The Amateur’s Lathe

LH Sparey’s Amateur’s Lathe is on my  ‘must read’ list for not only anyone interested in home shop machining, but also anyone interested or studying mechanical or manufacturing engineering.  I think that the book is so good that it should be a mandatory part of a first year engineering course.


Even though the publishing of this book is seriously showing its age (the drawings, typing and photographs could be updated in quality), the content is very very good.  Sparey approaches the information within the constraint of doing work on one piece of equipment: a small workshop lathe.  So many teach that the lathe is only for turning work, such as turning small shafts or bushings.

The reason I like the book so much is because it encourages you to think outside of the box.  It helps develop the skill of trying to complete a project using the tools at your disposal.  It teaches one of my favorite words: ingenuity.  “Ingenuity is the quality of being clever, original, and inventive, often in the process of applying ideas to solve problems or meet challenges. Ingenuity (Ingenium) is the root Latin word for engineering.”  Ingenuity is solving a problem within the constraints you are placed in.  And remember constraints produce good design.

Ingenuity is the skill we desperately need in engineering.  Engineers today are really good at math, but math is only one tool to solve a problem.  At some point we have to move from the theoretical to the practical.  I remember  one of my professors (a mathematician / engineer) jokingly told me that solving the problem is the important part – you can find any idiot to do the math.  He was joking, and wasn’t downplaying the importance of mathematics, but rather highlighting the importance of solving the problem.

So if you are a mechanical or manufacturing engineer – read the book to get an interesting insight to what a small bench lathe can really do – while actually learning how to use a lathe.  If you are someone working in your shop the book has excellent insight and information to get those machining projects done you think you don’t have enough tools to do.

It’s on Amazon here.  Don’t let the bad reviews fool you – you have to read the book and think not just look at the pictures.


Under the Dome

The pollution problems facing countries like China are not getting the publicity in the main stream media they deserve.  Below is an excellent documentary detailing the problems from a first hand account.  The documentary is long – over 1 hour, but I highly recommend you view it – I consider it a must watch.  At the very least those involved in making company purchasing decisions for goods coming out of China should review their suppliers.


My Favorite Tool

It’s a bit of a running joke in my mechanical family that you can fix anything with a hammer.  We laugh, but seriously, could you live without a good hammer?  A hammer is an indispensable tool – I use them every day at work and in the shop. In fact I use multiple hammers in a day.

Here is my favorite hammer that I use in the shop while machining:thebasher

Its a zinc cast hammer made by Forest City Castings in Canada.  I use this hammer pretty much exclusively while doing setups, and I love it.  It’s also the first hammer that I’ve ever used that has instructions on the handle.

All kidding aside, the reason I like this hammer so much is because it is made in Canada at a price that you can afford, and is a quality product.  Disclaimer: I have ‘off shore’ tools in my shop and I don’t want to come across as being a hypocrite.  The ‘off shore’ tools in my shop are there because I couldn’t find tools made here that were reasonably affordable (new) or in reasonable used condition (used).  I would have gladly paid more money for my mini mill if I could get a made in North America one.  The reality is if you want a mini mill you don’t have much choice.

Some people say we just can’t compete with countries like China.  Companies like Apple routinely tell us that they couldn’t function without countries like China (read we need shareholder value on the back of inexpensive labour and lax environmental laws).  I beg to differ because every time I’m setting up in my mill or shaper I’m using my affordable, Canadian made, zinc cast hammer – which is arguably a commodity product.  It is made by a great company that is helping its community by providing good, honest jobs.  I’m reminded that yes we can effectively manufacturing  things here, and yes we can compete with countries like China while treating the worker and environment  with the respect and dignity they deserve.

So this hammer is inspiration for me to try and make a difference in the manufacturing world I work and live in.  It reminds me everyday that a good product at a reasonable price is possible to be sustainably made right where I live.

If you want one of these hammers, (I think they make them in aluminum and zinc) send me an email and I’ll try to get you one as I don’t think you can purchase them online.