It was one of the specialities that I adopted in my own workshop when I commenced business for myself, and it was eagerly adopted by mechanical engineers, whom we abundantly supplied with this special machine. It was an inestimable advantage to me to be so intimately associated with this Great Mechanic. He was so invariably kind, pleasant, and congenial. He communicated an infinite number of what he humorously called "Wrinkles" which afterwards proved of great use to me. My working hours usually terminated at six in the evening. But as many of the departments of the factory were often in full operation during busy times until eight o'clock, I went through them to observe the work while in progress. On these occasions I often met "the guvnor, as the workmen called Mr. Maudslay. He was going his round of inspection, and when there was any special work in hand he would call me up to him to and explain point in connection with it that was worthy of particular notice. I found this valuable privilege most instructive, as I obtained from the cheif mechanic himself a full insight into the methods, means, and processes by which the skilful workman advanced the various classes of work. I was also permitted to take notes and make rapid sketches of any object that specially interested me. The entire establishment thus became to me a school of practical engineering of the most instructive kind.
Mr. Maudslay took pleasure in showing me the right system and method of treating all manner of materials employed in mechanical structures. He showed how they might be made to obey your will, by changing them into the desired forms with the least expenditure of time and labour. This in fact is the true philosophy of construction. When clear ideas have been acquired upon the subject, after careful observation and practice, the comparative ease and certainty with which complete mastery over the most obdurate materials is obtained, opens up the most direct road to the attainment of commercial as well as of professional success.
To be permitted to stand by and observe the systematic way in which Mr. Maudslay would first mark or line out his work, and the masterly manner in which he would deal with his materials, and cause them to assume the desired forms, was a treat beyond all expression. Every stroke of the hammer, chisel, or file, told as an effective step towards the intended result. It was a never-to-be-forgotten practical lesson in workmanship, in the most exalted sense of the term. In conformity with his often repeated maxim, "that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing everything," he took the shortest and most direct cuts to accomplish his objects. He illustrated this by telling me, in his own humorous style, " When you want to go from London to Greenwich, don't go round by Inverness." Another of his droll sayings was that he "considered no man a thorough mechanic unless he could cut a plank with a gimlet, and bore a hole with a saw!"
The grand result of thoughtful practice is what we call experience: it is the power or faculty of seeing clearly before you begin, what to avoid and what to select--or rather what to do and what not to do. High-class workmanship, or technical knowledge, was in his hands quite a science. Every piece of work was made subject to the soundest philosophical principles, as applied to the use and treatment of materials. It was this that gave such a charm of enjoyment to his dealing with tools and materials. He loved this sort of work for its own sake, far more than for its pecuniary results. At the same time he was not without regard for the substantial evidence of his supremacy in all that regarded first-class tools, admirable management, and thorough organisation of his factory.
The innate love of truth and accuracy which distinguished Mr. Maudslay, led him to value highly that class of technical dexterity in engineering workmen which enabled them to produce those details of mechanical structures in which perfect flat or true plane surfaces were required. This was an essential condition for the effective and durable performance of their functions. Sometimes this was effected by the aid of the turning-lathe and slide-rest. But in most cases the object was attained by the dexterous use of the file, so that "flat filing" then was, as it still is, one of the highest qualities of the skilled workman. No one that I ever met with could go beyond Henry Maudslay himself in his dexterous use of the file. By a few masterly strokes he could produce plane surfaces so true that when their accuracy was tested by a standard plane surface of absolute truth, they were never found defective; neither convex, nor concave, nor "cross-winding,"--that is, twisted.
The importance of having such Standard Planes caused him to have many of them placed on the benches beside his workmen, by means of which they might at once conveniently test their work. Three of each were made at a time, so that by the mutual rubbing of each on each the projecting surfaces were effaced. When the surfaces approached very near to the true plane, the still projecting minute points were carefully reduced by hard steel scrapers, until at last the standard plane surface was secured. When placed over each other they would float upon the thin stratum of air between them until dislodged by time and pressure. When they adhered closely to each other, they could only be separated by sliding each off each. This art of producing absolutely plane surfaces is, I believe, a very old mechanical "dodge." But, as employed by Maudslay's men, it greatly contributed to the improvement of the work turned out. It was used for the surfaces of slide valves, or wherever absolute true plane surfaces were essential to the attainment of the best results, not only in the machinery turned out, but in educating the taste of his men towards first-class workmanship.
Maudslay's love of accuracy also led him to distrust the verdicts given by the employment of the ordinary callipers and compasses in determining the absolute or relative dimensions of the refined mechanism which he delighted to construct with his own hands. So much depended upon the manner in which the ordinary measuring instruments were handled and applied that they sometimes failed to give the required verdict as to accuracy. In order, therefore, to get rid of all difficulties in this respect, he designed and constructed a very compact and handy instrument which he always had on his bench beside his vice. He could thus, in a most accurate and rapid manner, obtain the most reliable evidence as to the relative dimensions, in length, width, or diameter, of any work which he had in hand. In consequence of the absolute truth of the verdicts of the instrument, he considered it as a Court of Final Appeal, and humorously called it "The Lord Chancellor."
[Image] Maudslay's "Lord Chancellor"