Chapter 5: 1931-1940 Typical workshop space available to amateur woodworkers

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For full text of article, click here: Document 41: Popular Homecraft volume 1, number 1, 1930 "The Growing Popularity of Homecraft Workshops"

 Document 41
is a "first" for a number of considerations:

1. It is in the first article in a newly launched periodical in America directed primarily toward home workshops, with considerable proportion of its pages dedicated to woodworking.

popular homecraft logo 1930

2. This first article celebrates a growing phenomenon, woodworking.

"Recent figures indicate that more than 77,000 power-driven home-workshop outfits are operated in the United States alone, and the number is constantly growing." The 1937 article in the trade journal, Steel, the claim is more expansive:
Some estimates place the total number of home workshops as high as 1,000,000. The number equipped with power tools, however, probably is less than half this figure but is growing steadily.

3. And the gist of both of these sources gives us ample evidence that electrical power has arrived in the homeworkshop.

"Today he has an electric motor in his little shop and a complete outfit of power-driven ... today, manufacturers have made it possible to install such power-driven tools at very moderate cost".

4. The popularity of woodworking crosses class lines.

"For the fellowship of the homecrafter is broad and democratic. It embraces men and women of all ages and of all degrees of well being, from the very moderately affluent and distinguished—all who have the creative and ;constructive instinct, who like to  'make things' with their own hands."
Below, in the boxed-text, Edwin A Teale, in Popular Science, discusses the spectacular growth in workshop space in homes; image from Kay T. Olsen, em>Development of a Home Workshop Club in Des Monines, IA, Des Moines: Iowa State College, 1936 (Master's Thesis)


2,000,000 SHOPS IN 2,000,000 home workshops,

American hobbyists are finding fun working with tools and making things of wood and metal. Stemming from one of the most time-honored hobbies of all, whittling, home craftwork has branched out in many directions. Approximately one in four shops, 500,000 out of the 2,000,000 total, are equipped with power tools. According to the estimate of one machinery manufacturer, home-workshop hobbyists in the United States install annually about $5,500,000 worth of new electric-driven machines. Approximately 400,000 of the home-workshop fans are fortunate enough to possess power lathes. The average amount spent in twelve months by the confirmed home workshopper on tools and materials runs between $50 and $100. (contines below)

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Both farm and city dwellers enjoy home workshops. A few years ago, when a leading farm journal made a survey of its readers, it discovered that 27 percent of all the farmers who replied to the questionnaire had home workshops and spent their leisure on craft projects.

Besides woodworking, carving, furniture-making, and metal work, there are numerous specialized branches of home-workshop activity. ...

Source: Edwin Teale, "America's Five Favorite Hobbies", Popular Science May, 1941, pagination not given

Below, in the boxed-text, an editorial writer for Better Homes and Gardens speculates on the meaning of the shift toward workshop space in homes:

THERE has been a tremendous increase in the number of home workshops recently. Pretty soon it won't be enough to have just an old hammer in the garage, a rusty saw in the basement, a plane somewhere in the attic where Jim used it last, and a screwdriver in the grandfather's clock or the rear compartment of the knife-drawer. Ever since I was 4 years old, I've longed for a complete tool-chest, with plenty of bits and files and wood-chisels, all ranged in neat compartments, over the workbench or in a chest. Now it's coming on again. Example is a great prod to hankerings.

Source: Editorial note in Better Homes and Gardens, March 1935, page 38


The "ideal" nature of these shops turns out to be more realistic than we might think, given the conditions of the Depression. According to a 1937 article in the trade journal, Steel, "Millions in Power Tools for Craftsman Hobbies":

Large market possibilities for small machinery are offered by the rapidly growing popularity of home workshops.

Other views of workshop space in the 1930s.

The following are two shops located in  basements. On the left is  the Deltagram, October, 1941. On the right below, from Popular Homecraft 1 May, 1930, page 9, is another "ideal home shop".


In the future I will post more photos, from a Master's Thesis written the 1930s, that show amateur woodworkers engaging in many activities during the Depression.

scott landis workshop book
The jpg below, on the right, comes from Scott Landis' The Workshop Book, a 1991 account of the state-of-the-art in amateur and professional woodworkers' "space". Chapter 2, on "locating" the workshop, gives most attention the garage and the basement. (Permission to use requested.)

Notice that this garage is detached, a condition that, ordinarily, dates it to the pre-WW II era, before the square footage of houses increased dramatically, and before the architectural fashion of designing houses with "attached" (two-car) garages took hold. (I used the qualifying term "ordinarily" above intentionally, because that skylight in the roof definitely dates this structure in the post-WW II era.) Nonetheless, the image truthfully depicts what a detached garage afforded a woodworker. Warm in the summer, freezing in the winter. Use your imagination and consider this structure as an upscale version of what a workshop in a detached garage would look like the pre-WW II era.

house square-footage1950 - 200

Detached Garages

The garage was detached for a good reason. As the Yale economist, Robert J Shiller, notes, data compiled by the US Census Bureau reveals that the average size for "new" houses in the 1940s was 1100 square feet, giving  approximately 300 square feet of space per family member. Compared to today -- 2150 square feet, or 800 square feet per family member -- the Depression era included crowded living quarters. In Diamond and Moezzi's graph on the left, we see the upward incline in the square-footage of new houses between 1940 and 2000.

(Source: R Diamond and  M MoezziChanging trends: A brief history of the US consumption of energy, water, food, beverages and tobacco; Robert J Shiller, "Long-Term Perspectives on the Current Boom in Home Prices", Economist's Voice March 2006, page 6; Click here for an account of how home-ownership factors into woodworking.

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