Equipment for Square Turnings

      Certain old-style lathes can some make square turned posts easily, but some complex designs (such as pictured here) are only achievable on a CNC. May 20, 2011

How would you approach making square turnings, like Morris columns? These are getting very popular. I think most people use a fourth axis attachment for their CNC's. I have also heard of people using old lathes that have fixed shaped knives that spin instead of the stock, with cams that control the distance to the stock. Does anyone know anything about these kinds of lathes or another way to approach this problem?

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
From contributor O:
Those type of turnings are indeed produced by the Mattison 66 or 69 type lathes. They have a rotating cutterhead that the wood blank backs into, and cams determine the cut face on the blank. They can easily do conventional round work, but can also do the faceted turnings. Beyond round, the most common are square, hexagonal or octagonal in section. These lathes - and particularly their cutterheads - are amazing things. The setup and operation is difficult. There is usually some crusty, bent, 8-1/2 fingered old man nearby that is the only one that knows how to set it up.

Small quantities could be done on a CNC, but nowhere near the speed of these old Mattisons. I spent years in a stair shop that had turnings made in a nearby turning mill that had 6-7 of these lathes, and they could turn out a 4" newel in about 30 seconds. Here is one.

From the original questioner:
Does anyone out there have these kind of lathes? If so, do you do custom work with it?

From contributor W:
My grandfather did them years ago on a big planer. The squares were first laid down and wedged together tightly onto a plywood jig. Then the whole thing was run through a planer set-up with molding knives. The first passes were made with the end grain up until the cut was completed and then the squares were all rotated ninety degrees. He also could make them raked for the angle of a stair by setting them out on an angle first. The rake and level detail required different sets of knives as I recall (a Mattison lathe can't do this). These kinds of raked, square balusters are best done today on multiple-spindle carving machines.

From contributor P:
We have Mattison Lathes and run many of our standard turnings as squares. It makes for a completely different look with the same knives.

Would you like to add information to this article?
Interested in writing or submitting an article?
Have a question about this article?

Have you reviewed the related Knowledge Base areas below?
  • KnowledgeBase: Knowledge Base

  • KnowledgeBase: Architectural Millwork

  • KnowledgeBase: Architectural Millwork: Custom Millwork

  • KnowledgeBase: Solid Wood Machining

  • KnowledgeBase: Solid Wood Machining: General

    Would you like to add information to this article? ... Click Here

    If you have a question regarding a Knowledge Base article, your best chance at uncovering an answer is to search the entire Knowledge Base for related articles or to post your question at the appropriate WOODWEB Forum. Before posting your message, be sure to
    review our Forum Guidelines.

    Questions entered in the Knowledge Base Article comment form will not generate responses! A list of WOODWEB Forums can be found at WOODWEB's Site Map.

    When you post your question at the Forum, be sure to include references to the Knowledge Base article that inspired your question. The more information you provide with your question, the better your chances are of receiving responses.

    Return to beginning of article.

    Refer a Friend || Read This Important Information || Site Map || Privacy Policy || Site User Agreement

    Letters, questions or comments? E-Mail us and let us know what you think. Be sure to review our Frequently Asked Questions page.

    Contact us to discuss advertising or to report problems with this site.

    To report a problem, send an e-mail to our Webmaster

    Copyright © 1996-2016 - WOODWEB ® Inc.
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission of the Editor.
    Review WOODWEB's Copyright Policy.

    The editors, writers, and staff at WOODWEB try to promote safe practices. What is safe for one woodworker under certain conditions may not be safe for others in different circumstances. Readers should undertake the use of materials and methods discussed at WOODWEB after considerate evaluation, and at their own risk.

    WOODWEB, Inc.
    335 Bedell Road
    Montrose, PA 18801

    Contact WOODWEB

  • WOODWEB - the leading resource for professional woodworkers

      Home » Knowledge Base » Knowledge Base Article