Pattern Makers Contrasted


Workmen in almost all trades can be separated into two classes, and pattern makers are no exception to this rule, for everywhere we find on one hand the careless workman and on the other the ambitious man who looks ahead. The indifferent pattern maker still abounds and seems to have no ambition at all, or rather none except one which is all absorbing and has for its goal six o’clock and pay day.

For the sake of contrast let us first look at the distinguishing features of this individual. He is usually discontented; a “kicker,” as we say, and constantly laments his misfortune in ever having taken up the trade, claiming it is getting worse and worse every year, and comparing it now with what he seems to believe it was in days gone by. He never expects, however, to command more than the average rate of wages, but at the same time is unmindful of the fact that he is a member of a class which can never hope to see the standard raised, owing to the fact that they never bend their energies to endeavor to become masters of their trade.

The indifferent man takes but little interest in either the quality or quantity of his tools. He can’t tell for the life of him how his fellow workman at the same bench, who has a large and carefully selected kit besides having a family to support, can possibly afford to keep up with the times and buy so many newly-patented tools.

In getting out stock to glue upon a big job he saws and planes up all the lumber, fits the hand clamps, and is just ready for the glue, when he happens to think he forgot to mix up a new lot and get it to cooking. When a chuck or face plate gets stuck on the spindle, as it occasionally will, he grabs a hammer or else a monkey wrench and bangs away, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is mutilating what belongs to another.

In altering over an old pattern he is about sure to run into a nail on some of the machine tools, and thanks his stars that it wasn’t one of his own tools which received the blunt edge or gap, for now the boss or else some man who has it for his part will do the sharpening. He does not think it desirable to at least learn the theory of the best forms of different saw teeth and cutters for he never expects to have them to keep in order. Such characteristics might be extended indefinitely if time and space would allow.

The ambitious man on the other hand desires to succeed and realizes that success, if it comes at all, must come through his own efforts and a careful attention to details. There is no royal road to pattern making. No one stands ready to push a person who has no aim or desire. This reminds me of the following which I once saw in print and which contains more real food for reflection than many longer poems can ever hope to lay claim to:

“The man who is too devoid of aim
To make the least advance,
Is sure to be the first to claim
He never had a chance.”

The wide-awake man will think first and act afterwards. His glue is ready when his stock is. His tools are sharp and he knows where to lay his hands on them. He constructs his pattern in the best manner for the purpose it is to fulfill, and can explain the why and wherefore of so doing, and is in a word self reliant.

Furthermore, he tries to keep abreast of the times in regard to the best pattern shop practice in every way he can, such as carefully reading a good trade paper, visiting other shops whenever the opportunity offers, sending for catalogues of the best tools and appliances of interest to him, and asking questions about every point of which he is in doubt, and finally from all information received, “sifting the wheat from the chaff.”

I will now mention a few points which may at least prove helpful to the young pattern maker. First remember it is paying attention to little things that tells in this trade as well as any other.

Do not be misled when the indifferent workman tells you it is all bosh to take pains and finish up a pattern carefully, and that just as good castings are obtained by the use of rough patterns as by good ones, and that care in varnishing is simply a waste of time. It is true that nice castings can be produced by the use of coarse and poorly constructed and varnished patterns, by the molder taking extra time and pains, which on the other hand would be unnecessary, but the point comes just here.

Any one can turn out a coarse rough job in a short space of time, but it is not every workman by any means who can make fine, accurate and nicely finished patterns, put together in the best possible manner, no matter how long a time he spends on them, and the man who can do this class of work will have an easier time and receive more pay than will the careless workman in almost every instance.

Filling nail holes with bees-wax, and mixing and applying shellac varnish may seem very easy to many, but for all that it takes care and practice to force in the wax in a neat manner so that after a pattern has been varnished and held in the right light it will not show a slight cavity or else a raised daub to act as tell-tale for the nail hole, and also to lay the varnish so that it will show an even surface and in addition not have a surplus laid along in ridges on the edges and parting line.

In mixing black shellac first stir the lampblack and alcohol together till they are of the consistency of cream and free from all lumps, before adding the yellow shellac, and then stir the whole mixture thoroughly together. A yard of cheese cloth costs but five cents, and if cut up into squares makes an excellent strainer, using only a piece at a time and then throwing it away.

It is better to do the mixing in a different vessel than the one used to varnish from, such as an old tin pail, etc., then strain through the cloth into the regular pot from which the brush is used. Shellac carefully mixed and applied makes a wonderful difference in the appearance of a completed pattern in contrast to one carelessly finished, and at the same time adds to the workman’s reputation.

The secret of rounding corners on patterns whether they are large or small consists in having them so that one can see neither beginning nor ending to the curve; that is, have the curve a true arc and avoid having it show a line where it comes tangent to any straight side. To do this well requires care and practice, but one feels repaid for it when the pattern is finished, and besides a poorly rounded corner is one trade-mark of careless work.

John M. Richardson

Scientific Machinist – August 1, 1892

—Jeff Burks

Bonus Photo – The Pattern Making Shop at Westinghouse Electric Plant
South Philadelphia – November 27, 1920

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3 Responses to Pattern Makers Contrasted

  1. lostartpress says:

    This excerpt is interesting to me because I see myself as both types of workers.

    When it comes to the writing craft, I couldn’t care less about the latest journals or reading about how to improve my work. Hell, I worked for the company that publishes “Writer’s Market” and Writer’s Digest magazine – the bibles of my trade. I had free access to them and the last 100 years of their issues. And I never gave them a glance. I am a total mouth-breather.

    But when it comes to woodworking, it’s the opposite. I started consuming everything I could find on the craft starting in the early 1990s and haven’t stopped or even slacked a bit.

    • toolnut says:

      But are you a “Kicker” when it comes to writing? If you were, LAP wouldn’t exist.

      Sometimes I think Jeff is posting little morality plays (sorry if I let the cat out of the bag Jeff), this one being about personal responsibility and respect for others as well as the work ethic of the ambitious who want to get ahead vs. those that are their own worst enemies and quit before they even start and then complain about it.

      “The man who is too devoid of aim
      To make the least advance,
      Is sure to be the first to claim
      He never had a chance.”

  2. verbaldad says:

    I imagine that this is an excerpt from a technical journal, not a philosophical work ethic paper. But it is amazing to read the directness of the “do your job, do it well, advance yourself.” message inlaid in it. I would love to read the full publication. It almost seems as if pride in your work, and being more than just a laborer, but being a craftsman is becoming the “lost art”.

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