Maudsley and screw threads

On May 27, 1829, in hopes of obtaining an apprenticeship, James Nasmyth showed Henry Maudsley some drawings and a model steam engine he had built. Maudsley was so pleased with Nasmyth's work that he hired Nasmyth as his personal assistant, and took him on a tour of his private workshop:

Mr. Maudsley seemed at once to take me into his confidence. He treated me in the most kindly manner—not as a workman or apprentice, but as a friend. I was an anxious listener to everything that he said, and it gave him pleasure to observe that I understood and valued his conversation. The greatest treat of all was in store for me. He showed me his exquisite collection of taps and dies and screw-tackle, which he had made with the utmost care for his own service. They rested in a succession of drawers near to the bench where he worked. There was a place for every one, and every one was in its place. There was a look of tidiness about the collection which was very characteristic of the man. Order was one of the rules which he rigidly observed, and he endeavored to enforce it upon all who were in his employment.

He proceeded to dilate upon the importance of the uniformity of screws. Some may call it an improvement, but it might almost be called a revolution in mechanical engineering, which Mr. Maudsley introduced. Before his time no system had been followed in proportioning the number of threads of screws to their diameter. Every bolt and nut was thus a specialty in itself, and neither possessed nor admitted of any community with its neighbors. To such an extent had this practice been carried that all bolts and their corresponding nuts had to be specially marked, as belonging to each other. Any intermixture that occurred between them lead to endless trouble and expense, as well as inefficiency and confusion, especially when parts of complex machines had to be taken to pieces for repairs.

None but those who lived in the comparatively early days of machine manufacture can form an adequate idea of the annoyance, delay, and cost of this utter want of system, or can appreciate the vast services rendered to mechanical engineering by Mr. Maudsley, who was the first to introduce the practical measures necessary for its remedy. In his system of screw-cutting machinery, and in his taps and dies, and screw-tackle generally, he set the example and, in fact, laid the foundation of all that has since been done in this most essential branch of machine construction. Those who have had the good-fortune to work under him and have experienced the benefits of his practice have eagerly and ably followed him, and thus his admirable system has become established throughout the mechanical world.

James Nasmyth.
James Nasmyth. Engineer. An Autobiography.
Samuel Smiles, editor.
New York: Harper and Brothers, 1883.
Pages 134-135.


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