Engine Turning Tools

Written by chris stevenson
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Engine Turning Tools
Engine turning has a long history that started with the rose lathe. (Manchan/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Engine turning, an old craft that has seen a re-emergence, involves the use of machines to cut and engrave intricate patterns onto metal or wood surfaces. This method is also called guilloche. Geometric patterns can be achieved by rotating a metal surface under a stationary cutting tool. The cutting tool, referred to as a rose engine, delicately engraves the surface, providing a wide range of patterns and effects. Straight line-type engines can cut precise horizontal and vertical surfaces.

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Engine Turning Lathe

A rose engine lathe has a specialised series of cams that rotate in a geometric pattern, driven by a spindle. The metal stock (the piece to be cut) locks into the lathe headstock which pumps back and forth. The back and forth motion combines with specialised cutting disc heads that can produce swirls, symmetrical designs and flower patterns. The stock moves on bearers ( a platform) for repetitious cuts, layering rows of the same design. The patterns can be changed by the type of cutting drills used.


The headstock consists of a hinged mechanism that moves back and forth while rotating at the same time. It uses different rosette wheels, which act like cams and have different configurations, to manoeuvre a cutting bit or abrasive disc side to side or back and forth. The headstock and its components render the specific design that is cut or embossed onto the working piece.


The bearers comprise the bed or platform that holds the headstock, the tailstock and the sliding rest. The earliest lathes had bearers made from wood. The later models were fashioned from iron, which made them more expensive.


The tailstock attaches to the end of the headstock and acts as an adjustment frame which allows different-sized pieces of stock to fit onto the lathe bearer. It has adjustable screws that let it move up or down, according to the size of the piece being cut.

Screw Mandrel

The screw mandrel, sometimes called the lathe spindle, slides so that the workpiece can travel towards the cutter. The screw mandrel can adapt to a swashplate to cut oblique designs, use a rosette wheel for shaping wavy lines onto a cylinder or use a screw thread guide to fashion small screw threads.

Drilling Spindle

The drilling spindle, shaped like a long shaft with a drill chuck on the end of it, drills single holes, several holes in unique patterns or can cut fluted designs. Some spindle tools have intricate designs used to cut mouldings. The simpler-designed drilling spindles use straight shank drills for cutting simple lines. The more complicated-designed drilling spindles can cut beads and pearls in addition to cutting holes and rings.

Cutters and Drills

Cutters and drills come in complete box sets. For the rose lathe, the cutters come in long lengths used as fixed one-piece tools, called slide-rest cutters. Some of the shorter cutters have design features that must be used with revolving cutting frames or eccentric cutting frames. The drills all have tapered shanks that mate to individually handcrafted spindles.

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