A Magazine article about what I am doing with
antique machine tools.
(restoring, finding, collecting them )
(Site updated 2-16-2011)
why I collect, recreate & demonstrate.
First magazine article written by GEAR TECHNOLOGY
MAGIZINE about why I collect.
He Builds It, Will They Come?
Richard Spens has been purchasing and rebuilding antique
machine tools for nearly a decade. He is drawn to the
ornate architecture and fascinated by the open design that
allows you to see a machine as it operates. Of course, this
interest is nothing new. "Working with machines has been
a lifelong thing with me," said Spens, now a design
engineer. "I started building steam engines when I was 10
years old." What he's working on now, however, is bigger
than any steam engine or machine tool.
In the Township of Cohoctah Michigan, Spens is working
on converting an old dairy barn into an accurate recreation
of a turn-of-the-century, belt-driven gear shop. It's an
outgrowth of his interest in antique machine tools and, he
feels, a way to stem the tide that is costing America so
many manufacturing and skilled trade jobs.
My MENTOR T. A. Edison (no, ha-ha this is not me, but he was a really hands on guy)
|This building is not the actual shop
"I see America losing its industrial base and hands-on skill, said Spens. "I think
it's important to keep up the interest in the young people." He is hoping that his
antique gear shop will be able to do just that by introducing children to machine
tools that they can see into, watch in operation, and even operate themselves.
Ideally, they could create something that they could take away as a souvenir. It
was an idea Spens got while visiting the Henry Ford Museum's machine shop
exhibit. "People were lined up to take a turn making a little candlestick at a turret-
lathe they had set up. A machinist-an old timer-would take them through the
procedure, and they came away with the candlestick they made themselves. I
thought it was great."
The skills of that "old timer" are another thing Spens sees falling away from
Americans today. "It used to be that the people operating these machine tools
had to be artists," he said. "Things were made by skilled hands. Then the
technology improved and the art was taken out of making things
like a gear set." You still had to be skilled, to know what you were doing, but the
process was more scientific, centered more around operating the machine than
around making the gears. Spens sees this as a tragedy, and he is hoping that his
antique gear shop can someday help turn that around. In their heyday, these
were the machines of artists.
According to Spens, one of the jewels of his collection, and the most operational
gear machine he has, is a Chase and Sloane machine built in the 1880s. A
tabletop machine with its own motor, it was used to cut the tiny gears that went
into the foot-powered dental drills of the day. "It has two levers for feed control-
one horizontal and one vertical-and cuts one tooth at a time," explained Spens. "It
was one of the most accurate gear cutters of its time. To make the drill as quiet
as possible, it had to be."
Some of the other gear machines that will one day adorn his shop include another
Chase and Sloane, this one with a three-spindle head that gashes, rough-cuts
and finishes the tooth before the manual index moves the blank to its next
position. There are also a pair of Adams gear hobbers (circa 1910) with fully
open architecture and several smaller gear cutters used for watch making. Spens
is also restoring an interesting pair of Gould and Eberhardt vertical hobbers,
dated 1909 and 1912 respectively. These machines demonstrate the changes in
machine architecture that G&E implemented during that time.
The project itself has been a long and difficult one right from the start, with
humidity problems encouraging rust as well as problems with powering his shop.
His long-term goal is to erect a hit-or-miss single piston gas engine to operate the
belt. This, in turn, would power the belts going to the machines. However, those
machines that already have motors, such as the gear machines, will not be
converted in order to keep them operational. Other machines will be belt-driven to
give visitors a taste of what a belt-driven factory was like. "There was a finite
amount of power to go around in these shops," said Spens. "You had to work
around that. Sometimes, machines would have to sit idle so that higher priority
jobs could be done."
So, once he finishes his belt-driven gear shop, will it be open to the public? Yes,
he answers, but at first only on a limited basis. "It'll start out as a kind of private
exhibit people can visit on a one-on-one basis. My ultimate goal, however, is to
make it a hands on museum to educate teens and young adults of how the
machines of the past built the better life we know today.
In his words…
“Museums today seem to be straying from the need to show history both an
interesting and tangible way using real Artifacts, large descriptive human interest
photos, and hands on related machine movement.”
The early principals of mechanics and electrics support today’s comparably easy
life. Currently there is such a focus on high technology that those students who
don’t have such good grades but have a lot of other abilities are left behind in
poverty. There is a need especially to provide the segment of the population that
is not college bound with a skill and employment. Those Students need a place
to go, and that place has traditionally been in manufacturing. I want to interest
them in careers in industry; industry today requires a certain amount of college
level classes, but not an advanced degree
Public use issues that go along with the creation of a museum proper are simply
cost prohibitive", But almost anyone short of an inspector can become an instant
friend and come over and see that things worked surprising well for what the old
boys had to work with technology speaking.
If you think you can help, Spens would love to hear from you. If you have an
antique machine for sale, or you'd like to donate one, please write to him at the
address below. Also, if you are interested in acquiring antique machine tools, he
would be happy to point you in the right direction. Write to him at:
28515 W. 7-Mile Rd.
Livonia, MI 48152-35010
Call at 248- 474-2799
A Second magazine article
Nov. 12, 2002
A Man and His Mania for Machines
Richard Spens has a hobby that leads him onto the Internet, through magazines,
to auctions and into farmers’ back yards. It’s a hobby that he succeeds at
through obsessive-compulsive behavior—his joking description of his persistent
interest, and the way he uses to solve his problems at work, because he never
gives up .
He says he looks everywhere and all the time for what he wants, to the limit of
what his wallet—and his wife—can stand.
Richard Spens collects antique machinery. About six years ago, his hobby led him
to a McDonald’s parking lot near Midland, MI, to meet a woman taking her
daughter to college in Michigan’s upper peninsula. The woman’s SUV was
carrying Spens’ latest acquisitions.
One of those acquisitions was a hand-operated gear-cutting machine that may be
as many as 116 years old.
That age is based on the company name on the machine: Sloan, Chance and Co.
That business was organized in 1886 as a partnership between Charles T. Sloan
and George E.O. Chance. Sloan originally founded the business in the 1870s.
The 1886 partnership later became Sloan and Chance Mfg. Co. All three versions
of the business made small bench lathes, small bench milling machines and small
Spens knows little else about the business and that much he learned from one of
its lathe catalogs and from American Lathe Builders: 1810–1910, a history by
Kenneth L. Cope.
That day at McDonald’s in 1996, Spens used 2 x 6s to slide his new acquisition
from the woman’s SUV to the back of his pickup truck, along with a second
antique machine and some collets and attachments. Spens’ total bill: $350 for the
machines and other parts, $40 for the delivery service.
Now in his basement workshop, Spens’ hand-operated gear-cutting machine can
be used to make spur, face and straight bevel gears. The gears can be brass,
cast-iron or steel, can have teeth as fine as 24 DP, and can be as much as 4" in
pitch diameter. Also, the teeth can be accurate to 0.002" of tooth-to-tooth error
and 0.005" of total composite error on larger gears. According to Spens, the
machine is more accurate when cutting smaller gears.
“For its time, that was pretty good,” he says of the machine’s accuracy,
“especially on that larger size gear.”
Spens himself has cut a brass spur gear with a 0.920" outside diameter and 24
DP to a quality level that he equated with AGMA Q7.
Spens explains that the machine cuts each type of gear based on the position of
its arbor. The arbor can be moved anywhere along an arc radius just below and
ahead of the gear-cutting tool. If the arbor is in a horizontal position, the machine
cuts spur gears. If in a vertical position or at the arc’s bottom, the machine cuts
face gears. If at an angle, it cuts straight bevel gears in two or three passes.
The arbor and indexing adjustment can be finely adjusted downward to create
gears of different diameters. The depth of cut can be adjusted by placing shim
stock under the feed stop.
Also, the machine has a vice that can be placed anywhere along the arc. The vice
has a feed adjustment that can be moved in thousandths of an inch.
Spens thinks the vice and feed adjustment were used to make racks, cutting one
tooth at a time, then advancing the blank the proper distance and cutting the next
Spens has more than 40 antique machines in his collection and wants more,
including other gear-making machines. Currently, he’s looking for what he terms
the “elusive” 1900–1920s Gleason bevel gear planer.
He explains that the planer’s operation is very complex and quite interesting: The
planer uses its single cutting tool like a shaper cutter, but it cuts gears by tracing
an involute template or other tooth form template. He adds that the planer planes
its tooth forms to any pressure angle on any size blank up to the machine’s
Specifically, he’s looking for the planer model that can cut blanks with outside
diameters up to 24".
Given his interest, Spens’ reaction to finding that model or another antique
machine that interested him, can be easily predicted: “I’d buy it, if—you know—it
was affordable; and I’d probably come out and get it.”
My want ad
ANTIQUE MACHINERY WANTED!!!
~ ~ ~DEAD OR ALIVE $$$
I'm trying to re-create an overhead Flatbelt lineshaft driven metal and wood shop.
Help me save our machine shop heritage that built American Industry. This shop
will be for show, demonstration and working. I'm looking to purchase pre-1925
Flat-belt or lineshaft driven woodworking or metalworking machines. 1'm
especially looking for ornately cast or decorated machines, GEAR CUTTING
MACH. a Horz. Boring Mill; Vert. Boring MIll; Vert. Slotter; 1 to 4 Spindle
Automatics; Drop Hammer; Radial arm Drill. Also Brown and Sharpe or Hendy
brand machines, and various grinding mach. . .....If you have heard of some
I will be glad to pay 20% finders fee for information leading to the purchase of the
above machine. ......Please save this request and pass my name along to
someone who may have a shop, barn, garage, or yard with any of these
machines for purchase or just looking at.
Also see my first website
My Mailing address is
Richard Spens or call me at: (248)-474-2799 .
. 28515 W. Seven Mile Rd. Livonia, MI 48152-3501
Please Leave a message if I'm not