Gavel machining a tradition at graduation

At spring commencement ceremonies Northeast State graduates walk away with associate degrees and technical certificates.

Speakers delivering the commencement’s keynote address get to keep a well-honed tool crafted by students from the College’s Machine Tool program.

Students enrolled in machining classes have produced the gilded ceremonial gavels used by commencement speakers throughout the College’s history.  Past keynote speakers including receive the gavels as gifts to mark their speeches at graduation.

“We started machining the gavels at least a decade ago and it became a tradition for every graduation,” said Sam Rowell, associate professor of the machine tool and manufacturing technology programs at Northeast State.

Students begin with a light yet solid composite of round silver aluminum.  The metal is measured and cut into equal sizes that form the gavel’s familiar round shape used to strike a sound block.

The students take over and the machining process begins with students applying their machining knowledge to the project.  Students use CAD to input cutting sequences that will be transferred into the CNC milling machine.

“We use a program to diagram a model and use the computer to set the milling movement,” said Jonathan Light, a Machine Tool major from Kingsport.

Students input the design into the CNC lathe machine that follows the design to chisel grooves into the aluminum cylinder.  The design created with CAD develops a model for CNC milling process to form the raw metal into the familiar smooth-ridged gavel block.

“The machining lathe cuts each groove into the metal when we program the movement,” said Bo Carr, also a Machine Tool major from Kingsport.  “You adjust the machining because the process can throw off the cut over time.”

The handle undergoes a similar process of cut, computer design and milling.  A rounded brass band is then secured where the gavel head and handle meet. Students then engrave “Northeast State” on the handle and a polished instrument of order is done.

Machine Tool and Manufacturing Technology students tackle semester-long projects using CNC machining and milling technology.  Rowell said the gavel was but one example of how engineers and machinist collaborate to translate designs into physical objects.

“Engineers design a concept and they get together with the manufacturing engineers to make it into a functioning product,” said Rowell. “It mirrors the engineering world of concept and creation.”

The Northeast State spring commencement ceremony begins at 7 p.m. on May 11 in Memorial Center at East Tennessee State University.