Studio of Bill Ooms

Bill Ooms

Computerized Ornamental Lathe (COrnLathe™) Overview

The traditional ornamental lathes (built in the 18th and 19th centuries) were elaborate machines with pulleys, cams, gears, belts, etc. The resulting complex machines were so expensive, that only the "nobility" could afford them. Thus, ornamental turning was often called the "hobby of nobility". Today, with modern materials and new innovations, we can construct very precise machines at a very reasonable cost.

My newest machine is my own design and is controlled by a computer. I'm convinced that if computers, stepper motors, and linear bearings were available in the 18th and 19th century, the designers of that time would have used them instead of the more complex mechanical "analogs". This is not a machine for mass-producing a number of identical pieces. Instead, the design is intended for the artist making one-of-a-kind artwork.

Design Goals

After making my first traditional rose engine lathe (MDF Rose Engine), I quickly became aware of many limitations. The goals for this new machine were as follows:



Computerized Ornamental Lathe (COrnLathe™)

An x-y stage (eBay) with stepper motors, mounted on a mini-lathe (Jet 12x20) and driven by an inexpensive computer (Mac mini used from eBay). 

I started working on this project in January, 2009. By May, 2009 I had the basic concept working (i.e. I convinced myself this was going to work). By January, 2010 I had the machine (and the software) mostly functional and could start using it to make things. I was detoured by the need for better cutting frames (see the Cutting Frame page for more details). Since then, I continue to evolve and improve the software, but have spent a lot of time doing fun creative work.

My stage has 6" x 6" of travel and 0.05 mil resolution. The stage can quickly be removed from the bed of the lathe for regular turning. To go from a regular lathe to the OT mode, slip a belt off the stepper motor and slip on the belt to the main lathe motor. Also, the stage can be mounted either on the back side of the work or on the bed of the lathe, depending on the direction of cuts being done. The electronics is all mounted on the stage -- the only wires are a single USB cable to the computer, a power supply connection, and wires to the spindle stepper motor. Movement can be manually controlled using a dials (rotary manual pulse generator). 


Recently, I've taken the time to document the details of my current machine. I don't make machines or offer them for sale. The details are made available to aid anyone else who wants to learn from my experience and build their own machine.

Perhaps the most significant contribution I've made to the state-of-the-art is the ability to simulate the 3D appearance of an object on the computer. This has a very dramatic effect on one's ability to conceive of new shapes and patterns. I can move the position of a cut by dragging on the mouse, and immediately see the result of all the cuts together on the screen.

The 3D modeling software is now being made available to other wood-turners. For more information, see the COrnLathe Software page of this web site.