A practical mechanics primer?
December 5, 2009 7:40 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find a basic and fairly comprehensive run-down of, quite literally, the nuts, bolts, screws, seals, bearings, washers and so on of practical mechanics?

I'm looking for resources, in print or online, that describe the common and basic components of machines, why they're there, and what they do. For example, this hypothetical resource might contain a chapter or a sub-chapter on washers, going through the different types and explaining their applications. It might also detail certain machines to show how the general principles of how these parts work are applied -- the example that got me on this kick is the headset of a bicycle, whose many components I only partially understand.

While I'll probably be applying this knowledge mostly to bicycle mechanics, I still want something general -- I have plenty of references for bike-specific stuff, but they haven't really helped me get a broad feel for how these things work. Most times, when I get a new experience under my belt, I feel as though I've just memorized one particular case as opposed to having added to the sort of general knowledge that would allow me to deal with novel situations. A general resource will also probably prove helpful when dealing with non-bicycle machines and home repair issues.

I found this book in my searches, but it's out of print and I'm sure there are others. Unfortunately, all of my google searches turn up physics textbooks, which isn't really what I want or need.

posted by invitapriore to Education (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Just to focus your question: would you classify yourself as a non-handy person who is trying to become handy? Or something else?

If you are trying to become handy, and want to know what different parts do, I think your time would be better spent with a little book knowledge (a little!) and then a lot of taking things apart, trying to figure out what does what, and then putting them back together.

Also maybe it sounds like instead of a general mechanical parts book, you might be better served by a good, thorough bike repair book. Because it will tell you what the parts do.

I think the reason you are only finding textbooks is because the basic functions of things like washers and ball bearings are pretty simple...it's the way they are integrated into specific machines that's important.

But I didn't answer your question: sorry about that.
posted by sully75 at 8:15 PM on December 5, 2009

In theatre we use this book as a reference. It's not exactly what you're talking about, but there will be lists of stock sizes of bolts, tricks to finding the centre of a circle, and lots of illustrated tools.
posted by gillianr at 8:21 PM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Watching with interest. I recently came across a "snap ring," and associated tool, which I'd not known about before (and still not quite sure what it's for in this application (go-kart steering column assembly)). Also recently came across u-bolts in suspensions with special nuts with deep threads that can't (or at least should not) be reused/retightened, because they cut into the bolts, and can only do that once, effectively. That's the kind of thing you can't figure out from taking things apart, because the reasons and subtleties of these things aren't even close to obvious.
posted by smcameron at 8:40 PM on December 5, 2009

Best answer: Did you see this? As a side note, I have to agree with sully 75. Having worked in a stage prop construction shop for several years I understand your desire completely for broad knowledge. When I started out as a builder, I thought 'I have to go study mechanical engineering to have a base to work from!' But I soon found that it's the collection of all those novel situations that gives you your body of knowledge. And as sully75 said it really is the integration of the components that's important, so in a way you need to pick your poison (bikes, cars, washing machines etc).
posted by gillianr at 8:42 PM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Would this be of interest? It's Project Gutenberg's ebook of Practical Mechanics for Boys from 1914. (Try the html version.)
posted by fings at 8:53 PM on December 5, 2009

The (New) Way Things Work^ might be too general or layman-oriented for your needs. The original was often described as an essential book to keep in a fallout shelter, to rebuild civilization after World War III. But it does seem to fit your description. Macaulay is a fascinating writer who is able to put mechanical, engineering, and architectural concepts into a cultural context that lends them meaning.
posted by dhartung at 9:52 PM on December 5, 2009

Best answer: Among the 3721 pages of the amazing McMaster-Carr catalog are endless illustrated descriptions of parts and tools:

p. 92 About Rotating Joints
Rotating joints transfer hot and cold materials from your supply line to a continuously revolving drum, roll, or other rotating equipment. They are often used in industrial processes such as the manufacture of paper, plastic, textiles, and rubber.
All rotating joints have at least two threaded connections known as rotor threads and port threads . Joints with two-way flow also have a third connection called elbow threads .
Rotor threads are male threads on a shaft that rotates with the drum.
Port threads are the stationary female threads located on the housing where you connect your supply (or return) line to the rotating joint.
Elbow threads are only found on two-way flow rotating joints. Connect a hose or pipe to these stationary female threads to remove media from the drum.
Normally, the housing and the port and elbow threads remain stationary and the rotor threads rotate with the drum or roll.

p. 1211 Curved Disc Springs
Curved disc springs are excellent for light loads in small spaces. Often used to reduce axial end play, they exert relatively light thrust loads. They're designed to fit standard rod and hole sizes. Package quantity is 10, unless noted.

p. 3000. Round-Shank Quick-Drive Screws for Metals
With protruding nibs on the leading threads, these screws start fast and are easy to drive. Also called Swageform screws, they have machine screw threads, a round shank, and a blunt tip. Use them in electronic applications, as well as heavy gauge sheet steel and cast metal. All are made from zinc-plated steel.
Pan head screws have a low profile and a flat bearing surface. Length is measured from under the head.
Hex washer head screws have a washer and hex head that are formed as one piece to provide a large flat bearing surface that reduces the likelihood of crushing surfaces. Length is measured from under the washer.

posted by nicwolff at 9:56 PM on December 5, 2009

Best answer: The old standby machinists handbook or machinery's handbook
posted by hortense at 10:28 PM on December 5, 2009

Response by poster: Just to focus your question: would you classify yourself as a non-handy person who is trying to become handy? Or something else?

smcameron's really nails my purpose here, but to answer your question personally, I guess I would describe myself as moderately handy. I've got an okay library of experiences to draw on in terms of troubleshooting and fixing things, and I can usually arrive at a general understanding of how a component works and where to look for the problem if I inspect it for a while and try to reason through its behavior. It's true that a bunch of individual experiences add up to a better generalized understanding. The barrier, I find, is that there are a lot of parts that I can't explain, and their purpose seems subtle enough that trial and error experimentation isn't really fruitful. An example I came across recently was replacing the brake shoes on a bicycle: in between the nut and caliper arm that the shoe mounts on to, there are several different washers of various shapes and sizes. In general I understand what washers do, but why these? Why so many? This kind of knowledge seems hard to come by.
posted by invitapriore at 10:29 PM on December 5, 2009

Best answer: Oh, the brake washers!
It's a dumb system, but since there are so many different rim widths, fork widths, brake shoe post lengths, rim diameters, etc. there has to be a way to make the brake point in the right direction. Two of those washers will be rounded, and they can help you to aim for the right spot on the rim. The others are more varied, and can sometimes be omitted if needed to help reduce the effective length of the post. That is definitely not on anyone's list of engineering marvels and *definitely* not on anyone's list of ways to teach the function of parts.

If your library has a copy of Barnett's manual [it's expensive!] you should go read it a million times. It is very helpful in explaining a lot of the whys and the details that generally get left out. It's not an everyday repair manual.

[[As to the snap ring, those are useful for letting things rotate, but not pull off in your hand. Things like steering columns! A small groove in a shaft allows for precise positioning and not-falling-outness, and the 'snap' part is just the simplest way to wedge some metal in there in a removable/replaceable way. Without snap rings, keeping something stationary on a round shaft usually requires two sets of threads in opposite directions. One groove is much simpler.]]
posted by Acari at 11:24 PM on December 5, 2009

smcameron's really nails my purpose here

Well, a lot of those subtleties are known to aircraft mechanics. You can browse these for bits of wisdom (free PDF's from the FAA):

Airframe Handbook
Powerplant Handbook

Check out the hardware sections to start with. Not perfect for your purposes, since they only scratch the surface of a very deep subject, but they're free and can give you a start.
posted by coffeefilter at 12:46 AM on December 6, 2009

Basic Machines and How They Work covers things from pulleys and the inclined plane to hydraulics.
posted by drezdn at 5:21 AM on December 6, 2009

When I stumbled across a book like 1800 Mechanical Movements I was amazed at the amount of forgotten knowledge.

I think I'll be getting a copy of the Mcmaster-Carr catalog too.
posted by mearls at 6:15 AM on December 6, 2009

It's not 1800, but "507 mechanical movements" is on google books for free:
507 mechanical movements (google books)
posted by smcameron at 2:47 PM on December 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody. I've marked the answers that I'll be investigating the most, probably by means of my local library (Machinery's Handbook looks awesome, but is about as expensive I'd expect a text of that nature to be).
posted by invitapriore at 5:49 PM on December 8, 2009

Used book stores sometimes have used "toolbox books" machinist toolboxes have a special little drawer for them.
posted by hortense at 7:20 PM on December 8, 2009

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