Steampunk Shopsmith: antique, steam-driven pulley workshop

Mary sez, "While looking for something else entirely, I stumbled upon this eBay auction for an Antique Steam Pulley Driven Workshop with Lights. Good heavens. It’s got a lathe, jig saw, drill… It’s like a steampunk Shopsmith, but it’s real." Link (Thanks, Mary!)


  1. That’s beautiful.

    Reminds me of an episode I saw of the Old Yankee Workshop (maybe different..NOT the one with Norm but the one where the dude uses turn of the century skills and no electricity..if someone knows the name PLEASE speak up) where they showed how farmers would make lathes from springy wood saplings and leather belt drives.

  2. I almost bought a set of these in Switzerland a few years ago. They made them then, and I was under the impression that they still do. I used to have a catalog around here.

    The company made a whole steam railroad set. I think the tiny shop is for making pieces for the railroad set. Or just being awesome.

  3. Looks like an antique salesman’s miniature demo sample of full sized shop tools, not tools intended to be used.

  4. That is most definitely a pen maker’s set, IMHO. Whoever put this one together seemed to know what they were doing and had some experience. Here’s what each machine is for.

    The mini table saw at the back is for cutting rough stock into a usable shape for the lathe. With it’s placement and position at the back, it probably can’t do anything more precise than that.

    The buffing wheel to the left (the fluffy one) of that is for polishing the finished product (probably with linseed oil or beeswax).

    The rough wheel in front of that and to the left corner is for sharpening the lathe tools (chisels,gouges, skews) and other edged tools.

    To the right of that is a mini band saw which looks gentle enough for finishing work and could probably accommodate sanding belts as well.

    Center stage and front is the lathe. This is where the real work is done. One of these mini-lathe rigs is small enough to be treadle powered (this whole setup may have been originally).

    At the left front is a small drill-press. Invaluable to a lathier or any wood worker.

    Finally at the back right is what clinches this as a pen maker bench and probably confused a few folks. This is a hammer set for metal working. This would be used to fashion lapel/pocket clips, rings, nibs (if really talented) and whatever else may be needed. This could probably be used as a vice in a pinch as well.

    So there’s my theory.

  5. Correction to my previous post: The “fluffy wheel” upon closer examination is a fine wet wheel for precise sharpening of edged tools. I hadn’t noticed the basin seen here.

    Rough stone, fine stone, strop. So zen and gratifying. Man, now I really miss my lathe.

  6. I had one of those as a kid. I didn’t use it that much, because it didn’t do a whole lot.

  7. I’ve seen something similar in museums in Europe – specifically, if I remember correctly, the Science Museum in Kensington in London.

    They created working scale models of factory floors, complete with belt-driven energy for all the devices on the floor. Presumably the real-life belt was being turned by a turbine in falling water. Perhaps the models were created for investors? Maybe they were created before the factory itself was actually built?

  8. Before the days of cheap electric motors, it was common for several machines in a shop to get their power from a single drive shaft. My grandfather worked in a shop like that as late as 1920 or so.

    This is a model of such a shop.

  9. Don’t get too excited about actually using these. I have several of these (buffing wheel, table saw and some others) and you can barely cut through a wooden match stick with them. There’s too much slippage in the belts and the cutting tools are not sharp enough to do anything with them. And probably my steam engine doesn’t output enough torque, either.

  10. If I recall, they have a bunch of these in the Science and Technology museum in London, just around the corner from Stephenson’s Rocket. They drive them off an electric motor, but you can press a button and watch the whole workshop come to life.

  11. The London Science Museum machine shop model is in an area of the floor devoted to Whitworth and early industrial revolution machine tools. Whitworth rose to prominence as an employee of Joseph Clement, the manufacturer of the difference engine. None more steampunk.

    Photos of the miniature workshop here:
    (Disclosure: My personal flickr stream)

  12. @12

    I actually have some working parts (the spindle at the top) of such a shop in the shed behind my house. The guy who owned the house before us used it as a wood shop. He apparently powered the whole thing with a single electric motor.

    It’s neat to see in miniature though.

  13. How very cool. I had no idea these were available outside of museums.

    Do they make miniature sized jointers? We got a neat old one about a year ago that was originally line belt driven. Would be cool to have a mini version, too. :)

  14. What a trip down memory lane.
    These used to be sold here in Germany when I was a kid. One Xmas I got a Wilesco Toy Steam Engine. Even back then, they advertised their peripherals. There was the Table Saw, the Drill Press, the (sp?) Grinding Wheel…
    Inspired by my Grandfather I built my own peripheral for it. BTW, it had a standard, open interface for everyone to hook up their own shit to the engine… it was a drive wheel, hooked up to the flywheel where you could place a rubber band and drive anything you could imagine. I chose to drive a tiny Electric Motor, that was hooked up to a flashlight bulb. It just might have started my ongoing involvement with science.

  15. Oh, just to blow your minds, the long axle you see in the pic is what Germans used to call a ‘Transmission’. This was the way mechanical power was distributed throughout the building.
    Huge steel axles were built right into the architecture. I grew up in a house like that, it used to be a mill. So incredible. We made our own electric power, DC, 110 Volts, and there even was a… WHOLE FUCKING ROOM… filled with lead acid batteries, acting as an UPS.
    kbye, uwer

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