Machine Age Turner: Alfred Lindsay Forster

Alfred Lindsay Forster (1871-1943)

Born in Lancashire, schooled in Liverpool, his father died leaving the family poorly off. At age 14 he started work in a shipyard to support the family and by age 21 went to work at Chance Brothers Glass Works in Birmingham. Around 1915, Forster became managing director of the Glasgow branch and eventually became quite successful.

While living in Glasgow, he took up yachting and ornamental turning. He purchased Holtzapffel lathe No. 2491 in May, 1927. However, his son remembers there being two lathes and, since he had already invented his "free curve attachment" that Warren Ogden records as having been fitted to this lathe at the time of purchase, it seems logical that he already owned another lathe which he probably bought secondhand.

The "free curve attachment" was a form of geometrical sliderest intended to give effects similar to the rose engine via cams and gearing. Forster's design was unique in that it had double cams which could either work together or in opposition to each other. It also incorporated a variation of the curvilinear attachment that is reciprocated by the cams.

His invention was capable of producing an object of curved longitudinal outline with lobed sections in which the lobes reverse their position from one end to the other, or proceed from reeds at one end to flutes at the other, or double their number from one end to the other. Apparently, the whole process could be completely automatic and unattended once set up. Some photographic examples are shown in the Society of Ornamental Turners Bulletin #92.

His two lathes were given to friends upon his death, though several of his turnings survive. However, the " free curve attachment" has not yet been located.

History takes good care of soldiers, statesmen and authors. But alas little is known, even among mechanics, of the men whose work was mainly within the engineering profession, and who served other engineers rather than the general public. Few realize that their art is fundamental to all modern industrial arts. They were busy men and modest, whose records are mainly in mechanical devices which are used daily with little thought of their origin.

Joseph Wickham Roe, author of "English and American Tool Builders" (1916)