George Washington and the Brass Box

By cocking the trigger on the top of the instrument the eight circular blades are rotated back into the base under intense spring force. When you push the round knurled release button the blades snap through the slotted ways and lacerate the wrist with a vengeance.

on side.jpg


box open.jpgThe device came to me in great disrepair, well corroded, with the steel hight knob adjuster broken free from the bottom slotted plate that received the blades. A large section of this plate was missing. Using a milling machine, a new plate was created, then soldered in place after which the linear cut-outs were reproduced using a miniature end mili. Once polished, the replaced section can not be detected.

blades out.jpg

Within 24 hours of President Washingtons rain soaked ride, four of the local physicians  argued over the best procedure to take for his cure. In the process they pushed aside his loving caretaker slave and her hot chicken soup and preceded to drain more than 80 oz of blood from him using this little brass devise. The chicken soap would have worked.

A Telescope by Henry Pyefinch

This miniature telescope was made by Henry Pyefinch in his workshop in London circa 1760’s. The barrel is wrapped with dyed fish skin, horn dyed turnings and vellum draw tubes.

box end.jpgtele and case.jpg

Peter Dollond successfully sued Henry for infringing on his patented lens design as he did with any one who copied his telescope inventions. He was able to keep his competitors at bay for years through litigation and made a good deal of money doing so. Not all patents were so successfully protected. David Brewster patented the Kaleidoscope in 1818 and instantly lost control of it to other makers. Over 200,000  kaleidoscopes were sold in London and Paris by a variety of instrument makers. No one wanted to pay hislicense fee’s and he lost a fortune. Brewster remained angry till he died.

Rack Repair on a 1780 Ramsden

Having the telescope focus is rather a critical part of being able to use it. Depending on the scope, they have many different ways of moving the focus tube back and forth. They tend to break fairly easily,  as the inexperienced operator tends to yank the eye-tube out of the barrel , often damaging the spur gear, rack or both. These 18th century rack mechanisms were always custom built and designed in different configurations. Ramsden used a slotted tube method, difficult to build and tough to replace. On this IMG_0015.jpg

example a majority of the slotted spur gear rack was completely stripped out, leaving a blank space for the gear to drop into and spin freely. The repair was made by cutting a section of new brass and soldering it into place. After reforming it to the barrel and polishing it to a slid fit with the draw tube, you then fixture it to  your milling machine and very precisely re-cut (+-.001″ ) the slot to match the movement of the spur gear as it   travels back and forth. Miss the math calculations and it will jam.


The telescope dealer doesn’t care. He asks two questions, “How much is it going to cost” and “When do I get it back”.  The collector is more interested in how the repair is done.


Not all Instruments Measure

This old horn arrived in my shop to have some dent”al” repair. While I mostly work on telescopes, a challenge is always in order. Caution must be-used as you can easily  cause more damage than you had before. Technics are the same for removal, turned lathe slugs of brass and aluminum which are forced fit into the openings, ball bearings of all sizes that are sometimes driven through with compressed air. It basically comes down to years and years of experience.

horn sideKurt Armbruster is wondering what all the noise is about.


A barrel ready for re-work is completely stripped of its exterior and interior parts including all light diaphragms, cradle mounts, focus knob, butt end turnings, objective mount and all screws.


Brianna and the Orrery

Here we see Brianna in the library of Smith College, with an Orrery she helped me to build. This is a reproduction  that I first made for the Smithsonian back in 1983. I still make a few of them from time to time. The brass housing has enough gears to drive three clocks while the sun is 5″ in diameter.

Very Beautiful to look at, and so is the instrument.

A Giant Zoetrope

Zoe-Dan 6_edited-1.jpgThe image of Danielle is forever imprinted in my mind as she sits before my camera spinning this giant “Wheel of Life”. The world had gone mad with optical inventions. Brewster had infected Europe  with his “borrowed” patent of the Kaleidoscope, a few years earlier. He remained forever bitter and angry, that it was instantly copied in London and Paris to the tune of hundreds of thousands of scopes in just three months, his dreams of riches evaporating.

As Danielle watched the flickering images through the slits in drum, I am quite sure she did not realize that Horner’s invention would open the door for a single actor, today, to make enough money, from one movie, to buy a small country anywhere in the world.

A miniature Lathe for making tiny parts

We don’t see these extra small turning machines any more, partly because watch making has all but disappeared and most parts are made by automated CNC equipment. I still use this type of lathe in my shop for making very small pins and screws for telescopes. This machine was made 100 years ago by W.D.Clement in Waltham, Ma, the American capital of watchmaking in the world.