Steel filings or emery powder

Watt, James

Steel filings or emery powder ?

This item is part of the contents of the workshop that Scottish engineer James Watt developed at his home, Heathfield, at Handsworth, Birmingham, from c.1795 through to his death in 1819. Although Watt is best known for his work on the steam engine, his workshop contains a wide variety of objects from many different projects, from chemistry to sculpture-copying.

The description of the item was written by Edward Collins, the land agent responsible for Heathfield when the workshop was given to the Science Museum in 1924. Collins could not always identify what he was looking at, but always described what he saw clearly. This has allowed his descriptions to form the basis of subsequent research.

These are more likely to be iron filings, which could have many uses in a workshop. they were a vital component in iron cement, used to seal joints on the steam engine. Also, Watt and Berthollet's rival in the quest to develop a new process for bleaching cloth, Bourboulon, used iron filings in his process. Was Watt using these filings to gauge the effectiveness of Bourboulon's process?


James Watt's Garret Workshop
Object Number:
Major J.M. Gibson-Watt