Document 2: "My Workshop at Home" 1908

From: "My Workshop at Home," by A L Hall Suburban Life [Countryside Magazine] Vol 7 november 1908

One of several documents that I am posting for my online History of Amateur Woodworking Movement. The article is one of a very few that, so far, I have located for this era, early 1900s. Remember, at the turn of the 20th century, electrification was limited, probably only “direct current”. (Only later, ca 1916, did cities begin to be wired for Alternating Current.)

Notice (highlighted below) that for Mr. Hall, the even the luxury of direct current was still not available. His saw, for example, is “foot-powered”, which creates astonishment, for me at least, when you see the picture of the Morris chair (below) that he constructed out of White Oak.

From my reading of the article posted below, Hall was a fairly affluent “businessman”, only able evidently to be at home during the weekend. The article does not indicated the location of his home, but I imagine it is suburban New York.

The author mentions below that alternating current electricity comes into his house off the street wires. Having electrification in 1908 must be rare, because the real movemnet to electrify urban America is said to begin in 1916, not a decade earlier. Read more here

Full text of Document 2: "My Workshop at Home," by A L Hall Suburban Life [Countryside Magazine]  7 November 1908

TO have a workshop in one's own home, well supplied with tools, where simple pieces of furniture can be made on the lines of one's own choosing, is to have a source of unlimited pleasure always at hand. I have such a shop, where I spend many hours, and find in it no little satisfaction.

When we moved into our present home, a house of moderate size, the rear room on the second floor was given to me for a den, and was furnished according to the usually accepted idea of what a man's sanctum should contain to soothe his weary nerves.

I had, also, the usual tools which are to be found about almost any commuter's or suburban residence -- a couple of saws, a hammer, a plane or two, and a square. These were kept in a kitchen closet, and had as neighbors the pots, pans, and other large and necessary culinary utensils. I suspect that my wife begrudged the room which they occupied. Anyway, one evening she suggested that the den be turned into a workshop for my benefit.

The suggestion was acted upon at once, and inside of two hours the room had been stripped of its comfortable furnishings, and the old bench from the cellar and the few tools I owned substituted.

The giving up of the den for a workshop may seem to some to have been a hardship, but such was not the case. My business permits me to spend only the weekend at home. When I had the den, I would occupy it only long enough to attend to my mail, the balance of the time being spent with the family in the general living-room, so that the den was really used for only an hour or two each week.

a l hall morris chair The old bench which was moved up from the cellar was not good enough for the new shop, so I made a better one by using the iron legs of a sewing-machine and a two-inch plank two feet wide and seven feet long. To this a wooden vise, such as is used by carpenters, was attached. This is really a cheap bench, as the iron legs cost me only fifty cents. It is as rigid and strong as if the frame were of wood, and is heavy enough for any strain that I prob ably shall ever subject it to. It was not necessary, however, to use so wide a plank; one twelve inches wide and two inches thick, for the front of the bench, would have been suffi cient. The balance of the top might have been made of inch stuff, the top being brought flush with the two-inch plank by putting small blocks under it.

The next piece of fur niture for the shop was a saw-table. No good shop should be without a circular saw, as it saves a great deal of time, besides lightening the work. Here, again, an old sewing-machine base was used. I bought a heavy combination pulley and fly-wheel, to take the place of the one already on the machine. The top I also made new from oak. It is three feet square, and is hinged, so that it can be raised to any height, enabling me to make grooves in the lumber to any required depth. Any one who knows how hard it is to push a carpenter's plow will readily understand what a saver of strength this device is.

Fastened to the under side of the saw-table, directly under the saw, is a box to catch the saw-dust. The guide for the saw rims in a groove, and it needs only a gentle, steady push to travel as fast as the wood is cut, for there are a couple of weights attached to it by means of a cord which runs over a pulley; these weights are shown in the illustration.

The only other large pieces of machinery in the room are a combined lathe and scroll-saw, and it grindstone. The grindstone is a wonder. It is mounted on an iron frame and on ball-bear ings. On one end is a seat in which I can sit, revolving the stone by means of a pair of pedals, as though I were riding a bicycle. I wish, my father had had one of them when I was a boy, so that the hired man could have turned his own stone, when grinding 'scythes and mowing-ma chine cutter-bars, for it would have saved me from hours of back-breaking drudgery.

The saw and the lathe, like the grindstone, are worked by foot-power. A little quarter-horse power motor would run any of these. I have one, but it requires a direct current to drive it, and the electric wires in our street carry only alternating currents.

I have now invested in this shop something like $175. However, this sum was not expended all at one time, for I have bought the different tools as I needed them. I have even made a few articles, such as plane-stocks and chisel handles.

This stock of tools has enabled me to make many little repairs about the house, whereby we have saved carpenters' bills, but the chief use to which it has been put has been in building furni ture, such as chairs and tables. The Morris-chair shown in the illustration is one of my own productions; even the cushions are home-made. I have not had patterns to go by in any of my work ; I had my idea of about what the result should be, and have worked to that end.

In many cases the pieces have been designed to fit particu lar needs. For instance, there is a desk in the house which is too high to work at comfortably when one is sitting in an ordinary chair; so I made a chair with a seat that was high enough. To afford comfort, the back is made very straight, to give support from behind. If such a chair had been bought at the store, hours would undoubtedly have been consumed in finding it, and then the chances are that it would not have matched the desk.

I believe that a workshop in the home, particu larly if one has growing boys, is an essential part of the household equipment. One need not neces sarily devote a room to it, for a small house in the back yard, or a corner in the cellar, if the lat ter is dry, can be used equally well, In fact, in most houses there are no spare rooms.

I know one cellar workshop that was light and dry, and which furnished an untold amount of interest to a couple of growing boys, In that shop they built, when still small, toy boats for sailing in the sink; and l a t e r, as they grew older, they made real boats out of old pack ing-cases, cheese-boxes and canvas, This shop kept them off of the street altogether. A workshop at home may be made a means of pleasant and profitable recreation, both for father and son.

For persons who do not know just how to draw plans for furniture, various firms have published what are called mill-plans. They include all kinds of furniture such as tables, chairs, desks and smaller pieces in the so-called mission and craftsman designs.

In making this furniture, the work at home can be simplified some-what by having the lumber sawn out into suitable sizes, at the mill where purchased, the charge for which will be only nominal.