The fluting engine is a simple device. Pull on the lever, and the cutter – attached to a short arm at a right angle to the lever – moves in an arc and cuts a path through the wood. Rotate the turntable a bit and repeat – somewhere between 50 and 100 times to complete one pass around. Raise the table, and make another pass. Then repeat, perhaps carving 1/32" to 1/16" at a time until you’ve carved out a bowl.
This is what happens, but the description completely misses the wonder of carving a bowl this way. The sound of a sharp cutter slicing through the wood is amazingly satisfying. The cuts come out glistening from the sharp edge and the slight burnishing that the bottom of the blade creates. And watching the shavings curl off the cutter is its own delight.
The above description also misses all of the work that went into figuring out the machine, building it, then trying to get the blasted thing to work the way I envisioned. It’s hard to imagine that David Pye had an easier time building his device. At least I had some pictures and a description to work with. It took months of experimenting and tweaking to keep the frame, adjustable table, and the cutter arm rigid enough to deal with the forces involved in carving. Devising a cutter that could slice cross grain almost as well as it cut long grain took just as long. But at least I knew it was possible, because I saw photos of Pye’s results (although close examination of some of the photos of the bowls reveal some cross-grain tear-out – which I didn’t notice until recently).
–Jeff Miller, excerpt from “An Exercise in Precision & Randomness: Replicating David Pye’s Fluting Engine,” in Issue Ten