IBM Cheese Cutter Restoration

For a while now, Mac Pro towers have had the nickname “cheese grater” because of their superficial resemblance to this kitchen appliance. Apple has only been a company since the 70s, though, and is much newer than one of its historic rivals, IBM. In fact, IBM is old enough to have made actual cheese-related computers as far back as the 1910s, and [Hand Tool Rescue] recently obtained one of these antique machines for a complete restoration.

The tool arrived to the restoration workshop in a state so poor that it was difficult to tell what many of the parts on the machine did except for the large cleaver at the top. The build starts with a teardown to its individual parts, cleaning and restoring them to their original luster, machining new ones where needed, and then putting it all back together. The real mystery of this build was what the levers on the underside of the machine were supposed to do, but after the refurbishment it was discovered that these are the way that portions the cheese wheel would be accurately sized and priced before a cut was made.

By placing a section of a wheel of cheese on the machine and inputting its original weight with one of the levers, the second lever is adjusted to the weight of cheese that the customer requested, which rotates the wheel of cheese to the correct position before a cut is made. To us who are spoiled with a world full of electronic devices, a mechanical computer like this seems almost magical, especially with how accurate it is, but if your business in the 1910s involved cheese, this would have been quite normal. In fact, it would be 50 more years before IBM created the machines that they’re more commonly known for.

Thanks to [Jasper Jans] for the tip!

30 thoughts on “IBM Cheese Cutter Restoration

  1. Nice work. I liked watching it. The cutting mechanism itself, however, seems somewhat suboptimal to me. When the knife’s front corner has penetrated and is on its way to the center it will inevitably push out parts of the cheese at the narrow end. Sorry, but if I want to sell those pieces of cheese afterwards, this is not acceptable.

    1. Noticed that, too. It would seem that the inner edge of the knife should be sharpened as well. Didn’t get a close look at the original blade to see if that was the case. I find it hard to believe that the designers of such a clever tool would have overlooked that detail, though.

  2. Believe it or not I was surfing youtube and actually found this.
    Here I come to Hack a day and here it is.
    You have to admit, it was quite impressive to watch.
    It’s amazing what was done at the time. No computers needed.
    Just math a little engineering know how.

    1. Oh, but it does have a computer–an *analog* mechanical computer.

      Electronic digital computers are so dominant these days that it’s easy to forget that there are other kinds!

  3. When I was a kid, IBM was somewhat famous for having a policy that they would repair (for a fee, of course) anything that they had ever made. I wonder what IBM would make of this device today.

  4. [Hand Tool Rescue]’s channel is well worth watching – he recently restored a fractal vise that got a bunch of people 3D-printing them.

    My personal favorite is the apple peeler/corer ( the mechanism at the end is extremely satisfying to watch.

    He also does limited production runs of antique-pattern adjustable wrenches… My brother has a pair of them and lives them.

  5. -Horatio, It looks like the victim was killed with a sharp blade
    -Do We found the blade?
    -Yes, but the blade was part of an old IBM Computing Cheese Cutter
    -This murder (He puts the sunglasses on) smells cheesy

  6. Fascinating. I had no idea that IBM’s roots went that far back. But I do remember hearing that the name IBM was chosen to position the company ahead of rival NCR back in the day…

    National Cash Register
    International Business Machines

    AT&T made a halfhearted attempt at being “Global Information Systems” for a little while.

  7. Antique IBM Cheese Cutter. I wonder if it came with mandatory recurring annual maintenance and software license fees, like everything else IBM sells these days. If so, and you paid them, by now the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for that Cheese Cutter would be astronomical – exactly as planned.

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