Friday, November 12, 2010

The Allure Of Old Iron

When I started this blog I wasn't quite sure where it would lead. I first thought I'd use it to announce new products and services for my oud-related ventures. A lazy way to update the website, if you will. It quickly morphed into a sort of "research" medium for exploring everything from music and vintage photography to planemaking and French workbench construction.

Since I began another blog over at Benchcrafted, this blog had suffered a bit. And I apologize. I'm doing some interesting things that I'd like to share, but the past few months have been a bit slow regarding new personal work. And frankly, some of what I'm doing is quite boring. A 10' Shaker dining table in cherry, another iteration of this carved piece, some more benches. I'm actually not a fan of blogs unless they have something useful to offer. So that may explain the gap in posting. Nobody wants to read about what I had for breakfast.

So onto the topic at hand. Old Woodworking Machines. They've always held a great appeal. Especially when machine manufacturers put some style into the castings. Back before the bottom line ruled the design process.

I recently picked up a Powermatic 1200, 20" drill press. This is one machine I've been searching for for quite some time. I'd needed a new drill press, a real drill press if you will, and after some research on new options, I decided to throw my hands up and just buy a Chinese Jet from the local Menards. I was never happy with it, and I figured it would fill the bill until something more substantial showed up.

The PM 1200 showed up on Craigslist, and I was the first one to call. I offered the man (who had bought the machine at auction, without realizing how huge it was) half of what he was asking, and after I came up a bit we shook hands and hoisted the press into the back of my pickup, all 500 pounds of it. I drove home with a glint in my eye and a feeling of great satisfaction. This machine is about 40 years old. Just a bit older than me.

It was all downhill from there.

I've never had so much fun getting greasy and dirty on a Sunday afternoon.

Right now I'm about midway through the restore. It's highly satisfying work. So far it's mostly been about stripping and painting. The press was brushed with at least three post-factory colors, and the meathead who applied it didn't seem to think that moving parts ever needed adjustment, just paint over everything. It was a mess. But slowly it's coming together.

There is a bittersweet aspect to this restore though. Powermatic is not the American company they once were. Indeed, almost none of the old guard machinery manufacturers produce machines on American soil. I don't know what the future holds for American manufacturing, but I do know that my efforts to bring this American machine back to hopefully better-than-new condition will be greatly rewarded by the thought of future generations enjoying a piece of American manufacturing history. As is often said, we are not owners of these tools, just custodians for a time. I hope the next owner gets as much enjoyment out of this machine as I do.