What Is Meccano

Chris Bourne writes:

If you don't stick to standard parts, then it makes it hard for others to build the same model for themselves, from a plan.

There are, I suppose, several defining characteristics of Meccano. Some are physical - 1/2 inch spacing, 5/32" Whitworth. Others are conceptual - for example, that models can be disassembled and the parts used to make new models, or that models display 'real' principles of mechanics.

Obviously when it comes to colour there is a wide range of colour schemes which constitute 'official' colours. However, because I choose to paint a Meccano model of, say, a Sopwith Camel in RFC colours of the time, does not mean other modellers can't build essentially the same model using 'official' colours.

For me, the idea that what I have built, you can build, and what you have built, I could build, is an important part of our hobby. When I see other people's fine models I learn techniques and unusual uses for parts which I can apply to my own models.

I think this reliance on a common base gives us a particular sense of community and the recognition of it makes it easy to swap ideas freely and feel proud and honoured when another person uses one's own idea.

Paul Joachim, in an article which I think is no longer on the ISM web site, wrote of competition models that non-standard parts should be kept to a minimum and justified by the lack of a viable Meccano alternative. This is certainly a fair point when judging one Meccano model against another and awarding prizes. After all, at such moments we are looking for the inventive use of Meccano, not the inventive use of old laser toner cartridges!

But when we are not judging models to award prizes, I think I would fall back on the idea that the ideal Meccano model can be reproduced by other Meccano enthusiasts and that if it uses non-standard parts, they are used with restraint and in proportion to the whole, and where possible, they are parts which other enthusiasts can easily obtain.

It boils down to the question - is the model most inspired by its subject, or by the Meccano system?

That is, if your main emphasis is on the creative use of Meccano, then using non-standard parts detracts from it. If your main emphasis, however, is on the subject of the model, then the use of non-standard parts which bring you closer to that goal can be admired as ingenious in its own right.

I guess most of us have more complex motivations between the two. My Sopwith Camel was inspired by a number of criteria on both sides of the fence - the desire to show off an ostentatious use of brass worms was a 'creative use of Meccano' motive, but I was also concerned to display a subject I am very fond of - a modelling motive.

I would hazard a guess that few modellers are so comfortable with the Meccano system that the parts fall into place with a natural elegance and simplicity to produce an apparently perfect representation of the original subject, so that it is impossible to separate the model and the medium. Bert Love's name springs to mind.

And even he, in his Meccano Constructor's Guide, advocates the use of sewn cloth for fairground canopies, or a Dinky car tyre in a showman's traction engine (perhaps it carried the Toyman from fair to fair...) The introduction of 'objets trouves' into models can hardly have a higher pedigree!

Chris Bourne

From Michael Adler:

Meccano means different things to different people.

Seemingly a simple question to which everyone has the answer. It is no longer as easy to define as it used to be. The problem is that Meccano means different things to different people, and it depends on one's perspective.

Until the demise of Meccano Liverpool, there was no problem at all. Often imitated, but never equalled, the company jealously guarded its name and the product it manufactured. Everyone knew that Meccano was a metal modelling set of re-useable parts with half inch hole spacing. Meccano models were instantly recognisable, and the word Meccano became a household word, and eventually reached the dictionary.

See how the scene has changed today. The original factory in Liverpool has ceased to be, and the product is now manufactured in France. The patents have expired, leaving the company with its only asset, the goodwill of the illustrious and powerful brand name - Meccano. Meccano targets young boys by selling a variety of sets. This is the main emphasis and focus of their sales. From time to time, a new part or set is issued which increases the range of parts and the appeal of the product. Only a relatively small proportion of manufactured parts finds their way to dealers for sale to enthusiasts.

Purist Liverpool Meccano

You may say to yourself - "I am going to a Meccano exhibition next week" and know exactly what you are going to find there . At the exhibition, you will come across the Meccano purist. His attitude is that he will remain within the confines of what was produced by Liverpool. He is happy to produce wonderful models with the range of parts at his disposal, and he wouldn't dream of damaging them. Each part after use must be restored to its pristine condition. You can be sure that everyone has these basic parts, so that if a model is built for publication, everyone has those parts readily to hand. This is a very great advantage.

Calais Meccano

Next you will see models which contain parts right up to the present, even in a wide range of colours, which have been introduced from time to time, all manufactured and stamped with the Meccano name from the French factory.

Specialist Meccano

Then there are some models which have strange new parts which have been produced by small manufacturers of which quite a number have established themselves. They have longer girders, different gear ratios, clever small pieces, often highly innovative and extremely useful to the dedicated model builder. There will be large scale axle rods, roller bearings, different gear ratios, the list can be endless - all built to the same specifications and appearance as the original product. But one could not easily build a copy of the model, because the parts are specialist parts not generally available. Nevertheless they add tremendously to the opportunities afforded to the serious model builder. There is every reason surely to encourage this tendency, because it adds to the range of parts, the lustre of the hobby, and the possibilities for new model building techniques are greatly enhanced. Why should development of the system have stopped with Liverpool, or why should the enthusiast be satisfied with what is produced in Calais.

Innovative Meccano

Next one comes across a Meccano model where hybrid parts have been manufactured, probably to get around a tricky problem. Its almost as if the builder had access to a lathe, and had no reason to restrain himself in its use. The model he builds is probably more rigid, or more flexible, and has extremely interesting engineering features. Perhaps they are the true innovators.

Hybrid Meccano

On almost any model, there is a part or parts that are not Meccano at all. I do not mean electric motors, which are hardly ever from the Meccano factory, but parts made from wood or odd bits of metal. They are often essential to the appearance or function of the model. Sometimes parts are painted non standard colours, to mimic the original or create a special effect. Some wonderful models have been produced which utilise electronic control often including computers, which should perhaps be available to all. This is something which we should recognise, because, after all, Meccano prides itself on being table top engineering, and as such should keep up with modern practice. Most modern machinery is powered by hydraulics, but we have yet to see a system suitable for use with Meccano, Why should we restrain ourselves from these innovative developments, and confine ourselves to substitute mechanisms, as ingenious as they often are.

The thing to note however is that the casual observer would say that all these models are Meccano. All of these developments add to our enjoyment of the hobby.

So we come back to the original question - "What is Meccano?" By what standards should a model be judged. One could go further and say, "well why have competitions?" But perhaps competition focusses attention and encourages excellence in model building, and that is why it should be encouraged. The choice of model building using "Meccano" is now so wide, that the setting of rules becomes a most difficult and unenviable task.

We will continue to be fascinated by our hobby. Each Meccanoman will have his own ideas and solutions, and will feel most comfortable with doing things his own way, and in the way he knows best. This versatility adds to our enjoyment, and we are the richer for the experience. But it may help to focus attention on what is after all small scale engineering. In spite of all that has been said, we have the ability to construct models and mechanisms using a recognisable uniform system with re-usable parts, and this is true to the challenge that faced Frank Hornby more than 100 years ago.

The Meccano System

Meccano was invented by Frank Hornby in 1901. It is a system of metal construction where standardized, preformed, re-usable perforated parts can be attached to each other. Structures and mechanisms can be built. The basic tools are a screwdriver and spanner. No special workshop machinery is required.

The Meccano System consists of a wide selection of strips, girders, wheels, rods, brackets, pulleys, sprockets and gears, electrical parts, motors, and a large range of specialized parts.

The standard hole spacing is " or 12.7 mm. The standard thread is 5/32" Whitworth, 32 TPI. The diameter of axle rods is 8 SWG or 0.160" or 4.04 mm. Gears are 38 DP i.e. 38 teeth per 1" diameter.

The name "Meccano" was registered by Frank Hornby on 14th September 1907 at the Design Registry of the UK Patent Office.
The registered name is now owned by Spin Master Ltd, Canada's largest Toy Manufacturer**.
Meccano's manufacturing base and industrial facilities will retain in Calais- France, to optimize servicebility to European markets**

The name Meccano has become a household word. The majority of common mechanisms and structures can be constructed, often with a very high degree of precision. Meccano clubs exist in many parts of the world which hold regular Meccano exhibitions.

Meccano can also be used in schools and universities to demonstrated mechanical and engineering principles.

It has an important place in industry where it can be used to advantage to build prototypes as it allows the rapid development and realization of ideas. It also has a place in the laboratory.

Meccano is available at retail outlets, and at specialized Meccano suppliers throughout the world.

**addition by the webmaster


  • Bert Love & Jim Gamble - The Meccano System and the Special Purpose Meccano Sets
    New Cavendish Books, London
    ISBN 0 904568 36 9