Building an MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0
Click on any of the images below which resemble a book to get to the respective book.

This page is designed to outline what you need to buy or build to make an MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0. The parts you need are:

  1. Lathe base and headstock
    1. The MDF parts for a base and headstock
    2. The spindle and other (non-MDF) parts needed for enabling headstock movement
  2. Some way to rotate the spindle
  3. A way to hold the object being made (e.g., a self-centering, 4-jaw lathe chuck)
  4. Tooling to cut the object
  5. A way to hold the tooling

Each of these is discussed more below.

Lathe Base and Headstock

Manual for the cutting and assembling the MDF parts
Click on the image to open the book

Drawings of all the machined parts for the base and headstock
Click on the image to open the book

MDF (medium density fiberboard) is used to make the lathe's body, both the base and the headstock. Many choose to build their own base and headstock, and it is not hard. We supply the instructions for the "do it yourselfer". These are in the brown book shown to the right.

Case Kit assembled

The Case Kit we supply has all the MDF parts already cut to size and ready for assembly. It ships in a box ready to go, much like furniture from Ikea.

As you are assembling the base and headstock, you will then need to add in the non-MDF parts. Even if you build your own machine, you should get this kit of parts from us: It includes parts which are hard to machine as high quality parts. We worked with machinists to get a great kit put together.

But, if you have access to a machine shop, you can certainly make your own. The drawings are in the 2nd book shown to the right.

Base Kit added to the assembled Case Kit

The Base System Kit we supply provides these other key parts needed to build the lathe base and headstock. These include:

  1. Spindle & spindle bushings
  2. Headstock pivot points
  3. Spindle flange to hold the rosettes
  4. 2 rosettes
  5. Rubber to push against the rosette
  6. Headstock bungee to keep tension between the rubber and the rosette

Spindle Drive

The original MDF Rose Engine Lathe was designed to be hand cranked, but many added motor drives of various types to rotate the spindle. (Jon Magill later outlined a way to add a stepper motor for driving the spindle.)

Pololu Tic controller for the spindle stepper motor

Manual for building a spindle drive based on a Pololu-Tic
Click on the image to open the book

The MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0 was designed from the get-go to use a stepper motor for driving the spindle. If you are getting started, the best way to control the spindle's stepper motor is to use a Pololu Tic. This little board (1.5" x 1.05" x 0.47") does a great job of providing a consistent speed for the spindle, enabling some great work. It is variable speed: up to 6.7 rpm, and down to 0.01 rpm.

The stepper motor used also has great torque, even at low speeds, so you can learn to use the rose engine lathe without having to be too cautious.

The Spindle-Only Stepper Motor Control Kit we supply provides the stepper motor, pulleys and belt, mounting bracket, and all the electronics.

If you would rather build it yourself, you can follow the directions in the blue book to the right. There are a few parts you will need to fabricate, and those are in the book noted above which shows drawings for the machined parts.

Teensy 3.5 microcontroller

Manuals for building the control system which can drive multiple stepper motors simultaneously
Click on the respective part of the image to open that book

Manual for the 3D-printed parts
Click on the image to open the book

The Pololu Tic is a great way to start, but if you want to get more deeply automated, we have a second option based on the Teensy 3.5 microcontroller.

The Multiple Stepper Motor Control Kit we supply provides the stepper motor, pulleys and belt, mounting bracket, all the electronics, and boxes to house the various pieces. (We also offer an upgrade to move from the Pololu Tic system to this one.)

If you would rather build it yourself, you can follow the directions in the brown books to the right. There are a few parts you will need to fabricate, and those are in the book noted above which shows drawings for the machined parts. There are also some parts which need to be 3D printed, and the black book to the right outlines those and provides the files needed.

The system controlled by a Teensy is quite complex, and a new person is recommended to not go here just yet. It adds a lot of complexity that is best dealt with once you get the basics under your belt. The video below overviews the differences between these two.

This video overviews the two controls kit options
and attempts to show the differences

By the way, either of these kits are also a great option for retrofitting an original MDF Rose Engine Lathe to use a stepper motor for driving the spindle.

Tooling to cut designs

DIY Cutting Frame
for an Overhead Drive

Image courtesy Bill Ooms

Drilling Spindle with
an Integrated Drive Motor

Image courtesy Mandala Rose Works

Once you get the machine built and a way to rotate the spindle, the next consideration is how you want to cut patterns into the object you are making. The traditional method is to use a cutting frame or a drill spindle.

If you are just starting though, and especially if you are not sure you want dive head-long into this, you can use something you have on hand to get started. One commonly-seen example is to use a Dremel-style device, or even a flex tool like the Foredom. The results won't be as great, but it is a way to get started.

The more traditional cutting tools are available two ways:

There are a myriad of reasons why an overhead drive is preferred by many:

  1. As you add more cutting frames or drilling spindles, only one motor is needed for all of them, saving you money.

  2. By having the motor separated from the cutting frame or drilling spindle, there is a reduction in transfer of the motor's vibrations to the cutter.

  3. By having the motor further away from you, the motor's noise is further from you.

  4. By having the motor further away from you, there is less obstruction to the visibility of the work.

We supply an Overhead Drive Kit which fits nicely onto the MDF Rose Engine Lathe 2.0, or you can easily build your own following the article by Jon Magill (Build an Overhead Drive). My 1st one followed Jon's directions, and I made the arms out of 2x2s and I used an 1/4 hp A/C motor from an old midi-lathe. It was nothing to look at, but it worked wonderfully for years.

We can provide a Universal Cutting Frame made by Brad Davis or a Drill Spindle which we get made. Either of these uses an overhead drive to power it.

And as with other items, you can also make these yourself. Bill Ooms published plans for making cutting frames & drill spindles. I followed Bill's instructions to make my 1st cutting frame and my 1st drilling spindle. Both worked well. I still use the drilling spindle.

Alternatively, you can certainly choose to start with a cutting or drill spindle which uses an integrated drive motor: many do. If you want to go that way, we don't make them, but Wade Wendorf at Mandala Rose Works sells some nicely designed ones. The links for those are:

This is a bit easier than using one driven by an overhead drive, but it is also noisier.

Of course, you can make your own also. Bill Ooms published plans for making MicroMotor Universal Cutting Frames. He also has plans for a drill spindle.

Tool holding

Regardless of the tooling you use to cut the design, the cutting tool needs to be held in a manner which allows it to move smoothly along the lathe's X and Z axes.

There are a number of options you can pursue for this. Some have started by using an X-Y table designed for use on a drill press (like this drill press cross vice from Grizzly). This works to get started, but you'll want to move to a more traditional X-Y table.

We recommend using the LittleMachineShop.com's X-Y Table, Quick Change Tool Post, and Tool Holder:

  • X-Y Table, p/n 2008
  • Quick Change Tool Post, p/n 4701
  • Tool Holder, p/n 2281
A quick change tool post (QCTP) attached to a cross slide makes it very easy to swap out tooling, but more importantly, it makes it easier to set the vertical height for the cutter (the Y axis).

The Case Kit which we supply includes the additional MDF pieces needed to raise the X-Y table's level to what is needed to get the cutting tool to the right height, or you can build your own using the DIY directions for that kit.

Still have questions?

If you still have questions or it just doesn't make sense, don't fret. Rose engine lathes take a while to wrap your mind around, but are great fun once you do. In the interim, please send me an eMail at ColvinTools@Gmail.com. I'll be happy to schedule time to chat or schedule a video chat so we can help answer all your questions.