Chapter 1: 1900 and Before 1:3. Typical workshop space available to amateur woodworkers 

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under construction

Coming by background, whether textual or images, of home workshops, in the 19th century is not easy. Instead, if anything is discovered, the reason for the discovery is probably closer to good furtune, pure and simple, rather than hard research. I will continue, though, look for material. (Readers are encouraged to share with me whatever materials they have available.)

The images below are from Charles G. Wheeler's 1899 Woodworking for Beginners.

Wheeler writes,


"A small building ... from 8' to 12' by 12' to 18' long, will be suitable for a workshop...."

Wheeler follows through with schematic drawings and lengthy details concerning the construction of this structure, and several other examples, an action that suggests to me that Wheeleer possessed an authentic passion and dedication toward assisting the wannabe amateur woodworker with a suitable, albeit crude, building as workshop space at the turn of the 20th century. (Twenty-five years later, in 1924, he repeated this policy, but on a different scale in Woodworking.

Remember, this is before electrification, and the labor-intensive task of dimensioning wood is done with planes and other non-electric tools, or, if your fortunate enough, foot-powered tools. A question remains, though: "How typical would this kind of set-up be?" America was very rural. The farm-to-city migrations, decades later in the next century, would change the demographic makeup of the nation. Thus it is not difficult to imagine a set-up like the one Wheeeler describes taking place on farms.

In the next decade, we encounter amateur woodworkers like A L Hall -- he describes making a Morris chair -- the material is white oak -- using a foot-powered table saw.


Wheeler's Home Workshopwheeler 1899 amateur's workshop


Interior of Wheeler's Home Workshopwheeler 1899 amateur's workshop

Included in Wheeler's considerations for the workshop's construction are observations that concern the structure's foundation:


While it will do ... to rest directly upon the ground, a better structure like this should have some sort of underpinning.

It is not customary to lay a stone or brick and cement foundation for such a structure as this, because the building is not usually worth it. It can very well be rested upon stones at the corners and middle of the sides or upon posts set in the ground. If the soil is sandy and large stones abundant, it can be rested upon piers of stones. So far as supporting the building for one season is concerned, simply resting it upon stones laid on top of the ground is sufficient, but the action of the frost will move the stones and heave the building more or less out of place, which will require it to be occasionally levelled and blocked up. A hole can be dug to a depth of about three feet, so as to be below the action of the frost, and a pier of flat stones built up.

If the soil is of clear, well-packed sand, a pier of this sort will last for some time before being thrown out of shape by the frost, although, of course, if laid in cement (or if bricks laid in cement are used), it will be much more permanent. If the soil is clayey, the foundation, of whatever kind, should be carried to a depth of three feet or more and cemented, and even then it will be liable to be heaved by the action of the frost. This involves considerable labour and perhaps expense, and for such a small building it will usually be better to rest it upon flat stones laid on the surface, or to block it up in some way so as to be clear of the ground, and then level it whenever necessary, which is not difficult with so small a structure.

Source:Charles G Wheeler, Woodworking for Beginners, New York: Putnam, 1899, pages 259-260



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