The art of machining

May 29, 2018 - 01:00pm

Some people say there is an art to machining. In some cases, there is actual artwork.

Machinists Inc. in Seattle, the largest precision machining shop in the Northwest, has made big sculptures since the early 1990s. The first piece was a 17'×13'×3' steel sculpture that hangs in Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and many more have followed.

However, art accounts for only about 1 percent of the manufacturer’s work, said Weld Engineer Steve Pollard, who has been with the company for 30 years.

“We are a job shop,” he said. “We make whatever comes in. It might be a piece of artwork today. It might be a gearbox tomorrow.”

Most of the sculptures are designed for public works in Seattle, and most come from the mind of local artist Julie Speidel.

“She builds the small stuff,” Pollard said. “When she needs something big, she comes to me and we talk. We scale them up. The largest ones are almost 4,000 lbs.”

Pollard designs the work, often with AutoCAD, and coordinates with machinists. Anything requiring waterjetting or laser cutting is done by a contractor. Steel is the usual metal of choice, although aluminum and bronze also have been used. He said the machining and finishing are not particularly problematic. Rather, the shaping is most difficult.

“Welding distortion is an issue,” he said. “That is a real challenge, and developing flat patterns for weird artistic shapes is an interesting challenge. But we’re capable of building most anything.”

Pollard said the manufacturer approaches art projects in the same serious way that it approaches building a tool for Boeing Co., a client for 25 years.

“Whenever we talk about artwork—or even particularly challenging industrial fabrication, welding or machining—the craftsmanship and the skill of the people is so important,” he said. “It’s a team effort.”

The company added more craftsmanship and people in February when it acquired The Gear Works, Seattle Inc., its neighbor across the street. The purchase of the gear manufacturer’s facility and equipment more than doubled manufacturing space to over 200,000 sq. ft. Many Gear Works employees, including top managers and craftspeople, were brought over as well, giving Machinists a head count of about 200.

WorWorkers at Machinists move a 14'-tall bronze sculpture conceptualized by local artist Julie Speidel before its installation in downtown Seattle last year. Photo courtesy of Machinists.kers at Machinists move a 14'-tall bronze sculpture conceptualized by local artist Julie Speidel before its installation in downtown Seattle last year. Photo courtesy of Machinists.

Related Glossary Terms

  • flat ( screw flat)

    flat ( screw flat)

    Flat surface machined into the shank of a cutting tool for enhanced holding of the tool.

  • precision machining ( precision measurement)

    precision machining ( precision measurement)

    Machining and measuring to exacting standards. Four basic considerations are: dimensions, or geometrical characteristics such as lengths, angles and diameters of which the sizes are numerically specified; limits, or the maximum and minimum sizes permissible for a specified dimension; tolerances, or the total permissible variations in size; and allowances, or the prescribed differences in dimensions between mating parts.

  • shaping


    Using a shaper primarily to produce flat surfaces in horizontal, vertical or angular planes. It can also include the machining of curved surfaces, helixes, serrations and special work involving odd and irregular shapes. Often used for prototype or short-run manufacturing to eliminate the need for expensive special tooling or processes.


WFL Multifunction Turning and Milling Centers are employed across various industries, with aerospace being a significant market. ArianeGroup, at the forefront of space transportation, stands as a…

Shipments of cutting tools, measured by the Cutting Tool Market Report compiled in a collaboration between AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology and the U.S. Cutting Tool Institute (…

EXAIR, a leader in engineered compressed air solutions and static elimination, and BETE, an engineered spray nozzle and spraying systems manufacturer, have entered into a definitive merger agreement…