Newnes Mechanical Engineer's Pocket Book - Roger Timings and Tony May

I saw an early edition of the Newnes Engineer's Pocket Book on a bookshelf in a AirBnB we were staying at, and it was very interesting. So, I had to get myself one. This edition was first published in 1990 - I chose an older edition as a) earlier editions were less specialised - even in 1990 it was split out from a general engineer's pocket book, and a) it was a bit cheaper!

In many ways, this is one of the most useless books I have. I have never been a mechanical engineer, and am unlikely to be one. And this is not introductory material - it assumes you know the theory, and want a reference. On the other hand, it's interesting because it gives an insider-like view as to what matters to a practical mechanical engineer.

The main sections are Engineering Maths and Science, Engineering Design Data, Engineering Materials, Computer Aided Engineering and Cutting Tools:

The maths and science part has geometric formulae (including how to enter them on a calculator!), statistics, and basic electrical and mechanical engineering calculations, among others. There's not a lot new here for me, but it's handily presented.

The design data covers screwed fastenings, riveted joints, some other fasteners, gears and belts, and shafts. The literal and metaphorical nuts and bolts of mechanical engineering. I found it interesting to see the huge amount of detail that goes into "a screw" or "a cog". A lot of this is just tables for the standard sizes of these things, with the occasional reference for equations you may need. I also found it interesting to see that they included various trade-marked components - it's not just de jure standards, but also the de facto ones!

The materials section starts with a nice little section on the properties of materials (elasticity, plasticity, etc.) and relevant tests, before diving into the nitty-gritty of various metals and polymers. Lots and lots of tables of numbers of little interest. What it did bring home to me is how many subtleties materials have. I knew cast iron and steel were very different, for example, but the variety of material structures, and associated properties, that can be generated through the various impurities and heat treatments is very impressive.

The computer-aided engineering section is a bit of an outlier. It's much more of an introduction to CAD and CAM, rather than assuming the reader knows all about it. It gives a lot of insight into the state of common practice at the start of the 90s. Amusingly, it gives an oversight of G-code without ever saying "G-code".

The final section is on cutting tools. More about drill-, cutting- and sanding-like machines than I imagined there could be. Lots of tables, and a fair number of diagrams that meant nothing to me, but I now understand it to be a complicated area!

This is not the first Newnes pocket book I've bought. Back in the '90s, I bought their pocket book guide to the Z80. At huge cost to my early-teens budget, this was the cheapest way I could find to get access to full documentation of the Z80 instruction set, complete with T-state timings (very handy for optimisation!). It's incredibly strange to look back from now at how hard it was to get information. In some ways, it gives you an idea of how wide the "pocket book" range was, even then. If you look at the range now, it's huge, and full of very specialist topics. Complexity is ever-growing.

I have no way of judging if this book was useful in the early '90s, or if it's useful now, but it was certainly a good way to get a rather specific view of a subject I know next to nothing about!

Posted 2022-05-30.