In our first year we were given files, not glass tubes or office 
supplies but point nine percent carbon steel, hardened and tempered 
second-cut file. Later: single-cut millsaws, superior for lathe work; 

the turner’s friend; told never to use a millsaw on a rotating 
lathe without a handle. Bastards were useful for white metal 
removal. Rasps, a blacksmith’s tool; scorned by mechanical 

fitters. Yet Charlie; our nonagenarian dilutee; used rasps 
extensively in cleaning the faces of valve flanges. ‘Dey stick 
he said, dem dang blasted files.’ Charlie didn’t say much 

else in our time together. Born in 1873 Charlie knew his place.
He lugged sackfuls of valves over to the fitting shop for repair. 
He loved the work, a dilutee made up to ‘skilled’ during the war 

he relished his step up in craft; and in a time of no pensions 
needed the money. First year apprentices were given file card 
to clean their files and told to make them last the five years. 

Never strike a file on a hard surface, it will break like glass, 
an early maxim that we carried; ingrained like sand on a smelter
worker’s brow. We added to our toolkits, assuring ourselves 

that we really did need that six inch triangular sectional 
shaped file along with: round, square, rectangular and vee 
shaped; and half round of various lengths. One determining 

test was to cut a two inch square from on eighth of an inch 
thick steel to within one thousandth of an inch and fit it 
into a square hole that we had already cut in a blank. 

‘It must fit without falling through,’ said our instructor 
and left for his break leaving us to sweat it; some of us 
struggled for six weeks on that task; a never to be forgotten 

moment. The skill learned simply by application; the body needs 
to learn the routine, motion, muscles need to relax. The body 
loves routine, filing is routine. The satisfaction experienced 

by raw youths is dramatic; given a key to file down they would 
leap on the task like gazelles; something they could do. Other 
tools came into play: hammers, chisels and gouges, pairs 

of dividers, centre pops, punches, engineer’s squares, callipers
inside and out, cast iron surface-flats; tables and angle plates. 
We used centre finders and vices, we were big on vices. Once 

we could use a file properly we advanced to the fitting of keys: 
parallel; tapered, gib-head; and stepped; by the use of: 
offering up, bluing, filing, scraping; and driven home tight. 

This naturally progressed to the next skill level in the scraping
in of bearings: white metal, brass, cast iron. The making 
of the very tools that we used in fitting became a labour of love. 

The tools that we made for ourselves during our apprenticeship 
years stayed with us, like old friends, all out working years; 
turning old damaged files into scrapers by heating and using 

the skills of a blacksmith to fashion the required shape, heat 
to a dull red then quench in cold water and agitate. Most fitters 
are good at agitation. We were shown how to experiment in the second 

stage of tempering, the colour indicating the hardness we required. 
A straw colour, useful for striking tools, a blue purple for cutting 
tools but brittle as taffy. Not only that we made: our own scribing 

block holders and vices. We were big on vices. One day a week devoted 
to algebra, engineering drawing, English language and electrical 
and mechanical principles with the added first level course 

in workshop technology. To fill in leisure hours we drank quantities 
of warm bitter, limited only by our pay. We chased rugby balls 
and girls as far as we were able. We had an inexhaustible energy 

and would walk miles for the sniff of a girl’s blouse; haunted dance 
halls and billiard halls fighting our way through the first year 
to the second. These skills were the foundation of all further work, 

our hands toughened, backs strong, eyes trained to discern 
the  minutest flaw in metal. These skills stay with us all the days 
of our life and there was much more to come...