The History of the Tap and Die

Published: 24th February 2011
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Many metalworkers, DIY enthusiasts and mechanics use the tap and die on a regular basis. Many are familiar with its uses and potential. However, few people have ever heard the history behind such a wonderful tool. As with the invention of most every tool, the tap and die was invented out of necessity. If you have a job that is very difficult, sooner or later you are going to come up with a way to make that job easier and faster. This has been the foundation of inventing almost every tool. Nowadays, we are privileged that tools have developed significantly to make metal and woodworking convenient; things like the step drill bit, circular saws, air-powered nail guns and drill presses. Many years ago things were done the old-fashioned way and this required more time and effort.

In the Middle Ages, bolts and nuts were not made from metal as they are in this day and age. Bolts and nuts were made of wood. Wood workers would work long and hard hours to fashion large wooden bolts and nuts for various applications. These applications would include but were not limited to winches, windmills, flour-mills and water mills. Over a period of time these large wooden bolts would decay and break. After all, wood is definitely a material that decomposes. As time progressed, the inventors of that day would take the broken parts of the wooden bolts and nuts and carefully put them back together; cleaning every bur and splinter from the parts with tender loving kindness. As time progressed they began to realize that these wooden bolts and nuts just could not handle the pressure. So, a new idea formed. They would then take these parts and build a clay mold around them. Then they would pour molten metal into the clay mold and hereby formed the first metal nuts and bolts.

After this, it was realized that this method of making bolts and nuts was not accurate enough for many applications. Instead of pouring molten metal into clay molds and the long and expensive process required by this process, why not make bolts and nuts from metal already casted. From the metal already casted people began making tools to cut threads onto these pieces of metal. In the early stages people would create their own tap and die set for the applications in their specific work. One tap and die set would vary from one person to another. As the 19th century came about the need for standardized bolts and nuts increased. Joseph Clement was one of the first popular vendors of the first tap and die sets. About the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century, thread standardization grew to the point that the old methods of pouring molds and cutting flutes with files were completely forgotten about. The tap and die has evolved more and more precise until we now have tap and die sets that accurate within 1/32 of an inch. So next time you look at your circular saws, step drill bit, air-powered nail guns and drill presses, don't forget the legacy of the tap and die set.


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