No announcement yet.

Machining history

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Machining history

    Hey Everyone,

    I was wondering if there are any good sources of machining history either on the web, in print, or in person. I'm interested in nailing down what machinery was like around the 1810's (i.e. practically non-existent) up to the mid 1830's. I'm writing an article on the invention of musical instrument valves, which happened in that period. I'd like to put it into perspective compared to the tools available to the manufacturers so I can illustrate why they were as bad as they were and why they were made that way. Also, who know's when Vernier invented his caliper scale?

    I have the two books showing American machine tool patents (don't recall the author right now) but the valve inventions happened in Germany, Austria, and France. I also have an old Brown and Sharpe milling treatise that has some early milling history. Any other ideas?

    Stuart de Haro

  • #2
    Jacob Holzappel wrote five books dealing with what he referred to as "mechanics for the amateur" I think. Two of the five books are in print today and available in most book stores. The two volumes are "Hand Or Simple Turning" and "Complex Turning" I think. I have both of them. He wrote the books around 1850 and described a lot of common machining practice. I had our library get the three other volumes on loan from a rare books library in Kansas City. I wanted to look at a reference to diamond turning that was in one of the currently available books. He was far from an "amateur" in the modern sense of the word as you will see when you read his first book on so called "simple" turning. There is a mention of turning cast iron forms to be used in forming brass horn bells for musical instruments. I remember his comment that to turn cast iron with hand held tools in the manner of the way you turn wood, "one should brace the long handle of the tool against the body and proceed with great vigor". I am sure there is a lot of material on the history of manufacturing.


    • #3
      Vernier invented the scale in 1631. Probably for other than calipers.
      Not too many of us around to give personal experiences of that era, but you may want to try Lindsay Books. If you get an opportunity to go to the Ford museum in Detroit, go there. Lots of early machine tools there. May want to touch base withthem, might be some information available for researchers.

      [This message has been edited by JCHannum (edited 09-27-2003).]
      Jim H.


      • #4
        Contact the "American Precision Museum" (???)


        • #5
          The two books that come to mind as far as machine tool history:

          Joseph Wickham Roe's, English & American Tool Builders (Lindsay reprint of the Yale University Press ed of 1916).

          This focuses on most of the famous makers of machine tools: Bramah, Maudslay, Nasymth, Whitney, etc. but also gives enough about the general development of machine tools to be useful as a history of the development of the tools.

          LTC Rolt wrote, A Short History of Machine Tools (MIT Press, 1965) which is probably what I would start with. Unfortunately, this is out of print and I could not find it on Amazon for sale. On ABE Books ( it was $41. You might want to check your local library or use interlibrary load to get a copy. This book also includes a bibliograpy that might be helpful.

          If you have access to older copies of American Machinist magazine (I think AM starts in 1876), or Machinery Magazine you might be able to find some interesting history. I have also found articles in Scientic American that might be of interest from the 1850s and 60s.

          You also might check the Library of Congress catalog ( You can't check them out, but it will give some idea of what is available. You can interlibrary loan them through your local or state library.


          • #6
            There was a good series in Model Engineer magazine by Peter Jones which ran intermittently from about 1996 to 1998.



            • #7
              A source of info on making valves could be the EK Blessing company. Randy Johnson is the current owner, but he is not a hands-on kinda guy and probably won't know much about the actual mechanics. You want to contact his father Merle Johnson. Blessing started as a valve maker for other factories, then branched into making their own horns. They have stayed small over the years, and only make student line horns, but they are of pretty good quality. Their horns have monel valves much like the better instruments like Bach.

              I have a friend who works in the office there. She took me on a tour of the factory last summer. Blessing now has the blanks for their valves made on a CNC machine at another shop, they silver solder in the knuckles, then the valve assemblies are finished off on a CNC machine. They also showed me the hone they used to finish the inside, but that's going to go CNC soon too.

              Mike Anderson at Anderson silver plating might be able to shed some light on the valve rebuilding process, as they started doing dimensional plating on valves in the 80's when I lived there.

              I'd like to see a copy of your article when it is done. Good luck!


              • #8
                I have a little book in my library entitled "One Good Turn - a natural history of the screwdriver and the screw". The authers name is Witold Rybczynski. In it there is information on early lathes and lathe makers that I think you will find useful.

                Regards, George
                To invent, you need a good imagination - and a pile of junk. Thomas A. Edison


                • #9
                  Oh I wish the best engineer/writer of today would tackle this. Henry Petroski. "To Engineer is Human" and "Engineers of Dreams" are exceptional. But his best I still think is "The Pencil"
                  Forty plus years and I still have ten toes, ten fingers and both eyes. I must be doing something right.


                  • #10
                    As already suggested:

                    Get acquainted with the American Precision Museum at

                    And see Lindsay Publications

                    Roe's "English and American Tool Builders" is good.
                    Try to make a living, not a killing. -- Utah Phillips
                    Don't believe everything you know. -- Bumper sticker
                    Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. -- Will Rogers
                    There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. - Josh Billings
                    Law of Logical Argument - Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.
                    Don't own anything you have to feed or paint. - Hood River Blackie


                    • #11
                      I will "third" the American Precision Museum. I have been there probably 20 to 30 times, it is just a scant seven miles from me.

                      They have a web page "Machinist Hall of Fame' and the exhibit there.

                      CCBW, MAH


                      • #12
                        I will "fourth" the APM....Spope14, are you going to the show being held in November?

                        I went a couple of years ago and liked what I saw of it....we got a flat tire on the way up from Rhode Island so we got to the show late.

                        I brought a real small, old lathe with me that I got when my dad died and showed it to some guys there and got a lot of interest and info....the fella from the APM, I think his name might have been Jim told me a lot about it and showed me around the museum pointing out features on old industrial lathes that were present on my table-top version.

                        Sorry to ramble, but I think they're a good source for that kind of info.



                        • #13
                          Hey Guys,

                          Thanks for all the ideas. I've been doing some sniffing around on my own too. The two books by Holtzapffel are available from Dover publications, so they're cheap. Here is their info:

                          Hand or Simple Turning
                          ISBN 0486264289

                          Ornamental or Complex Turning
                          ISBN 0486265676

                          Your can ask for them at any bookstore using the ISBN (international standard book number), just in case anyone wanted to know.

                          Also, there's a book out there called "Men, Machine, and History". Has anyone heard of it? It is supposed to deal with the historical developments that occurred in conjunction with technological advances. I doubt musical instrument valves made it into the book, but I bet lathes and milling machines did. I'm going to check out some gun history books too, since that seems to be what most of the machines were invented for.

                          One other thing, there is also a book called "A Short History of Technology" that was published by Dover. It looks like it is out of print now, but there are a lot available from if anyone is interested. From the description, it might be interesting to us technical folk.

                          Dover publications, by the way, will take suggestions for books that you think they should reissue. You have to get on their mailing list, but then you can start listing off every book that comes to mind. If we can come to a concensus on which books to ask for, we can suggest en masse and they might actually listen. That's my thought anyway.


                          [This message has been edited by hornluv (edited 09-29-2003).]
                          Stuart de Haro


                          • #14
                            Maudslay was one of the greatest builders/inventors, and had a number of "apprentices' who went on to do great Roberts (Planer etc.)
                            Whitworth (threads etc) and Naesmyth and many others.
                            You can read about Naesmyth on line at


                            Fasinating period...Maudslay invented the Precision Leadscrew, and the Hex Bolt milling machine in 1829 among many other things
                            His Lathe at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit was built by him around 1810 (as I recall). The museum put the lathe on a coordinate measuring machine and it was in "tenths" for accuracy..and the bed is about 6 feet long ! They had to scrap it..but how ?
                            he did so many things with precision (ie dividing heads) that all of his work is considered an "Art Form"

                            And to think we complain about backlash in a Bridgeport !


                            • #15
                              Hey Fellas,

                              Thanks again for all the info. I've found some other books of interest. First, from Lindsay, is "American and English Toolbuilders". Lots of good stuff in there. Then I found another book offered by Dover, "History of Mechanical Inventions" by Abbott Usher (ISBN 048625593x). It deals with things other than machine tools (like water pumps and spinning wheels) but it has a good-sized section on machining and a very nice bibliography. The Diderot Encyclopedia is always a nice addition to anyone's library as well (Dover has an edition of that as well in two volumes, ISBN's 0486274284 and 0486274292). Thanks again.

                              Stuart de Haro