Blockmaking

    The historical importance of the machines cannot be overstated. They were purpose-built, producing standard components in large quantities. This production came at a time when most products were manufactured individually with every component being different from the next.

    Each Portsmouth machine carried out a single process so that forty-five machines were needed to complete the parts for blocks for all sizes. The designs for the machines were also highly innovative. Nearly all were made wholly of metal, whereas up to that time machines were usually framed in wood. Consequently the accuracy of the machine itself and of the work that it produced were maintained. Another area of development was the introduction of markings on the wood. Markings were impressed into the wood in the boring machine, at the beginning of the process. In all the following machines these indentations were registered on corresponding projections to ensure proper alignment. Certain machines also had specific innovations. In the mortising machine, which enlarged a hole in the slot, not only was the work fed automatically under the chisel, but the machine also disengaged itself when the slot was finished to length. It was the forerunner of all mortising machines for woodwork and slotting machines for metalwork.

    In the shaping machine ten blocks were held at once in a rotating drum, and had their faces rounded by a cutter guided by a template.

    The final proof of the machines’ high standard of design was the length of time they were kept in use, with some still in operation as late as the mid-twentieth century.

    Because the machines stayed in use that length of time their survival was secured, and the Science Museum have preserved several within their Hand and Machine Tools collection. These include the scoring machine, the shaping machine and the mortising machine.