Menushopping cart
Tools for Working Wood
Invest in your craft. Invest in yourself.

JOEL Joel's Blog

A Visit With Frank Knox (1902-1991) - Ornamental Turner

01/10/2024

Frank Knox c. 1982 in his workshop in front of his ornamental turning lathe
Frank Knox c. 1982 in his workshop in front of his ornamental turning lathe

In 1982 I was working for Atari at an office on 3rd Avenue and 42nd street in Manhattan. I am not sure how this happened, but one day while working there I found myself talking to a young teenager who lived nearby in Tudor City, a large Tudor-style apartment complex just east of the Atari office near the United Nations. At some point in the conversation - I don't remember how - the kid started talking about a guy who lived in his complex who was into woodturning and had a fancy lathe. I think I mentioned that I didn't know much about turning, but I was interested. I mentioned my excitement about about a guy named Frank Knox who had what was called an "ornamental turning lathe" that could do all sorts of cool stuff, turning off-center and tracing and cutting all kinds of designs in the piece being turned. I had read about him in the fourth issue of Fine Woodworking magazine - the first issue I subscribed to. The kid said, yeah, that's they guy I'm talking about, and my jaw dropped. About a day later, the kid came back and said that Mr. Knox invited me to visit his shop. I didn't waiver. I grabbed the nearest camera I could find - a Polaroid - and headed over.

Frank lived with his wife is a small apartment in Tudor City. Professionally he had been a form designer - an critical job in the days before computers. By the time I met Frank, he was retired and working on various ornamental turning commissions, including a series for Cartier. His shop was a single small studio apartment down the hall from his actual apartment and he worried about losing that lease because of the small amount of noise he occasionally made. Inside the studio were his 1853 Holtzapffel lathe and cabinets upon cabinets of accessories, cutters, and wood.

Frank collected samples of exotic woods and I think was a member of International Wood Collectors Society. One risk all ornamental turners face is spoiling a piece because of a miscount on an index plate or some random tear-out. His shop was littered with various half finished items that looked awesome but met with some disaster or another. His apartment, on the other hand, had some wonderful examples of his work.

The visit with Frank and the article in Fine Woodworking engendered a lifelong interest for me in ornamental turning. However I am canny enough to know that I don't really have the patience for doing fine work so I have never owned or used an ornamental turning lathe.

If you are interested in ornamental turning check out Ornamental Turners Int’l , The Society of Ornamental Turners and the Plumier Foundation. The Ornamental Turners Int’l and the Plumier Foundation are US based The SOT is UK based.

A blog post I wrote in 2020 featured this ornamentally Turned-Ivory Cup and Cover.

Here are the pictures I took (in no particular order). I am sorry that they are so rough, but there wasn't much I could do with a Polaroid, no flash, and no tripod.

Captions contributed by Rich Colvin, President Ornamental Turners International
Goniostat - holder for precisely sharpening the many lathe tools
Goniostat - holder for precisely sharpening the many lathe tools

Eccentric Chuck and Dome Chuck
Eccentric Chuck and Dome Chuck

Horizontal Cutting Frame held in a Cross Slide
Horizontal Cutting Frame held in a Cross Slide

Curvilinear Slide with drive gears
Curvilinear Slide with drive gears

A Visit With Frank Knox (1902-1991) - Ornamental Turner 6
Headstock of Knox's ornamental turning lathe
Headstock of Knox's ornamental turning lathe

Examples of miscellaneous projects in the shop
Examples of miscellaneous projects in the shop

Various Cutting Frames
Various Cutting Frames

Bits and bobs of OT Equipment
Bits and bobs of OT Equipment

Cutters for Horizontal and Vertical Cutting Frames
Cutters for Horizontal and Vertical Cutting Frames

Eccentric Chuck
Eccentric Chuck

Curvilinear Slide
Curvilinear Slide

A Visit With Frank Knox (1902-1991) - Ornamental Turner 14
Goniostat
Goniostat

Pieces made with an Eccentric Cutting Frame
Pieces made with an Eccentric Cutting Frame

A Visit With Frank Knox (1902-1991) - Ornamental Turner 17
Horizontal Cutting Frames
Horizontal Cutting Frames

A Visit With Frank Knox (1902-1991) - Ornamental Turner 19

Join the conversation
01/10/2024 Don Hutcheson http://www.hutchcolor.com
Another great story, Joel. But when you apologize for having “no flash”, I think you mean “no external flash”. All or most of your Polaroids clearly used the on-camera flash.
One of these days I have to visit your shop and buy you lunch or dinner.
01/10/2024 Charles Brousseau https://www.instagram.com/boisresistant/
Is it the initial spark that led you to develop a lathe for apartment turning?

Plumier Foundation was selling that exact lathe last year:

https://www.instagram.com/p/Cn_w9XZOb_h/?next=%2Fp%2FBMtfsLFA1A0%2F&hl=en&img_index=1
Charles,
I have been fascinated by lathes since I was 5 years old and my dad took me to Canal Street and in those days up and down the block were dozens if not hundreds of machine shops. I built my first lathe in high school.
01/10/2024 Stephen Dale Bamford
Say what you will of the photos, but all things considered, I think you did the best a person could do. They are great!
Name:
Email (will not be published):
Website (optional):
Please enter your comment (HTML is not allowed):
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.