  • I can walk to the other end of my shop and get a cup of coffee whilst it is running, and
  • Someone who has less muscular control (e.g., an arthritic) can make great pieces whilst sitting in front of the machine, making small adjustments as needed. This hobby really accommodates those of us who aren't in the prime of our life any more (or maybe never were).

And, my wife loves what I make on the machine! (She chooses what to keep, and what to give away.)

So, how do you get started? This site is intended to help you do just that. But if you get hung up along the way, do send me an email via the address shown below. I will do what I can to get you past your stopping point.

Additional pictures of this device

Examples of work produced with this device

Examples of a Rose Engine in use

  • In this YouTube video, Steve White shows us the rose engine and how to turn post finials in this hands-on lesson provided by Lindow White and
Steve White has a series of lessons, and they are great to watch for ideas. You will have to search for some as they seem to have been uploaded by a different YouTube id (swhitefrog, for example). Search for:
  • "Rose Engine Turning Lesson" or
  • "Rose Engine Woodworking Lesson"
  • This is a YouTube video of the Mandala rose engine lathe.
  • This YouTube video shows a rose engine lathe with pumping
  • And for a fun video, this YouTube video shows a spirograph used on an MDF rose engine lathe.

Usage Notes

How it works

Notes on making one

More Information

Published Articles

Books and Papers

Web Sites


  • Alan Bugbee discusses modications to the Lawler lathe. by Alan Bugbee. 1997 OTI Symposium (Portsmouth, NH)
  • Bob Baker's restoration of the wooden parts of a rose engine by Bob Baker. 1992 OTI Symposium (Rochester, NY)
  • Bonnie Klein uses a Cler OT lathe with a rose engine attachment her husband made. by Bonnie Klein. 1999 OTI Symposium (Tacoma, WA)
  • Fred Armbruster discusses Birch lathes by Fred Armbruster. 1997 OTI Symposium (Portsmouth, NH)
  • Fred Armbruster discussing how he came to decide to build a rose engine beginning in 1989 by Fred Armbruster. 1996 OTI Symposium (Kansas City, MO)
  • Hawk Computerized Ornamental Lathe by (unknown). 1992 OTI Symposium (Rochester, NY)
  • Jon Sauer and his Holtzapffel lathe #2237 made in 1868, showing how he received it, restored it, and uses it by Jon Sauer. 1995 OTI Symposium (Penn Valley, CA)
  • Richard Ketchum describes restoration of a straightline and a rose engine and how to design pattern bars for a straightline by Richard Ketchum. 2000 OTI Symposium (Kennebunkport, ME)


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About this Site

Disclaimer: eMail comments to me at OTBookOfKnowledge @ 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.