Kingston Aviation
Harry Webb
Transcript: 5
The job of the Setter

Harry here describes his job as a machine shop setter – a skilled machinist selected to set-up machines for other operators.   He would set “stops” for the exact position of the raw material and the travel of each cutting tool which allowed the operators to produce a whole quantity of components of exactly the same correct sizes and shapes.

On capstan and turret lathes at this time, cutting tools could only be moved in straight lines along or across the rotating part.  An accurate “form tool” was needed to cut any curved shape into the part.

In more organised times you would expect the best sequence for the job to be thought through by a production engineer and recorded on a “process sheet” for the setter, with any form tools made in advance in the Tool Room.  This significantly reduces the time taken to “set” the machine tool, and therefore increases the time it is producing valuable products.

I would imagine I was probably seventeen or so when I was made a setter. So I was setting machines for five ladies.

The set-up was – when you were setting up machines, the batches were small. You might well have form tools to make. I can’t recall in those early days, a grinding section that were making form tools. There might well have been but I’m not sure.

But the setter would make tools, if there were any special ones needed. And he would get a piece of cast steel and he would go to the blacksmith – a fellow called Bert Ward – and he would tell him what shape he wanted the blacksmith to make. And he would then shape the tool himself. Return to Bert Ward and asked him to harden it and then you would lap it yourself or whatever extra treatment it needed. This would take away any opportunity of earning any bonus, the amount of time that would take. But the significant thing is you then at the end of the job, didn’t have that tool put away for the next batch. You put it in your toolbox that was your property.


So if you got that job next time you had a tool that was made for it. But if the chap working next to you got it, he’d have to go through this procedure himself.

So you wouldn’t actually loan the tool to him?

Well there would be no question he probably might not know there or know – that was the way of things.

Right, ok, yes.

And there was no ‘process sheets’. So if there were a number of operations, it was down to you what sequence you would do them. And it wasn’t unusual to end up in the situation where you’ve got one or two operations to do and no means of holding the job to do it.