Manufacturing guy-at-large.

A good, old, tool

Added on by Spencer Wright.

In early 2009 I purchased a used (and nonfunctional, at the time) Abene VHF3. It was a rite of passage: The machine was over 40 years old when I bought it, and at the time my knowledge of machine tools was tenuous at best. But I wanted the challenge, and I had decent intel that the VHF3 was a good machine, and (perhaps contrary to popular belief) the internet provides thorough documentation for even obscure machine tools. 


In retrospect, the experience was transformational. In addition to the mill itself (and in addition to the way wipers, bearings, oil, tooling, and other sundries needed to restore a machine that's probably been sitting for a decade), I purchased gallons upon gallons of kerosene. Stripping the machine down to its core components - and stripping every bit of caked up lubricant off with kerosene - took about a month, during which time I learned not only how the machine worked but also how to navigate a good portion of industry as a whole. Simply purchasing the right lubricant would require a half dozen phone calls, a purchase order, and a drive up the island to some sleepy distributor. Replacement parts aren't just unavailable; they're totally undocumented, lost in some Swedish file cabinet. 

On the other hand, this was a tool; a machine. Its complexity only went a few layers deep, and given a week or two almost any problem I came up against was tractable. And the more I worked on the mill, the more I realized that it would eventually make the things needed to improve itself.

It was a beautiful machine. It was strong, versatile, and capable of precision work. In the right hands it would have put in another century of service. But ultimately, mine were not the right hands. I sold it a few years later, and since then have not had a shop space that would support a tool of its caliber. 

I'm not sure when I'll own another tool like it. It was a treat: Empowering, challenging, terrifying at times. I recommend the experience thoroughly.