In the 1920s Beames established his own engineering business. This was always a small-scale, indeed literally back-yard, operation. Most of the work was undertaken by Beames himself, or with a single assistant. The business was begun in 1924 following a period when Beames worked as a telephone technician and made radios. He is first listed in the 1927 edition of Sands's Directory, at Clement(s) Street, Drummoyne.
In the editions for 1929 to 1932-33 there is a listing for 'Beames' Radio Co., elect. goods' at Clements Street, separate from the residential entry. A letterhead (dated 1970) states 'K. Beames Engineering Co. / est. 1930'. This date may be approximate and include the radio company. The date at which the name 'K. Beames Engineering Co.' began to be used has yet to be determined but the name continued in use until the mid 1980s.
Remnants of the radio production remain at Linden, but no complete radio sets are known to be in existence. It is believed he made all his own fittings and bakelite moulded cases.
Apart from his wartime production, Beames's main commercial output seems to have been limited to a small range of products which were produced on a large scale over a long period. This production seems to have occurred in his workshop at his Five Dock residence (and later at Linden) and to have consisted of copper and asbestos gaskets and washers.
On the evidence of a brief examination of surviving financial records, Beames's principal customer was the Public Transport Commission of NSW. His gaskets and washers kept Sydney's buses on the road. Unfortunately records of his work for other companies including work samples, were destroyed by bushfire in 1977 when the storeroom housing them burnt down.
Beames's commercial production was not especially noteworthy or interesting, but it clearly worked well as a steady source of income for a small-scale engineering business, enabling him to devote time and resources to his principal interest, the construction of telescopes. His first telescope was no modest achievement. It was a reflecting telescope which he completed in 1934.
His precision engineering skills were in demand from professional astronomers. It is thought that Beames constructed a blink comparator for Riverview College Observatory in Sydney. The Observatory was established by Father Edward Pigot and was operational in 1926. In that year Pigot entered into an agreement with the director of the Bosscha Observatory in Lembang, Java, to study variable stars photographically. Pigot died in 1929 but the program was carried on by his successors, O'Leary and O'Connell. The first publication of the Observatory was on variable stars, issued in 1935.
It seems that the blink comparator, which identified variable stars by rapid switching between the images of two plates of the same view of the sky, was made by Beames to O'Leary's design and was evidently constructed before O'Leary's retirement in 1938. It is likely that this instrument survives at Riverview College.
That Beames's instrument-making skills were of interest beyond the realm of amateur astronomers is indicated by a 1960 letter from Cyril Jackson of the Yale-Columbia Southern Station, based at Mount Stromlo Observatory, Canberra. Jackson was interested in having a mounting made for the Ross camera which was used for the production of the Yale Star Catalogue:
I am now writing to you to ask if you could give us some idea of the cost of having such a mounting made, say by you, locally... I would be grateful if you could give me even the roughest idea of the cost so that I could have something to argue about with my principals in the U.S.A. Having seen your own reflector mounting ... I thought you the most likely person, knowledgeable and practical, who could provide me with some ideas.
Although the outcome of this enquiry has not been traced, it clearly demonstrates the esteem in which Beames's technical knowledge and skill were held. As Jackson concluded: 'You know that I was very impressed indeed with the quality of your work and your enterprise, and our observatory would like to keep in contact with you.'
Beames also built an engineering workshop building at Linden, evidently purchasing new lathes and machine tools to supplement the equipment he brought from Clements Street. This now became the operational base of the K. Beames Engineering Co. as well as allowing Beames to continue his astronomical engineering projects.
While commercial production of gaskets formed the basis of his income, his skills lay in the production of precision engineering. Although best known for his telescope making, Ken Beames also had in interest in clock making, producing clocks for the observatory, and notably a full scale 'grandfather' clock encased in brass with a precision mechanism.
In his later years, Beames's main preoccupation was the construction of a planetarium projector. Planetariums had become popular venues of astronomical education, most notably the one associated with Madame Tussaud's in London in the 1950s. Beames presumably considered that a planetarium would form the centrepiece of an astronomical education centre at Linden Observatory. He planned to install it in an 18.3 metre dome at Linden.
Built to his own design from first principles, the planetarium stands as his great unfinished work. In the early 1980s the projector was nearing completion, but illness and advancing age prevented this. It remains in the annex to the workshop building, a testament to Beames's ingenuity and determination.