The "Clean Shop" and the "Dirty Shop"

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I'm not referring here to the state of hygiene of the workshop. A "dirty shop" may be spotlessly maintained - it's simply the shop where dirtier processes are carried out. It would be good, as a matter of principle, to keep these processes separate from equipment which could be damaged by them. But just which kind or part of a shop is the "dirty" shop? The answer isn't intuitive to the non-machinist.

In his last novel, Trustee from the Toolroom, Nevil Shute describes the workshop of his protagonist, the fictional model engineering writer Keith Stewart. Shute, who under his real name of Nevil Shute Norway was both an aviation engineer and a model engineer, knew what he was talking about. The shop is in the small basement of a modest London house. He descibes it thus:

"He called the front basement room his clean workshop, and this was his machine shop. Here he had a six-inch Herbert lathe for heavy work, a three-and-a-half-inch Myford [note: English lathe capacities are specified by the radius, not the diameter as we exaggerate it in America], and a Boley watchmaker's lathe. He had a Senior milling machine and a Boxford shaper, a large and a small drill press, and a vast array of tools ready to hand. A long bench ran across the window, and tubular light system ran across the ceiling, and a small camera and flashgun stood ready for use in a cupboard, for it was his habit to take photographs of interesting processes to illustrate his articles.

"The other room, which had once been the kitchen of the house, was considerably larger. he called this his dirty workshop, but it was in this room that he had his desk and drawing board for it was usually free of oil. Here he did what small amouint of carpentry and woodwork might be necessary for his models. Here he welded and brazed, here he tempered and hardened steel, here he did steam trials of his steam engines so that it had been necessary for him to fit an extractor fan in the window."

In his modest way, Nevil Shute intends this passage to be shocking. To the Martha Stewart set, nothing could be dirtier than a machine shop, full of nasty oil. Yet a bit of light woodworking is acceptable to the best kind of people. The reality, as Shute well knew, is quite the opposite.

The enemy of machinery is abrasive grit. Woodworking produces this in abundance, as do all grinding processes. Oil, on the other hand, is wonderfully clean. Machines live on it - and need it to be kept clean.

So a machine shop, well kept, may be full of oil and yet be the clean shop. It isn't going to hurt camera equipment either (if one is careful), while a particle of grit in a lens mechanism doesn't bear thinking about.

The woodworking shop, inherently the dirty shop, and abrasive grit should be kept well separated from the clean machine shop. (But you might do a spot of drawing there without getting oil on your paper. People did, once, draw on paper.)

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