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August 2014

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The $200 Freedom Machine

New Orleans Local 130 member Pat Delany is not the first IBEW member who wanted his own machine shop when he retired. He may well be the only one whose desire to have one has the potential to unleash a global industrial renaissance.

Since retiring from New Orleans Local 130 in 1997, Delany has been tirelessly perfecting the MultiMachine, a combination metal lathe, milling machine, chop saw and grinding machine that is highly accurate, cheap and simple enough that it can be built by someone with no more mechanical training than a rural bike mechanic in the developing world — all for less than $200.

Using the MultiMachine, a minimally trained user could not only create useful replacement parts to repair cars, tractors and water pumps, they can create new tools to help them make more useful things. In underdeveloped economies in Asia, Africa and Central and South America where access to the international marketplace for parts and tools is severely limited — a description that potentially includes billions of people — the MultiMachine has enormous promise.

"This project is doing demonstrable good for the world. Pat should be a hero," said Joshua Pearce, head of Michigan Tech's Open Sustainability Technology Lab and an associate professor of materials science and engineering. "The MultiMachine could realistically let poor people around the world jump hundreds of years forward in technology and transform the economies of entire regions."

A metal lathe and a milling machine are not only powerful tools themselves — with a little knowledge, someone can use them to make nearly any other tool. At that point the only limit is the skill and imagination of the person at the controls.

"The metal lathe is the centerpiece tool of western civilization. It made the industrial revolution possible," Delany said. "I'd always had access to whatever tools I needed when I was on the job, but after I retired, they were gone. I wanted them back."

Even a used metal lathe is expensive. For the last 30 years he had been running a small gas and oil services firm and while it provided for the family and put four children through college, it left little for the machine shop. However, Delany is not the type to give up and he had seen too many people retire with nothing to do and quickly fade away.

"It's tragic. They sat down and never got up," he said. Delany decided he would build a home machine shop from nothing and let people know how he did it. (He lays it all out at

"I figured a lot of people would do this if they could, and then once I got started, I realized that people anywhere could," he said.

What makes machine tools special is their ability to repeatedly produce precisely sized and shaped objects. Normally this requires two very expensive attributes: high weight to make a solid base and extremely accurate manufacturing.

The key moment in developing an affordable machine tool was recognizing that there is a nearly ubiquitous, precisely manufactured, strong and heavy hunk of metal that is easily found in junk piles anywhere in the world: an engine block. Cylinder bores are always parallel to one another and exactly perpendicular to the block's head.

Delany didn't come up with the original idea. He found it, and many other technologies applied in the MultiMachine, while poring over vintage mechanics magazines, some from the 19th century. But Delany greatly expanded the idea by joining two engine blocks together and mounting a spindle based on a bicycle axle through one of the cylinder bores on the upper engine.

The result is a machine that can turn scrap metal into farm implements. It can resurface brake rotors, machine spare parts for hand pumps and bicycles, even create better parts to upgrade itself.

"It transforms garbage into a very valuable tool," Pearce said. "There is a world of productivity enhancing machines that are inaccessible to the poor, because they lack capital, but even if they have the capital, they have no access because there is no Lowe's or Home Depot around the corner."

Spreading the Word

For the last 10 years, Delany has been the ringleader of an online community of enthusiasts, inventors and engineers that have honed and expanded the idea (now found at He has been adopted by the new do-it-yourself movement and featured in Make magazine, which has a combined online and print audience of nearly 1 million people. He even flew to Lagos and demonstrated the MultiMachine there.

But several years ago, one of the prototypes fell and injured Delany's back. He had to have surgery, but he has severely limited mobility on his left side and is restricted to a wheelchair. It's been so bad that development has stalled on his latest project, an equally cheap metal lathe precise to 1/10,000th on an inch that uses concrete instead of cast iron as a base.

"With these two machines, anyone anywhere can make 98 percent of the projects that any machine shop in America works on," Delany said. "There is remarkable mechanical ability even in the most desolate places. Get these tools out there, teach some zinc-aluminum casting techniques and they can make anything they need."

Delany is looking for more people to make MultiMachines and the concrete lathes, people who can help spread the word and teach others how to do it as well.

"My modest goal was to change the world, but I know I can't go on much longer," Delany said. "I don't know how many of my brothers and sisters are interested in this kind of charity work, but I need people to push it and keep it going."


Retired New Orleans Local 130 member Pat Delany with the all-in-one machine shop he invented.

This photograph first appeared in Make: Magazine Volume 37. Copyright Maker Media, Inc. January 2014. Reprinted with permission.