Document 60:-- Charles G Wheeler. Woodworking: A Handbook for Beginners in Home and School, Chapter Entitled, "Treating of Tools and Operations" New York: Putnam, 1924

Introductory Notes:

The text and images below reprint a portion of a large chapter/section of Wheeler's manual. Wheeler's basic concern in this chapter is giving readers "some fundamental principles", such as calculating "board feet", "dimensioning" the wood, including hand planing, some power "jointing", but nothing on creating "joints". Wheeler covers joints" on pages 211-255.

Wheeler's Two-Pronged Approach: Handtools and Power Tools

Notice the pivotal moment in the 1924 publication date. Wheeler, in effect, lays out two distinct approaches to woodworking. The traditonal, the use of hand tools, gets seriously treated, while the "cutting-edge, electrically-powered" benchtop tools are given attention as well. (The pun, cutting-dege, is intentional, but my last point needs qualification: most machines Wheeler describes are the large industrial-level table saws, bandsaws, jointers, and the like, i.e., machines that would only be found on the floors of schools where industrial arts courses are taught, even though Wheeler makes reference to the smaller scaled machines coming on the market. Read more here about the decade's technological developments for woodworking tools.)

Master Craftsman Roy Underhill Works Ony With Handtools

My motive for editing and uploading this document springs from a reaction to the June 2009 is of Popular Woodworking, where an article by Roy Underhill features making "A Joiner's Tool Chest" using only hand tools. (Roy Underhill has a weekly program on the Public Broadcasting System) An expert woodworker, Underhill only works with hand tools, much like the woodwork operations recommended by Wheeler in his manual. However, as an expert, Underhill works quickly and efficiently, all-the-time showing a dexterity and finesse that is, in my view, intimidating to wannabe woodworkers, because the thought-- spending the years Underhill has behind him to achieve his skills -- is a turn-off to most onlookers, and rather than spending that time polishing skills with hand tool operations, so they turn instead to power tools.

Compared to today, with digital cameras and photoshop, the poor-quality of the illustrations in Wheeler's 80-plus-year-old manual are very evident below. To me, they look like quick-and-dirty images that some student of Wheeler's created over a long weekend, but maybe that conclusion is too harsh. Regardless, to show the "instruction sheet" approach taken by Wheeler makes it seem logical to include his illustrations, because it gives us quick insight into the conditions that wannabe woodworkers confronted in the decades before sharp colored images graced the pages of woodworker's manuals and magazines.

Sections below adapt material from Wheeler's text, pages 129-143:


The most important thing for the beginner is to have sharp tools of the best quality, and clear, thoroughly-seasoned wood of a kind suitable for the work.


271. How to go to work. What do you wish to make,- a sled, bookcase, doll's bed, step-ladder, poultry-house, boat? Do you know how to make it? What is the first thing to do? What comes next? What is the general process?

A Working-drawing or Plan. This is the starting point, as a rule. It shows the shape and dimensions of the whole object, and of each part, and how the parts are put together. A blue­print is often used.

wheeler woodworking 1924 toc1

Bill of Materials. Often attached to published drawings. From the working-drawings make a list of the number of pieces of each kind and their dimensions, including items of hardware and other materials. From these data the cost can be estimated.

Selecting the Stock. For all nice work use clear, well-seasoned stock of a suitable kind.

Laying out the Work. Mark the shape of each part accurately on the wood, ready to be cut. Sometimes all of this can be done at first, but in many cases a good deal of the laying out is done as the work goes on.

Getting out the parts. With saws or other tools cut them as marked. For nice work they are usually got out a little too large, to allow for dressing and smoothing to the exact size.

Dressing and fitting the parts. With planes or other tools fit the pieces to the exact dimensions given on the working, drawing, and smooth them. Also, lay out and cut any special joints, openings, etc. Test all parts and see that they fit, together accurately.

Assembling. Put the parts together permanently with nails, screws, glue, or in whatever way may be required.

Finishing. Repair any defects on the surface and see that it is clean. Then give the necessary coats of stain, filler, shellac, varnish, wax, paint, or other finishing materials. Frequently some or all of the parts can be finished better before permanently assembling, but this depends upon the construction of the object.

wheeler woodworking 1924 toc2

With machinery the general process is the same, but much time and labour are saved. In most cases, the parts can be got out, planed, fitted, and smoothed by machine. Much of I the laying out is done by the adjustments of the machines. Finishing is also done by spraying machines and rubbing machines, as well as by dipping.

272. Illustration of Process. Making a common box

.making a common box

Suppose you wish it to be twenty-four inches long, twelve inches high, and sixteen inches wide. Take the exact dimensions as marked on the working-drawing (273), and make a Bill of Materials or Stock Bill (278). If it is to be a good box, select clear, well-seasoned stock, straight and not curled or twisted (730, etc.).

To make by hand only. Select the better edge of the board you are to use, mark the lengths of the pieces, using square (22 etc.), and allowing a little extra length for each piece. Dress the pieces for the sides and ends to the finished dimensions, using square, plane (132, etc.), saw (99, etc.). After the pieces are of the right dimensions, and square and smooth, nail sides to ends (202, etc.), as shown above, and set the nails (219). Next, dress bottom piece almost to finished dimensions, leaving it a trifle large to allow for trimming after being nailed in place. Nail bottom to sides and ends, adjusting the sides and ends to fit the bottom, and testing with square. As the angles of the bottom are square, this will make the angles of the box square. Dress, fit, and nail top in the same way. Gauge line AB around box where it is to open (28, etc.). Saw in two by this line. Smooth these sawed edges. Fit hinges (442), and lock (562). Remove hinges and lock, see that the whole surface of box is smooth, and repair any defects (394). Finally finish (394, etc.), and permanently replace hinges and lock.

To make with machinery. Cut the pieces a little too long with the swing-saw (626), or on the circular saw bench (585, etc.). Joint (plane) one edge of each piece with jointer (654). Saw to width (allowing a trifle) with circular saw. Joint the edge just sawed. Cut one end of each piece square on circular saw bench, then the other end at the required distance. Make one broad surface of each piece flat or true on the jointer. Then run through surfacer (646) to plane the other side, or over jointer. Sand each piece with sander (664). Assemble by hand. The outside can be sanded after assembling. Saw box in two with circular saw. Joint the sawed edges if necessary. Fit hinges and lock. Remove hinges and lock, and finish by spraying with spraying machine; or finish by hand.

Common sense must be used. Some things are so simple that you can carry the whole plan in your mind without any drawing at all, and when you copy an object you may need no plan. Also, with such work as a chicken-coop, some of the processes given above may be omitted; but, as a rule, for all good and important work, from a footstool to a boat or a house, there is nothing gained by skipping any of the operations practiced by skilled workmen. You will soon find however that these operations sometimes overlap or come in slightly different order. You may have to do some sawing, planing, etc., before you can do all the laying out, some assembling before all the parts are fitted, some finishing before assembling.

Summary. With a working-drawing as a guide, select the stock, lay out the work, get out the parts, fit and smooth them, assemble, and finish.

273. A Working-drawing, unlike a picture, gives the exact shape and size of an object, and of each part of it, and shows how the parts are put together. It is drawn to scale, that is, either the full size of the object or in the same proportion. In plans for a house, for example, X." or may represent 1' of the actual house.[fn 1 Such a drawing is on a scale of 1/4" = 1' or = 1'. If 6" the drawing is called half-sized. If 3" =it is quarter-sized. ] The symbol " means inches and ' means feet.

If you can make working-drawings, you can carry out your own ideas satisfactorily. The appearance of the object, its strength, the proper materials, how they are to be put to­gether, and all matters relating to the construction, have to be considered in making a working-drawing or in selecting one already made. What you would see if you were looking down on the object from directly above is called the top view or plan. What you would see if in front is the front view or front elevation; if opposite the side, the side view or side elevation. [fn 2 This is merely a rough explanation. The top, front, or side views are, strictly speaking, the way each would appear if you could look at it from an infinite distance.] If the other side or the rear are different, there will be another side view or a rear view. Details within an object, or parts you cannot see, are often shown by dotted lines (523). Sometimes a " section "[fn 3 Latin, sectio, from secare, to cut.] drawing is made to show what would be seen if the object, or some part of it, were cut through (483, 494). With complicated objects separate drawings of the details are made. Sometimes, for a simple object, a plan and one elevation are enough. Sometimes many views, sections, and detail drawings are needed. Dimensions are shown between arrows, and various kinds of lines are used for different purposes. Use the dimensions stated instead of measuring the drawing, for the dimensions are more likely to be accurate. References: problems in Mechanical Drawing, BENNETT. Mechanical Drawing, ERMELING, FISCHER, and GREENE. Mechanical Drawing, FRENCH and SVENSON. ... [Several pages not included]


296. Squaring to dimensions may involve measuring and marking (13), squaring (22), gauging (28), sawing (99), and planing (132).

First get out the piece a little larger than the required or final dimensions; perhaps 1/8" thicker, 1/4" wider, and 1/2" longer. If it be curled, warped or winding, allow more thick­ness than if the surface be flat.

mark required width

297. Working-face or Face-side. See 27, 72. Select the better side. Plane it flat. Call it the working face or face-side, and mark it at the edge as shown, or in any way to distinguish it. Joint-edge. Select the better edge. Plane it straight and also square with the working-face. Call it the joint-edge or working-edge, and mark it as shown, or in any way to distinguish it.

mark required width
298. Mark required width with the gauge on both sides, gauging from the joint-edge already made, as shown by lines ab and cd. Cut away the wood to the gauge lines just marked.

299. Mark thickness on both edges with the gauge, gauging from the working-face or face-side, already made flat. Plane to the gauge lines just made.

mark required width_3

300. Mark one end square, unless it be so already. Saw or plane (or both saw and plane) the end just marked, until it is square, using the block-plane or smoothing plane if you have one.

mark required width_2

301. Measure and mark the required length from the end just squared, using rule and square. Saw or plane (or saw an plane) to the lines just marked. If you have done the work accurately, the piece is now "squared up," or squared to dimensions.1 [1.The squaring-up process is one of the fundamental operations of wood­working, but stock is now trued and squared so much more quickly, easily, and better by machinery than by hand that going through the whole oper ation by hand is not necessary for ordinary work. Parts of the process are often required, because of lack of available machinery, and there are occasional cases in which the whole operation must be done by hand. Therefore the beginner should be able to do it, for the principle on which it is based has many applications in both hand and machine work. There are other processes than the one given above, but the distinctions are not important for the beginner.

Theoretically, if the working-face, joint-edge, and one end are made true and square with one another, planing to the marks on the opposite side, edge, and end is all that is necessary, without testing to see that the surface is straight and true. But, practically, no part of the work will be perfect; therefore if dimensions are more important than accuracy of shape, there is 110 object in testing after the work has been cut to the lines, for any alter­ation would change the dimensions. On the contrary, if accuracy of shape 18 more important than exact dimensions, the surfaces and angles should be tested and corrected, even though this makes a slight change in the dimensions.]

302. Summary.

True side 1.

True edge 2, square with 1.

True edge 3, parallel with 2, and at the required distance from it.

True side 4, parallel with 1 and at the required distance from it.

True end 5, square with 1 and 2.

True end 6, square with 1 and 2 and at the required distance from end 5.


1. What does a working-drawing show?

2. What is a blue-print?

3. In what order is it customary to give the three dimensions of a Piece lumber?

4. What does S2S mean?

5. What is the unit of measurement for lumber?

6. What is a board foot?

7. How do you find the number of board feet in a piece of lumber?

8. What is a plank?

9. How do you find the width of a tapering board?

10. Show how to make out a Bill of Materials—a Stock Bill for shop use.

11. Show the importance of diagonal members. Give illustrations.

12. What is the object of a collar beam in a roof? To what stress is it subjected?

13. Define tension, compression, cross-strain, torsion, and show how these stresses are developed in large and small structures.

14. How do the dimensions of a piece of timber affect its strength when under cross strain?

15. What is the most important thing when paring or trimming to line?

16. Show simple ways to remove waste wood.

17. In shaping odd-shaped forms, like a wooden spoon, a paddle, a model boat, what is the process?

18. Show the process of squaring a piece of stock to given dimensions by hand.