book review

Machining, Metallurgy, and Metalworking Books
Reviewed by: T.J. Nelson

M achining is the technology of using tools to make functional parts out of metal. Metalsmithing is the art of manipulating and shaping metal for decorative purposes. Metallurgy is the science of metals. Excellent books are available on all three of these overlapping topics. Any of these books would be great summer reading on the beach.

Machine Shop Essentials, 2nd ed.
by Frank Marlow

T his is an outstanding introduction to lathes, milling machines, and fundamental techniques in making metal parts, oriented toward R&D and prototype labs and home machinists. For these users, the economics of running a machine shop are different than for a production environment, where economic considerations may make it cheaper to burn up a tool than to run it at a slower speed. Although there's no information on CNCs, other machine tools are discussed in detail.

Of particular note are the two sections on using a lathe and using a milling machine. Marlow provides enough detail that with a little practice, a reader could go into a machine shop and produce an intricate metal part of their own. The section on milling machines emphasizes the well-regarded small Sherlines and the larger Bridgeport milling machines, and describes the benefits and quirks of each. Each section is prefaced by a question, but this is really just a gimmick; the writing would be just as clear and organized without the questions. Although there are no photographs, the book is full of excellent diagrams. This is the best book I have seen for the small lab or individual who needs to learn how to make metal parts. The writing style is so clear and readable I couldn't put it down. Read this book before you make the mistake of running down to Harbor Freight to buy that cheap made in China lathe. Oh, I know you were going to.

Machine Shop Practice
by K.H. Moltrecht

A lthough this two-volume set was published in 1981 (and much of the equipment pictured in it appears much older), most of the techniques described in this book are still in use today. Back in those days, there were no calculators, and "small" computers cost a hundred thousand dollars and were as big as a closet. So people had to use tables to perform basic calculations like converting centimeters to inches or using trigonometric functions. Many of those tables are included here. There's also a detailed tutorial on Vernier gages, micrometers, and similar analog measuring tools.

With about 1000 pages in total, this book has enough detail to bring you up to a professional level (as of 1980). For example, there are 40 pages on how to cut screw threads on a lathe. There are 56 pages devoted to a problem that's faced by everyone on their first day in the shop: how to drill a hole in a precise location. Fully half of Volume 2 is devoted to milling machines and milling. The emphasis is on a large-scale production environment. Some of the photographs depict machine operators dwarfed by the 15-foot high pieces of metal they are machining. Of course, there is almost no discussion of computers, which have since revolutionized the machining industry. But a chapter on early CNC machines would be interesting for readers nostalgic for the days of paper tape and Nixie tubes.

I recommend reading this book after Machine Shop Essentials in order to understand which techniques have become obsolete since this book was written. If it weren't for its age (at one point the author feels the need to state the advantages of electricity over the steam engine), I would say this is one of the best books ever written on the subject. It's still useful and highly readable. One minor drawback is a somewhat inadequate index.

Machine Shop Trade Secrets
by James A. Harvey

M ostly common sense tips like, "Be aware that the head of your mill might not be trammed in" and "make a shallow cut first when using thin slitting saws." But there are also a few useful tricks such as a clever way to remove bushings that have been pressed into blind holes. The main value of this book is the numerous grayscale photos that show the novice how things are supposed to be set up. These photos take up about half the space in the book.

Metals Handbook, 2nd ed.
ASM Handbook, edited by J.R. Davis

T here's a lot to know about the properties of metals, and even this encyclopedic 1500-page reference work on metallurgy can't cover it all. Of particular interest is the chapter on special purpose materials, which includes magnetically soft materials, electrical resistance alloys, and metal-matrix composites. Numerous tables, diagrams, and black/white photographs. Also has several chapters on materials testing. (Disclaimer: I did not read this book in its entirety.)

Metalworking: Tools and Techniques
by Stan Bray

T he author of this thin book has provided a gentle introduction to time-tested methods for machining metal in a hobbyist environment, learned from decades of hands-on experience building and repairing models and mechanical clocks. This book is characterized by high-quality color photographs of tools and by an emphasis on safety. Topics include measuring, cutting, tapping, threading, drilling, and use of the lathe and milling machine. Although not as detailed as Machine Shop Practice or Machine Shop Essentials, it's full of useful tips for beginners, without bogging them down with talk about collets, quill stops, and feet per second calculations.

Metalworking: Sink or Swim
Tips and tricks for machinists, welders, and fabricators
by Tom Lipton

S ometimes the best way to learn stuff is by getting advice from the old guys like Tom Lipton, who not only gives us technical tips and career advice, but also, as all us old geezers love to do, tells stories. Your skills must not stay static, says Lipton. Learn everything you can about everything. This book shows that he followed his own advice: there are tips on manual lathes, CNC mills, welding, abrasion, shop math, sheet metal, and dealing with engineers. Despite the informal style and the hundreds of color pictures, it's oriented to professionals in industry. Beginners unfamiliar with the equipment may find they have no idea what he's talking about. For instance, on page 165 he says, "You can use G41/G42 tool compensation if you like to adjust the diameter, but this can be a little tricky sometimes down the hole of an internal thread." If you've never programmed a CNC, that sentence is gibberish. The advice might not be systematic, but it includes insights that might not have occurred even to professional machinists.

Complete Metalsmith, Professional ed.
by Tim McCreight

T his spiral-bound book describes the use of hand tools to bend and shape metals, including gold, silver, bronze, and aluminum, to make jewelry and other decorative objects. Other techniques, such as setting stones, enameling, casting, and finishing, are also covered. There are sections on gemstones and on making small decorative chains. The level is appropriate for an amateur or a small-time handicrafter. A cheaper student edition is also available.

Machinery's Handbook, 28th ed.
by Oberg, Jones, Horton, and Ryffel

T his 2600-page reference book is essential for every machinist. It comes in two sizes: the Toolbox Edition and the Large Print Edition. Although the Toolbox Edition is cheaper, the pages are only 0.001486 inches thick and the printing is small--capital letters are just a tad over 1/16 of an inch high. Those in the figures and tables are even smaller: about one millimeter high. Anyone over forty--maybe even thirty--will need the large print version. There is also a CD-ROM version that contains material not found in the books. There are much more than tables and formulas in this book. There's also a lot of text describing the professional way of doing things. For example, on page 1035, an entire page is devoted to drilling holes in glass. Useful information indeed. (Disclaimer: I did not read this book in its entirety.)

Tabletop Machining
by Joe Martin

T his book is basically an applications guide for Sherline, a well-known manufacturer of miniature aluminum lathes and milling machines. It is printed on heavy, slick paper with lavish color photographs of the company's tools and accessories, along with useful general information for novice home machinists. Martin's goal is to teach craftsmanship as well as to sell tools. Martin asks: Do you need to buy the Sherline mill or the Sherline lathe? The answer is: yes, of course you do, and don't forget the accessories. A free catalog is included to help you with that task.