In the Shop with Clement, Studio DUNN's Go-To Machinist
Tucked away in hidden corners of Rhode Island, unassuming workshops are humming with activity. Welding, machining, polishing, casting - our state has a rich history of industrial labor and fabrication that still exists today.
Studio DUNN planted its roots in the Ocean State for this very reason - the scope and quality of the local manufacturers' capabilities can't be beat. But in typical Rhode Island fashion, you have to know about them to know about them, if you know what I mean. As a student at RISD, Studio DUNN's owner and designer, Asher, forged relationships with nearby establishments that he continues to utilize today.
One such unassuming place is Clement Machine Tool Co., Inc. Located about 2 miles south of Studio DUNN along the Seekonk River, Clement fabricates custom parts for our Sorenthia Collection. Clement doesn't have a website or a Facebook page. Forget about a Pinterest account. It confounds the internet, being categorized online as a hardware store, automotive repairer, and machine shop. In truth, it's all of these things, and more.
The shop's owner, Tom Clement, is a man of few words. During his last run to pick up parts, Asher was able to pry a bit of the company's history and current operations from the reticent machinist.
Clement Machine Tool Co., Inc. was started by Tom's father, Larry, in 1976. As Tom recalls, he got involved about a year later, around the age of 16. He had always worked with his dad around the workshop, sweeping and cleaning mostly. One day, Larry pointed to an operation on one of the machines and said, "Come here. Do this." And that was that. Tom has been machining ever since.
The company doesn't specialize in any one thing, rather they do a bit of everything - making replacement parts, one-off prototypes, and small to medium production runs. We asked Tom a few questions about his day-to-day operations.
Q: What materials do you work with?
A: Quite a few. We stay away from the exotic metals, like Inconel and Hastelloy, to name a few.
Q: What's your favorite material to work with?
A: Aluminum, because it's clean, fast, and the tools last longer.
Q: What projects are the most lucrative?
A: Production runs. I like the one-offs because each piece is different, but it's tough because they are labor intensive and it's hard to charge what they actually cost.
Q: What are the most interesting projects that have come through your doors? A: Machining replacement parts for really old machinery. We machined parts for some super old elevators. [Envision an expression of fond recollection.] We've also made some unique parts for the research vessel NOAAS Henry B Bigelow out of Newport, which were pretty unique and interesting.
Q: What's your favorite part of what you do?
A: The problem solving. Each project requires a specific order of operations and fixtures to get it done. Sometimes I'll run parts for a client and the client won't reorder for a while, so the next time I look at the documentation, I surprise and impress myself in the ways I figured out how to make the piece the last time. How the heck did I figure that one out?
Q: Why Rhode Island?
A: Born and raised here. It's just where we grew up; it's where we're from. There's a wealth of manufacturing from years and years ago. I like the history here and being a part of that. Sometimes I catch an episode of Pickers or Pawn Stars and see how many quality objects came out of Rhode Island. It's "Providence, Rhode Island, this" and "Rhode Island, that." Gives me a thrill.
Perhaps it's the nostalgist in me, but I like knowing that places like Clement Tool and Machine Co., Inc. and people like Tom Clement exist. They're out there, not so far away as you think, solving one small problem at a time, fixing and fabricating, ensuring the little gears and cogs of our world run smoothly.