Gordon Toulson – Let Loose in the Machining Section

My initiation into tool room life had been fairly painless in the first two weeks when I had been ‘sat by Eddie’ on the marking off bench. I had made some friends and seen some interesting new machining processes as I scurried around doing odd jobs for my foreman Vince. Perched on my stool in front of the marking off plate I could daydream a little, only to be interrupted every half hour or so by Eddie bursting into operatic song… “On with the motley…” sometimes, but not always followed by a second line…. “the paint and the powder…” I had no idea what he was singing. There was no Google in those days to help me out. It might have been years later when I heard the full rendition on the radio of the excerpt from the opera Pagliacci.

Monday morning after clocking in I was accosted by Vince who told me he had a little job for me. He grabbed a drawing and a machined block of steel about 10” x 2” x ½” and beckoned me into the machining section. I had previously marked off the block with the height gauge with a line of crosses for hole centres down its length. I found myself in front of a Newall Jig Boring Machine and within a few seconds tried to determine in my mind how it might work. In the couple of weeks I had been in the toolroom I had not seen it in use. In the school workshops I had worked on a shaper, centre lathe and milling machine but I had never come across this type of machine before. Vince told me to clamp the workpiece on parallel blocks in the machine vice. He checked it was tight and then from a cabinet pulled out a couple of interesting devices. They were two micrometers bigger than a large fist which nestled into precision ground rollers adjacent to the moving table. I was beginning to get the idea… With a probe, Vince set two zeroes, loaded up a centre drill in the chuck and showed me how to position the first hole we were about to drill. Vince set the depth stop to drill only about a millimetre deep for a pilot position. The workpiece was to be part of a drill jig to drill a line of around twenty holes in a cast iron gas burner. Vince handed me the drawing, stood back and in his gravelly voice said “There you are love, it’s all yours!”

I was in at the deep end and was determined to do my best. I set about adjusting the table and fortunately only needed to adjust the one micrometer, as it was a straight line of holes. I immediately grasped the value of marking off a workpiece prior to machining, giving confirmation that the drill tip was in the right place before plunging in. I carefully took my time to drill all the holes. It’s a good job I wasn’t on piece work ! Vince occasionally walked past down the gangway and gave a glance over his shoulder to see if I had yet destroyed his machine. I checked the workpiece was complete and called Vince over. He counted the holes which appeared to be in a straight line and (miraculously?) equally spaced. After lunch I completed the job by drilling through holes and countersinking the top face to guide the drill. An inspector checked my work and I was elated when he didn’t throw it into the scrap bin! It was sent to the hardening section that afternoon.

A couple of days later Vince called me to his bench and there was my pride and joy…. My elation was to be short lived when Vince held up the block to his eye to reveal it was, in his words, “bent like a (expletive) banana!” Further profanity was directed towards Norman in the hardening shop, Norman being fortunately out of earshot. He had evidently lowered the block into the quenching oil incorrectly which had resulted in the distortion. I guessed from the look on Vince’s face that it was not the first time either. Vince looked at me and said “Looks like you’ll be making another one kid!”


Gordon Toulson – May 2021