Big Complicated Machines

BCMs #4 – A Craven Brothers Tool

Craven Brothers (Manchester) Limited Vertical Mill, Extra-Large Size

Greetings, everyone.

Today’s post is more of a “see what I’ve found” rather than an actual article, but I believe that you will find it interesting.

The photo above is of a 42 foot Vertical Boring and Turning Mill, manufactured by Craven Brothers (Manchester) Limited. I came across the Craven Bros. while searching for interesting large machinery, and they are something of a jackpot find.

Craven Brothers was formed in 1853 as manufacturers of machine tools for locomotive manufacturers and the armaments industry. They specialized in outsize and individually built machine tools, such as the 600 ton behemoth shown above. The company folded in 1970 after many years of financial troubles. In the time that they were in business, however, they produced some incredible machinery.

As I find interesting examples of their machinery, I’ll post them here with whatever information I can find, and we can all marvel at these wonderful beasts and wonder at what they were used to make.

In the case of this giant vertical mill, I have no idea as to what it was built to make. The tool deck looks like it can ascend to about 15 feet above the 42 foot faceplate (or Platter? Chuck?), so this thing could work some truly enormous pieces of metal.  Giant pulleys or gears? Hull sections for a submarine? Big plates with lots of precisely drilled holes?

What do you guys think they made with this thing?

  • Gun barrels for warships, perhaps?

    • The Professor

      Hmmm, I don't think it was used for barrels, but perhaps for parts to the turrets for large naval rifles, like bearing plates and such.

      • Alff

        Yes that makes more sense – large diameter items of moderate height.

      • CaptianNemo2001

        Looks like a vertical turret lathe. And according to google image search it is.


  • As a guess, this machine was, for indeterminate reasons, absolutely vital for the production of every single specialty tool required to make the maintenance of British cars a halfway pleasant experience.

    Then they decommissioned it.

    • The Professor

      You're just wishing that there even was a machine to make those tools. Like looking for a unicorn.

  • P161911

    Could be for aircraft manufacture?

    My grandfather was a mechanic at Lockheed. His job was to keep the big CNC milling machines running. The programming for those machines was kept on large metal punch card type disks.

  • PowerTryp

    A whole lot of noise.

    • The Professor

      I would image that when they started that thing up with a huge, heavy piece of steel on it, then moved the cutter into the steel, that the resulting din was impressive.

  • GlassOnion9

    Hydroelectric Dam parts

    Like This

    • The Professor

      It could very well have been the purpose. It's of the same scale, at any rate.

  • B72

    We used some pretty big stuff when forming the ductwork for jet engines. It was just sheet metal, but we needed the large platter sizes so we could do a final form (press) or trim (lathe) after welding the seam.

    • The Professor

      Ok, big I can understand for jet engines, but 42 feet in diameter? That's a pretty impressive jet engine. One of those could ingest a Hummer and not flame out.

      • B72

        Yes, nothing like 42 feet. What about using one of these things to make the gears for a bucket wheel excavator?

        • The Professor

          Hmmm, well, maybe for some of the smaller gears, but for the big turntable gear, I don't think that 42 feet is big enough. That's a good idea though.

  • craigsu

    This may be where you found the photo, but here are more examples of Craven machinery:

    • The Professor

      Now, don't go and give the game away, dammit…><
      I actually found it in another document, but the site that you maliciously pointed out had a larger picture;)

      • craigsu

        Well, it's not like I can PM you here. Besides, all I found were more pictures. It's still your job to come up with the background on the machines. Plus, I blame you for my newfound obsession with Girl Genius.

        • The Professor

          So Agatha's got you hooked too, eh? That's great. Don't you just love the Jaegermonsters?

          If you want to get a message to me, you can use to my attention, or send mail to and Mitch will forward it to me. You see, I'm too small of a fish to rate an actual email address here, and it's a little too public to post my real email address here in comments.

          You wouldn't believe the amount of research I do on some of these dumb articles that I do. I don't believe it. I must be insane to have agreed to this.

          • What, this stuff?


            You can ask Pete about the noted rocketeer in the fourth panel; he met her at the LeMons race in Oregon.

          • The Professor

            You mean this Melissa Rogers?

            <img src="
  ; style="border:none;" alt=" " border="0" width="400">

            Long Eared Sunfish Drawing – Melissa Rogers

          • The Professor

            In case I just confused you, this text should accompany the picture:
            Long Eared Sunfish Drawing – Melissa Rogers

          • Adding the text is nice, although I'd already figured out that much from the URL of the image. No, the panel doesn't refer to the painter in Tennessee, but my girlfriend, the rocketeer in Washington.

          • The Professor

            Hmmm, I did I google on her name, and most of the kits were of some model. I knew that couldn't be right, so I guessed at the fish. That wasn't it either. I'm losing my touch.
            So, your girlfriend builds rockets? Cool. What's she doing in Girl Genius?

          • The Foglios are local and are very nice people. They donated a complete (at the time) set of autographed volumes of Girl Genius along with the right of future appearance of someone's name as a silent auction item in an annual charity event run by one of the local papers. I won and gave her the books.

            She and I had met through rocketry, so the Foglios worked that reference into the appearance. I even managed to keep that entire part of the prize a secret from her until she saw it in the comic the day it ran.

            As a final, unexpected bonus, they tucked a sketch into one of the volumes. As I said, nice people.

          • The Professor

            What nice people. They sound like a nice couple if you read the various notes and comments on their site. It was pretty cute when they won their first Hugo award, they were so excited and proud. Now, they're up to three and recusing themselves to give other artists a chance, which I think is pretty classy.
            I found their site by accident and fell in love with their artwork and sense of humor. In addition to "Girl Genius", "Buck Godot, Zap Gun for Hire" is also excellent.
            I'll have to buy some of their books when I can get a little ahead. Maybe I can sneak it into the next budget…

          • craigsu

            The Jaegers are great but they also present the biggest challenge I have with the novel. Once I read the Jaeger-text (Hyu must be von schmott guy!) it becomes difficult to switch out of the Germanic influence and back to English. It sticks in my head for the wrong characters.

          • The Professor

            I know what you mean, although I get more of a bad Russian accent from the Jaegers, kind of like Chekov from Star Trek TOS. Whatever it is, it sticks in your head. I keep wanting to say "Vot a schmott guy!" to people in comments.

          • craigsu

            Oh great, now I'll be interjecting Chekov into the Jaeger mix.  That will make it even more comical than usual.

  • 2ndConstitution

    Old question but I happened to work in a plant in the ’60s that had a 42 foot swing VBM. The table was smaller and outriggers were used on which the workpiece rested. It was used to machine hydroelectric plant turbine intakes.

  • CruisinTime

    I enjoyed the Mesta memories series you published.