Document 33: Walt Durbahn -- "Make a Hit With Your Handyman" December 1954

The advice Durbahn gives in this article is useful, down-to earth, and comes from a depth of experience. When he talks about woodworking tools, both hand and power -- The "voice" Durbahn uses is authentic -- for me, it's the voice of an "insider" to woodworking -- especially considering that his "audience" is a huge population of wannabe "do-it-yourselfers".


I put  voice and audience in italics because when you put together Durbahn's narrative with the photos and settings chosen by editors at American Magazine, you can't help conclude that there is a "disconnect". The two photos included (scroll down) show men in their shops with white dress shirts and neckties, the workshop floors are spotless (even though the person in the photo is engaging in woodworking), all of which doesn't ring true for the milieu of the workshop where Durbahn himself would engage in woodworking. For me, the photos betray an "outsider" mentality. First example:  


... And now for the icing on the cake, the dessert of all woodworking tools — the lathe. Wood turning, to many, is the most satisfying of all woodworking. The lathe, more than any other tool in the shop, is in itself a complete. unit capable of producing finished work. This is not a difficult machine to operate; but good wood turning requires a knowledge of methods and considerable practice to acquire the necessary skill. Not all work-shoppers have lathes, but once a man cultivates a taste for wood turning, his life won't be complete until he gets one....


If you have ever operated a lathe, you know that wearing a neck-tie is a "no no"! And, that there are going to chips on the floor, big time!


If you read this piece, check out the passages that I have highlighted.  Match the messages transmitted by the of the operators of the Shopsmith and the bandsaw (in photos below);  for example, editors at American Magazine chose to show affluent executives -- with their white dress shirts and skinny neckties of that era,  remember them! I still have some of mine from the '50s -- contrasting sharply with Durbahn's recollections in the text of his article, especially of being a struggling young teacher during the Depression, for whom the purchase of needed woodworking tools for his home workshop were a major strain on a VERY limited income.


Note: the images of portable and power tools below come from the 1951 edition of Better Homes and Gardens' Handyman's Book.  I chose to use these because the photocopy reproductions of the images in Durbahn's article were so bad.


 Make a Hit With Your Handyman


SHOPPING FOR DAD: Mother and youngsters visit local hardware store to select Christmas presents for their handyman




Watch Pop's eye sparkle when he opens his Christmas packages

and discovers the hand and power tools he's always wanted



One Christmas, in my days as a struggling young schoolteacher, my wife, Ruth, gave me a plane for my do-it-yourself toolbox. It was the most unexpected — and the most appreciated — gift I've ever received. I can still remember the thrill of excitement when I opened the be-ribboned package and lifted out the one item my little workshop needed to make my set of basic tools complete.


[I highlighted the passages above only to emphasize the peculiar events, like unusual gifts, that "turn us on to woodworking". For my take on this, check the beginning paragraphs of my "memoir ".] 


Because I taught industrial-arts classes and liked to tinker about the house, I was dead gone — as my grand-daughter would put it — on good tools, but the small salary of those days just didn't make their purchase possible at as fast a rate as I wished. That Christmas was one of the best because of my wife's thoughtfulness. And that plane, somewhat battered after years of constant use, remains one of my prized possessions.


I thought about that rather unusual experience last week, when one of my daughter's friends came by my workshop to ask my advice on what type of tools she should give her husband this Christmas. He had been bitten by the current do-it-yourself craze, she said, and since he seemed happiest when working in his scantily equipped shop in the basement of their home, she was certain he would much prefer a tool or two to the usual assortment of flashy neckties most men find under the Christmas tree.


I admired her thoughtfulness, because many of my male friends have told me that most of the women in their lives show little imagination when it comes to gifts. Taste? Sure! But the beautifully wrapped packages still disgorge the usual, expected things. Desires, like a set of wood chisels, a new hammer, or an electric drill, seemingly don't impress the ladies sufficiently to make them substitute such items on their shopping lists. Or, again, maybe the thought of giving such items just never occurs.  


Anyway, I warmed to the subject and laid out on my bench the 14 different tools I believe are basic needs in any home workshop. It was obvious that my young visitors knew little about tools, but she dutifully wrote in her note book, as I explained their functions, these items: a crosscut saw, hammer, push-pull rule, push drill, large and small screwdriver, combination square, pliers, set of 3 chisels, brace, set of 3 auger bits, 8-inch coping saw, jack plane, 24-inch level and framing square. A man equipped with these tools, I told her, is in business as a workshopper.


(Incidentally, you'll find them all pictured in the illustration on page 64 of this issue. [In having this article copied, the quality of the photos turned out so badly that I am substituting other images from the same era that show similar items.)

[images of these items not included yet]  


BASIC TOOLS For the Home Workshop

(Use this Christmas Gift check list to make sure you give him the right kind of tools):

  • Crosscut saw Hammer

  • Push-pull rule Push drill

  • Large and small screwdrivers Combination square

  • Pliers

  • Set of 3 chisels Jack plans

  • 24" level

  • Framing square Brace

  • Set of 3 auger bits

  • 8" Coping saw




  • Complete sets of drills & auger bits Soldering iron Pry bar

  • Bench vise

  • Rip saw

  • Tack hammer 10-pt. Panel saw 12"

  • Back saw

  • Keyhole saw Automatic screwdriver

  • Brad pusher Hand drill

  • Bench grinder Dowling jig

  • Expansive bit Dividers

  • "T" bevel

  • Marking gauge Tin snips

  • Scratch awl

  • Diagonal cutting pliers Long-nose pliers Pipe wrench

  • Fine oilstone

  • Goggles

  • Files



" Don't get the idea you have to buy him all of once." I told my visitor."What I did when my youngest daughter got married was give her husband eight basic tools as a starter, so he could perform the simple jobs that were necessary for putting things to rights in their new home. They stimulated his interest, and soon he began adding to his collection."

Jane Wilson — that was my visitor's name — looked relieved at that, so I offered a further word of advice that may interest you when you prepare your shopping list:


"When you are ready to buy such tools as you have determined on," I told her, "make sure first that he doesn't already have what you picked out for him. Then buy only good quality, but not necessarily the most expensive tools made. And since you don't under-stand tool quality, let your hardware store or tool dealer help you.

Jane wanted to know about prices, and there again I was able to reassure her, for tools and workshop gadgets, despite the long service they can give, would hit her budget no harder than the items she had bought regularly year after year. Small hand tools fit roughly in the shirt and pajama class. An electric drill is about the equivalent in cost of a good robe, and even the stationary power tools cost no more than a comfortable chair. For some reason I could never fig­ure out, I told Jane, chairs are favorite presents from wives to husbands.

As I explained the tasks each of the basic tools could do, and what to look for in each one, Jane scribbled notes on her pad. Boiled down to essentials, here is what you might have written, had you been there with us:

"You couldn't choose a better basic tool than a good hammer. It ought to weigh about 12 or 16 ounces, have a curved claw, a forged rather than cast head, and a straight-grain hickory handle.


"A saw? The best middle-of-the-road choice is a 26-inch, 8-point, straight-back crosscut saw. He can use the straight back for drawing straight lines.


"For a 6-foot push-pull flexible rule, buy the kind with a white-finish blade and dark figures for easy reading. The 12-inch combination try square is an-other frequently used tool. Actually, it is several tools in one: He can use it to test and lay out 45-degree and 90-degree angles. Its movable head lets it double as both a depth gauge and a marking gauge. The level glass in the head is like a third arm when it is necessary to plumb and level small objects. Sounds like a lot for the money, doesn't it? It is.


"A push drill is a lifesaver when driving nails and screws, especially in some hard-woods. For one thing, it prevents split­ting. There are several makes on the market, all of them good quality. All of them feature a hollow handle in which is stored a set of drills.


"A good screwdriver is a must. The 5-inch blade screwdriver is the most uni­versally used. Since screws come in many sizes, and since the screwdriver is an inexpensive tool, get several. A small one, 21/2 inches long, with a 7/32-inch screwing edge, and a large one, 8 inches long, with a 3/8-inch screwing edge.


"Chisels make a welcome gift. Start off with a set of these three common sizes : 3/s inch, 3/4 inch, and 11/4 inch — with a 3-inch-long blade and plastic handles.


"Another good gift: the brace and auger bits. A medium-priced one is a wise buy. Be sure, however, that the brace is the ratchet type. It's nice to own a full set of auger bits, but that can run into big money. The sizes he is apt to use most frequently, which can constitute a starting group, are 1/4-inch, 1/2-inch, and 3/4-inch.

"With the jack plane, the all-round tool for wood smoothing, a 14- or 15-incher with a 2-inch blade and a cor­rugated bottom should be your choice.


"If your man is planning construction work he'll need a framing square to draw lines at right angles or for testing a board to determine whether or not it is straight and true. Get him the 2-foot size, with a 16-inch tongue. The best kind is stainless steel."

I tried not to get too technical with Jane in describing these basic tools, and I will say she seemed to understand what I was talking about. I hope you will, too, but if some of this is still so much gobbledygook to you, then I think you would be wise to throw yourself on the mercy of your local hardware-store sales-man. I really don't think you'll go wrong following his advice.


Anyway, I've got a Christmas party date with Jane, and I'll know then how capable an instructor I was.


After that pleasant interlude in my afternoon's work, I got to thinking about workshoppers more experienced than Jane's husband and how I would advise their wives, if any came to me for gift suggestions. Take my own handsaw col­lection, for example. Why, any guy ad­vanced beyond the pure neophyte class of do-it-yourselfers would let out a squeal of delight at discovering one or more of them under the tree.


The standard crosscut saw — a really basic item in a tool collection — will cut through any piece of lumber, whether you're sawing with the grain or against it. But how much faster and easier is the job if, when cutting with the grain of wood, there's a sharp 51/2-point ripsaw around! Believe me, it's an ideal com­panion to the crosscut saw and a gift that will be prized. Then there's the panel saw — really used for cutting pan­els ; the 12-inch hacksaw, reinforced on top with a metal strip and excellent for mitering purposes; and, for small jobs involving detailed cutting, there is the keyhole saw. Each one does its own specialized job, which can't be duplicated exactly by any other tool.


I know that most women who pride themselves on their housekeeping recog­nize the importance of specialty imple­ments and gadgets. By their use, chores are done faster, more thoroughly, and more easily. That's why I propose one or more of the following items when you consider suitable gifts for your hus­band's Christmas this year. I'll guarantee there will be no muffled "Huh, another shirt" continent when he opens a pack-age containing any one of these:


Tack hammer, brad pusher, assorted files, automatic screwdriver, hand drill, bit stop, expansive bit, dividers "T" bevel, marking gauge, tin snips, scratch awl, diagonal cutting pliers, adjustable pipe wrench, cornering tools, fine oil-stone, eyeshield or goggles, complete sets of auger bits and drills, extra screw-drivers, pry bar, and soldering iron. Chances are a lot of these things you wouldn't recognize if they ran into you, but they are standard items in the properly equipped workroom, and most of them will fit into anybody's budget.

Last year, another one of my young neighbors married to a do-it-yourself addict learned that it takes more than tools to make a workshop. Visiting our local lumberyard, she was delighted to find that she could buy either a good workbench or a tool cabinet in kit form at a surprisingly low price. She settled for the easy-to-assemble workbench, and you can imagine the completely different package it made when tied with a big silk ribbon and displayed under the Christmas tree! An ideal gift in this line might be the build-it-yourself workbench pattern, illustrated on page 69, accompanied by a gift certificate for the lumber used in its construction.


Intrigued by the success of last year's present, she told me that this year her gift to the-big-man-in-her-life will be either a heavy-duty vise for that work-bench or a tool grinder to keep his chisels, planes, and other cutting tools in perfect shape. Since her husband already has a workable vise, I advised her to take a look at one of the 2-wheel, direct-drive, 1/3-horsepower bench grinders on display at our local hardware store. One, par­ticularly, which comes with one dry wheel and a very slow-turning hone or oilstone, I would like to have in my own workshop!


Incidentally, the model I suggested is excellent for sharpening kitchen knives as well as cutting tools, so its purchase could be helpful to her. One more word of caution I passed along: If she decided on a bench grinder, I urged her to be cer­tain that it was equipped with an adjusta­ble tool rest, a well-enclosed wheel guard, lights, and an eyeshield — such safety factors are mighty important, you know.


I suppose that the man who is lucky enough to own all of the hand tools I've listed here should feel pretty well satisfied with himself. With far less equipment — and probably much of what he had was handmade — my grandfather built his own house and most of his furniture. But, today, in this jet-propelled age, we workshoppers like action, plenty of it. So, if you have such a man in your house who has demonstrated to your satisfaction that he uses that domain of his for more than mere tinkering, delight his soul this Christmas with one of the portable power tools.


image from 1951 better homes and gardens' handyman's bookCome to think of it, even a tinkerer kick out of the No. 1 item in this category — the 1/4-inch electric drill. Though it is among the least expensive electric tools, it is undoubtedly the most useful and versatile. If you want to make an especial hit come December 25th, stop in at your local hardware store and let the salesman explain some of its myriad possibilities.


So it drills holes, you say? Right, but with reasonably priced attachments it can also be used as an electric saw, grinding wheel, disk or belt sander, hedge trimmer, buffer and polisher, metal shears, and automatic screwdriver. There are even accessories which will convert the drill into a table saw, lathe, vertical drill press, jointer, or jig saw. True, these accessories can't take the place of the more powerful stationary machines, but within the limits for which they were designed the conversion at­tachments do a mighty fine job. For the man who doesn't have the time, space, money, or inclination to justify the bigger investment in the individual, heavier machines, the 1/4-inch drill is the answer to an awful lot of prayers. Believe me, you won't go wrong if you buy him one.


Because I use my portable electric tools to such good effect in building assorted useful items for our home — in my wife's view, let me say modestly — she has become quite an enthusiastic spokesman for them. Only the other night she told me, quite smugly I thought, that she was going to make the husband of one of her friends happy this Christmas because she had recommended a 6-inch portable electric saw as the ideal present for him.


As I got the story, his wife was insisting on converting their old-fashioned basement into a modern playroom. Poor John's only excuse was that he didn't have the tools for such an elaborate job — and my wife's assurance that the elec­tric saw would do the trick convinced his wife that that was the gift to buy him! Well, such things happen in almost every family these days. At least, John's new Christmas present will spare his back and arm muscles, as well as countless tedious hours of old-fashioned work.


Speaking of electric saws, at a recent do-it-yourself show I watched a man demonstrate a dandy all-purpose porta­ble power saw that is quite new. It cuts through wood siding; plastic substances ; galvanized, sheet, and other metals; and brittle materials without chipping or breaking. It cuts any shape and works on any surface. I don't know how widely it is being marketed right now, but the comments I heard around the booth from a steady stream of male viewers suggest it as an ideal gift possibility.


I think of another little tale I hear fre­quently from wives of workshoppers, and the complaint is a common one. Their husbands spend hours building and putting together an almost endless variety of projects. Their ideas are good, the wives agree, but the finished products . just don't measure up to wifely satis­faction. Seems like a lot of men just aren't interested in the involved and really tedious operation of finishing — or, technically speaking, sanding — the ta­bles, cabinets, and such on which they work so enthusiastically. And the result? You probably have some in your house —they look homemade. (A lot of women use the word "shoddy.")


If this happens to you, or even if your. husband does put in the many hours re­quired to bring a board to its full sheen and luster, you will make life happier for everyone by giving him an electric sander, available in a variety of sizes and prices. My own little 21/2-inch belt sander is wonderful for removing rough spots and dressing up boards. And for finish sanding, to bring out the grain of the wood in all of its beauty, nothing will beat the orbital, or straight-line, sander. A lot of housewives use these tools, too, for refinishing scuffed and stained table-tops, and the like.


images from 1951 better homes and garden's handyman's bookAs possible gifts, stationary power tools are really wonderful, IF the man who owns them does sufficient work to justify their expense, and IF he has ac­quired sufficient talent to use them. [Durbahn's emphasis] How can you tell? One good way [to tell], obviously, is by the time and attention he devotes to his hobby — and by the results that come from it. Another good indication is to watch him the next time you are in the hardware store together, or when you visit your local do-it-yourself show. If he makes a beeline for the table saws and drill presses, and shows more than idle curiosity, there's no question about it. You won't need a thermometer to tell will get a that kind of fever. If he's got it, and your budget will permit the expenditure, you'll make no mistake this Christmas when you invest in a machine or two.


But, for goodness' sake, take him into your confidence — learn what machine he really wants, before you buy. I can tell you my preferences, his friends can tell you theirs, but your workshopper could be different. One wife I know who delights in secrets bought her husband a really wonderful table saw — a friend of his suggested it — but Christmas morning was a little flat because he had a secret desire for a wood-turning lathe. Maybe, if you take him into your confidence, he won't be as excited as by the unexpected. But you can bet he'll be pleased, none­theless.


It's difficult to keep away from technical jargon in talking about stationary power tools, but let's take a brief look at the most popular units. If you are lim­ited in what you can spend for the gift, if he is mostly an occasional hobbyist, or if he has only a relatively small area for his workshop, then look into the multi-purpose machines which incorporate sev­eral different tools on a single stand, powered by one motor.


These multipurpose machines, fre­quently combining all, or most, of the features of a table saw, jointer, drill press, lathe, sander, jig and band saw, are often looked upon as a transitional unit, a step forward from hand-tool to power-tool operations. But many owners —especially since the recent introduction of a new kind of setup, in which an in­genious quick-attach motor mounting permits switching the motor from one machine to another and hooking it up in a matter of seconds — look no farther. And their contentment is understandable.
durbahn on shopsmith dec 1954[The photo of  the Shopsmith in the Durbahn article in american magazine was not clear, but I uploaded it anyway.A better iamage of thissmae model is in  the 1955  manual -- Power Tool Woodworking for Everyone -- on shopsmith by R. J. DeCristoforo.]


I have used such a combination machine [i.e., Shopsmith] for years in my Walt's Workshop TV program to show its versatility and ease of operation. But if space is available, if you are not restricted financially, and if the woodworking hobby is deeply ingrained, then I suggest that you talk with your husband — or son, or brother; or father — about his specific preferences in individual machines.


In planning a power workshop, most men prefer the 8-inch tilting-arbor table saw with table extensions and at least a 3/4-horsepower motor. It's a mighty versatile machine, handling boards, ply-wood, and wallboard with equal facility;cutting, squaring, and beveling materials rapidly and with true edges.


Usually second in preference is the jointer, which complements the table saw functionally. Its function, in simple lan­guage, is to plane individual pieces of board or plywood that must be joined to­gether accurately, and to surface boards (i.e., reduce their thickness) as they move over its spinning knives. For most work-shop jobs the 6-inch size is preferred.


How would I rate the drill press in a gift roundup like this? Simply that it is one of those machines the usefulness of which can never be appreciated until a man has worked with one. Its versatility in drilling the many accurate holes de­manded in furniture-making is almost limitless. Equipped with a reduction jackshaft (you'd best ask your husband to explain that one!), it can be used for drilling metal, for powering large circle cutters, and for routing. The most im­portant attachment available is the hol­low-chisel mortiser, which is used in cabinetmaking and other jointing opera­tions. Your best choice? The 15-inch floor model with a 1/2 -horsepower motor.


bandsaw with necktie 1954My next choice would be at 12" or " 14-inch band saw, for sawing all kinds of curved work or combinations of curved and straight work. Some men, I realize, would rather have a jig saw. In fact, one of the tool manufacturers introduced, not so long ago, a new jig saw which he claims will cut as fast as a band saw.


Nevertheless, I prefer a band saw and a portable jig saw.  This gives me con­siderably more latitude. Your own decision here will be based on whether or not the individual plans to do much jig- 'V saw work. There's only one way to find that out: Ask him.


And now for the icing on the cake, the dessert of all woodworking tools — the lathe. Wood turning, to many, is the most satisfying of all woodworking. The lathe, more than any other tool in the shop, is in itself a complete. unit capable of producing finished work. This is not a difficult machine to operate; but good wood turning requires a knowledge of methods and considerable practice to acquire the necessary skill. Not all work-shoppers have lathes, but once a man cultivates a taste for wood turning, his life won't be complete until he gets one.


Some wood lathes also perform metal turning with the use of a jackshaft as­sembly and compound rest assembly. Buying a lathe is another case where you ought to consult the man for whom it is intended and let him tell you about sizes and equipment.


Most of these power tools may be purchased without stands, for mounting on a workbench, but they will be more efficient if they stand alone. That is why I recommend you buy floor models. Of course, the user can build his own stands; but the stand is inexpensive by comparison with the machine. Besides, it gives the workshop a more professional appearance.


Whatever machine tools you buy, look to their safety devices. Saws, jointers, band saws come equipped with blade and knife guards. Belt guards, as a rule, are extra. Let me suggest you make this slight extra investment.


Could be, your home shop has most or even all of the machines I have men­tioned here. Don't despair, though, for,; f there isn't a handyman alive who isn't forever wanting some new attachment or .1 other. I'll guarantee here and now, re­gardless of how much equipment any man has, there is no end of the acces­sories and attachments he can be sur­prised with. You may have to do a little checking to find out, or drop a subtle hint like: "Dear, isn't there some particular tool or piece of shop equipment you'd like Santa Claus to bring to you?"


For example, there is a 3/8-horsepower portable router-shaper he might give his eyeteeth for. Or a combi­nation belt and disk sander. Or a shaper, which cuts an infinite variety of molding designs.


Space does not permit my reviewing all the tools you will find in a well-stocked hardware store. And you will have no trouble wrapping gifts for him in such a way that he will swear they are a fountain pen, wallet, tie, or gloves, be-fore he opens them.


What I have mentioned here, remember, are just woodworking tools. To a lesser degree, you also have the option of hand and power tools for such jobs as metal working, leather tooling, plas­tics work, or gem cutting, if his hobby interests are in that direction. For the apartment dweller whose workshop of necessity is the kitchen table, there are wood-carving tools, electric grinders with cutters and drills, and more. For him, these smaller tools will provide as much pleasure as the bigger equipment will for the man with a basement or garage setup.


Frankly, had you any idea there were such gift possibilities in tools? Should you be confused by the number and variety of them, I have prepared a check list to help you. What you might do is cross off this list the tools he already has, and then check the ones you want your dealer to advise you on.


A Merry Christmas to you, too!