Shaver and Dictaphone Blanks

Dictaphone Model 7

It was back in 1978 and 1979 that I started getting more serious about gathering all of the required information to be able to eventually record my own Edison cylinders. The only physical evidence that I had at this time, that indicated that this was even possible were the remains of my grandfather's incomplete  home recorder, and one ancient, very worn out and cracked brown wax blank that had a barely audible home recording on it that he had made sometime prior to 1920.  Unfortunately that blank eventually broke into two halves and was subsequently lost in a move.
It was around in this 1978-1979 time frame that I met some of the local Milwaukee people who were involved with these things.  I met Bill Frick who was at that time the curator of exhibits at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.  I met and visited phonograph collector Larry Schlick who turned out to live only a few blocks from my childhood home in Wauwatosa, Wisc. which is a far west suburb of Milwaukee.  And let me not forget Greg Filardo, whom I also visited when I toured his lavishly furnished victorian mansion on the near west side of Milwaukee.  About all I remember about Greg's place was its immense size, and that attic chocked full of every exotic cylinder machine known to man, with several concert machines crammed closely together. Greg and I started talking about brown wax blanks and I told him of my far-out plans to eventually mold them. He suggested going to a candle wax store and getting some carnauba wax.  I later did pick up a slab of carnauba and had it for years, and with it in a quaker oats oatmeal box were the 2 halves of my grandfather's old brown wax blank.  Lost that somewhere along the way.
Bill Frick was very helpful and a good friend.  He had made some Edison cylinder recordings in the past and he told me how to use Dictaphone or Ediphone blanks cut down on a shaving machine.  It was Bill who tipped me off that there was a very nice Dictaphone Model 7 Type S shaver at an old office supply store in downtown Milwaukee.   "$75, they are asking too much"
I went and looked at it and it was hardly used!  The stitching was (and still is now in 2013) intact on the leather belt.  $75 was their price and $75 I paid. It came with half a dozen or so Ediphone dictation blanks.  I was getting closer.
But then it dawned on me that I would be working in the dark unless I had some way to measure the diameter of the cylinders as they are shaved.  So I went and bought a set of Sears Craftsman dial calipers.  That tool measures accurately to the nearest .001 inch. (.0005 if you squint)
Bill told me how to protect the shaver mandrel with a thin strip of cardboard and how to use a big darning needle to cut off the end of the 6 inch long dictation blank, shortening it up to 4.5 inches or so, to fit the Edison phonograph. So after getting used how the shaver works I finally cut off an Ediphone blank on it.  The needle works great as a parting-off tool. Cuts it right off.  Then came the shaving down to phonograph diameter. NOS Ediphone blanks are about 2.384 inch diameter, and the maximum size that the Edison phonograph can handle is 2.196 inch.  That takes about 30 shaves, taking off about .006 inches of material off the diameter for each shave.  It is a rather long slog and it destroys a beautiful dictation blank but it does produce a phonograph blank.
It is not so commonly known that the exact taper was used on Dictation machine mandrels as were used on Edison cylinder phonographs.  In this way, the whole standard cylinder format was preserved and in use up until and even into the 1960s, in offices everywhere!  When one considers how long the entertainment cylinders had been gone by 1960, it is fortunate indeed that all of the cylinder type office machines have mandrels that can accept phonograph blanks.  Phonograph blanks can also be recorded and played on the dictation machines, but the groove width and the feed is different from the phonograph's, so the two groove systems are not compatible.  But hey, lucky that the basic format was preserved!
Bill Frick was the gentleman who told me that the very first thing to get is the shaver.  I took his advise, and have never looked back since.  That turned out to be one of the wisest things anyone has ever told me.
It was 1979 when I attended the Union show for the first time.  It was there that I found my first recorder. It was in pieces, but they were all there, and I was able to get it all back together and working ok.  A few years later at another Union show, I bought another recorder in simliar shape and put it back together too.
So, about roughly one year after setting out to make cylinder recordings, the day finally came for the very first test recordings.  They were, of course not very loud at first. But it worked, and much better than I had anticipated.
It was right after those first tests that I visited Larry Schlick again and he lent to me over 20 recording horns of all shapes and sizes.  I can still see him running all around his house grabbing every conical horn in sight and stacking it near the front door!  That made for some very good testing and the one that still to this day stands out far above the rest of them was the little narrow 3 inch by 29 inch grey sheet metal horn.  I think it had a galvanized finish back in it's day, but when I used it, it had a dark finish. It sure sounded great though!
I still have that cut down Ediphone blank that has the "21 recording tests" using all of those horns.  It plays not quite as crisply now in 2013 as it did in 1979, due to the way Ediphone dictation wax reacts to the air and the time.  But it does play ok, and that was my first real solid result. I also have my father recorded on Ediphone wax from the next summer after that: "This is July, 1980, using the old Edison machine, which we resurrected from the shop attic 10 years ago, or 12 years ago, or when ever it was".  He passed on in 1994, but he comes to life every time that record gets played. Ironic it's on Ediphone dictation wax of all things, because that stuff is meant only to store recorded messages for a few days at most!
So, with the shaving machine, a few Ediphone blanks, a rebuilt recorder and some small home made recording horns, the kit was fairly complete in its first early configuration. Recordings could be made and played back.  But, depending on Dictaphone or Ediphone dictation blanks was from the very beginning only a stepping stone to get up and running and to learn.  I still wanted to make blanks from scratch, and that would have to wait another 29 years!  To do it I needed a mold, and in 1980, I knew nothing at all about Edison cylinder molds.
My only advantage was that I worked as a pencil and paper draftsman back then, and I worked as a contractor. I got to be all in and around many of the industrial factories that were in the Milwaukee area at that time. This was still back before computers took over.  This was still back in the days when men made things in Milwaukee. This was just before the huge collapse of nearly everything we knew in that town. In 1980, times were still good. People were working, things were being made. I saw lots of tool design.  I drew up and measured lots of machine parts every day, so a cylinder mold was not such a huge unknown.  It did require some extra study and work, but it was not like starting completely cold...or so I thought anyway.
Next segment: Union again, Making the Mold