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Machining with Don

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Machining with Don

Celeste Christie

In my last Enameling 1 class, I had a student named Don, a retired carpenter.  To say he's a hobbyist is an understatement, as he makes exquisite turned wood boxes, toys, and even rocking chairs!  It was really fun to have him in class because not only was he very engaged, he often brought items in for the other students as show-and-tell or additions to the projects we made in class, like wooden bases for the trivets we make in the first project, or beautiful Chinese cloisonné training boxes with step-by-step enamels.

 A wood piece made on the rose engine, similar to the wooden bases he made for all the students in my class.

A wood piece made on the rose engine, similar to the wooden bases he made for all the students in my class.

We were talking about an enameling process called guilloché and he mentioned he had a rose engine.  If you're a machinist or metalworker, this might make you a little excited.  I'm sure he saw my eyes light up.  Rose engines make beautiful engraved designs in metal, wood, or any dense materials really (we chatted about the possibilities in stabilized opals), however their use has fallen out of vogue as factory-made metalwork has become more mechanized and styles have changed.  Guilloché isn't very common anymore, though in the 19th century you would have been familiar with it.  It's not uncommon to see antique guilloché spoons, cigarette cases, and other small objects.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, you've probably seen the patterns that were popular in guilloché on the inside of secure envelopes.  Guilloché is a type of basse taille, which is the style of enamel you'll see in my Sunray necklaces and Texture necklaces - transparent enamel on a textured surface.

 The Rose Engine

The Rose Engine

Don was nice enough to invite me to his garage studio and show me the rose engine and his similar straight line engine, so I visited him in Antioch and learned how to use the engines and what their capabilities are.

 The rosettes change the patterns.

The rosettes change the patterns.

The rose engine works in a circular motion, whereas the straight line engine works on a straight line.  In both machines, the piece of metal or wood is held in place while a cutting tool is moved across the surface.  Rosettes on the rose engine and pattern blocks on the straight line engine cause the cutter to move across the metal in a repetitive pattern.  You can see the rosettes in the picture, the white acrylic rosettes are uniform while the wooden ones are asymmetrical ones Don made.

Both engines are cranked by hand, though the rose engine's cutter is spinning and powered by an actual engine.  When both machines were invented, the word "engine" just meant a helpful tool, not necessarily one powered by steam or electricity.  Levers and gears on each engine allow you to adjust the rosette or pattern block, the placement of your line, and the depth of your cut.  Simple patterns are relatively easy to achieve, but you can get very complex with either machine, and the precision of the engines allows for results that you can replicate with a proper formula.  Obviously, I don't know how to do any of this yet and even Don only uses the machines for fairly straightforward patterning, but even straightforward patterns are quite stunning.

 A piece on the straight line engine

A piece on the straight line engine

Don had me start on a scrap piece of copper on the straight line engine while he mounted a circular piece for the rose engine.  After some tweaking and WD-40, I was cutting wavy lines like a pro!  This piece was cut in the other direction, I took the photo after we had turned it 90º to cut intersecting lines.

 Some guilloché enameled pieces made using the straight line engine.

Some guilloché enameled pieces made using the straight line engine.

Don brought all of us in the class some pieces made on the straight line engine to enamel, I enameled the pieces above.

After that, we gave the rose engine a shot.  We made a few mistakes on the first piece, and had to make some adjustments to get everything working for copper.

 Our first attempt on the rose engine.

Our first attempt on the rose engine.

Our second attempt, however, came out beautifully!  We talked about the possibilities of the tool over homemade cookies (thanks Joanne!) and Don showed me all of the lovely art that he and his wife have made - she's an accomplished stained glass artist.  Seems like they're a match made in crafty heaven.

 The finished engine turned piece.

The finished engine turned piece.

Don's agreed to make some more engine turned pieces for me, and I'm very excited to make a line of guilloché work.  Look for more about guilloché in the future.  Thanks Don!