Making a Rose Engine Lathe

The lathes are shown in order of popularity based on commentary from users with whom I have spoken. These are some very good options to give you some ideas.

In a related note, I've catalogued some lessons learnt from making a cutting frame.

MDF Rose Engine Lathe

MDF Rose Engine Lathe

Left side, showing the drive

MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0

In 2007, Jon Magill designed a Rose Engine lathe using half (1/2) a single sheet (4 ft. x 4 ft. x 3/4 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.

An update to the original design, known as the MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0, was published in 2020. The designs, along with a number of other user manuals, are all available at the MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0 Library (

Parts You Will Need

The items listed below are described in greater detail elsewhere on this site.

  1. Lathe base and headstock (usually comes as a base kit + instructions on how to cut and assemble the MDF)
  2. Some way to turn the spindle, either by hand or a motor
  3. Rosettes
  4. Cutting frame or drill spindle with an
    • Integrated motor, or
    • Overhead drive
  5. A way of holding the cutting or drill spindle
    1. Cross slide
    2. Quick change tool post (AXA size is recommended)
    3. Tool holders (AXA size is recommended)
  6. A way of holding the work piece, such as a self-centering, 4-jaw lathe Chuck

Some additional information is available about this machine on the Rose Engine Approaches page.

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 rubber 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 degrees 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 degrees 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. (Typically, pumping is implemented using the face of the rosette, not the edge.)

    4. The machine was also designed to have the object be rotated by a hand crank (the little black handle in the picture to the left). This works acceptably and does allow for slow rotation which can be useful during the final passes; 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 spindle rotation using a motor which has a wide range of rotational speeds, and slower speeds don't sacrifice torque, as is seen with variable frequency drives. My machine will run as slow as 4 minutes / revolution (yes, that is "mpr", not "rpm").

      If you are thinking of going this route, check the MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0 Library. There is a manual there, "Instructions for Building Stepper Controls System" with directions for building one. And Colvin Tools can provide you parts.

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

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

      MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0
      Online User Manual
      The stepper motor system is very sophisticated with a whole host of options programmed to make this system a great tool for the artist.

      Fear not though: the complete user manual for this system is online at the MDF Rose Ehgine Lathe 2.0 Library, and includes a whole host of information on how to use the system to achieve the desired artistic effects.

      The programming efforts for this are come from Edward French, an awesome programmer who is posting his efforts on GitHub in the RoseEngine_SpindleAndAxis project.

    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 1/4 in. thick (vs. the ones provided by Jon Magill which are 1/2 in. thick). This is not an issue when using these rosettes for rocking; however, the 1/2 in. thick ones are needed if pumping is to implemented on the machine.

  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. There are loads of people who can help a new person get started.

  3. The community of users is continuously evolving the machine's abilities and developing add-on devices which allow for innovative approaches to the artwork. (This is a really big advantage!)

  4. This machine enables artistic endeavors with very little requirements for calculations. When I make pieces, I think about what I want to achieve, and I can easily figure out how to get the machine do that for me.

  5. The MDF rose engine is designed for experimentation. I've made a number of add-ons for mine, and it is very easy to try ideas. If they work, great. If they don't, well not much was spent in terms of time nor money.

  6. Having the rosettes on the outboard end of the spindle accommodates easily changing them for whatever you are making. You can affix two, and it is doubtful you would need more than two at any one time.

  7. With the MDF Rose Engine lathe 2.0 design, there is a rear column to hold the rubber. This allows for the same effect as cutting from the far side of the spindle, but with the added ability to see what is happening.

  8. If you are considering whether you want to pursue this hobby, this can be a great way to get started. The design is well documented, and easy to follow. also, the investment is not high, and the parts can be resold if the artist choses to abandon this craft.
  1. Depending on what the artist wants to do, the design may have to be started on a traditional lathe and moved to an ornamental lathe (or vice versa).
    1. These movements allow for the introduction of error, though the amount of error could be small enough that it won't matter.
    2. Note: This was resolved in the MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0 design as it uses a spindle with a Morse taper.

  2. If you are wanting to pursue fixed tool work or guilloché, the MDF Rose Engine lathe is probably not the right tool.

Below are two YouTube videos showing the MDF Rose Engine in use. The first is from Jon Magill, the second is my original machine, and the third one is my MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0.

MDF Rose Engine

MDF Rose Engine Lathe : #1 - Overview

MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0 - Introduction & Overview

Computer-Assisted Ornamental Lathe

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 shown to the right (he was very kind to share it, and you can click on the picture to see a larger version).

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".

Dewey Garrett published these videos showing the use of his custom-built LinuxCNC-driven lathe in use. Dewey does masterful work, and these are great examples of his lathe in action.

Bill Ooms 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 as Bill has done such a great job. 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.

Some additional information is available about this machine on the Rose Engine Approaches page.

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.

The Rambling Rose

Rambling Rose Portable Rose Engine Lathe
Image courtesy Fred Connell (and the late Roland Hege)

Roland Hege and Fred Connell designed and built the Rambling Rose specifically to use in demonstrations. They had a list of 10 or so specific, design criteria that constrained their design; things such as it needed to weigh less than 50 pounds in its wooden shipping container.

Roland and Fred published their story and engineering plans for anyone to use to build their own non-commercial rose engine at Fred noted to me that a fair level of metal working skills are required to build a "Rambling Rose" design.

Please do note that this is meant to be a portable machine for demos. So, if you are seeking something more permanent, you should look at a different, more robust design.

Fred also noted that, in his quest to learn about rose engines, many people helped him. As a give back, he created the website as a reference. He have never wanted to commercialize it and He tries to answer the questions it generates.

Jean-Michel Chartiel's Rose Engine Lathe

Jean-Michel Chartiel's Rose Engine Lathe
(click on the picture to see more pictures)

Jean-Michel contacted me in August 2020. I've paraphrased his note below:

Dear Rich,

I am new to ornamental turning.

I am an architect living in Portugal and most of the time I build some kind of machines (you can check my Instagram: atelier.pli).

I found your website amazingly inspirational and it helped me a lot building my simple rose engine lathe. So I was wondering if you think that my machine could be of any help to anyone. If so I can share the cad and 3d files for the machine with pleasure. Here are a couple of pictures.

I thought that maybe the cheap XY table or the fly cutter could be of interest?

As noted in About this site, I really hoped that this site would help those new to OT to get started. And I believe Jean-Michel has been able to truly absorb the ideas of a rose engine lathe. Jean-Michel's machine has some really neat features of note:

  1. His cross slide seems to be made using standard, off-the-shelf parts used for 3D printers. These can be obtained from Amazon or other sources at a very good cost.

  2. His cross slide is made using plywood. This can really keep the cost down over buying one.

  3. The headstock pivot points are pillow blocks that can also be obtained from Amazon or other sources at a very good cost.

  4. He drives the spindle with a stepper motor. This is a great way to run it at slow speeds without losing torque.

    I'd be interested in knowing how he controls it. He is possibly using a controller/driver like the Tic 36v4 from Pololu.

Update from Jean-Michel

For the stepper motor, I used the amazing article by snailwork at He built an electronic indexing head.

Works really nicely and is quite simple to make.

If you are interested, please contact me and I will let Jean-Michel know you are interested.

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.