Well, it’s time for another Mantique Monday and once more I’ve been rummaging in the workshop deep in the bowels of Well Dressed Mansion. I’ve previously brought up the matter of tools in my Mantiques series, and I’m back with another tool today. Why? Tools fascinate me. The combination of design and utility is unmatched, and when the combination really works, it becomes art to me. Art I can understand, that is. There is something so inherently honest and proper about a good tool, the way it has been made to do a job, and will continue to do that job, as long as you take care of the tool. Proper tools will last a very long time, which makes them like quality jackets, worth investing a little extra in.
Last time I looked at a vintage screwdriver, worn and almost used up, this time I’m looking at a micrometer, only lightly used, but vintage nonetheless.
This micrometer was made in Sheffield, by Moore & Wright. I can’t tell when it was made, but Moore & Wright started out in 1906 and are still an active business, so we can safely say it was made sometime between 1906 and 2013, right? I’d guess at around 1950-1960, though I could easily be mistaken. Without a doubt it’s from a time when Sheffield was a town with actual industry though, and before Moore & Wright outsourced their production to China. Don’t get me started on the downfall of British industry. Whenever I’m in Sheffield and see fine old factory buildings either repurposed as Carpetworld, or even worse, sorely derelict, I can’t help but feel sad at how things have worked out for the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
So what is a micrometer, I hear a non-engineering voice utter, attempting to feign interest in the device at hand? Well, you use it for measuring very small distances, typically in mechanical settings. That’s small distances such as thousandths of an inch, in this case, this micrometer being for imperial measurements. A thousandth of an inch? Impossible to imagine how little that is. Imagine slicing an average hair into three and you have roughly a thousandth of an inch. To use it, you place the item to be measured into the mouth of the micrometer and gently turn the thimble until it sits tight against the item. Of course, the tightness depends on the hardness of the material. Measuring something soft requires a a delicate touch.
Reading the actual measurement on this imperial scale is quite involved, what with all the various ways in which the inch is cut and sliced. On this tool, the various commonly used fractions of an inch are inscribed as a handy reference when measuring. Notice that, inscribed, perhaps not by hand, as the numbers are so even, but a far cry from merely being stamped. To me, this is quality. So if you need to know just how much 13/32 of an inch is, you can quickly confirm that it is .4062 of an inch. This does quite handily illustrate the Olde Worlde charm of the imperial system, whereas the chillingly simple and accurate metric system just gives you the straight numbers. Has something been lost while replacing the imperial system with the metric? To my mind yes, although metric is more practical and logical in all respects, there was just something more to the imperial system. Hard to put into words, but if you’ve ever needed a spanner one size larger than 5/16 and instinctively grabbed the 3/8, you might know what I’m trying to say.
Even if you’re not of an engineering mind, this tool is great for fiddling with. Wondrously tactile, finely made, and you can find them for an absolute song on eBay these days. Sadly, the classic micrometer is something of the past these days, having been replaced by more modern variants with digital readouts. Like the metric system, it’s all about practicality.