Sweet 16

By Lloyd Graff

Today I am celebrating the 16th anniversary of Today’s Machining World. I have learned a lot about the writing business and myself by doing this thing that you are reading now. Please indulge me as I share my thoughts about it.

I started the online prototype of TMW, then called Screw Machine World, in 1999 in full hubris, coming off the lush business years of the 1990s. I was full of confidence about the future and was sure that I could make the nascent Internet-only publication a success because of my creativity and brilliance. I hired a cocky young assistant to help me.

After a few months of publishing exclusively on the Web I realized we were way ahead of our time. Also we were hacked incessantly and probably being read by 13 people on a good day.

I decided to convert it to a print publication, coming out every other month. I wrote an Editors Note, a lengthy “Swarf” column, often a long interview piece, and an Afterthought column on the back page. Screw Machine World had my imprint all over it, and honestly, I am extremely proud of the work in those issues published in the first three years.

In 2003, I had my first retinal detachment, which was the beginning of seven eye surgeries over two years. I lost much of my vision in my right eye and had a tear in my left retina, which fortunately only required a minor procedure.

Lloyd Graff’s Editors Note from the first Screw Machine World. June, 2000.

I was in my late 50s then, and my sense of invulnerability was certainly shaken. The September 11th catastrophe and a 2003 recession didn’t make things easier. Prostate surgery in 2004 that included a Code Blue because my heart malfunctioned should have alerted me to future cardiac problems, but I wouldn’t accept that notion.

By 2004 my brother and business partner, Jim Graff, was getting tired of the losses from the magazine, which by that time had been renamed Today’s Machining World, and asked me to segregate the publication from our machinery business and buy out his ownership. This was good judgment on his part because printing and distribution costs were killing us, even though the publication was an artistic success.

In 2008 I had my terrible heart attack, which I have written about ad nauseam, and the wicked recession that almost sunk the country hit. However I decided to come back to work later that year and continue with TMW. By 2010 my son Noah was working in both Graff-Pinkert and TMW, and Jim and I were ready to go our separate ways.

Undoubtedly, my time and commitment to Today’s Machining World contributed to the breakup. Jim and I are competitors in the machinery business now, but any early bitterness has worn away.

In 2011, at Noah’s urging, we became online-only, focusing on the Swarfblog. Noah asked me what I wanted to do with TMW. I said, “I just want to write. If advertisers want to stay, great, if they don’t we will continue it anyway.” I was ready to let Managing Editor Emily Halgrimson go, but she convinced me that she could take care of the business and online side of things and make me money, so I gave her a shot and cut her back to part-time. For the first time TMW became profitable. In the past four years, it has made more money each year.

I’ve learned a lot during this 16-year publishing odyssey.

I started the magazine because I had “this writing thing” I had to work out. I knew I had a “gift” of making business, everyday life, sports and just about anything come alive in words. I could simplify and tell stories, and I wasn’t afraid to expose myself. I wasn’t fearful about trying stuff and being dumb occasionally.

As I’ve gotten older I have seen Noah find his own voice and excel as a writer. When I was teetering between life and death in 2008 the only piece of property that I explicitly discussed with my wife Risa was Today’s Machining World. I wanted it to go to Noah. Everything else would be handled by my will, but TMW was special, I guess.

During the first dozen years of the magazine I thought about it as a business and obsessed about it as a business. Now I do not obsess over the bottom line. I do the magazine because I love it, and now it makes money.

I think there is a big lesson there, and I’m trying to apply it at Graff-Pinkert. If you cut the overhead enough to be able to do what you are particularly good at, and you do not have to worry very much about covering expenses, you will be happier and probably more successful.

Over the years, TMW has become a yardstick of my creativity and mental acuity. I do not want to do Swarfblog if I’m going to write it like a PR handout. If it’s not great, why do it? I hope you feel the same way about it.

Question: Are there any TMW pieces that have stuck with you over the years?

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13 thoughts on “Sweet 16

  1. William Rodgers

    Lloyd, I have been enjoying your publication in print and online for over ten years as it has been a bright spot to many days spent worrying about the bottom line. My best to you and Noah!

  2. brawlerman

    I have been reading since the beginning. I have every print
    copy on my reading shelf, I did my first Soduko puzzle
    from the magazine and have been doing them daily
    ever since. Keep doing what you love and the rest will work
    it self out

  3. Victor

    Lloyd, thanks for doing TMW. I do enjoy your insights and appreciate your sharing so deeply.

    I think the issue I enjoyed the most was very recent – the one about selling a small business. I particular liked how people posted their own experiences both buying and selling businesses. I haven’t seen before any such reports of personal experiences at the small business level.

  4. Sandro Belpanno

    Llyod. There are plenty of e-mails that I have to read, but out of the rest of them, your publication is the only “junk mail” that I stop to read for myself each and every time because I like to. And I mean “junk mail in the most complimentary way possible… I’m not sure what I enjoy most, those articles where I agree wholeheatedly with your point, or those that make me shake my head in disapproval. Either way, you have a way of writing that makes me want to come back for more, enjoyment or punishment, as the case may be. I just can’t wait to see what you’ll say next, and the comments from your “fans” are always priceless. Keep it up, because I’ll miss them when they go!

  5. Scott@GenSwiss

    Lloyd, I still have a copy of the April 2005 issue as it contains one of my favorite stories. It was the story about Pikula Machine Products featuring the 94 (at the time) year old machinist who was still running his antique machinery making parts for his lone customer. The writing in that article was fantastic and I found the subject matter fascinating. I still occasionally pull that article out and read it again.

    1. Scott@GenSwiss

      Side note…you can Google street view 1994 Willey Ave in Cleveland OH, the shop is still there though it appears to have been reclaimed by nature to some degree. I wonder if the old machinery is still inside…

  6. Noah Graff

    My favorite article I wrote was one of the first I did for Screw Machine World. I may have been a freelancer. I wrote about my trip to Czech Republic to visit the ZPS headquarters and the culture shock that ensued. The story had a little juiciness to it. People still tell me they remember it.

    The travel pieces like one about Japan were favorites, and some of the Interviews with some quasi celebrities such as Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs,” Rick Harrison” and Pawn Stars. Also the interviews with the insightful Herb Cohen the Master Negotiator, and Dan Arieli, the behavioral economist.

  7. Donnie

    Lloyd, You do have a gift for putting life to print or vice-versa print to life. I open and read each e-mail that we receive from Today’s Machining World and at times share them with our staff. You are most insightful and see the world as I believe it should be seen. No sugar coating from you and a whole lot of logic. Please continue to bring insight to our world.

  8. KB

    Please keep up the writing! As an IT person in the medical device manufacturing sector, I have absolutely nothing to do with the machining industry. But I happened across this little bit of a virtual break from my daily routine a few years ago and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. And as a diehard Indians fan for 50+ years, I especially relish any of your Cubs stories. Not to rub it in, but I’m working from home today because I lost my voice last night at Progressive field after the Perez 3-run homer in the 8th. Hope it goes 7 games – with the Tribe winning of course.

  9. Richard Lussier

    Congratulations! I like what Don wrote ” You do have a gift for putting life to print or vice-versa print to life.” I like Don open and read each e-mail that we receive from Today’s Machining World and at times share them. I love the variety of subjects; from Cubs baseball to life it self and any where in between.

  10. Vicki Bohl


    I discovered your magazine while working as a receptionist/accountant at a machine tool distributor in Minnesota. I felt so out of place in a new town with a new job, that when the boss’ magazine was in the mail pile and I stumbled upon the Swarf Blog, I loved it because the blogs were fun to read. I began my covert operation to read the blog BEFORE the owner got the mag. (!)

    I love your writing voice, and not just because it’s unexpected in a manufacturing publication. I feel like I “know” you and your family. My favorite of your pieces, is the one about the 4th of July family tradition. It sounds like my family, and made me smile.

    Keep it up. It’s a ray of sunshine between orders for O-Rings and belts.

  11. Mark Ellenberger

    Your Blog has been a joy from it’s beginning, I’m also a long time reader. After years working automation in an aircraft plant am now ready to retire. Your articles have been very interesting and have given me hope for the future. You have persevered through personal trauma and survived the economic downturns as an entrepreneur. You’ve got life by the horns and share the experience. Thank You, from Burleson, TX

  12. Kevin Grandy

    My favorite article was the one about the sand dune, and your fear of going down to the ocean with your granddaughter and family because of your past bad experience with a heart problem. It was very personal and emotional and it really touched me. Thanks for the great blog and keep it going. I really look forward to each one. By the way, this Twins fan is heartily rooting for your Cubs, Lloyd and Noah. All the way!


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