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New Lab Features Old Equipment

It’s Berea College’s newest technology and industrial arts laboratory, but those who attended the lab’s open house Tuesday, Sept. 28 noticed a step back in time.

Painting Displayed at the Entrance of Lab

The Monty Saulmon Early Technology Lab is not only filled with authentic – and operational – hand-powered tools and machinery, but the classroom itself has been transformed to resemble a 19th century woodworking shop. In the lab are more than 100 tools and pieces of hand or foot-powered equipment, from augers and clamps to large band saws. The largest item is also one of the oldest in the collection - a Great Wheel Lathe made before 1800 that requires two people to power and operate it.

Even the open house was out of the ordinary. The “ribbon cutting” ceremony involved sawing in half a 6”x6” beam across the doorway using a 2-person saw – with students on one end and various officials, including Berea College President Larry Shinn, on the other.

The 24’ x 28’ laboratory was built and set up in only four weeks over the summer with an Undergraduate Research and Creative Projects grant from Berea College. Those involved were assistant professor Brad Christensen and TIA majors Carrie Causey, Ben Ingram and Ethan Minney, who had a hand in every aspect of its creation. The entire lab was built from wood utilizing 16 pine trees cut from the Berea College Forest. After cutting, the students sawed the trees into lumber and then dried it in the Technology Department’s solar kiln. The lab’s computer is camouflaged in what looks like an old slant-top desk, and electrified lanterns hung from the wooden posts also add to the lab’s vintage look. Labels with each piece of equipment provide information about origin and use.

Plans for the early technology lab began several years ago when Saulmon, a 1964 Berea College alumnus and industrial arts major, donated the collection to Berea. A former industrial arts teacher in the Washington D.C.-Maryland area, Saulmon offered the collection with the understanding that the tools, some of which are more than 200 years old, were to be used by students, not just displayed. Since then, students and faculty have been researching and repairing them, helped by several boxes of old catalogs and books donated with the tools and Saulmon’s own personal notes.

Only about 10% of the approximately 1000 tools in the Saulmon collection are currently in the lab. Over time, as tools are researched and repaired, they will be rotated in and out of use. A computer database of the collection that includes all information known about the origin, manufacture and use of each tool has been started also, and will eventually be accessible online.

Technology department faculty are not aware of another college or university campus in the country with a similar laboratory or of one that has a comparable collection of early hand tools and machinery of comparable age, quality, variety and quantity, that is available for students to use.

Some of the tools were used in a Short Term course taught in Jan. 2003 called “Woodworking Unplugged, “ but beginning this fall, the laboratory will finally make experiences with early technology available to a wide variety of classes year-round. The facility will also be open to visitors.

For more information, contact Dr. Brad Christensen at (859) 985-3557 or Gary Mahoney, TIA department chair, at (859) 985-3063.

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