General Descriptions and Basic Sources

For Ornamental Turning And Straight-Line Work

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1. Introduction

As I write this (in 2012) I am a sort of ornamental turning voyeur. That is, it has fascinated me for two decades, and I've been a member of the Society of Ornamental Turners for nearly as long. I've got many of the books. But I have no ornamental turning equipment, and haven't actually done any such turning. So, lacking practical experience, to introduce the field the best thing I can do is simply to point out some of the very good introductions to it written by others.

1.1. Websites and Organizations

There are quite a number of organizations and enthusiasts (and a few businesses) devoted to "ornamental turning" and related fields. These include:

The annotated bibliography at is really very well done, and quite comprehensive.

Even if one may never get to England, it is in my opinion worthwhile to join the S.O.T. in order to receive their Bulletin and to be able to obtain members-only CDs.

1.2. John Edwards

John Edwards, of the S.O.T., has written an excellent short overview of turning up through the development of ornamental turning. It is online on the website of The Turners' Company (the Worshipful Company of Turners):

Edwards has also written a comprehensive (though still brief) illustrated overview of the field of ornamental turning as a whole: "Ornamental Turning Lathes and Their Accessories." This is available, in ten PDF files, from either his own website ( "The Craft," or the S.O.T. website ( In general, Edwards' page on "The Craft" is a good place to start. It contains a good overall definition of the craft, and various other very good pieces on the equipment of ornamental turning.

Here's my own summary of the topics of the ten parts of Edwards' "Ornamental Lathes and their Accessories":

See also Edwards; "Shapes that May Be Formed on the O.T. Lathe," which is really a summary overview of much of the field; available on his own website ( "The Craft,"

1.3. Ornamental or Complex Turning

For introductions, see John Edwards' work, above. Beyond that, dive into the literature of the field.

1.4. Rose Engines

As the links above certainly demonstrate, interest in these fields is on the increase. What is perhaps surprising, when compared with the O.T. of the 19th century, is the interest in rose engines.

In 2007, Jon Magill published an article on a shop made rose engine constructed from MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard) . This has generated considerable interest.

One can also buy a newly manufactured rose engine, the Lindow-White, from the Lindow Machine Works, They have, as well, a number of videos online on rose engine use.

1.5. Straight-Line Engines

I find these curiously fascinating.

Martin Matthews' book Engine Turning: 1680 - 1980: The Tools and Technique. is the best (and nearly the only) written reference. Regrettably, it is difficult to obtain. However, Barbara Darby's 2006 video (on DVD now) of Matthews, Engine Turning may be obtained from her at BD Videos,

There are also several videos online on YouTube showing straight-line engines at work. These include videos by Rich Littlestone, Chris Manning and Roland G. Murphy.

1.6. Brocade Engines and Medallion Lathes

There isn't as much on these.

One style of brocade engine is shown on Martin Matthews' video Engine Turning . Another style is shown in a video by Steve White on the Linden & Co. Brocade Engine.

There is even less available on medallion lathes. See John Edwards' "Ornamental Turning Lathes and Their Accessories," part 9 (above) and the literature on Nartov.

1.7. Terminological Issues

Searching on "guilloché" (the French term for the work of the rose and straight-line engines) is frequently useful. Guilloché was traditionally associated with fine watchmaking and, to a lesser extent, jewelry. (Fabergé was noted for its guilloché, often enameled.)

"Engine Turning" (guilloché) properly refers to designs cut with a single-point cutting tool using various machines (the rose engine, the straight-line engine, the brocade engine, or rose or straight-line apparatus on an ornamental turning lathe). Through the mid 20th century this was in fact the only use of this term. However, beginning in the late 20th century this term was applied, in ignorance, by automobile, aviation, and other enthusiasts, to the patterned abrasive finish traditionally called "spotting" (perhaps most widely known from the cowl of Lindbergh's Spirit of Saint Louis). For a more complete discussion of the differences between spotting and engine turning, see ../../ Surface Finishing -> Engine Turning vs. Spotting.

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