Ornamental Turning

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"As a pleasing diversion, ornamental turning is one of the most ingenious the world has contrived."

— Robert Austin, from the introduction to the Dover publication of Holtzapffel's "The Principles and Practice of Ornamental or Complex Turning" (1973)

Encyclopédie Translation

The Encyclopédie des Arts et des Metiers was the major achievement of the French Enlightenment whose aim, in Diderot's words, was to "change the common way of thinking" through the expansion of knowledge and the development of critical modes of thought. A project is underway to translate the 32 volumes with more than 70,000 articles on subjects ranging from asparagus to zodiac... and ornamental turning! Find out more


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Books on Ornamental Turning

Ornamental turning books for enthusiasts and collectors

If you want to collect everything written about ornamental turning, or plan to delve into less common areas of the craft, the following list (along with the books listed on the other pages of this section) will be useful. Presented in chronological order by date of first publication.

  • Beschreibung Eines Von Helfenbein Gedrehten Kunststticks, by Marcus Heiden, Coburg, 1640. A booklet in which the author explains the creation of his elaborate ivory goblet made from 1637-39 followed by a description and meaning of the work with numerous biblical quotations.
  • Mechanick Exercises: Or, the Doctrine of Handy-Works, by Joseph Moxon, London, 1677-96. Illustrated with eight engravings. Re-published by Praeger Publishers, New York, 1970. A more recent version by Astragal Press of Mendhem, New Jersey is also available. Moxon's book was originally published in several parts which meant that interested parties could buy this printed "how-to-do-it" in single chapters. The part on turning was published in 1678. Other parts were on the crafts of the smith, carpenter, joiner, and stone mason. Because Moxon was not a turner, Mechanick Exercises was written from "exact observation of the worker's manual skills." View on Google Books (1703 edition)
  • L'Art de Tourner, Charles Plumier, originally published in Lyon, 1701. In French. More than 200 pages and 71 plates of illustrations. Republished in Paris 1706 and 1749. The last edition in German and French was published in Leipzig, 1776. Peter I the Great, had translations made into Russian and Dutch in 1716. An English translation of the 1749 edition was published in a limited edition by Paul Ferraglio of Brooklyn, NY in 1975. L'Art de Tourner was the first completely theoretical work on turning. The illustrations and descriptions of turning enabled for the first time knowledge of turning to be passed on outside the workshop, breaking the tradition of the individual master of the guild passing on skills to the individual apprentice. in which This book provided an important example of a new method of teaching in which a knowledgeable author can instruct large numbers of readers particularly quickly. It also provided a certain degree of standardization of equipment. For nearly one hundred years L'Art de Tourner remained the classic work on turning, until Bergeron's Manuel du Tourneur.
  • Turned Vessels from the Collection of Nicolas Grollier de Servière, Lyon, 1719 and 1733. Reprinted in Paris, 1751. (Engravings of the turned ivory vessels were repeated in the Encyclopedia published by Diderot and D'Alembert in 1772.)
  • Short Instruction in the Art of Turning, (Vollstandiger Unterricht von der Germeinen und Hohern Dreh-Kunst), Johann Martin Teuber under the pseudonym Christian Drexelius, published in Regensburg, 1730. Perhaps the first book on turning written by a proficient turner.
  • Complete Instruction on the Common and Higher Art of Turning (Vollstandiger Unterricht von der Germeinen und Hohern Dreh-Kunst), Johann Martin Teuber, 1740. A work on turning theory and practice.
  • Theatrum Machinarum, by Andrei K. Nartov. 1756. In 1733, Nartov began to record the Peter I the Great's cabinet of machines, as well as his own inventions, in a manuscript which he completed in 1755. However, the book was never published and no copies were made. In 1762, several years after his death, his son had the original manuscript bound and dedicated to the Empress Catherine the Great who, like Peter the Great, was very interested in ornamental turning. The work titled Theatrum Machinarum presents the amazing mechanical instruments of the time, including 28 rose engine lathes, 4 lathes for oval turning and more. The lathes and machines that Nartov invented are kept at the State Hermitage, the Military and Historical Museum of Artillery, the Sappers and Signal Troops, and the Summer Palace of Peter the Great. The manuscript for Theatrum Machinarum is currently stored at the National Russian Library. See Nartov and His Theatrum Machinarum, Russian XVIIth Century Machine Tools below for related publication.
  • Encyclopédie des Arts et des Metiers or Encyclopedié ou Dictionnaire rasonné des sciences, des arts at des métiers, by Denis Diderot, 1772. In French. Began in 1751 with D'Alembert. Completed as 35 volumes in 1780. (Vol X. L'Art du Tourneur), The idea behind the Encyclopedia was that knowledge should no longer be the privilege of a few. It was an attempt to collect, examine and correct all of the knowledge available on all the crafts. It is worth noting that not only were the authors concerned with the technical aspects of the trade, but also with the technical terms that had first to be created, as they found that the craftsmen themselves did not at that time have terms for the tools or techniques they used. The solution they found, in part, was to heavily rely on hundreds of engravings to illustrate and illuminate the details of the craft. It is these plates that have been reprinted numerous times, as recently as a 2002 publication, and are a testiment to their success. Translation project
  • L'art du Tourneur Mécanicien, by M. Hulot Pere. Paris, L. F. Delatour, 1775. First edition contains 390pp plus 43 or 44 plates of illustrations, one folding. Part of the twenty-five volume series Description des Arts et Metiers, published by the Académie Royale des Sciences.
  • Manuel du Tourneur, by L. E. Bergeron (allonym for Louis Georges Isaac Salivet (1737-1805)), 1792. Sans illustrations. Second edition, 1796, included the "Atlas" containing 72 illustrations. A revised edition published later contained additional illustrations. In French. (Not to be confused with Aird’s The Turner’s Manual as that was only a partial translation of this landmark book.) Bergeron owned a firm in Paris that sold rose engines, tools, lathes and materials for turning. This seminal work contains numerous engravings of various objects and patterns from which to model both turning equipment and turned objects. Manuel du Tourneur consists of three separate volumes. Volumes I and II are text only and contain no plates; the third volume, often called the "Atlas", contains all the Plates referred to in Volumes I and II. Translation and updated version available from the SOT.
  • The Turner or a Practical Manual on the Basic and Higher Art of Turning, by Johann Gottlieb Geissler, 1795. Leipzig. In three parts and two volumes with 90 plates. Geissler presents information rearranged from previously published works by Hulot, Plumier, Teuber and Bergeron.
  • Catalogue des Machines, Instruments, Outils, Ivoires, Bois Etrangers, et autre ob jets relative aux arts, Paris, J. M. Eberhart for Hamelin-Bourgeron, 1817. A catalog of tools and materials compiled to accompany Bergeron's L'art du tourneur.
  • Specimens in eccentric circular turning : with practical instructions for producing corresponding pieces in that art, J. H. Ibbetson, 1800. Reprint in 1817. Details using the sphercial sliderest and compound eccentric chuck, with numerous illustrations. View on Internet Archive
  • Specimens of the Art of Ornamental Turning, C. H. Rich, 1819. The very first treatise in the English language to deal exclusively with Ornamental Turning.
  • A brief Account of Ibbetson's Geometric Chuck, Manufactured by Holtzapffel & Co.: With a selection of specimens illustrative of some of its powers. By John Holt Ibbetson, often with bound-in manuscript titled Additional Notes on Ibbetson's Geometric Chuck by Charles Holtzapffel. 1833. The book consists of 47 pages, and the manuscript continues the pagination up to page 77 with a 2 page table of settings. Both are illustrated throughout. View on Internet Archive
  • Handbook of Turning, by Mary Isabella Oliver-Gascoigne (author originally anonymous). Saunders and Otley Publishers, London, 1842. Later reprinted in America. Details the lathe for decorative work, containing instruction in concentric, elliptic, and eccentric turning, also various plates of chucks, tools, and instrument; and directions for using the eccentric cutter, drill, vertical cutter, and circular rest. with illustrated patterns. Of interest, Mrs. Gascoigne wished to encourage other women to use the lathe to imitate beautiful designs in wood and ivory, but she felt that it was necessary to reassure them that they could be competent without losing their femininity. "Why should not our fair countrywomen participate in this amusement? Do they fear it is too masculine and laborious for a female hand?" she asked her readers. She encourage them to try using a lathe, asking, "What occupation can be more interesting or elegant than ornamenting wood or ivory in delicate and intricate patterns?" View on Internet Archive
  • Turning and Mechanical Manipulation, Vol. 1 - Materials, Their Choice, Preparation and Various Modes of Working Them, by Charles Holtzapffel, 1843. (Reprint currently available by Astragal Press as ISBN 1-879335-46-8). View on Google Books | View on Internet Archive
  • Descriptive Catalogue of the Woods Commonly Employed in this Country for the Mechanical and Ornamental Arts, by Charles Holtzapffel, 1843. (An extract from Turning and Mechanical Manipulation, Vol. 1.) View on Google Books
  • A Concise Treatise on Eccentric Turning, N. B. Engleheart, 1852.
  • The Turner's Companion: Containing Instructions in Concentric, Elliptic and Eccentric Turning, Henry Carey Baird, Philadelphia, 1856. View on Google Books
  • The Art of Double Counting on the Lathe, J. Ash, 1857. Details working with the eccentric cutting frame.
  • The Lathe & Its Uses: Or, Instruction in the Art of Turning Wood and Metal, by James Lukin, 1868. (Reprint currently available: ISBN 1-879335-49-2) View on Google Books
  • Construction of the Geometric Chuck, by William Hartley, 1871. Published by The Society of Ornamental Turners in 1951, 10 copies being made. Included Hartley's table of settings for the cutting patterns and additional notes on the chuck.
  • Notes on the Epicycloidal Cutting Frame, by Thomas Sebastian Bazley, London, 1872. 192 pages with 115 figures. A comprehensive theoretical and practical book on how to use an epicycloidal cutting frame.
  • Patterns for Turning: Comprising Elliptical and Other Figures Cut on the Lathe Without the Use of Any Ornamental Chuck, H. W. Elphinstone, 1872. Details working with the eccentric cutting frame. View on Google Books | View on Internet Archive
  • Geometric Turning, H. S. Savory, London: Longmans, Green, And Co., 1873. "Geometric Turning: Comprising A Description Of The New Geometric Chuck Constructed By Mr. Plant Of Birmingham. With Directions For Its Use, And A Series Of Patterns Cut By It, With Explanations Of The Mode Of Producing Them, And An Account Of A New Process Of Deep Cutting And Of Graving On Copper." 78 pages of text, various illustrations including: a frontispiece, a few text drawings, and 500+ b/w patterns made by the geometric chuck.
  • Index to the Geometric Chuck, Thomas Sebastian Bazley. 1875. View on Google Books | View on Internet Archive
  • The Family of Holtzapffel: With the Collateral Branches, by Charles Victor Holtzapffel, 1876.
  • A Treatise on Lathes and Turning, Simple, Mechanical and Ornamental, by W. Henry Northcott, London, 1876. Published by Longmans, Green & Co., London. View on Google Books | View on Internet Archive
  • The Turner's Manual, by David Alfred Aird, 1877. Published by Offen, London. Contains a partial translation of the valuable work by L. E. Bergeron. View on Google Books
  • A Treatise on the Cycloid and All Forms of Cycloidal Curves, by R. A. Proctor, 1878. Published by Longmans, Green & Co., London. 161 illustrations. View on Google Books
  • L'art du Tourneur-Tabletier, by Frederic Antoine Caillard. In French, English translation appeared in "Amateur Mechanics" Vol. 2, 1884, pp. 346-354. Details the creation of interlaced ball turning with spiked polyhedron in the center.
  • Geometric Turning Simplified, W. Henry Northcott, 1889.
  • Turning Lathes: A Guide to Turning, Screw Cutting, Metal Spinning and Ornamental Turning, by James Lukin, 1890. 432 pages. Reprint currently available by Mendham, New Jersey: The Astragal Press. (ISBN 1-879335-49-2). View on Google Books
  • Simple Decorative Lathe Work; A Practical Handbook on the Construction and Use of the Ordinary Turning Lathe for the Prupose of the Above Art, by James Lukin, 1905. View on Internet Archive
  • An Introduction to Eccentric Spiral Turning, H. C. Robinson, 1906.
  • Multi-Epicycloidal and other Geometric Curves, Edwin. W. Alabone, 1910.
  • Poly-Cyclo-Epicycloidal and other Geometric Curves, Edwin. W. Alabone, 1912.
  • Ornamental Lathework for Amateurs, C. H. Chaplin, c.1914, London: Percival Marshall & Co. A practical handbook on the execution of simple ornamental turning and decorative inlaying on an ordinary lathe. Nice pictorial cover; black and white photographs and drawings throughout; The chapters read: 1. What ornamental turning is 2. Materials for use: wood and metals 3. Adapting the ordinary lathe to ornamental turning 4. Fixing up the work for turning and ornamentation, and the tools required 5. The eccentric chuck, how to make use of it 6. Designs: their manner of execution and suggestions for making of other designs 7. Turning medallions in colored wood 8. Spiral work - miscellaneous notes 9. A simple lathe overhead gear.
  • Ornamental Turning Design, G. A. Grace, 1923.
  • A New and Simple Means of Executing Real Rose Engine Turning, C. H. Chaplin.
  • Holtzapffel Rose Chuck, by John George Holtzapffel Budd.
  • Das Drechsler Werk, by Fritz Spannagel, 1948. Reprinted 1981. 1258 Illustrations, 9" & 3/4" x 7", hardcover. Text in German. "The Turners Work" is a reference book for turners, teachers, architects and enthusiasts of turned items. Book details the development of turning technology, lathes, machines and tools, as well as turning styles.
  • Nartov and His Theatrum Machinarum, Russian XVIIth Century Machine Tools, by V. V. Danilevskii. 1958. An exploration of the life and work of Andrei K. Nartov, including a transcription of Theatrum Machinarum (1755), and numerous kinematic illustrations of his machines, instruments, and tools. In 1966, an English translation from Russian was published for the Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C. by the Israel Program for Scientific Transalations. 307 pages, illustrated.
  • A Short History of Machine Tools, by L. T. C. Rolt, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1965. 256 pages. Illustrations. (ISBN: 0262180138. ISBN13: 9780262180139)
  • The Society of Ornamental Turners - Compact Disk II. 200 photographs from the first 60 bulletins - Available on SOT Compact Disc 2
  • Bibliography of the Art of Turning & Lathe & Machine Tool History, by Abell, Leggatt & Ogden. Produced by the Society of Ornamental Turners, this bibliography and lathe turning reference contains several hundred listings not currently documented on this website. Available on SOT Bulletins Compat Disc 1
  • The Pedigree of Holtzapffel Lathes, W. G. Ogden, 1986. A fairly complete list of the sale date and owner history of 2557 Holtzapffel lathes. Current through 1986. Available from the SOT
  • The Equal Division of the Ellipse, by E. W. Newton and J. Volmer. Published by The Society of Ornamental Turners. March 1995. 20 pages. 18 B/W illustrations.
  • The Improved Compensating Index (ICI) , by E. W. Newton and J. Volmer. March 1995. 20 pages. B/W illustrations. Published by The Society of Ornamental Turners. Instructions for assembly and operation together with drawings for making the improved compensating index useful in elliptical turning.
  • Ornamental Turning Work of J.E.H. Saueracker, Society of Ornamental Turners. 1985. Introduction by Paul Bass. The ornamental turning work of J.E. H. Saueracker of Nuremberg, Germany. Approximately 25 pages of B/W photos. Available from the SOT
  • Meistertechniken der Drechslerkunst, by Hugo Knoppe. 1926. Reprinted 1985. 152 pages. In German. Illustrated reference on creating advanced ornamental turnings.
  • Wiedergewonnen: Elfenbein-Kunststucke aus Dresden: eine Sammlung des Grunen Gewolbes, (Ivory art pieces from Dresden: the Green Vault ivory collection), published by Deutsches Elfenbeinmuseum Erbach (German Ivory Museum, Erbach, Odenwald). 1995. 60 page booklet. In German. Pictures ivory pieces made by court turners in Dresden since the 16th century. (ISBN: 3926851074)
  • The Equal Division of the Ellipse (1998 Supplement), by E. W. Newton and J. Volmer. Published by The Society of Ornamental Turners. 1998. 9 pages. 6 B/W illustrations.
  • Diderot & D'Alembert L'encyclopédie, L'Art Du Tourneur, Inter-Livres, 2002. Softcover. 9"x12", 106 pages. A selection of plates from Diderot's famous Encyclopédie, with the original French text explaining the processes and tools illustrated. This volume reprints the section devoted to turning on a lathe, with 87 b/w plates illustrating the tools and techniques, and rose engine construction. Purchase from Amazon
  • An Informal Look at Wood Turning Through the Ages, a CD that contains: all 86 plates from Denis Diderot's L'art du Tourneur (1775); selected plates from Charles Plumier's D'art de Tourner (1706); all the turning-related plates from from Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises (1678); dozens of other illustrations related to the history of turning. Available from historicgames.com
  • The Holtzapffel Register of Lathes, SOT digitisation project, 2010. A CD that contains 73 pages of high resolution pdf images of The Holtzapffel Register of Lathes, a handwritten ledger of Holtzapffel Lathe sales from No. 1 on June 31, 1795 to No. 2557 on 13th Nov 1928. This unique ledger is held by the Worshipful Company of Turners (in the Guildhall Library, London ). The Lathes are grouped 50 to the page and give the type, price, date and purchaser's name. Available from the SOT
  • Manuel du Tourneur, SOT translation project, 2010. Consists of three separate volumes. Volumes I and II are text only and contain no plates; the third volume often (called the "Atlas") contains all the Plates referred to in Volumes I and II. Editor Jeremy Soulsby has translated the previously un-translated 239 pages as well as extensively revising the style and content of the earlier works so as to clarify obscure terminology and techniques. He has fully indexed the volume and provided a glossary and extended notes. Available from the SOT
  • View more publications by the Holtzapffel family and firm at holtzapffel.org