Vintage Bicycles Done Proper :: Portland, Oregon
I’ve never met you. We haven’t emailed. You don’t know me. But the craftsmanship you left behind is worth showcasing for all to experience. Here’s to you, Jon Williams.
This site is an outlet for me—a one man show. It’s where I display my work. It’s where I highlight incredible bicycles with stories from honorable and fascinating people. Sometimes I’m even able to find intriguing bicycle related print pieces worthy of your eyes. But, I stay fairly focused. Straying too much, to me, feels sloppy. But, straying, sometimes is necessary. This post slightly blurs the line on my focus but one I felt compelled to publish.
Jon Williams passed in March, 2018 and with it came an outpouring of grief from the cycling community. He was a true craftsman accomplished in ways most of us, myself included, could only dream to be. His machining work was typically done on massive, decades old equipment, made of aged iron. He coaxed magnificent works of art out of typically higher-end bicycle components through what is known as the drillium process.
The “Drillium” period of the early 1970’s inspired by parts on Eddy Merckx’s race bikes and the work of some talented machinists and racers Stateside was about the clever lightening and aesthetically pleasing modifications of racing components. The style of that period is what I am focused on at Drillium Revival.
I take my inspiration from skilled craftsmen like Frank Spivey, Peter Johnson, and Art Stump, as well as the small machine shops, and team mechanics in Italy, and the British TT racers, who whittled away at Campagnolo’s Nuovo Record bits hoping to shave a few grams or just have a “trick” piece for their ride that nobody else had. My goal is to turn out unique, stylish, modifications in a period style that does not go beyond the practical limits of the original parts (at least not too far beyond).
Jon Williams; Drillium Revival
Jon shunned the term, “artist”. Craftsman was what he preferred to keep his work grounded in the strong traditions of cycling. But what Jon did was an art form. Functional art. We can all appreciate the end results but below is a small showcase of some of his rarely seen steps taken. Modesty was his specialty as these images show a true master’s craft.
Campagnolo Record Seatpost
“Long buried in an old frame this Record seatpost one had some bad pitting and gauling on the upper section. No way to restore to a stock appearance but a good candidate for what I call a full “California” mod.
Initial shaping is done with a file then sanded out and buffed smooth. Finally, finished with flutes, drilled saddle rail boss, and a light polish.”
Nuovo Record Brake Levers
“I lay-out and drill the levers by hand. I then cut the center slots on the mill. I do not have a jig for them. Milled and drilled, the tips are re-shaped.”
Jon’s web presence was carved out at Drillium Revival, but Jon showcased his work elsewhere, specifically on his Flickr page*, where you can still find all of his projects experimentations and final pieces.
Clearly, his work took time for planning, execution and patience. He’s mentioned, through different vintage blog posts, that his projects took weeks. Months even. He was calculated and his mind was part artistry and part craftsman. A beautiful blend.
Jon did it right. What he created was incredible. Not only was the machining jaw dropping but the polishing alone was always impeccable, putting even factory buffed pieces to shame. He was able to see something in a component that only a cognoscenti could, then masterfully coaxed it out of the raw metal.
Like many of us with eclectic and incredibly narrowed taste in certain items, we often stray to other finer things with the same elements of precision, craft and ability to enhance life. Jon was an aficionado of other simple pleasures such as classic vinyl. Through the images he posted, it was clear he had a penchant for vintage jazz, 50’s surf and deep southern blues. All wax that spun atop his vintage McIntosh hi-fi system.
Jon had a decearing eye for well-done photography and composition. Carefully he balanced showcasing his work and did it in the most artistically pleasing way possible. This man was of many talents yet lead a life of simplicity, which I feel we can all appreciate. Because, in the end, how many of us are going to regret a few more hours spent in the office rather than watching the sun set, cocktail in hand with your old hound dog milling about.
Burke Millrite with Bridgeport J Head
“My basement shop is too small to get a complete Bridgeport milling machine into. But this is a good alternative.”
“I’ve had this machine for awhile but had not used it much except for small quick jobs. So I spent some time fine tuning the spindle preload, countershaft assembly, belt tension, all the gibs, and slathering everything in fresh 20wt. Now that it purrs like a kitten and cuts right I guess I can learn how to use the damn thing…………..“
“The bench actually came with the house. I added the square holes for dogs when I was doing a lot of woodworking. The Vise was on the end then and had wood jaws with the same hole pattern. It has served me well over the years.”
From what we can see of Jon, he was in the prime of life. That was the true gut punch and what pushed me over the edge to dedicate a post honoring him. His work was unlike anything else out there. Classic yet unique. He continued to push boundaries and redefine the drillium process and respected tremendously within all the same circles we both engaged in.
I didn’t know you, Mr. Williams, but I have nothing but the utmost respect for you and the precisely drilled, milled, fluted, chamfered and polished pieces you left behind for us to use and appreciate. You created new components out of old that others will study and emulate for years to come. Craftsmanship to be long admired with your name easily inserted into the same conversations as other artisans who have left legacies, and unfortunately, this planet, much too soon. We nod our heads in respect for your deep footprints where the line between classic and modern was toed. For that, and your exquisite talent, we thank you, Jon Williams.
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