A Magazine article about what I am doing with antique
(restoring, finding, collecting them )
(Site updated 3-30-2007)
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.
"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
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
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 gear-cutting
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.
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
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 tooth.
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 capacity.
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 there.
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