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CHAPTER I. PLANS OF STUDYING.
By examining the subject of applied mechanics and shop manipulation, a learner may see that the knowledge to be acquired by apprentices can be divided into two departments, that may be called general and special. General knowledge relating to tools, processes and operations, so far as their construction and action may be understood from general principles, and without special or experimental instruction. Special knowledge is that which [7] is based upon experiment, and can only be acquired by special, as distinguished from general sources.

To make this plainer, the laws of forces, the proportion of parts, strength of material, and so on, are subjects of general knowledge that may be acquired from books, and understood without the aid of an acquaintance with the technical conditions of either the mode of constructing or the manner of operating machines; but how to construct proper patterns for castings, or how the parts of machinery should be moulded, forged, or fitted, is special knowledge, and must have reference to particular cases. The proportions of pulleys, bearings, screws, or other regular details of machinery, may be learned from general rules and principles, but the hand skill that enters into the manufacture of these articles cannot be learned except by observation and experience. The general design, or the disposition of metal in machine-framing, can be to a great extent founded upon rules and constants that have general application; but, as in the case of wheels, the plans of moulding such machine frames are not governed by constant rules or performed in a uniform manner. Patterns of different kinds may be employed; moulds may be made in various ways, and at a greater and less expense; the metal can be mixed to produce a hard or a soft casting, a strong or a weak one; the conditions under which the metal is poured may govern the soundness or shrinkage,—things that are determined by special instead of general conditions.

The importance of a beginner learning to divide what he has to learn into these two departments of special and general, has the advantage of giving system to his plans, and pointing out that part of his education which must be acquired in the workshop and by practical experience. The time and opportunities which might be devoted to learning the technical manipulations of a foundry, for instance, would be improperly spent if devoted to metallurgic chemistry, because the latter may be studied apart from practical foundry manipulation, and without the opportunity of observing casting operations.

It may also be remarked that the special knowledge involved in applied mechanics is mainly to be gathered and retained by personal observation and memory, and that this part is the greater one; all the formul? relating to machine construction may be learned in a shorter time than is required to master and understand the operations which may be performed on an engine [8] lathe. Hence first lessons, learned when the mind is interested and active, should as far as possible include whatever is special; in short, no opportunity of learning special manipulation should be lost. If a wheel pattern come under notice, examine the manure in which it is framed together, the amount of draught, and how it is moulded, as well as to determine whether the teeth have true cycloidal curves.

Once, nearly all mechanical knowledge was of the class termed special, and shop manipulations were governed by empirical rules and the arbitrary opinions of the skilled; an apprentice entered a shop to learn a number of mysterious operations, which could not be defined upon principles, and only understood by special practice and experiment. The arrangement and proportions of mechanism were also determined by the opinions of the skilled, and like the manipulation of the shop, were often hid from the apprentice, and what he carried in his memory at the end of an apprenticeship was all that he had gained. The tendency of this was to elevate those who were the fortunate possessors of a strong natural capacity, and to depress the position of those less fortunate in the matter of mechanical "genius," as it was called. The ability to prepare proper designs, and to succeed in original plans, was attributed to a kind of intuitive faculty of the mind; in short, the mechanic arts were fifty years ago surrounded by a superstition of a different nature, but in its influences the same as superstition in other branches of knowledge.

But now all is changed: natural phenomena have been explained as being but the operation of regular laws; so has mechanical manipulation been explained as consisting in the application of general principles, not yet fully understood, but far enough, so that the apprentice may with a substantial education, good reasoning powers, and determined effort, force his way where once it had to be begged. The amount of special knowledge in mechanical manipulation, that which is irregular and modified by special conditions, is continually growing less as generalisation and improvement go on.

Another matter to be considered is that the engineering apprentice, in estimating what he will have to learn, must not lose sight of the fact that what qualifies an engineer of to-day will fall far short of the standard that another generation will fix, and of that period in which his practice will fall. This I mention because it will have much to do with the conceptions that a [9] learner will form of what he sees around him. To anticipate improvement and change is not only the highest power to which a mechanical engineer can hope to attain, but is the key to his success.

By examining the history of great achievements in the mechanic arts, it will be seen that success has been mainly dependent upon predicting future wants, as well as upon an ability to supply such wants, and that the commercial value of mechanical improvements is often measured by conditions that the improvements themselves anticipate. The invention of machine-made drills, for example, was but a small matter; but the demand that has grown up since, and because of their existence, has rendered this improvement one of great value. Moulded bearings for shafts were also a trifling improvement when first made, but it has since influenced machine construction in America in a way that has given great importance to the invention.

It is generally useless and injudicious to either expect or to search after radical changes or sweeping improvements in machine manufacture or machine application, but it is important in learning how to construct and apply machinery, that the means of foreseeing what is to come in future should at the same time be considered. The attention of a learner can, for example, be directed to the division of labour, improvements in shop system, how and where commercial interests are influenced by machinery, what countries are likely to develop manufactures, the influence of steam-hammers on forging, the more extended use of steel when cheapened by improved processes for producing it, the division of mechanical industry into special branches, what kind of machinery may become staple, such as shafts, pulleys, wheels, and so on. These things are mentioned at random, to indicate what is meant by looking into the future as well as at the present.

Following this subject of future improvement farther, it may be assumed that an engineer who understands the application and operation of some special machine, the principles that govern its movements, the endurance of the wearing surfaces, the direction and measure of the strains, and who also understands the principles of the distribution of material, arrangement, and proportions,—that such an engineer will be able to construct machines, the plans of which will not be materially departed from so long as the nature of the operations to which [10] the machines are applied remain the same.

A proof of this proposition is furnished in the case of standard machine tools for metal-cutting, a class of machinery that for many years past has received the most thorough attention at the hands of our best mechanical engineers.

Standard tools for turning, drilling, planing, boring, and so on, have been changed but little during twenty years past, and are likely to remain quite the same in future. A lathe or a planing-machine made by a first-class establishment twenty years ago has, in many cases, the same capacity, and is worth nearly as much in value at the present time as machine tools of modern construction—a test that more than any other determines their comparative efficiency and the true value of the improvements that have been made. The plans of the framing for machine tools have been altered, and many improvements in details have been added; yet, upon the whole, it is safe to assume, as before said, that standard tools for metal-cutting have reached a state of improvement that precludes any radical changes in future, so long as the operations in metal-cutting remain the same.

This state of improvement which has been reached in machine-tool manufacture, is not only the result of the skill expended on such tools, but because as a notable exception they are the agents of their own production; that is, machine tools produce machine tools, and a maker should certainly become skilled in the construction of implements which he employs continually in his own business. This peculiarity of machine-tool manufactures is often overlooked by engineers, and unfair comparisons made between machines of this class and those directed to wood conversion and other manufacturing processes, which machinists, as a rule, do not understand.

Noting the causes and conditions which have led to this perfection in machine-tool manufacture, and how far they apply in the case of other classes of machinery, will in a measure indicate the probable improvements and changes that the future will produce.

The functions and adaptations of machinery constitute, as already explained, the science of mechanical engineering. The functions of a machine are a foundation on which its plans are based; hence machine functions and machine effect are matters to which the attention of an apprentice should first [11] be directed.

In the class of mechanical knowledge that has been defined as general, construction comes in the third place: first, machine functions; next, plans or adaptation of machines; and third, the manner of constructing machines. This should be the order of study pursued in learning mechanical manipulation. Instead of studying how drilling-machines, planing-machines or lathes are arranged, and next plans of constructing them, and then the principles of their operation, which is the usual course, the learner should reverse the order, studying, first, drilling, planing, and turning as operations; next, the adaptation of tools for the purposes; and third, plans of constructing such tools.

Applied to steam-engines, the same rule holds good. Steam, as a motive agent, should first be studied, then the operation of steam machinery, and finally the construction of steam-engines. This is a rule that may not apply in all cases, but the exceptions are few.

To follow the same chain of reasoning still farther, and to show what may be gained by method and system in learning mechanics, it may be assumed that machine functions consist in the application of power, and therefore power should be first studied; of this there can be but one opinion. The learner who sets out to master even the elementary principles of mechanics without first having formed a true conception of power as an element, is in a measure wasting his time and squandering his efforts.

Any truth in mechanics, even the action of the "mechanical powers" before alluded to, is received with an air of mystery, unless the nature of power is first understood. Practical demonstration a hundred times repeated does not create a conviction of truth in mechanical propositions, unless the principles of operation are understood.

An apprentice may learn that power is not increased or diminished by being transmitted through a train of wheels which change both speed and force, and he may believe the proposition without having a "conviction" of its truth. He must first learn to regard power as a constant and indestructible element—something that may be weighed, measured, and transmitted, but not created or destroyed by mechanism; then the nature of the mechanism may be understood, but not before.

To obtain a true understanding of the nature of power is by no means the difficulty for a beginner that is generally supposed [12]; and when once reached, the truth will break upon the mind like a sudden discovery, and ever afterwards be associated with mechanism and motion whenever seen. The learner will afterwards find himself analysing the flow of water, the traffic in the streets, the movement of ships and trains; even the act of walking will become a manifestation of power, all clear and intelligible, without that air of mystery that is otherwise inseparable from the phenomena of motion. If the learner will go on farther, and study the connection between heat and force, the mechanical equivalent of heat when developed into force and motion, and the reconversion of power into heat, he will have commenced at the base of what must constitute a thorough knowledge of mechanics, without which he will have to continually proceed under difficulties.

I am well aware of the popular opinion that such subjects are too abstruse to be understood by practical mechanics—an assumption that is founded mainly in the fact that the subject of heat and motion are not generally studied, and have been too recently demonstrated in a scientific way to command confidence and attention; but the subject is really no more difficult to understand in an elementary sense than that of the relation between movement and force illustrated in the "mechanical powers" of school-books, which no apprentice ever did or ever will understand, except by first studying the principles of force and motion, independent of mechanical agents, such as screws, levers, wedges, and so on.

It is to be regretted that there have not been books especially prepared to instruct mechanical students in the relations between heat, force, motion, and practical mechanism. The subject is, of course, treated at great length in modern scientific works, but is not connected with the operations of machinery in a way to be easily understood by beginners. A treatise on the subject, called "The Correlation and Conservation of Forces," published by D. Appleton & Co. of New York, is perhaps as good a book on the subject as can at this time be referred to. The work contains papers contributed by Professors Carpenter, Grove, Helmholtz, Faraday, and others, and has the advantage of arrangement in short sections, that compass the subject without making it tedious.

In respect to books and reading, the apprentice should supply himself with references. A single book, and the best one that can be obtained on each of the different branches of engineering, is [13] enough to begin with. A pocket-book for reference, such as Molesworth's or Nystrom's, is of use, and should always be at hand. For general reading, nothing compares with the scientific and technical journals, which are now so replete with all kinds of information. Beside noting the present progress of engineering industry in all parts of the world, they contain nearly all besides that a learner will require.

It will be found that information of improvements and mechanical progress that a learner may gather from serial publications can always be exchanged for special knowledge in his intercourse with skilled workmen, who have not the opportunity or means of reading for themselves; and what an apprentice may read and learn in an hour can often be "exchanged" for experimental knowledge that has cost years to acquire.

(1.) Into what two divisions can a knowledge of constructive mechanics be divided?—(2.) Give an example of your own to distinguish between special and general knowledge.—(3.) In what manner is special knowledge mostly acquired?—(4.) What has been the effect of scientific investigations upon special knowledge?—(5.) What is meant by the division of labour?—(6.) Why have engineering tools been less changed than most other kinds of machinery during twenty years past?—(7.) What is meant by machine functions; adaptation; construction?—(8.) Why has the name "mechanical powers" been applied to screws, levers, wedges, and so on?—(9.) Can power be conceived of as an element or principle, independent of mechanism?


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