Graduation - Encyclopedia

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GRADUATION (see also Graduate), the art of dividing straight scales, circular arcs or whole circumferences into any required number of equal parts. It is the most important and difficult part of the work of the mathematical instrument maker, and is required in the construction of most physical, astronomical, nautical and surveying instruments.

The art was first practised by clockmakers for cutting the teeth of their wheels at regular intervals; but so long as it was confined to them no particular delicacy or accurate nicety in its performance was required. This only arose when astronomy began to be seriously studied, and the exact position of the heavenly bodies to be determined, which created the necessity for strictly accurate means of measuring linear and angular magnitudes. Then it was seen that graduation was an art which required special talents and training, and the best artists gave great attention to the perfecting of astronomical instruments. Of these may be named Abraham Sharp (1651-1742), John Bird (1709-1776), John Smeaton (1724-1792), Jesse Ramsden (1735-1800), John Troughton, Edward Troughton (1753-1835), William Simms (1793-1860) and Andrew Ross.

The first graduated instrument must have been done by the hand and eye alone, whether it was in the form of a straightedge with equal divisions, or a screw or a divided plate; but, once in the possession of one such divided instrument, it was a comparatively easy matter to employ it as a standard. Hence graduation divides itself into two distinct branches, original graduation and copying, which latter may be done either by the hand or by a machine called a dividing engine. Graduation may therefore be treated under the three heads of original graduation, copying and machine graduation. Original Graduation. - In regard to the graduation of straight scales elementary geometry provides the means of dividing a straight line into any number of equal parts by the method of continual bisection; but the practical realization of the geometrical construction is so difficult as to render the method untrustworthy. This method, which employs the common diagonal scale, was used in dividing a quadrant of 3 ft. radius, which belonged to Napier of Merchiston, and which only read to minutes - a result, according to Thomson and Tait (Nat. Phil.), " giving no greater accuracy than is now attainable by the pocket sextants of Troughton and Simms, the radius of whose arc is little more than an inch." The original graduation of a straight line is done either by the method of continual bisection or by stepping. In continual bisection the entire length of the line is first laid down. Then, as nearly as possible, half that distance is taken in the beam-compass and marked off by faint arcs from each end of the line. Should these marks coincide the exact middle point of the line is obtained. If not, as will almost always be the case, the distance between the marks is carefully bisected by hand with the aid of a magnifying glass. The same process is again applied to the halves thus obtained, and so on in succession, dividing the line into parts represented by 2, 4, 8, 16, &c. till the desired divisions are reached. In the method of stepping the smallest division required is first taken, as accurately as possible, by spring dividers, and that distance is then laid off, by successive steps, from one end of the line. In this method, any error at starting will be multiplied at each division by the number of that division. Errors so made are usually adjusted by the dots being put either back or forward a little by means of the dividing punch guided by a magnifying glass. This is an extremely tedious process, as the dots, when so altered several times, are apt to get insufferably large and shapeless.

The division of circular arcs is essentially the same in principle as the graduation of straight lines.

The first example of note is the 8-ft. mural circle which was graduated by George Graham (1673-1751) for Greenwich Observatory in 1725. In this two concentric arcs of radii 96.85 and 95.8 in. respectively were first described by the beam-compass. On the inner of these the arc of 90° was to be divided into degrees and 12th parts of a degree, while the same on the outer was to be divided into 96 equal parts and these again into 16th parts. The reason for adopting the latter was that, 96 and 16 being both powers of 2, the divisions could be got at by continual bisection alone, which, in Graham's opinion, who first employed it, is the only accurate method, and would thus serve as a check upon the accuracy of the divisions of the outer arc. With the same distance on the beamcompass as was used to describe the inner arc, laid off from o°, the point 60° was at once determined. With the points o° and 60° as centres successively, and a distance on the beam-compass very nearly bisecting the arc of 60°, two slight marks were made on the arc; the distance between these marks was divided by the hand aided by a lens, and this gave the point 30°. The chord of 60° laid off from the point 30° gave the point 90°, and the quadrant was now divided into three equal parts. Each of these parts was similarly bisected, and the resulting divisions again trisected, giving 18 parts of 5° each. Each of these quinquesected gave degrees, the 12th parts of which were arrived at by bisecting and trisecting as before. The outer arc was divided by continual bisection alone, and a table was constructed by which the readings of the one arc could be converted into those of the other. After the dots indicating the required divisions were obtained, either straight strokes all directed towards the centre were drawn through them by the dividing knife, or sometimes small arcs were drawn through them by the beam-compass having its fixed point somewhere on the line which was a tangent to the quadrantal arc at the point where a division was to be marked.

The next important example of graduation was done by Bird in 1767. His quadrant, which was also 8-ft. radius, was divided into degrees and 12th parts of a degree. He employed the method of continual bisection aided by chords taken from an exact scale of equal parts, which could read to ooi of an inch, and which he had previously graduated by continual bisections. With the beamcompass an arc of radius 95.938 in. was first drawn. From this radius the chords of 30°, 15°, 10° 20', 4 0 40' and 42° 40' were computed, and each of them by means of the scale of equal parts laid off on a separate beam-compass to be ready. The radius laid off from o° gave the point 60°; by the chord of 30° the arc of 60° was bisected; from the point 30° the radius laid off gave the point 90°; the chord of 15° laid off backwards from 90° gave the point 75°; from 75° was laid off forwards the chord of 10° 20'; and from 90° was laid off backwards the chord of 4° 40'; and these were found to coincide in the point 85° 20'. Now 85° 20' being =5' X 1024= 5'X2 10, the final divisions of 85° 20' were found by continual bisections. For the remainder of the quadrant beyond 85° 20', containing 56 divisions of 5' each, the chord of 64 such divisions was laid off from the point 85° 40', and the corresponding arc divided by continual bisections as before. There was thus a severe check upon the accuracy of the points already found, viz. 15°, 30°, 60°, 75°, 90°, which, however, were found to coincide with the corresponding points obtained by continual bisections. The short lines through the dots were drawn in the way already mentioned.

The next eminent artists in original graduation are the brothers John and Edward Troughton. The former was the first to devise a means of graduating the quadrant by continual bisection without the aid of such a scale of equal parts as was used by Bird. His method was as follows: The radius of the quadrant laid off from o° gave the point 60°. This arc bisected and the half laid off from 60° gave the point 90°. The arc between 60° and 90° bisected gave 75°; the arc between 75° and 90° bisected gave the point 82° 30', and the arc between 82° 30' and 90° bisected gave the point 86° 15'. Further, the arc between 82° 30' and 86° 15' trisected, and twothirds of it taken beyond 82° 30', gave the point 85°, while the arc between 85° and 86° 15' also trisected, and one-third part laid off beyond 85°, gave the point 85° 25'. Lastly, the arc between 85° and 85° 25' being quinquesected, and four-fifths taken beyond 85°, gave 85° 20', which as before is = 5' X2 10, and so can be finally divided by continual bisection.

The method of original graduation discovered by Edward Troughton is fully described in the Philosophical Transactions for 1809, as employed by himself to divide a meridian circle of 4 ft. radius. The circle was first accurately turned both on its face and its inner and outer edges. A roller was next provided, of such diameter that it revolved 16 times on its own axis while made to roll once round the outer edge of the circle. This roller, made movable on pivots, was attached to a frame-work, which could be slid freely, yet tightly, along the circle, the roller meanwhile revolving, by means of frictional contact, on the outer edge. The roller was also, after having been properly adjusted as to size, divided as accurately as possible into 16 equal parts by lines parallel to its axis. While the frame carrying the roller was moved once round along the circle, the points of contact of the roller-divisions with the circle were accurately observed by two microscopes attached to the frame, one of which (which we shall call H) commanded the ring on the circle near its edge, which was to receive the divisions and the other viewed the roller-divisions. The points of contact thus ascertained were marked with faint dots, and the meridian circle thereby divided into 256 very nearly equal parts.

The next part of the operation was to find out and tabulate the errors of these dots, which are called apparent errors, in consequence of the error of each dot being ascertained on the supposition that its neighbours are all correct. For this purpose two microscopes (which we shall call A and B) were taken, with cross wires and micrometer adjustments, consisting of a screw and head divided into 100 divisions, 50 of which read in the one and 50 in the opposite direction. These microscopes were fixed so that their cross-wires respectively bisected the dots o and 128, which were supposed to be diametrically opposite. The circle was now turned half-way round on its axis, so that dot 128 coincided with the wire of A, and, should dot o be found to coincide with B, then the two dots were 180° apart. If not, the cross wire of B was moved till it coincided with dot o, and the number of divisions of the micrometer head noted. Half this number gave clearly the error of dot 128, and it was tabulated or - according as the arcual distance between o and 128 was found to exceed or fall short of the remaining part of the circumference. The microscope B was now shifted, A remaining opposite dot o as before, till its wire bisected dot 64, and, by giving the circle one quarter of a turn on its axis, the difference of the arcs between dots o and 64 and between 64 and 128 was obtained. The half of this difference gave the apparent error of dot 64, which was tabulated with its proper sign. With the microscope A still in the same position the error of dot 192 was obtained, and in the same way by shifting B to dot 32 the errors of dots 32, 96, 160 and 224 were successively ascertained. In this way the apparent errors of all the 256 dots were tabulated.

From this table of apparent errors a table of real errors was drawn up by employing the following formula: 2 (x a +x c) +z = the real error of dot b, where x a is the real error of dot a, x, the real error of dot c, and z the apparent error of dot b midway between a and c. Having got the real errors of any two dots, the table of apparent errors gives the means of finding the real errors of all the other dots.

The last part of Troughton's process was to employ them to cut the final divisions of the circle, which were to be spaces of 5' each. Now the mean interval between any two dots is 360 0 /256 = 5' X 161, and hence, in the final division, this interval must be divided into 161 equal parts. To accomplish this a small instrument, called a subdividing sector, was provided. It was formed of thin brass and had a radius about four times that of the roller, but made adjustable as to length. The sector was placed concentrically on the axis, and rested on the upper end of the roller. It turned by frictional adhesion along with the roller, but was sufficiently loose to allow of its being moved back by hand to any position without affecting the roller. While the roller passes over an angular space equal to the mean interval between two dots, any point of the sector must pass over 16 times that interval, that is to say, over an angle represented by 360° X16/256 =22° 30'. This interval was therefore divided by 168, and a space equal to 16 of the parts taken. This was laid off on the arc of the sector and divided into 16 equal parts, each equal to 1° 20'; and, to provide for the necessary $ths of a division, there was laid off at each end of the sector, and beyond the 16 equal parts, two of these parts each subdivided into 8 equal parts. A microscope with cross wires, which we shall call I, was placed on the main frame, so as to command a view of the sector divisions, just as the microscope H viewed the final divisions of the circle. Before the first or zero mark was cut, the zero of the sector was brought under I and then the division cut at the point on the circle indicated by H, which also coincided with the dot o. The frame was then slipped along the circle by the slow screw motion provided for the purpose, till the first sector-division, by the action of the roller, was brought under I. The second mark was then cut on the circle at the point indicated by H. That the marks thus obtained are 5' apart is evident when we reflect that the distance between them must be 6th of a division on the section which by construction is 1° 20'. In this way the first 16 divisions were cut; but before cutting the 17th it was necessary to adjust the micrometer wires of H to the real error of dot 1, as indicated by the table, and bring back the sector, not to zero, but to 8th short of zero. Starting from this position the divisions between dots 1 and 2 were filled in, and then H was adjusted to the real error of dot 2, and the sector brought back to its proper division before commencing the third course. Proceeding in this manner through the whole circle, the microscope H was finally found with its wire at zero, and the sector with its 16th division under its microscope indicating that the circle had been accurately divided.


In graduation by copying the pattern must be either an accurately divided straight scale, or an accurately divided circle, commonly called a dividing plate. In copying a straight scale the pattern and scale to be divided, usually called the work, are first fixed side by side, with their upper faces in the same plane. The dividing square, which closely resembles an ordinary joiner's square, is then laid across both, and the point of the dividing knife dropped into the zero division of the pattern. The square is now moved up close to the point of the knife; and, while it is held firmly in this position by the left hand, the first division on the work is made by drawing the knife along the edge of the square with the right hand.

It frequently happens that the divisions required on a scale are either greater or less than those on the pattern. To meet this case, and still use the same pattern, the work must be fixed at a certain angle of inclination with the pattern. This angle is found in the following way. Take the exact ratio of a division on the'pattern to the required division on the scale. Call this ratio a. Then, if the required divisions are longer than those of the pattern, the angle is cosl a, but, if shorter, the angle is sec1 a. In the former case two operations are required before the divisions are cut: first, the square is laid on the pattern, and the corresponding divisions merely notched very faintly on the edge of the work; and, secondly, the square is applied to the work and the final divisions drawn opposite each faint notch. In the second case, that is, when the angle is sec l a, the dividing square is applied to the work, and the divisions cut when the edge of the square coincides with the end of each division on the pattern.

In copying circles use is made of the dividing plate. This is a circular plate of brass, of 36 in. or more in diameter, carefully graduated near its outer edge. It is turned quite flat, and has a steel pin fixed in its centre, and at right angles to its plane. For guiding the dividing knife an instrument called an index is employed. This is a straight bar of thin steel of length equal to the radius of the plate. A piece of metal, having a V notch with its angle a right angle, is riveted to one end of the bar in such a position that the vertex of the notch is exactly in a line with the edge of the steel bar. In this way, when the index is laid on the plate, with the notch grasping the central pin, the straight edge of the steel bar lies exactly along a radius. The work to be graduated is laid flat on the dividing plate, and fixed by two clamps in a position exactly concentric with it. The index is now laid on, with its edge coinciding with any required division on the dividing plate, and the corresponding division on the work is cut by drawing the dividing knife along the straight edge of the index.

Machine Graduation

The first dividing engine was probably that of Henry Hindley of York, constructed in 1740, and chiefly used by him for cutting the teeth of clock wheels. This was followed shortly after by an engine devised by the duc de Chaulnes;but the first notable engine was that made by Ramsden, of which an account was published by the Board of Longitude in 1777. He was rewarded by that board with a sum of £300, and a further sum of £315 was given to him on condition that he would divide, at a certain fixed rate, the instruments of other makers. The essential principles of Ramsden's machine have been repeated in almost all succeeding engines for dividing circles.

Ramsden's machine consisted of a large brass plate 45 in. in diameter, carefully turned and movable on a vertical axis. The edge of the plate was ratched with 2160 teeth, into which a tangent screw worked, by means of which the plate could be made to turn through any required angle. Thus six turns of the screw moved the plate through I°, and nth of a turn through gi oth of a degree. On the axis of the tangent screw was placed a cylinder having a spiral groove cut on its surface. A ratchet-wheel containing 60 teeth was attached to this cylinder, and was so arranged that, when the cylinder moved in one direction, it carried the tangent screw with it, and so turned the plate, but when it moved in the opposite direction, it left the tangent screw, and with it the plate, stationary. Round the spiral groove of the cylinder a catgut band was wound, one end of which was attached to a treadle and the other to a counterpoise weight. When the treadle was depressed the tangent screw turned round, and when the pressure was removed it returned, in obedience to the weight, to its former position without affecting the screw. Provision was also made whereby certain stops could be placed in the way of the screw, which only allowed it the requisite amount of turning. The work to be divided was firmly fixed on the plate, and made concentric with it. The divisions were cut, while the screw was stationary, by means of a dividing knife attached to a swing frame, which allowed it to have only a radial motion. In this way the artist could divide very rapidly by alternately depressing the treadle and working the dividing knife.

Ramsden also constructed alinear dividing engine on essentially the same principle. If we imagine the rim of the circular plate with its notches stretched out into a straight line and made movable in a straight slot, the screw, treadle, &c., remaining as before, we get a very good idea of the linear engine.

In 1793 Edward Troughton finished a circular dividing engine, of which the plate was smaller than in Ramsden's, and which differed considerably in simplifying matters of detail. The plate was originally divided by Troughton's own method, already described, and the divisions so obtained were employed to ratch the edge of the plate for receiving the tangent screw with great accuracy. Andrew Ross (Trans. Soc. Arts, 1830-1831) constructed a dividing machine which differs considerably from those of Ramsden and Troughton.

The essential point of difference is that, in Ross's engine, the tangent screw does not turn the engine plate; that is done by an independent apparatus, and the function of the tangent screw is only to stop the plate after it has passed through the required angular interval between two divisions on the work to be graduated. Round the circumference of the plate are fixed 48 projections which just look as if the circumference had been divided into as many deep and somewhat peculiarly shaped notches or teeth. Through each of these teeth a hole is bored parallel to the plane of the plate and also to a tangent to its circumference. Into these holes are screwed steel screws with capstan heads and flat ends. The tangent screw consists only of a single turn of a large square thread which works in the teeth or notches of the plate. This thread is pierced by 90 equally distant holes, all parallel to the axis of the screw, and at the same distance from it. Into each of these holes is inserted a steel screw exactly similar to those in the teeth, but with its end rounded. It is the rounded and flat ends of these sets of screws coming together that stop the engine plate at the desired position, and the exact point can be nicely adjusted by suitably turning the screws.

A description is given of a dividing engine made by William Simms in the Memoirs of the Astronomical Society, 1843. Simms Dividing Engine.

became convinced that to copy upon smaller circles the divisions which had been put upon a large plate with very great accuracy was not only more expeditious but more exact than original graduation. His machine involved essentially the same principle as Troughton's. The accompanying figure is taken by permission.

The plate A is 46 in. in diameter, and is composed of gun-metal cast in one solid piece. It has two sets of 5' divisions--one very faint on an inlaid ring of silver, and the other stronger on the gunmetal. These were put on by original graduation, mainly on the plan of Edward Troughton. One very great improvement in this engine is that the axis B is tubular, as seen at C. The object of this hollow is to receive the axis of the circle to be divided, so that it can be fixed flat to the plate by the clamps E, without having first to be detached from the axis and other parts to which it has already been carefully fitted. This obviates the necessity for resetting, which can hardly be done without some error. D is the tangent screw, and F the frame carrying it, which turns on carefully polished steel pivots. The screw is pressed against the edge of the plate by a spiral spring acting under the end of the lever G, and by screwing the lever down the screw can be altogether removed from contact with the plate. The edge of the plate is ratched by 4320 teeth which were cut opposite the original division by a circular cutter attached to the screw frame. H is the spiral barrel round which the catgut band is wound, one end of which is attached to the crank L on the end of the axis J and the other to a counterpoise weight not seen. On the other end of J is another crank inclined to L and carrying a band and counterpoise weight seen at K. The object of this weight is to balance the former and give steadiness to the motion. On the axis J is seen a pair of bevelled wheels which move the rod I, which, by another pair of bevelled wheels attached to the box N, gives motion to the axis M, on the end of which is an eccentric for moving the bent lever 0, which actuates the bar carrying the cutter. Between the eccentric and the point of the screw P is an undulating plate by which long divisions can be cut. The cutting apparatus is supported upon the two parallel rails which can be elevated or depressed at pleasure by the nuts Q. Also the cutting apparatus can be moved forward or backward upon these rails to suit circles of different diameters. The box N is movable upon the bar R, and the rod I is adjustable as to length by having a kind of telescope joint. The engine is self-acting, and can be driven either by hand or by a steam-engine or other motive power. It can be thrown in or out of gear at once by a handle seen at S.

Mention may be made of Donkin's linear dividing engine, in which a compensating arrangement is employed whereby great accuracy is obtained notwithstanding the inequalities of the screw used to advance the cutting tool. Dividing engines have also been made by Reichenbach, Repsold and others in Germany, Gambey in Paris and by several other astronomical instrument-makers. A machine constructed by E. R. Watts & Son is described by G. T. McCaw, in the Monthly Not. R. A. S., January 1909.


Bird, Method of dividing Astronomical Instruments (London, 1767); Due de Chaulnes, Nouvelle Methode pour diviser les instruments de mathematique et d'astronomie (1768); Ramsden, Description of an Engine for dividing Mathematical Instruments (London, 1777) ; Troughton's memoir, Phil. Trans. (1809); Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society, v. 325, viii. 141, ix. 17, 35. See also J. E. Watkins, "On the Ramsden Machine," Smithsonian Rep. (1890), p. 721; and L. Ambronn, Astronomische Instrumentenkunde (1899). (J. Bi.)

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