Primary Sources: Documents of the Amateur Woodworking Movement

Why Primary Sources in Woodworking History?

This online history of woodworking will be primary-source driven. As much as possible, the history will be told from the perspective of people and events contemporary to the period being discussed. Already -- as Appendix 2 -- I have uploaded several primary sources associated with the development of the Morris Chair.

Before amateur woodworking could become an matter of wide-spread interest, several factors, outside the purview of woodworking, needed to be in place. To be viable tools, tablesaws such as Delta's, below, on the left, needed to wait for a market that included electrification and the availability of fractional HP electric motors. Both urban electrification and fractional horse-power electric motors were not available before the 1920s.

We get an example of this with the illustration from the catalog (in pdf format) of Delta Manufacturing's late 1920s-early 1930s tilting-table saw. Naturally, this saw, and it's accompanying accessories -- pictured below, on the left -- generated much interest, especially since they appeared on the scene in the midst of "the Great Depression", when many Americans, unemployed and anxious for activities that would provide an income, visualized these tools as a lifesaver. That is, with these tools, many of the unemployed anticipated that these tools would help them overcome the poverty of the Depression by giving thme an income. (Unfortunately, as yet, I have not found the "perfect" primary source document that illustrates these points in as dramatic fashion as I would like)

As shown on the left below, this tool, in effect, anticipates the combination tools -- such as the Shopsmith -- that came on the market early in the post-WW II era.

Here's the opening paragraph for a 1934 article in Popular Mechanics:

With the cost of motor-driven wood-working machines so low that almost every craftsman can afford to own homecraft power tools. Hobbies are becoming singly popular. Practically every working operation done with hand can be done by machine...

Other things to keep in mind, from the perspective of the 21st century: this saw has a 6" blade, which Delta claims can be "satisfactorily operated" with either a 1/4 hp or 1/3 hp electric inductive motor. With a 6" blade, you can barely saw through a 2 X 4, flat-side down. Accessories included additional power tools such as 4" jointer and a horizontal mortiser.

Fearful their readers couldn't make the crossover from hand tools to power tools, i.e., that numerous functions, jointing, mortising, rabbeting, and so forth, in the new power tool were familar to readers in their hand tool formats, but needed introductions for the power formats, the editors of Popular Mechanics cleverly match hand tool functions with their power tool equivalents in the picture reprinted below.

motorizing workshop 1934

Document 1: P H. Adams Reclining Chair May 1902

An article that originally was published in the remarkable magazine, Amateur Work. Published in Boston early in the 20th century, AW, unfortunately didn't have a long life, and obtaining info on it is difficult.

Document 2: A L Hall Workshop at Home 1908

Document no. 2, an 1908 magazine article, chronicles the creation, equipping and operation of a home workshop by a suburban New Yorker. In that era, before electrification became widespread in urban areas, primarily a phenomenon of the 1920s, home workshops are rare, even among the affluent.

Document 3: H H Windsor How to Make a Morris Chair

First published in Popular Mechanics, 1909; reprinted 1980, as Mission Furniture: How to Make It

Document 4: Otter Morris Chair 1914 (reprinted 1923)

"The Morris Chair" from Paul D. Otter, Furniture for the Craftsman: A Manual for the Student and Mechanic, 1914, 1923.

Document 5: Creden "America Rediscovers Its Hands" 1953

Document no. 5, a 1953 magazine article, is a popular account of the impact of the end of WW II on American society, with many 1000s of returning veterans moving back into the civilian society, a "baby boom", a "housing boom", and a Do-It-Yourself Movement.

Document 6: Frank Carlton's 1904 article heralding "The Significance of the Arts and Crafts Movement for Woodworking"

In 1904, to an observer like Frank T Carlton, a professor at Toledo University School, the potential impact of the Arts and Crafts Movement on American society was quite evident, while today, over 100 years later, we can only marvel at how remarkable his insights are, but in an uncanny way.

Document 7: Mark Duginske, "Thoughts on a Working System"

On the occasion of a demonstrating products of Switzerland-based Inca Power Tools manufacturer, at Highland Hardware, Atlanta GA, in spring, 1983, Duginske penned these words of wisdom about the need for woodworkers, amateur and professional alike, to early develop a personal "working system".

Document 8: On "Skill-Hunger", or "How the Hammer, Saw and Try-Square Can Satisfy" 1946

From Popular Science Publishing, How to get the most out of your home workshop; all the home craftsman needs to know about the use of hand and power tools in his own home. Published in 1946. In this book, the preface observes, "How the Hammer, Saw and Try-Square Can Satisfy". More significant, though, I think, is the reiteration of the 1930's phrase, "Skill Hunger".

Document 9: "Notes on Progress of the Use of Electricity in the Industrial and Domestic Field" 1921

A lucky find for me, this document presents very dramatic evidence about the astonishing rapidity of electrification and the equally astonishing impact of the development, production ond distribution of the fractional horse-power inductive motor. Just for fun, I counted the number of electric motors in my personal workshop. In stationary tools, know its over 15 -- one unit, a combo power tool, contains 3 electric motors, while each of the numerous portable tools, including cordless -- drills, sanders, biscuit joiner, several saws, grinder -- all, taken together, help argue that, for the woodworker, the fractional horse-power motor has had a major impact.

The decade, 1921-1930, is pivotal to amateur woodworking, because -- following closely the introduction of a marketable small-scale electric motor -- it is in that decade that the early models of scaled-down woodworking power tools first were brought into the marketplace.

Document 10: Hobbs Working With Tools 1935

WORKING WITH TOOLS is a 95-page publication of the Leisure League of America. The book's author, Harry J Hobbs, over about three decades, edited the monthly Home Craftsman, wrote numerous books dedicated to woodworking, including becoming co-author, in 1975, of the authoritative Know Your Woods: A Complete Guide To Trees, Woods, And Veneers.

Document 11: Gordon B Ashmead "Precision Makes the Shopsmith" Source: Western Machinery & Steel World  January 1951, 66-68, 92-93

Document 12: Formation of  the National Homeworkshop Guild 1933

Document 13: The Importance of Projects in the Education of Boys 1926

Document 14: Principles of Bauhaus Production 1926

Document 15: C M Woodward, 1887, on the importation of the Russian system of teaching woodworking.

Document 16: Joseph Aronson on "modern furniture" 1938

Document 17: Judson Mansfield Woodworking Machines -- History of Development, 1852-1952 

Document 18: N C Brown From Handmade to Mass-Produced Furniture 1952 

Document 19: Gustav Stickley -- The Motif of 'Mission'

Document 20: Anonymous "Riding a Hobby Leads to Profit" Furniture Record 1937  

Document 21: Frank Lloyd Wright -- Art and Craft of the Machine 1901

Document 22: Henry B Allen -- Improvements in Steels for Woodcutting Saws and Knives 1930 

Document 23: John Shaw Portable Electrically-Driven Machines 1928

Document 24: Paul D Otter on "Mechanic", "Cabinetmaker", "Craftsman", "Carpenter" 1923

Document 25: Electrical World 75 May 15 1920

Document 26: Herman Hjorth on the Radial Arm Saw Home Craftsman Magazine J-F 1950 

Document 27: Gustav Stickley: "The Structural Style in Cabinet-Making" House Beautiful 15, December 1903, pages 78-93

Document 28: Walt Durbahn: "Our House is Different! Yours Can Be Too!" 1954

Document 29: R A Wagner "The Development of Skilled Mechanics" The Building Age 36 1914 

Document 30: George A Schock: Early History of the Baldor Electric Co., 1920-1976 1992 

Document 31: Dr Arthur Dean's Advice to a Mother About Buying Woodworking Tools For Her 12 Year Old Son 1927

Document 32: Walt Durbahn: A Model for Work Experience: The Building Trades in 1950s 

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

Document 34: The Development of the Induction Motor in America

Document 35: Anonymous, "Electric Service in the Home", Electrical World 75 May 15 1920

Document 36: Anonymous, "Cost of Electricity: Government Figures Show It to Be the One Important Commodity to Decrease in Price", Electrical World 81, no 18, may 5, 1923, page 1052

Document 37:Robert M. Davis, "Looking Ahead Ten. Years", Electrical World January 5, 1924, pages 17-24

Document 38: J B C. "Electricity in the American Home", Commerce Monthly 6, no 10 February 1925, pages 3-10

Document 39:  Harry Jerome, "Mechanization In Industry" New York: National Bureau Of Economic Research, 1934, pages 174-175

Document 40: Manual Arts and the Modern Art Movement 1928

Dear Spica:

Your suggestion that the Craft Guilders attempt something in design in the Modern Art manner appealed to me particularly, for I was so fortunate as to spend a long summer vacation on the coast of Maine in association with one whose life is given to the study of art problems, and who had recently acquired a large amount of material illustrative of the Modern Art Movement. A corner of the cottage living-room became a design and drafting nook, and the kitchen, with its primitive dining-table, a workshop. Here things were created in paper and wood and paint, with a deal of satisfaction and much enlightenment to the workers, and with some polite commendation, tempered by skepticism from the colonists....

Document 41:Popular Homecraft "The Growing Popularity of Homecraft Workshops " 1930

Document 42: Ira S. Griffith "Recreation with Tools" Countryside Magazine and Suburban Life 10 June 1910 pages 22+

Document 43:Torque. What is It?

Document 44:1980 Interview of Dr. Hans Goldschmidt, Inventor of the Shopsmith   

Document 45: Herman Hjorth, "The Router"  1949

Document 46: William W. Klenke "Machine Sawing From On Top" 1930


workbench_stanley_1927aDocument 47: Stanley Rule and Level Plant "This Will be the Bench" 1927


Image from the 1927 How to Work With Tools and Wood for the Home Workshop

Document 48: William L Price "The Attitude of Manual Training to the Arts and Crafts" 1905

Document 49: William L Price "The Building of a Chair" 1904

Document 50: Gustave Stickley "on True Art" 1905

Document 51: J William Lloyd, "The Relation of Handicrafts to the Machine" 1904

Document 52: Dexter S. Kimball "Social Effects of Mass Production" 1932

Document 53: The Manufacturer and Builder Improved Scroll Saws and Lathes
Volume 13, Issue 5 May 1881, page 100

Document 54: Chandler Jones' 200 years of Woodworking, an extensive chronology, including images, photos, and charts

Document 55: "Millions in Power Tools for Craftsman Hobbies" (1937), an extensive chronology, including images, photos, and charts

Document 56: "The Training of Teachers", by Arthur B Mays, adapted from Chapter 24,The Problem of Industrial Education1927

Document_57: J Liberty Tadd, Manual Training Methods in Philadelphia Public Schools

Document 58: Chapter 12 Woodworking Tools: How to Use Them 1881

Document 59: George Sturt on the Wheelwright's Shop

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

Document 61:-- Calvin M Woodward, "Fruits of Manual Training", Popular Science Monthly, 1884

THE object of this paper is to consider directly the fruits of manual training. By manual training I do not mean merely the training of the hand and arm....

The word "manual" must, for the present, be the best word to dis­tinguish that peculiar system of liberal education which recognizes the manual as well as the intellectual.

In the 19th century, the Popular Science Monthly published entirely different kinds of articles than it does today, and its audience was a much broader cross section of the American reading public; frequently, cutting-edge articles on the latest scholarship appeared first in PSM.

Document 62:-- Mabel Tuke Priestman, "History of the Arts and Crafts Movement" 1906

Document 63:--Gustav Stickley, "The Use and Abuse of Machinery, and its Relation to the Arts and Crafts" The Craftsman 11, No 2, November 1906, pages 202-07

Document 64:-- The Decline Of Book Reading

The artists and craftsmen of the Aesthetic Movement sought to elevate the form of furniture, ceramics, metalwork and textiles to the status of fine art. But many others saw this "movement" through another lens, in decidedly less-than agreeable terms. The gist of this document is that the so-called Aesthetic Movement had displaced the practice of book buying in America.

Document 65: From the Master Cabinetmakers to Woodworking Machinery

This paper, by J D Wallace, manufacturer of tools for both the woodworking industry and -- starting in 1914, the amateur woodworker -- and his wife, chronicles the development of major power machinery -- the Bentham Planer and the Newberry Bandsaw.

Document 66:--John Hungerford Pollen, M.A., South Kensington Museum FURNITURE AND WOODWORK 1876.

A lengthy "state-of-the-art" survey of British furniture manufacturing, pages 161-216, by a curator at the "South Kensington Museum", a newly formed institution -- soon to be renamed "The Victoria and Albert Museum" -- designed to celebrate British culture, especially domestic interior design.

Document 67: Robert Wemyss Symonds' 1947 booklet, Veneered Walnut Furniture

Robert Wemyss Symonds, Veneered Walnut Furniture is a 1947 booklet -- in pdf -- in which Symonds presents briefly an interesting study of English furniture history. The author combines black-and-white photos -- with informed annotations -- of about 50 pieces of veneered walnut furniture created in Britain between 1660 and 1760. Several pages of commentary precede the actual text.