Tools Down #01: An Introduction
Welcome to a new blog series, hell who am I kidding, it's the first real blog post I've attempted to write.
Hi there. My name is Dylan, owner and operator of United Machining, Inc. For awhile now I've wanted to put the tools down so to speak and dive deeper into how this business came to be, where it's going and from time to time riff on life in general.
I grew up tinkering. A never ending curiosity for the world around me and what can be created with my own two hands was a driving force that started as long ago as I can remember and still drives me today. Sure there were missteps, the popsicle slingshot that blew up in my face, the air cannon that blew up in my friends face, the countless fires that somehow never got out of hand. Okay there may or may not be a trend there. I never could properly build a trebuchet as a kid but I damn sure tried.
Once the destructive tendencies subsided my first real hobby turned into RC Cars, first electric then eventually nitro cars. I spent years modifying them only to become aware of the fact that I liked building them more than I liked using them. That desire to change something existing would later turn into modifying actual cars but that's another story for another time.
Why is this relevant? Well it led directly to the creation of United Machining. I was a senior in college at age 22 working towards a business degree knowing full well in the back of my mind that a desk job was not the life path for me. Naturally I started to wonder what in the world I should attempt to do. I determined I wanted to work with my hands, I've been doing it all my life and it's what I enjoy doing.
I started to wonder what I could do that would pose enough of a challenge for me to not get bored with eventually. After looking into other trades I started to think about machining. At the time I just bought a mini desktop lathe thinking I could make custom shift knobs (I was in my prime car modification stage of life). I had no clue how to operate a lathe but figured how hard could it be? I did eventually figure it out out while simultaneously failing to make any shift knobs. The first of many, many, many failures to come.
I started to browse craigslist ads for machine shops and came across one for a local shop. I sent an email and soon had an interview that I showed up to in a full suit (I went to a business school, this is what they instill in you to do). It was only later I realized how funny that must have looked and anyone that works in a shop is bound to understand how wildly over dressed I was for a job that ultimately I got and had me doing grunt work. I knew next to nothing about machining upon getting hired.
I had the pleasure of growing up close to my grandfather who also owned a successful machine shop. It's not something we ever talked about much however. I'll always wish that we had but prior to his death I expressed no real interest in machining. He did however show me some things along the way as I was always attempting to make something. He was good with letting me do my own thing yet giving helpful tips. I'd encourage any parent or adult figure to do the same with a child, let them explore, don't do the work for them.
I still remember him trying to teach me how to read a micrometer (an instrument used to precisely measure the diameter of an object) at a young age. I'm not entirely sure I understood back then but here I am using one almost every day. He did teach me to how to use a hand file properly. I think I've cringed every time I've seen someone improperly use one since then. Pick up the file on the back stroke people!
That was about it, all of my experience with machining prior to being in that shop. My main responsibilities at that time were to keep the shop floor clean and do whatever odds and ends I was asked to do. It quickly became obvious to myself and my coworkers that this line of work clicked with me. Over time I was given more and more responsibility. I was taught how to inspect parts and did that first while slowly being shown things on the machines. I worked in a shop that only had Swiss Lathes which I think made things easier at the time, only having to get familiar with one style of machine. Machining made sense to me, mechanical sympathy I like to call it. Knowing what you can and can't get away with when cutting metal. Most everything in this industry makes sense to me in a way that I can't explain.
There I was having gone from no machine shop experience to setting up Swiss Lathes in under a year and a half. While there I became friendly with a coworker that one day wanted to start his own shop. Ever since being a teenager I knew I one day wanted to start a business, no particular business, just something. Why did I want to? I think it stemmed from the desire of being one of the good ones, a business that treats people fairly and to put it bluntly, doesn't pull shady shit on people just to make a buck.
The idea of owning a shop was intriguing. I was good at machining, well relatively good at it. Few people in my mind ever become truly good at this black magic of a job known as machining. If you think you're getting good at it that's exactly when you'll hit a bad batch of 304 Stainless Steel and it will have you questioning your life choices. It's a purely experience driven job and I've still only just begun. Past nightmares aside I liked the idea of being able to go in my own direction with a shop.
The talks with my now ex business partner (an amicable split) began to grow and grow and well one day there I am giving away my life information to a bank with a half baked business plan based entirely off of number projections that I pulled out of my ass and voila! They approved us. For some reason.
The first iteration of United Machining began during the summer of 2014 in a detached garage at my mothers house. Just large enough for a Swiss Lathe with a 6' barfeeder and some manual lathes which were primarily used in supporting the Swiss Lathe (make knock out pins, turn down bar ends, etc.)
The first 3 years were, well, challenging. I spent them hanging on from month to month, not knowing how much longer the business could be sustained or why in the world I was even doing it. I guess my burning desire to see things through and the reality of the amount of debt I'd be in if I tried to get out of owning the shop kept me going. It was these stressful years that instilled in me how important it is to take life day by day. Control what you can control and let the rest fall away. Find joy in those who choose to doubt you.
In an effort to not turn this into a book because there's so many stories and subjects to dive into on a deeper level in their own time let's fast forward to today. I moved the shop out of that single car garage in the summer of 2017 to where it resides now. A commercial space in Worcester, MA. United Machining went from a single Swiss Lathe to now also having two CNC Mills and one CNC Turning Center. A proverbial dream shop in my mind and in reality, the work has only just begun.
Since the business has started I always had a desire to do both job shop work and internal work, our own products. Throughout the years I've had minor success with my own products but job shop work always dominated due to having to pay the bills. Those pesky things. I've decided to take the risk and put much more effort into making and selling my own products. So here we are, I've pushed all the chips into the pot with the creation of The Grinder. Let the chips fall where they may. If nothing else it will be one interesting ride!
Oh and why the name United Machining? I always told myself I'd put United in the name of whatever business it was I would one day start. Why United? My grandfathers shop was named United Tool. Rest easy gramps.