‘Elementary Turning’ by Frank Henry Selden

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I have turning on the brain – because after my bathroom is done, I’m out of excuses to not turn my attention back to the front staircase and entryway. When I bought the house, the entryway was split alongside the stairs, with the stairs enclosed by a wall up to the second-floor apartment.

When I tore out that 1950s wall, I had high hopes that the original spindles and handrail would be hidden behind the wall board. My hopes were dashed. So I put the bottom landing back like it once was, slapped together two temporary steps at the bottom, and turned my attention to other things.

For almost two years, I’ve been running up and down those stairs, hoping to not trip and fall over the side (and OK…using the back stairs most of the time – because the front stairs have become a staging area and storage facility for the second-floor work). Having those open has made it a lot easier to get large items upstairs (I have a piece of 1/2″ plywood that fits over the stained glass window to protect it during such times).


I also have to finish stripping off the weird 1950s plaster board, and the crumbling 1906 plaster, then make paneling to cover the side of the staircase (or re-plaster). And I definitely need to clean.

I have two large items to build still to be carried up: a linen cupboard for the hallway and a sink base for my bathroom. But once those are done, I have to turn between 34 and 48 spindles, depending on what I decide to do at the bottom landing – and I’m a novice turner.

That made me think of “Elementary Turning,” an out-of-copyright book I scanned for my former job – and I did that at home during off hours on my personal equipment. The print version we’d offered, for which I’d scanned it, is no longer available. This PDF, and the work that went into it, belongs to me.

I’m giving it to you.

“Elementary Turning,” by Frank Henry Selden, was published in 1907 as a textbook for shop class teachers. It offers 62 short lessons that walk you through the basics and more, from mounting the work in the lathe, to cutting basic shapes, to making curved mouldings.

You can download it below (you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader v8 or newer to read it – if you don’t have Reader, download it free at this link).


I’ve read the Selden book and other turning tomes, and I’ve turned a few pieces (plus I got a lesson from Alf Sharp on turning the exact spindles I need). So it’s not like I don’t know how; I just prefer flat work. But I expect to be done by the end of the summer with the two aforementioned builds. So I guess that gives me about five months to come up with a new excuse.

About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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24 Responses to ‘Elementary Turning’ by Frank Henry Selden

  1. Marc-Andre Fortier says:

    Thank you Megan.

  2. Paul says:

    Thanks for the cool PDF. I will start reading it later. I did some turning in wood shop but that was 50 years ago. de Paul Smith

  3. Iain says:

    Thank you Megan!!!

  4. Pip says:

    Thanks for making the book available, Megan. I don’t envy you turning all those spindles – too much repetition – but it will be skill-building!

  5. hgordon4 says:

    Thank you!

  6. J.C. says:

    Merci beaucoup, mon ami! I too have not yet turned anything since middle school shop class. We worked at turning retired bowling pins into lamps. LOL I was set to buy a lathe a few years back as I found myself in just such a situation as you. Luckily, I found a batch of suitable spindles due to an overrun from a local supplier. They were red oak and the right size, suitable style and best of all they set me back a whopping $2 each. I bought all they had. I was short six for what I needed but was able to make up the difference by creating two pierced panels that reflected the shape of the spindles. Voila! The finished installation looks like someone planned it that way.

    Check around, I’m sure someone in your area has a cache of suitable spindles that only YOU would know you didn’t make. LOL

  7. Terry says:

    Several years ago I downloaded that book from Google books I think. I came from a college university in California I think. But your pdf is way better as all the pages of that were yellow, so thanks for the pdf.
    As for the spindles, sounds like you could use a lathe duplicator so all the spindles you need would come out exactly as the ones you have. Regardless you should have fun turning.

  8. manitario says:

    As a completely novice turner, this is great, thank you!

  9. I know picture you wearing bow tie at the lathe. See page 54.

    I have a paper copy of that book. Pound for pound it’s the best book on turning I own. To be fair I only own three and it’s by a long way the smallest.
    Thanks for your work and gift!

  10. Kyle Barton says:

    Thanks, I can really use this! I’m also excited about the upcoming LAP video with Peter Galbret.

  11. I have a few old classic schoolbooks for the High school wood shop.

  12. sryoder says:

    Thanks for the download, Megan. My wife and I are continually impressed by what a cool bunch of folks you Lost Art Pressers are.

  13. Steve says:

    Thanks for the download.

    Given the laborious task of turning 48 identical spindles I would find no insult in using a lathe duplicator.

  14. Scott Nett says:

    Thank you!

  15. Thomas Nail says:

    Have you considered uploading the scan to Project Gutenberg (assuming its in the Public Domain, which the 1907 publication date certainly suggests)? That would keep it archived, available and searchable to a pretty large audience and it would keep company with such eminent titles as “The Use of Ropes and Tackle” by H. J. Dana and W. A. Pearl and “The Life and Times of Alfred the Great” by Charles Plummer. It’s really a great resource for any public domain literature.

  16. Thanks very much for the book. I wish I could come and lend a hand with your projects for a couple of days! Maybe if I finish my house before you finish yours…

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