How to Spin a Dreidel

By Lloyd Graff

Scott Livingston spun a dreidel for me on one of his CNC Swiss machines and sent it to me for Chanukah. 

It probably rotated at about 3,000 RPM on an L20 Citizen, turning round stock into the traditional square, spinnable top. My dreidel has a body made from aluminum, but Scott’s family company, Horst Engineering, in Hartford, Connecticut, also makes them from titanium and stainless steel. The stem of the dreidel is turned from solid ground bar stock, the thread connecting the stem to the body is rolled on a Hartford thread roller. It also has a cross hole. The diamond knurl on the stem for gripping is produced on the same equipment his firm uses to make the handles of surgical instruments. The dot-peened logo is marked in the identical way it is done to identify critical aircraft hardware components.

I doubt Horst Engineering will make a dime on my $52 dreidel, but that isn’t the point. My blue dreidel, with the four Hebrew letters on its sides, is a dramatic illustration of the talent and creativity the 75-year-old company possesses. It is something to take to a show, to hand to an engineer who might show it to a purchasing agent or give to an investor. 

My artistic dreidel, which I could sell on Etsy or Ebay if I were Scott, addresses a huge problem for most of the smallish job shops who possess incredible skills that the layman does not have a clue about. How do you find an audience who will even listen? How do you get noticed by a potential buyer? How do you display your products in a seemingly effortless way to illustrate that your company is something special?

We confront this issue every day at Graff-Pinkert and Today’s Machining World. How is one used machinery dealer different from any other? Can you really advertise cutting oil or a CNC lathe in a meaningful way in print, or even in a video? It is a challenge, yet it is not impossible if you really think about it. You can do it without falling into cliches or copycat marketing.

I believe Scott Livingston’s dreidel could be a vehicle to accomplish this for his company, though it was originally conceived as part of a family business effort to celebrate its own accomplishments.

Horst Engineering’s dreidel is not its first foray into developing its own product. Scott Livingston and his wife are avid bikers (he rides 16 miles to and from work every day in Connecticut). They are heavily into cyclocross, a sport in which peddling enthusiasts bike through challenging terrain, punishing themselves and their equipment. He has developed a line of footwear spikes called cross spikes, made from titanium that can withstand the mud, dirt, and ice these bike nuts encounter while racing . They are made with the precision of the company’s aerospace and medical products. (Listen to this episode of Swarfcast for Scott’s description).

Will they make Horst a household name? Certainly not. Will they make the company a candidate to go public? Highly doubtful. 

Yet the products give Horst an identity. They give it a calling card, a brand. If Scott Livingston cares to use them to their fullest, the spikes and the dreidel can be a magnet for the kind of specialty work that job shops dream about.

Question: Has your company given anything away for free lately?

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6 thoughts on “How to Spin a Dreidel

  1. Chuck Schultz

    Cone Drive up in Traverse City once gave out coloring books that explained the evolution of double enveloping worm gears.

  2. Seth Emerson

    “footwear spikes called cross spikes, made from titanium that can withstand the mud, dirt,
    — and ice these bike nuts encounter while racing” Oooh – I misread that the first time. It sounded pretty aggressive against competitors! I like the coloring book idea.

  3. Bill Badura

    Like DRB, I seem to give away several hours on a good week.

    As to finding a product, that is a challenge. I have personally worked on many of these
    “this is the widget I’ve been looking for” products; several of mine, but more for others.
    90% of the good ideas don’t work out for one reason or another. That being said, I currently produce a piece of someone else’s product, that is turning into a nice some-what steady bit of work. They deal with everything related to their product and I make a part.
    This is the direction I want to continue in, as I can be quite happy sticking to what I do fairly well; milling and turning.
    If X works, is 10X really worth the >10X trouble?
    That dreidel is pretty cool, though. And, although I sound pretty negative on products,
    when the next ambitious person with an idea approaches me, they’ll get some free time too.

  4. Scott Livingston

    Lloyd, as always, thanks for the kind and supportive words about HORST Engineering. We are far more than a machine shop. In recent years, I’ve cringed when we referred to as a “job shop.” I also detest being referred to as the “owner” vs. the president or CEO. The Livingston Family may own the business, but I view my role as a steward of this business, leader of our leadership/management team, and I view our employees as stakeholders. We are building a brand as an advanced manufacturer and we have more products to develop. Our founder was a designer, inventor, and engineer. Ultimately he and his successors found that doing work for others (B2B) was better for the business, but we are returning to our roots with product development. We learn from these projects and that will serve us well. I see more diversification and extensions of our manufacturing capability in the future and envision precision machining/forming as the core capability.

  5. Paul Schaffert

    I bought one of these precision dreidels from Horst. I think small-batch premium products are a great way for small shops to make calling-card items and get their name out in niche hobby and craft communities. Most of these communities are too small to be targeted for mass-manufactured items, but there are enthusiasts that will pay for quality and recognize the thought and care that goes into precision-made items.


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