July 12, 2010

This past week a good friend of mine and I visited the American Precision Museum in Vermont, a place that’s been recommended to me a few times over the years. The museum claims to be the largest collection of “historically significant machine tools” in the country, and since I have a real appreciation for classic tools and machinery– I owned a 1913 Pratt and Whitney that I made my ferrules on for years and years–I was delighted to go.

American Precision Museum

Image by Steph L. via Flickr

The Museum is in Windsor, Vermont, the former site of the 1846 Robbins and Lawrence Armory, a classic New England mill factory of the sort that sprung up in this area at the dawn of the industrial revolution. If you ramble around these parts you’ll see quite a few of them–large, brick, warehouse-style affairs–many of which were erected near rivers and which these days seem to have fallen into various states of decay. Apparently this one had been no exception before being renovated and turned into a museum, a renovation that was very well done.

Inside were tools and machines that dated from the pre-civil war era right up to the introduction of CNC machining when electronics began to replace many of the older ways of doing things. As a rodmaker, there was obviously a lot that was outside my circle of competence, but I also saw a fair bit that was very relevant to the work that I do in the shop building ferrules and other things.

Of course the real delight wasn’t in the machines themselves, or at least that was only part of it. The part that I liked the most was thinking about the people who were behind these machines, the inventors, engineers, and tinkerers who had set about trying to solve various problems with their wits and hard work. Sometimes in our modern age I think we tend to assume that we’ve progressed a lot farther and are smarter than those who came before us, but looking back over these machines you really have an appreciation for just how clever and ingenuous our forebears were. Seeing so many of their efforts in one place was great, and in truth the museum almost stands more as a testament to American perseverance and ingenuity then it does to the various gears, wheels, pulleys, and so on, which make up it’s exhibits.

Anyway, for people who are interested in these sorts of things I highly recommend it. Here are a few pictures I snapped while we were there.

An Early Setup for Making Gunstocks

A Beautiful Turret Lathe from the 1880’s

Exquisite gold leaf along a lathe bed — You won’t see that too often these days.


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