I often see in the trade papers of the day the question asked by young men, “Where shall I go to learn my trade to the best advantage?” To the boy or young man who is in earnest, it is a vital and all-important question, but to the one who has to learn, or go to school, and who chooses the shop rather than the school-room, it does not make any material difference where he goes, so far as he is concerned. And so far as the rest of human race is concerned, I don’t think any of us care. At least I don’t, so long as he takes care to keep away from my shop.
To the boy who is interested in mechanical work, and whose talents naturally develop in that direction, I would suggest that his time of apprenticeship be served in a small shop, for the following reasons: First, in the small shop there is generally but one “cub” or apprentice at a time, and he grows to have more of an interest in the place than if it was large and employing many hands. Second, not having any other boy to play with or to divert his mind from the regular work of the shop, he will get along faster and will grow to be more of a man in his thoughts regarding the reasons for the ways and methods for doing things.
Third, he will get greater opportunities for handling the various machines and tools in the shop, and thinking out ways and means for doing the many things that always come up in practice. Fourth, he will come in closer contact with the proprietor, and from that contact retain many valuable business principles that will be of inestimable aid to him in after life. Fifth, he will more readily receive information and instruction from the journeymen who, as a general thing, too, give it in such a manner that incidents and references are always brought forward to make an impression on the mind. Sixth, but pshaw, I could give reasons from now until breakfast and not be half through, and all based on my own experience and from personal knowledge of others, and not simply airy visions dreamed out in my office.
The principal thing to attend to in searching for the shop in which you are to learn your trade is to see that the proprietor as well as the employes has a habit of putting tools, jigs, hammers and other things he uses back in their proper places, instead of slinging them under the benches or leaving them on the planers or lathes for the workmen to throw down. If the shop has no system or discipline in it, keep away from it and look further.
Such a shop has no respect for the proprietor, who has none for his men, while they have still less for either shop or boss, and if you are unfortunate enough to start in such a place it will be but a short time until your own desires and ambitions will have been tossed under the bench of misfits and carelessness and you will have become a “slipshod workman,” always complaining because you can not get first-class pay, and never knowing that it is because you have blossomed forth an undisciplined, cannibalistic mechanic, whose sole aim in life is to destroy the beautiful in shop arangement.
In the large shop where there are several “cubs,” there are too many contentions, and the rivalry is too great. You may learn how to fight for your rights and how to get ahead of the other fellow, but you won’t get much permanent mechanics hammered into your cranium. In the large shops of the present time, everything is tending to piecework, and when an apprentice gets started nicely on a piece-work job, the glitter of the sudden increase in his weekly stipend is very apt to blind his eyes to the original purpose for which he began, he finds in the end that instead of coming out of his time a finished journeyman, he is a pure and simple “machine tender,” able to do any kind of a job that comes along to the machine that he is in charge of, provided the brains of some one else are used to assume all responsibility, and to explain to him how it must be done.
There are lots of this kind of material floating around from shop to shop, and it is worth about one dollar per day, although I do believe there are many of them getting two dollars for staying in the shop ten hours. I would say, take the small shop, it is more homelike and social, and there are more opportunities for the quiet study of good systematic methods, kinks and “trade secrets,” tending to encourage a desire after working hours for study of good mechanical works and magazines, which, if kept up, will give good, healthy mechanical growth of the mind, and prevent falling into the one old rut of “grandfather’s way.”
Thus you will eventually absorb the “science of mechanics,” which is really the combination of theory and practice, or the true reason why and the remedy therefor. Never allow anyone to instil into your mind that theory is of much less importance than practice, and that a “practical” man can get along better than the theoretical one, for your own observation will show you that the so called “practical” man chops things all to pieces, and spoils about one-half and then by bull-headed luck sometimes succeeds, but it has cost considerable, while the man who has stopped long enough to theorize on the work gets it done easy. No one theorizes more than the really practical man and he is reasoning with himself all the time, with the result of success in practice.
A man’s theory that he could do quite a good business carting goods around town for the merchants, if he had a good, strong, gaudily-painted cart was a good one, but it would have been a total failure if he had not combined a good, practical mule to go on the business end of the cart, and so would his practical mule have been as bad a failure without the theoretically colored cart. They both go together to bring success, and I think the “little old shop” gives the apprentice the best opportunities to drive them both together under the best conditions, if he tries.
The Old Man
Scientific Machinist – March 1st, 1892