Geometric Chucks and Epicycloidal Patterns

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One of my biggest fascinations is with the Geometric chuck, it is a branch of Ornamental turning and is the creation of patterns be they engraved or cut into the end of a box lid, a disc, or drawn onto a surface. Looking up Geometric in the dictionary doesn't really give a good insight to this, but Epicycloid, will give you more of an understanding as :-

"The curve described by a point on the circumference of a circle rolling round the outside of the circumference of another circle"

Which again might not be understood completely, but most people will have heard of the "Spirograph" toy that makes some extremely interesting patterns. And this is exactly what it is, and the Spirograph is based upon the Geometric chuck which is an extremely complex machine, one that reached its peak in the Victorian age. A time when the titled and rich had the time and money to indulge themselves, a few people even made their own, which would have been a mammoth undertaking. But I would think that most of the ones that have survived were the product of a few specialised manufacturers, one very famous company being Holtzapffel & Co., another being George Plant & Son.

I have recently had the extremely good fortune to come into possession of a book written, no drawn, would be a better description in 1908 by Doctor Edwin William Alabone. My thanks go to David Nisbet, book binder and antiquarian book seller, who very kindly sold me the book.

He had had this tombe sitting in his workshop awaiting some partial restoration for the last six to seven years. It had originally been the master from which the Doctors later books had been published, but the dear old Doctor had inscribed it "I believe" to his second wife or sister in law as a gift, if it hadnt been for the formality of the times, he would most likely have written just her Christian name, thankfully he wrote "Mrs H L Alabone" and that apart from an original photograph and the plate of the man himself using the machine was the only information in the book. David didnt actually know anything else about the book, it was only after he had visited my web site that he thought I might be interested and sent me some digitised photo's.

Well, I thought initially, maybe I had found something completely unknown, which isnt quite as daft as one would think. In those halcyon days a lot of the well heeled did have books published, sometimes only as gifts for friends. It was therefore a possibilty, but having contacted the President of the Society of Ornamental Turning, I found out otherwise and was given the title of the books Edwin Alabone had published:

Geometric Curves, Multo-Epycycliodal and other 1910

Geometric Curves, Poly-Cyclo-Epicycloidal and other 1912

All that said, that still makes this book not just rare but unique, and obviously something that must be documented and cared for, for the future. With this in mind I have now placed the book in the careful hands of the SOT where I know it will be safe for the future of enthusiasts. The President has most graciously allowed to share copywrite with me, so the pictures are still available should anyone require any.


Edwin Alabone

at work

circa 1908

Edwin Alabone's Geometric Chuck (Original photo)

This is what it does. A few plates from the book.


Re-mastered photo