"In the hands of a craftsman even sub-standard equipment can be setup to shave the hair off of a gnats rear end" 

-- Peter "Hungry Pete" Leibler, 1979

We'll never forget !!!

Those words were coined in 1979 by my friend Peter Leibler who was a virtuoso on the precision bench lathe and the horizontal mill. Peter was a master machinist from the "old" country. He was born in the early 1900's in a province of Austria that is now part of Hungary and learned his trade the old fashioned way -- the apprenticeship, journeyman, master machinist route. He escaped from Hungary in the late 1950's and came to the US to ply his trade.

Peter taught me how to work with, and what to look for in a quality machine. He taught me how to setup and measure my work accurately, and best of all Peter told great stories. I once asked Peter how he got his nick name "Hungry Pete" since by the looks of it he was as skinny as a rail and was hardly ever ravenous -- except for that pack of Camel non-filter cigarettes that was his constant companion. He told me that when he came to the US he found work at a machine shop in New Jersey and there were several employees with the name Peter. So to distinguish the employees the foreman called him "Hungarian Pete", which became "Hungary Pete" and eventually (in the grand American tradition) became "Hungry Pete".

Peter was a kind and unassuming man who loved his trade and who had a passion for travel -- especially in southeast and middle Asia. I guess if you'd grown up and experienced WWI, the depression, WWII, and a communist dictatorship you'd have a passion for free travel as well. He especially enjoyed visiting fellow craftsman in these countries to share ideas and "talk shop". The point is that Pete knew machine tools and he knew something about Asian craftsmen and their methods.

One of my favorite stories was about a trip Pete had made to Pakistan and his travels to the northern provinces. He told of remarkable gunsmiths who could build beautiful copies of modern rifles (i.e., Colt M16, HK and Galil Types) within a few weeks. They machined near perfect receivers with home built, belt-driven lathes and mills. He was astounded by the quality, fit and finish of these weapons and said that they could stand up to the most rigorous scrutiny. He also said that although they were very well made, the metallurgy left a lot to be desired and you really didn't want to shoot one of those damn things -- but that's off the point.

The fact is Pete visited a lot of machine shops in his travels and he said that the he was always amazed at the high quality of work that these craftsmen were putting out given their equipment was practically archaic.

Last year (2001) I spent over half of the year working on a project in Hsinchu Taiwan and like any good "enthusiast" was fascinated by the sheer number of cottage industry machine shops that exist in that city. The typical shops that I visited were not much larger than my home hobby shop and usually employed between 5 and 12 people. The tool(s) of choice in many of these shops were Taiwanese, or mainland Chinese 3-in-1 machines. Although by our standards the shops were dingy, poorly lit and ventilated (the EPA and OSHA would have had a "field day") I was impressed with the way they handled and maintained these tools. They treated them with the same reverence and respect as do our own domestic pros with their Bridgeports.

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