Tig (Rob) Lichty…
Has a passion for Ornamental Turning and Guilloche’ Engraving. He loves finding, restoring and using the nearly extinct tools of the trade. Making and sharing artful objects and giving tours of his atelier are his way of helping to keep these nearly lost arts alive today.
Tig has been called a Renaissance Man for much of his life. It started when he was 15 years old working as a professional cabinetmaker and fine furniture builder. After receiving his degree in Mechanical Engineering he began working as a wood and stone carver in San Francisco. Pieces he worked on include a walnut Chinese style coffee table in a Getty family home and a 12 ton Parthenon style limestone fireplace mantle placed in a Sunrise, Idaho ski ‘cabin.’ During his school time at Cal Poly, SLO while working on his engineering degree he came upon a book describing Ornamental Turning (OT) – a perfect combination of woodworking and gears and cams. He immediately fell in love.
Once Tig actually started working as an engineer – ranging from Traffic Engineering to Medical Device R&D he started looking for an Ornamental Lathe and eventually found one: a near derelict Holtzapffel lathe (but within his budget). It took 10 years of finding, fitting and making parts before it was complete enough to chuck up a piece of wood and make something with it. He caught the bug and kept on going by collecting and restoring pieces of guilloche’ (engine turning, or ET) equipment – a subset of Ornamental Turning. Today, Tig is one of only a handful of people worldwide that can offer a whole range of OT and ET work in exotic woods, precious metals and other media.
To round out his moniker as a Renaissance Man, Tig also has degrees, besides his BSME, in Physics, General Science, Liberal Arts, advanced education in Biomimicry and an MBA.
A brief history of the art begins at about the early 1500’s with Ornamental Turning. It was the hobby of royals in many countries from England to Prussia to Russia as they were the only ones that could afford the expensive equipment. It was part of the required education for boys of noble descent. To be a good ruler, one had to be good at Ornamental Turning. Well, it certainly does teach things such concepts as precision and patience, anyway. The premier manufacturer of Ornamental Lathes became the Holtzappfel Family who made tools for 3 generations and a total of nearly 200 ornamental lathes.
In the early to mid-1600’s the art progressed when nobles would buy multiple lathes and hire artisans to make object with them. Most of these objects were turned in elephant ivory and took a year or more to make. Eloquent and delicate as the work was, these pieces were for show only and had no real intended purpose other than to show off one’s wealth. It was at this time that the height of Ornamental Turning was reached as can be seen in pieces such as the Coburg Ivories located in Germany.
The equipment and knowledge of this art were still tightly kept secret until Le P.C. Plumier researched and leaked the information in the form of the book, “L’Art De Tourner En Perfection” with a limited release in 1701 followed by an updated revision in 1749.
As precision improved and heavier, more stable equipment could be made the art progressed to fine metals in the form of engraving. This began in the early 1700’s and was the start of Engine Turning, or Guilloche’. Guilloche’ reached its peak between about 1880 and 1930 with the likes of Tiffanie and company and Faberge’. Used for better quality watch faces, pocket watch backs, jewelry, men’s accessories, Wedgewood pottery and toiletry accessories it was a commonly known art even if it was only the well-to-do that could afford it. Because of the time and skill required for this craft, it began to fall to the wayside in the 1930’s.
Today, because most of the equipment was destroyed in either WWI or WWII the equipment is extremely rare – and those who know how to use, it even more so.
The equipment is very hard to come buy with most of it being destroyed in WWI and WWII. Tig’s equipment ranges between 100 and 200 years old with some pieces being newer or older.
Ornamental Lathe: Originally accomplished in Elephant Ivory, today it is done mostly in dense exotic woods and other materials that can hold fine detail and come off the tool with a polished surface.
Tig’s Holtzapffel lathe and a napkin ring turned in Alabaster
Rose Engine: Somewhat like a typical lathe but the headstock rocks back and forth using rotating cams, called Rosettes, that ride on a cam follower, caller a Rubber.
One of Tig’s Rose Engine lathes and examples of various patterns of engraving
Straight Line Engine: For Tig, the rose engine above doubles as his Straight Line Engine because of a special chuck that converts round motion to linear motion.
Example of Straight Line Engraving on money clips
Round Brocade Engine: Some people do not accept brocade work as a form of Guilloche’ because it follows a pattern. Tig considers it one of the highest and most adaptable forms of the art.
Tig’s very rare Swiss Brocade Engine and an example of a commissioned wine glass coaster
Straight Line Brocade Engine: A lot like the piece of equipment above but copying a pattern using engraved straight lines. This machine is still under restoration.
Tig is available for custom commissions and commercial work.
His Atlier (workshop) is only a few minutes from downtown Morro Bay and gives guided tours (by appointment only) by calling 805 225 1517.