Woodworker Manual Author #10: R J DeCristoforo -- "Dean" of Writers on Woodworking

r j decristoforo in the 1st manual commissioned by shopsmith

Among writers on woodworking, DeCristoforo is considered the "best". His career stretched from the late 1940s into the 1990s. I have only just begun on this page. Be patient, and if you're a fan of DeCristoforo, keep coming back.(On the left is one of numerous images of R J DeCristoforo in the 1st manual commissioned by Shopsmith. The shop coat looks more like a trenchcoat to me, and the necktie is evidently standard for the 1950s.)

bio adapted from Contemporary Authors:

R(omeo) J(ohn) De Cristoforo -. Born in New York city in April 28, 1917, he died

in California in 2000.

Career: Beginning 1946, employed in a variety of persuits: inspector of experimental

aircraft, director of education materials for Magna Engineering Corp., i.e., Shopsmith,

teacher of arts and crafts and freelance writer on woodworking and carpentry-related


(See below for what DeCristoforo's first output is, in 1946.)

For his publishing record, I have searched the online database, Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature -- which dates back to 1890 -- and the newspaperarchive :-- subscription, where there are over 200 hits, only a few on "R J", and those mostly in advertisements for his contributions to the such publications as Popular Mechanics Do-It-Yourself Encyclopedia.


The Worldcat bibliographic database – it lists the holding of libraries worldwide -- registers 87 hits for books authored by DeCristoforo, but because of the nature of how individual libraries catalog their books, you cannot conclude that he wrote over 80 books, but that number isn’t far off.

In the Reader’s Guide Retrospective database (subscription required) – its coverage stretches back to 1890 -- DeCristoforo’s first article, on metalworking, is 1947 (It wasn’t until the early ‘50s that the push for amateur woodworking was launched.) From my calculations, DeCristoforo was 26 in 1947, a young age to begin writing professionally, but evidently, he had a talent, because he spent his whole career writing, mostly on woodworking topics.) In all, Reader’s Guide registers 187 entries under his pen.

According to the entries in the Reader’s Guide Retrospective database, he didn’t start on woodworking topics until 1952, which puts him in sync with the do-it-yourself movement – see discussion in Chapter 7, 1951-1960 , and the entries about Walt Durbahn and Philip Creden's 1953 article, "America Rediscovers Its Hands."

The Shopsmith manual itself was remarkable for its depth and comprehensiveness in showing how many woodworking operations the Shopsmith combo tool performed. The volume is over 300 pages – there are ten chapters -- with almost every page containing at least one photo or illustrative diagram, but often up to 5 or 6. 

In the later ‘60s I acquired a 1947 Shopsmith model – 1947 is the year the Shopsmiths came on the market – with a very low serial number, that I used for several years. (For some background on Shopsmith, both historical and technical, read this 1951 article.) Soon after buying the Shopsmith, I located the DeCristoforo’s manual, and benefited many times from consulting it. (Although I no longer use it, since my Shopsmith is an antique in the genre of combo woodworking tools, I will not part with it.)

Woodworker's Manuals and Other Books

1953: Power Tool Woodworking for Everyone, New York: McGraw, 1953, 283 pages

1955: Power Tool Woodworking for Everyone, Cincinnati: Magna Publications, 1955, 341 pages.

At age 33, R J Decristoforo evidently was commissioned to write the Shopsmith manual early in the ‘50s decade, because this  first edition came out in 1953. After a long, successful career of writng on woodworking, Decristoforo died at 83, in 2004. Among writers on topics of amateur woodworkers in the last half of the 20th century, DeCristoforo is probably the most prolific. 

This 1953 title seems to be his earliest book. (I have a copy of the 1953 original and the 1955 update.)

1967:  Modern Power Tool Woodworking, Magna Publications, 1967.

1959: The New Handyman's Carpentry Guide, Fawcett, 1959.

1959: Plywood Projects You Can Build, Fawcett, 1959.

1960: Handyman's Concrete and Masonry Handbook, Arco, 1960.

1960: Home Carpentry Handbook, Fawcett, 1960.

1960:  How to Choose and Use Power Tools, Arco, 1960,

(published as Mechanix Illustrated: How to Choose and Use Power Tools, Fawcett, 1960.

1961:  Fun with a Saw, McGraw, 1961.

1962: New Carpentry Handbook, Fawcett, 1962.

1962: Concrete and Masonry Ideas for the Homeowner, Fawcett, 1962.

1963: Mechanix Illustrated: The How-to Book of Carpentry, Fawcett, 1963, published as The How-to Book of Carpentry, Arco, 1966.

1964: How-to Book of Concrete and Masonry, Fawcett, 1964.

1965:  How to Build Your Own Furniture, Harper, 1965.

1969:  The Practical Book of Carpentry, Arco, 1969.

1972: De Cristoforo's Complete Book of Power Tools, Popular Science, 1972.

1975: Concrete and Masonry: Techniques and Design, Reston, 1975.

1977: Hand Tool Woodworking, H. P. Books, 1977.

1975: De Cristoforo's House Building Illustrated, Harper, 1977.

Also author of Woodworking Techniques: Joints and Their Applications, Reston. Contributor to encyclopedias, including The Practical Handyman's Encyclopedia and Popular Science Homeowner's Encyclopedia. Contributor of poetry, fiction, and over one thousand how-to articles to Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Better Homes and Gardens, and other magazines.

The table below reprints an obituary:

Besides being a prolific and acclaimed writer of how-to books, Romeo J. "Cris" De Cristoforo, was a teacher all his life. From teaching friends how to write in his early years, to sharing his books and knowledge with the Nuns at Poor Clare Monastery, Mr. De Cristoforo was always willing to share his how-to knowledge.

With the close family present, "Cris" died in his Los Altos Hills home Jan. 18 after a short illness. A private ceremony with the family was held at Poor Clare, where an arrangement was made for cremation. He was 83.

Considered to be the foremost authority as a do-it-yourself craftsman, the Manhattan native published 42 books on handicraft. His three best-known books are, "The Popular Science Complete Book of Power Tools," "The Complete Book of Wood Joinery," and "House Building: A Do It Yourself Guide."

Mr. De Cristoforo's words have inspired, instructed and guided three generations of woodworkers. His approach results in jigs and fixtures that expand a tool's usefulness beyond the manufacturer's expectations.

Well acquainted with a mortise and tenon, Mr. De Cristoforo (he often published under "Richard" instead of Romeo) provided numerous articles on building houses to American Home and Better Homes and Garden magazines. Bert Murphy, at Mechanics Illustrated, dubbed De Cristoforo, the "dean of home workshop writers."

Mr. De Cristoforo also published numerous fictional articles and selected poetry. His poem, "Dreams," was published in a 1939 Anthology of Verse. He encouraged numerous aspiring writers and taught several in his home, but always advised them to "never quit your day job, if you're going to free-lance."

His wife, Mary, known as Mary Cristy, has been a Town Crier columnist for more than 40 years. She is also a career freelance writer and acted as model for his how-to-do books. They were married in the Bronx, 57 years ago.

[Mary Cristy's Chicken Tonight, Feathers Tomorrow evidently is a slightly fictionaized account of their life together. Chapter 15 is an account of De Cristoforo's commissioning by Shopsmith to write a manual, then a second, for the combo tool, early in 1953, an activity that launched his long, successful career as a writer on woodworking.]

"They touched so many people in the community, and shared so many things with people," said Doni Hubbard, a longtime friend. "They loved each other and they loved their community."

The De Cristoforos moved to Los Altos Hills in the early 1960s, buying a ranch house on three acres. To be more productive, Cris built a darkroom and a 450-square-foot studio behind the garage.

Since he was building the extension himself, building companies provided materials in exchange for a published story. The studio was well documented in numerous national magazines.

"We have known the De Cristoforos 38 years, and our children grew up together," said Bob Johnson, a Los Altos Hills councilman and longtime friend of the family. "He was a very private person, but once you got to know him, he was a friend forever. We considered them part of our extended family."

Last October, 1999, Mr. De Cristoforo was inducted into Wood Magazine's Woodworking Hall of Fame for his collective achievements. Throughout his writing, his philosophy has been to learn to do it the traditional way, then discover a better, safer and more creative method of doing the chore.

He is survived by his wife, Mary De Cristoforo, of Los Altos Hills, and three sons: Daniel Taft De Cristoforo of Denver, Colo.; David De Cristoforo, of Winters; and Ronald John De Cristoforo, of Bend, Ore.

Source: Town Crier, 01/26/2000