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Richard Jeryan of Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford specializes in weaving. There’s a working Jacquard loom in the village. He is now using a laser cutter at TechShop to create new punch cards for the looms. The traditional way to create a card is to use a custom key puncher. The key puncher is designed for the specific loom, and you can’t use a key puncher from one manufacturer to create cards for a different loom. I didn’t realize that the punch cards were not interchangeable among looms of different manufacture.

“If you had an old loom, but couldn’t find its key puncher, you couldn’t create we designs,” Richard told me. “Now that we can create these cards on a laser cutter, we make them for any loom.” Using a laser cutter is not necessarily faster than having a skilled key puncher do it, he added. He said that setting up a design in a CAD program takes a good amount of time.

Richard’s wife, Chris, also works at Greenfield Village and she can create designs using an eight-key puncher. There are eight columns across a card and fifty rows, in the example below, created mechanically. (The size of cards varies.) Each hole punch represents a thread.

Here is a photo from Richard’s presentation showing the creation of a card with a laser cutter.


Dale Dougherty

I’m founder of MAKE magazine and creator of Maker Faire. I am CEO of Maker Media, the company that produces MAKE, Maker Faire and Maker Shed. I am Chairman of the Maker Education Initiative (



  1. Well aside from an interesting typo in it, it makes sense. The whole idea behind Hollerith cards come from those. And to create those cards a special keypunch machine was needed. Now? They are a part of history, but the ones described there live on.

  2. Dave Bell says:

    Laying out the holes with CAD works, but certainly must be tedious!

    This is a job begging for a custom application that goes from GUI to a CNC file in one step. Instead of coding in “machine language”, the designer could move more towards a high-level “compiled” form. Program a sequence of looped instructions to make a braid design? Import a bitmap image? Much easier!

    BTW, is there a better description of how the hole relate to threads and their positions?
    I counted 16 columns of 80, rather than 8 of 50.
    Made me wonder if there were hole *pairs* in rows, so 8 pairs of holes represented 8 successive positions of 80 threads. Each position could take one of four values (00, 01, 10, 11)…

  3. It seems like making the keys on CNC would make sense in some respects. You only design them once. However, creating an OpenScad program or Python plugin for Inkscape to make the cards would be about an afternoons work for a programmer with solid examples or documentation to work from.

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