How To Be A Mechanical Genius

I run a couple of boat-related groups on Facebook. Recently I posted this…

 Someone commented: “I have one….works on BSW too! (British Standard Whitworth)” That led me to write:

My Whitworth story:

I sincerely doubt that many members of the group have any inkling of what a “Whitworth” is. Briefly: British Standard Whitworth (BSW) is an imperial-unit-based screw thread standard devised and specified by Joseph Whitworth in 1841 and later adopted as a British Standard.  It was the world’s first national screw thread standard. Until then, the only standardization was what little had been done by individual people and companies, with some companies’ in-housestandards spreading a bit within their industries.

My first encounter with the Whitworth came when a friend and I were running a marine repair business in Fort Lauderdale years ago. We handled all the maintenance work for a large marine repo company. A Hong Kong-built trawler was seized and brought to the holding dock. It had a badly leaking stuffing box on one of the propeller shafts because of a missing bolt. 

I tried to find a replacement but discovered that an American-standard bolt was too large, and a metric bolt was just a hair off in the other direction. As a last resort I went to Parker-Merrick Company, specialists in industrial fasteners and explained my problem. 

“Oh,” the man behind the counter said, “You have a Whitworth.”

“What the hell’s that?” I asked. 

“An obscure British standard. You can’t find them here. We don’t have any either. We can order one. It would take a few weeks to get it though and it would cost an arm and a leg.”

Well, I left and explained the results of my inquiries to my friend, a real gear-head, who said he knew what a Whitworth was. “Jaguar uses them. You can disassemble a Jag using American wrenches except for two bolts. For some reason those are Whitworths. I had to modify a couple of wrenches when I was working on Jags in New York.”

Interesting information for a trivia freak like me but no help for our problem. We eventually made some modifications to the stuffing box and stopped the leaking.

About a year later I was picking up some parts at Engine Rebuilder’s Warehouse for a Mercruiser we were repairing when an elderly black gentleman came in with a bolt in his hand. 

“I’ve got a problem,” he said, holding up the bolt. “I’m working on a car and this bolt is weird. An American bolt is too big and a metric bolt is too small…”

“You’re working on a Jaguar,” I said.

“Yep,” he answered with a wrinkled forehead, surprised I’d say that.

“Well, what you have there is a ‘Whitworth'” I said.

“What the hell is that?” both he and the guy behind the counter said almost simultaneously.

I explained what it was to their edification and walked out of the place as if I was a mechanical genius. That’s hardly so as I have to constantly remind myself, “Righty, tighty…”

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One response to “How To Be A Mechanical Genius

  1. It was only two days ago I found myself muttering, “Lefty, loosey…” What a great story! I’ve never heard of a Whitworth either, so I would have been equally impressed had I been there with those two fellows.