Rare, century-old industrial woodworking machine fully restored, on display in museum
June 11, 2021 | 10:07 am CDT
Greenlee Variety Woodworker

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - A woodworking machine built more than a century ago is now on display at a national museum in Pennsylvania.

The 4,230-pound Variety Woodworker, from toolmaker Greenlee, was built in 1910 and is the only machine of its kind to still exist. The machine was named 'Variety' for a reason - it can plane, joint, square, bevel, tenon, raise panels, and do a multitude of other things. 

73-year-old woodworker Steve Williams recently purchased the machine from a cabinetmaker who acquired it from the Montana-based Anaconda Copper Company in a liquidation sale in 1979. 

Greenlee Variety Woodworker

Anaconda Copper used the Variety Woodworker to cut massive wooden patterns, which were pressed into sand to create industrial-sized molds. The molds were then filled with molten metal and became the company's gears that it used for its mining operations.

The machine's manufacturer Greenlee dates back to the Civil War when it built woodworking machines. Today, Greenlee specializes in electrical tools. 

Most Variety Woodworkers were melted down during World War II, according to Greenlee.

Greenlee Variety Woodworker
Williams (left) restored the machine before delivering it to the National Museum of Industrial History in Pennsylvania. The restoration took 1,500 hours.

Appreciating the machine's significance, Williams asked the Smithsonian if they'd be interested in it, who accepted the machine for its affiliate museum, the National Museum of Industrial History.

Williams, a lifelong woodworker, decided he would restore the machine before delivering it to the museum. Although the machine was in pretty good condition - and still equipped with its original fasteners - Williams says it took him 1,500 hours to restore.

The machine arrived at the National Museum of Industrial History on May 27, where it's set to remain permanently. It's being displayed alongside other giant working industrial machines. 

If you're interested in learning more about the Variety Woodworker, check out the museum's article here: https://www.nmih.org/greenlee-delivery/ 

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About the author
Robert Dalheim

Robert Dalheim is an editor at the Woodworking Network. Along with publishing online news articles, he writes feature stories for the FDMC print publication. He can be reached at robert.dalheim@woodworkingnetwork.com.