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Shop Math: How to Convert Weight to Length the Old-fashioned Way

Kevin is getting ready to spool up some filament for his 3D printer. A new - well, old - tool is going to help solve a problem he's been having when 3D printing.

His 3D printer software tells him how many millimeters of filament he will need for to create each print. Unfortunately, filament manufacturers sell their product in pounds or kilograms and don't provide the length of the filament on a spool. So Caron didn't have any way to know if a spool would have enough filament to do a job.

Kevin begins looking for some kind of counter - a wire counter, a length counter, a digital something, something he can make or jig together. What he found was a piece of old technology: the Improved Wire Measuring Machine. Says Kevin: "That seemed pretty much what I was looking for."

It was about a third the cost of the digital counters Kevin was looking at, and he would have had to create mechanisms such as how to feed the filament through. So he bought it, saving money and getting a machine that was ready to work!

The description on eBay said the machine was from about 1906 or 1907. Kevin tried looking up John J. Waldman, the manufacturer, but the company apparently no longer exists.

The machine has three dials that go from 0 to 10. So how the heck does it count? If it's measuring length in inches, you'd think at least one of the dials would go from 0 to 12. Kevin decides to test it.

He cuts a 2-foot-long piece of filament and runs it through the measuring machine. The machine is pretty simple. A lever picks up the machine's idler wheel. Then Kevin pushes the test filament through the side of the machine and it comes out the other end.

After the 2 feet of filament have gone through, you can see the imachine's bottom ndicator resting on the "2." The middle dial has moved a bit. The top dial has moved but noticeably less. That suggests that the bottom dial measures from 0 to 10 feet, the middle dial from 10 feet to 100 feet, and the top dial from 100 to 1000 feet.

Now that Kevin knows what the machine is measuring, he can start splicing together bits and pieces of filament. Then he'll feed it from his supply wheel through his sizer (to make sure there are no bulges in the filament), through his measuring machine, and onto his new spool. Now he'll know how many feet of filament he has.

That lets Kevin to go back to new technology, using the calculator on his smartphone to convert inches to millimeters. Now he knows if he has enough filament for a 3D print job. It's fun bringing the old and the new together.

What the heck - hang around for another moment to see Kevin demonstrate his smooth moves ....

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