How to Begin?

So, you want to teach people about gears. It is a huge topic with many interesting and complicated facets to it. A person could spend their entire adult life working in the field and still not know “everything.” How do you decide what the novice really needs to know? Where do you start their education?

We have been debating this problem for quite a while now and finally are closing in on an approach that will spill out of the magazine and into this blog over the next year. And given the breadth of the information we need to cover; a single year may not be enough. But before we start, it seems appropriate that we summarize the approaches we considered.

One popular concept is to “begin at the beginning.” I love history and can see where this type of study would be interesting. The challenge is that “history” bores many people. And when exactly does that “history” begin? A further complication is found in the lack of agreement on who did what, when, and where. My belief in “gear history” might not line up with your long-held understanding. The historical approach has a high probability of clouding the novice’s understanding before it helps get things done in the day-to-day world.

It is typically at this point in the discussion where things devolve into a debate over “education” vs. “training.”

Is our goal to teach the reader to perform certain tasks, or to prepare them to explore the topic in a more philosophical way? I can argue from either side and not really accomplish anything of value.

Everyone come into this trade from a different entry point, with different needs and different objectives. Our local “tribes” can be arranged by product type, manufacturing method, geographical region, or national boundaries; each subset can have its own terminology.

I have in my files the scan of an attempt to correlate gear terminology across the principle languages of ISO. Six pages that stalled along the way because there was no consensus on what words meant. That is an important thing to keep in mind whenever one sets out to write about gears.

My own effort to write a book for gear newbies began in 1987; you can download a free copy from my website ( I started it as an advertising piece but management lost interest in it because it became too “technical” for them. This, despite it never mentioning the involute curve or having a single math equation in it. As they feared, it never became a best seller, although literally hundreds of people found it of some value. Some thought was given to updating that book, but the budget to produce high-quality graphics just isn’t there.

Many wonderful gear books take a mathematical approach to the subject. This is another honorable approach that appeals to some and bores even more. At some of the seminars I have attended over the years, you could see students zoning out soon after the involute curve was modeled and the complex math came out. I have a copy of a fantastic gear engineering handbook that is rendered unusable because the author stuck with non-standard designations for certain angles. Who wants to read a book with a 3 x 5 card as a bookmark to constantly remind you that the hundreds of formulas shown do not say what they appear to say?

Instead, we will be taking a topical approach with occasional detours into reviews of other sources of gear knowledge. I will leave the mathematics to those who need it and endeavor to keep the rest of the class awake enough to submit questions.

About Charles D. Schultz 634 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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