Cutting Tool Engineering
May 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 5

The Russian spy

By Tom Lipton

My old toolmaker buddy worked in the naval shipyard near Bremerton, Wash., during World War II. He told me quite a few great stories about the day-to-day life in a machine shop during the big war. This was one of those big government shops with hundreds of guys on multiple shifts, building everything from torpedoes to potato peelers.

When my friend Charlie first started at the shipyard, he was assigned to the lathe department. The shipyard had lathes in a huge range of sizes. He started out on a lathe with a long bed, turning long shafts and screws. He sometimes had to mount up to four or five steady rests at a time for some shafts.

After he had been working there a while, he got a reputation as a pretty good lathe hand. One day, eight or 10 new American Pacemaker lathes were delivered to the shop and set up. “Good American machines,” he told me. Being a relatively new guy, he was surprised when he was assigned to one of the new machines. After a little grumbling from the older guys, things settled down.

Nearby, on another lathe, a machinist set up his machine to drill a part. Apparently, it required a fairly large drill bit—about 2 " to 3 " in diameter. The guy set the machine up and started drilling. The hole was pretty deep, so he was at it for some time.

At one point, there was a big commotion at this guy’s machine and everybody came over to see what had happened. Like sharks to a scuba diver with a beef jerky wetsuit, they descended on this poor fellow. When Charlie got over there, everybody was still laughing at this poor red-faced guy for what he had done.

It seems he was daydreaming while drilling and didn’t notice the chips coming out of the hole had changed color. He had drilled completely through his part and kept going all the way through the 4-jaw chuck. Everybody was laughing because the chuck was hanging on the big, old drill bit and had been drilled off the end of the spindle.

Now, I have to admit I would have been cracking up myself. On one side, I’d feel sorry for the guy, but, damn, that’s some funny stuff. Everybody was laughing at this guy’s pain and humiliation when Charlie piped up and said, “Hey, I think this guy is a communist spy.” People quieted down for a second to address this serious accusation just long enough for Charlie to say, “He’s a Russian spy, I tell you. His name is Borhis Chuckoff.”

The place erupted in a fresh round of laughter and a nickname was born. I think this guy was on the permanent-harassment list from that point on. I don’t think anybody even remembered his real name after that. “Hey Borhis, what did you bring for lunch? Chuck soup.” CTE

About the Author: Tom Lipton is a career metalworker who has worked at various job shops. He has received six U.S. patents and lives in Alamo, Calif. Lipton’s column is adapted from information in his book “Metalworking Sink or Swim: Tips and Tricks for Machinists, Welders, and Fabricators,” published by Industrial Press Inc., New York. The publisher can be reached by calling (888) 528-7852 or visiting By indicating the code CTE-2012 when ordering, CTE readers will receive a 20 percent discount off the book’s list price of $44.95.
CUTTING TOOL ENGINEERING Magazine is protected under U.S. and international copyright laws. Before reproducing anything from this Web site, call the Copyright Clearance Center Inc.
at (978) 750-8400.