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The props used are preferably of small oak or English larch, but large quantities of fir props, cut to the right length, are also imported from the north of Europe. As the work proceeds onwards, the props are withdrawn and replaced in advance, except those that may be crushed by the pressure or buried by sudden falls of the roof.

In Yorkshire hollow square pillars, formed by piling up short blocks of wood or chocks, are often used instead of props formed of a single stem.

In securing the roof and sides of coal workings, malleable iron and steel are now used to some extent instead of timber, although the consumption of the latter material is extremely large. As a substitute for timber props at the face, pieces of steel joists, with the web cut out for a short distance on either end, with the flanges turned back to give a square bearing surface, have been introduced. In large levels only the cap pieces for the roof are made of steel joists, but in smaller ones complete arches made of pieces of rails fish-jointed at the crown are used. In another system introduced by the Mannesmann Tube Company the prop is made up of weldless steel tubes sliding telescopically one within the other, which are fixed at the right height by a screw clamp capable of carrying a load of 15 to 16 tons. These can be most advantageously used on thick seams 6 to 10 ft. or upwards. For shaft linings steel rings of H or channel section supported by intermediate struts are also used, and cross-bearers or buntons of steel joists and rail guides are now generally substituted for wood.

When the coal has been under-cut for a sufficient length, the struts are withdrawn, and the overhanging mass is allowed to fall during the time that the workmen are out of the pit, or it may be brought down by driving wedges, or if it be of a compact character a blast in a borehole near the roof may be required. Sometimes, but rarely, it happens that it is necessary to cut vertical grooves in the face to determine the limit of the fall, such limits being usually dependent upon the cleet or divisional planes in the coal, especially when the work is carried perpendicular to them or on the end.

The substitution of machinery for hand labour in cutting coal has long been a favourite problem with inventors, the earliest plan being that of Michael Meinzies, in 1761, who proposed to work a heavy pick underground by power Coal-cutting machines. transmitted from an engine at the surface, through the agencies of spear-rods and chains passing over pulleys; but none of the methods suggested proved to be practically successful until the general introduction of compressed air into mines furnished a convenient motive power, susceptible of being carried to considerable distances without any great loss of pressure. This agent has been applied in various ways, in machines which either imitate the action of the collier by cutting with a pick or make a groove by rotating cutters attached to an endless chain or a revolving disk or wheel. The most successful of the first class, or pick machines, that of William Firth of Sheffield, consists essentially of a horizontal pick with two cutting arms placed one slightly in advance of the other, which is swung backwards and forwards by a pair of bell crank levers actuated by a horizontal cylinder engine mounted on a railway truck. The weight is about 15 cwt. At a working speed of 60 yds. per shift of 6 hours, the work done corresponds to that of twelve average men. The width of the groove cut is from 2 to 3 in. at the face, diminishing to 1½ in. at the back, the proportion of waste being very considerably diminished as compared with the system of holing by hand. The use of this machine has allowed a thin seam of cannel, from 10 to 14 in. in thickness, to be worked at a profit, which had formerly been abandoned as too hard to be worked by hand-labour. Pick machines have also been introduced by Jones and Levick, Bidder, and other inventors, but their use is now mostly abandoned in favour of those working continuously.

In the Gartsherrie machine of Messrs Baird, the earliest of the flexible chain cutter type, the chain of cutters works round a fixed frame or jib projecting at right angles from the engine carriage, an arrangement which makes it necessary to cut from the end of the block of coal to the full depth, instead of holing into it from the face. The forward feed is given by a chain winding upon a drum, which hauls upon a pulley fixed to a prop about 30 yds. in advance. This is one of the most compact forms of machine, the smaller size being only 20 in. high. With an air pressure of from 35 to 40 ℔. per sq. in., a length of from 300 to 350 ft. of coal is holed, 2 ft. 9 in. deep, in the shift of from 8 to 10 hours. The chain machine has been largely developed in America in the Jeffrey, Link Bell, and Morgan Gardner coal cutters. These are similar in principle to the Baird machine, the cutting agent being a flat link chain carrying a double set of chisel points, which are drawn across the coal face at the rate of about 5 ft. per second; but, unlike the older machines, in which the cutting is done in a fixed plane, the chain with its motor is made movable, and is fed forward by a rack-and-pinion motion as the cutting advances, so that the cut is limited in breadth (3½ to 4 ft.), while its depth may be varied up to the maximum travel (8 ft.) of the cutting frame. The carrying frame, while the work is going on, is fixed in position by jack-screws bearing against the roof of the seam, which, when the cut is completed, are withdrawn, and the machine shifted laterally through a distance equal to the breadth of the cut and fixed in position again. The whole operation requires from 8 to 10 minutes, giving a cutting speed of 120 to 150 sq. ft. per hour. These machines weigh from 20 to 22 cwt., and are mostly driven by electric motors of 25 up to 35 h.p. as a maximum. By reason of their intermittent action they are only suited for use in driving galleries or in pillar-and-stall workings.

EB1911 - Coal Fig. 11.—Winstanly & Barker’s Coal-cutting Machine.jpg
Fig. 11.—Winstanly & Barker’s Coal-cutting Machine—Plan.

A simple form of the saw or spur wheel coal-cutting machine is that of Messrs Winstanly & Barker (fig. 11), which is driven by a pair of oscillating engines placed on a frame running on rails in the usual way. The crank shaft carries a pinion which gears into a toothed wheel of a coarse pitch, carrying cutters at the ends of the teeth. This wheel is mounted on a carrier which, being movable about its centre by a screw gearing worked by hand, gives a radial sweep to the cutting edges. When at work it is slowly turned until the carrier is at right angles to the frame, when the cut has attained the full depth. The forward motion is given by a chain winding upon a crab placed in front, by which it is hauled slowly forward. With 25 ℔ pressure it will hole 3 ft. deep, at the rate of 30 yds. per hour, the cut being only 2¾ in. high, but it will only work on one side of the carriage. This type has been greatly improved and now is the most popular machine in Great Britain, especially in long-wall workings. W. E. Garforth’s Diamond coal cutter, one of the best known, undercuts from 5½ to 6 ft. In some instances electric motors have been substituted for compressed-air engines in such machines.

Another class of percussive coal-cutters of American origin is represented by the Harrison, Sullivan and Ingersoll-Sergeant machines, which are essentially large rock-drills without turning gear for the cutting tool, and mounted upon a pair of wheels placed so as to allow the tool to work on a forward slope. When in use the machine is placed upon a wooden platform inclining