I appreciate that some of the skills that I learned during my apprenticeship are now no longer relevant to mainstream engineering. One good example is casting white metal bearings – no one in their right mind would go to the bother and expense of making them these days when there are hundreds of “off-the-shelf” alternatives.
One thing that I did learn, and I think is still and will always be important is a curiosity for how things are made and work.
I would encourage everyone, especially school children to take things to pieces. What is it made from? Why was that material chosen? Why that shape? How was it assembled? Where did that left-over bit fit? Did anyone see me taking it to bits? Will it ever work again?!
A Health and Safety Alert
Please be careful. There are loads of potential and serious hazards just handling tools let alone taking apart say for example, an old TV when you haven’t unplugged it or discharged the capacitors. Springs can give you a nasty injury and are particularly good at spreading bits around the room. Gears, belts and rollers can trap and pinch you. So, in a risk averse world, why would you do such dangerous things with dire personal consequences? Curiosity and understanding.
And why not make things?
Well, after only a few weeks of taking things to pieces, you should have an impressive stock of bits left over so why not make something from them? Anything. If you can’t think of something, there are plenty of ideas on YouTube. You will quickly get a feel for how to join things (I would have just loved a glue gun and a battery drill when I was a kid) and how and why things break. Your dexterity and hand-to-eye coordination will improve, and just wait until you feel that fantastic sense of achievement. The maths and technical explanations can follow when you are at university.
So my plea to the educators and parents of the next generation of engineers and scientists is to embed “taking things apart and making things” into everyday life. Although high precision versions of them are literally all around us in vehicle engines.
With the internet at our finger tips there are a range of DIY and Hobby Kits online for a range of projects and can sometimes be only a few pounds.
Written by John Bennett