What's In A Word
Modern Machine Shop’s Web site includes various online forums that allow readers to post questions and comments on the site. Most forums are devoted to specific topics in metalworking technology, but one is a catch-all titled “General Metalworking.
Modern Machine Shop’s Web site includes various online forums that allow readers to post questions and comments on the site. Most forums are devoted to specific topics in metalworking technology, but one is a catch-all titled “General Metalworking.” In this forum, a reader recently posted a question that was general indeed.
English was not his first language, he said. He wanted help in understanding a certain broadly used term. That term is tool.
His inquiry specifically mentioned mold making. Here the use of “tool” is broadest of all, because the word might refer to an end mill or it might refer to the mold component that this mill is cutting. When extended to “tooling,” it might also refer to the toolholder or the workholding clamps. And then there is the machine tool. A single word seems to apply to every part of the process except the coolant and the overhead lights.
Experienced shop personnel are not particularly bothered by this. They have learned how to apply the term correctly. Depending on the context, a tool might be a cutter, chuck or clamp; it might a workpiece in the case of a mold core; it might be a machine tool in the case of a milling machine; or it might be a hand tool in the case of a wrench out of the machinist’s tool chest. When shop employees speak quickly among themselves, either the context makes the meaning clear, or else the speaker devotes some minuscule amount of extra effort to choosing a more specific term.
There is indeed a single definition. All of these different “tools” are means to an end. A tool is any implement valued not for itself, but instead for what it can be used to make. While the end mill is valued for its usefulness in making the mold, the mold is valued for its usefulness in making the cell phone, dashboard or whatever the final product may be.
It says something both significant and fundamental about the machine shop that one simple word can be used so effectively. The language of the shop is like the shop itself—unadorned. Metalworking has little use for ornate jargon.
This language reflects a premium placed on efficiency. Properly applied, one word can serve many purposes, and a proven word can remain in service as long as it continues to do the job as well as any competing term. This industry uses a word, in other words, the way the shop may use its machine tools.