Herman Hjorth

The Woodworker as Renaissance Man: Teacher, Craftsman, Historian



Birth and death dates: 1883-1951

The portrait on the left dates around 1940.

In this section I want to touch on the personal qualities that distinguish Hjorth from most other woodworkers.

Need more details here: From Columbia University's Teachers College Record, 1917, page 507:

"Mr. Herman Hjorth, a graduate of Teachers College of the class of 1917, and formerly supervisor of industrial arts in the University of Puerto Rico and in the public schools on the Island, has accepted a position as efficiency engineer in a steel plant in Bayonne, New Jersey."

Another issue of Teachers College Record, page 508 -- exact date of issue unclear -- shows that Mr. Herman Hjorth, BS 1917, resigned his position as efficiency engineer with a steel company in Bayonne, New Jersey, in August to accept the appointment as Director of Industrial Work, Baldiotry School, San Juan, Puerto Rico; Saunders Trade School, Yonkers, NY. ( He is listed here as working in PR in 1915-1916.)

Note on page 34 of a 1922 issue of Manual Training Magazine

Herman Hjorth, director of technical work, wrote a "Prospectus of the Technical Industrial School", San Juan, Puerto Rico, an illustrated pamphlet, giving the history and aim of the school and outlines of the courses of instruction.

Education Somewhere, Hjorth got a Master of Science degree, as is seen on the title page of the 1943 Operation of Common Woodworking Machines.

Impact as Teacher, as Historian, as Craftsman

No doubt exists in my mind that Hjorth had a supreme command of the published literature and productions of all aspects of woodworking -- education, professional, design trends, techniques, technological trends, and so forth --, but more significant, his talent caught the attention of other prominent people in woodworking, including such central figures of the era as Arthur Wakeling and Albert Constantine. (More on this later.)

As a parallel to Hjorth's impact as a teacher, we have to look at Percy Wells. Woodworker writers such as R J Decristoforo made significant contributions to the woodworking movement, but in the public square, not on a teaching/education platform.

(By "public square", I mean the arena of the public press, definitely including "popular" trade journals such as Popular Mechanics and books. In 1932, when the Casein Company of America commissioned Hjorth to write How to make veneered panels, for the school and home workshop, he entered what might be called the public arena. (Albert Constantine updated and re-issued this book in 1961.) Mostly through his career, however, Hjorth remained an educator.)

For example, even without the respective chapters on the history of each topic, both Reproduction of Antique Furniture, 1924, How to Make Veneered Panels for the School and Homeworkshop, 1932, are woodworker's manuals of excellence. When Hjorth added two historical chapters -- over 20-pages of text in one volume, which means much personal effort researching and writing the history of the evolution of furniture styles -- in Reproduction of Antique Furniture, and a brief 2-pages in How to Make Veneered Panels for the School and Homeworkshop, he broadened the potential appeal of woodworking by casting a wider net of interest: the historical development associated with prominent components of an age-old craft, woodworking. Hjorth included extensive sections on the evolvement of furniture design over time and among cultures. Again, these results that come only from extra effort show us an individual deeply dedicated to his profession: teaching woodworking.

What is the Origin of Interest in Colonial Design among Teachers of Industrial Arts

However, on another issue that Hjorth became associated, the rise of Colonial Revival design as a model for IA student projects, is not as easy.

Sorting out who -- among many Industrial Arts officials of the era -- was a leader in the shift from Arts and Crafts designs to Colonial Revival is not, as far as I can tell, been a topic of study.

Several years before Hjorth's 1922 series on CR design, another prominent figure in IA, Frederick R Love, published an article, "Period Style Furniture For High School Work", Industrial Arts Magazine 7 April 1918, pages 135-137.

The article, including the six images of furniture and plans that accompanied Love's text are reproduced in the Inline Frame below.

Clearly, CR is the central interest, because in his first paragraph, Love voices what seems to be a wide-spread dislike among IA instructors for the ubiquitousness of Arts and Crafts furniture designs as the easy choice for student projects in IA courses. Click here for background on Arts and Crafts design in IA curricula.

In April, 1918, using some terrific photos of student projects, Frederick R Love makes a case in article in Industrial Arts Magazine , pages 135-137, for moving beyond "Mission-style" in IA woodworking courses. In 1922, Hjorth follows through with a series of articles in Industrial Arts Magazine , that recommend "antique furniture" as projects in IA courses.

Below, fulltext and images of Frederick R Love's CR article, "Period Style Furniture"

Writings by Hjorth:

Note: My friend Ronald Darner pointed this addition to the corpus of Hjorth writings out to me, for which I am appreciative: Dates of Hjorth's writing for Popular Science range from August, 1928 to January 1941. Click here: Herman Hjorth in PS. (And, please, anyone reading these pages would help me by pointing out similar instances, that is, any additional writings that could be added on a specific topic to any page on my website.)

In 1924, Hjorth submitted a paper, "Taste and Superior Craftsmanship", as his contribution to essay contest -- he shared "third" prize with nine other contestants -- conducted by the Educational Departemnt of the American Woodworking Machinery Company, headquarted in Rochester, NY.

Arthur Dean wrote the "Introduction" to the published proceedings, Education Through Woodworking.
Ten years later, in 1934, the Wilson Bulletin for Librarians - page 37, announced that the Yates-American Machine Company, Beloit, Wisconsin write, as follows:

"We have a limited number of copies of the book, Education Through Woodworking.

(In addition to the text, several photos --reproduced below -- of work by Hjorth's students in the Technical High School, San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Hjorth was Director, were included in the volume.)

A volume of twenty-two award-winning essays, and numerous excerpts from entries in the contest, that did not win, its lengthy subtitle is worth our attention:





Hjorth's Prize-Winning Essay, "Taste and Superior Craftmanship" "Taste and Superior Craftmanship"

Below are listed the seven books that Hjorth wrote between 1924 and 1947. (If Hjorth published other books, I haven't discovered them.) Hjorth did, however, contribute numerous articles to Popular Science Monthly in the '30s and '40s, and contributed substantially to Arthur Wakeling's Homeworkshop Manual.

Hjorth's seven books are:

1:-- 1924 Reproduction of Antique Furniture

2:-- 1930 Principles of Woodworking

3:-- 1932 How to Make Veneered Panels, for the School and Home Workshop

4:-- 1933 Basic Woodworking Processes

5:-- 1937 Machine Woodworking

6:-- 1939 Forty Pieces of Fine Furniture

7:-- 1943 Operation of Common Woodworking Machines

1924: Reproduction of Antique Furniture by Hjorth, Herman

Milwaukee: The Bruce publishing Company, 1924. Introduction written by Frederick Bonser.

In the Windows below are Hjorth's "Preface" and Frederick G Bonser's "Introduction" to Reproduction of Antique Furniture. Two years earlier, over several months of 1922, chapter-by-chapter, the text of this manual appeared as articles in Industrial Arts Magazine . Throughout this era, Bonser is a major player in industrial education, even though he was himself not a woodworker. Instead -- as I outline here -- he is one of the chief theorists of the project movement. For background on the project movement click here

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Hjorth's "Preface" to his 1924 Reproduction of Antique Furniture

Hjorth's "Preface" to his 1924 Reproduction of Antique Furniture

Bonser's "Introduction" to Hjorth's Reproduction of Antique Furniture

Bonser's intro to hjorth's 1924 antique furniture

The reasons for the attention to Hjorth's achievement as a director of a program of high school IA courses on furniture making are instantly obvious when you see images of the results:

Photo of some of Hjorth's student produced "antique furniture" in IA courses in Puerto Rico

Photo of some of Hjorth's student produced "antique furniture" in IA courses in Puerto Rico

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1930: Hjorth, Herman,  Principles of Woodworking Milwaukee: The Bruce publishing Company, 1930.

In the window directly below, you can view the title page and the text of the "Preface" of Principles of Woodworking: images of frontispiece , title page, table-of-contents, and numerous pages from early chapters on hand tools and machine tools. Also see link below.

Click here for a pdf of portions of Hjorth's Principles of Woodworking Link content

(Parenthetically, let me say that an image (below) of a portable router in 1930 is a rarity, because the production of the Carter Stanley router began only in 1929. Again, Hjorth had connections with prominent journalists in the woodworking fraternity, such as Arthur Wakeling, an editor at Popular Science Monthly, and who was instrumental in getting Hjorth to contribute to Wakeling's 1930 The Homeworkshop Manual. Hjorth also collaborated with Albert Constantine on a book that went through several editions.)

hjorth portable router 1930
From pages 47-48:

101. Portable shapers and routers have small motors of from to 1 horse power each. (Figs.114 and 115.) They are extremely useful and convenient machines, be­sides being comparative­ly safe to operate. Each machine can be furnished with a number of cutters, bits, and attachments for doing a great variety of work. A list of the jobs that can be done successfully with these machines would be too lengthy. It is, therefore, necessary to name only some of the most important: routing out dadoes and grooves; cutting recesses for hinges; inlaying and veining; reeding and fluting turned columns; shaping edges of table tops, moldings, beads, etc.

1930: Arthur Wakeling, editor. Home Workshop Manual New York: Popular Science Press, 1930. (Wakeling was Home Workshop Editor for PSM)

Hjorth was responsible for the majority of the modernistic designs in Chapter II and for practically all of the wood turning material in Chapter VII. (Chapter VII is reprinted in the 1930 companion volume, also edited by Arthur Wakeling, Things to Make in Your Home Shop.)

Portions of Chapter II, "Furniture of Modern Design", in scrollable window below:

1932: Herman Hjorth, How to Make Veneered Panels for the School and Home Workshop. Updated by Albert Constantine in 1961, it was published as: Veneering Made Easy for School and Home Workshop

While this manual on veneering reflects the technology of the early 1930s, its contents has much to tell us today about the history and craft of veneering. As the title suggests, it is designed for beginners. The material presented is arranged in fifteen chapters, and covers the history of veneering, the advantages of veneering, the types of veneers, including marquetry and inlaid pictures, and copious detail on the preparation and finish of veneered surfaces. In a chapter on the history of glue, Hjorth touches on several glues used up to the '30s, including "casein glue" -- the publisher of the manual manufactures casein glue -- but also briefly notes that the recent introduction on the market of two kinds of "resin" glue -- phenol formaldehyde and urea formaldehyde -- show great promise for use in the "small shop and [by the] home craftsman".)

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1933: Herman Hjorth, "Veneering for Amateur Woodworkers" Popular Science Monthly 1933 (This a "gif" of the article's first page: Hjorth on Veneering for Amateur Woodworkers, PSM, 1933.)

1933: Herman Hjorth, Basic Woodworking Processes Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1933.

Link to copy on fulltext on open library: Basic Woodworking Processes

Basic Woodworking Processes falls into the Project Method/Instruction Sheets movement. For background, click here.

In the first window is Hjorth's brief, "Introduction to Students".

In the second Window below is Hjorth's "Introduction and Suggestions to Teachers", in Basic Woodworking Processes, where -- highlighted -- you'll note his reference to the function of "instruction sheets" in IA courses, and how this volume attempts to overcome difficulties caused by any attempt to furnish students with instruction sheets, as they progress with their projects day-to-day.

In the third window are images of Hjorth's elaborate "table-of-contents" for Basic Woodworking Processes.

In the fourth window, is a sequence on Basic Woodworking Processes, chapter xii, "Mortise and Tenons".

Hjorth_basic_woodworking_processes_1935 hjorth's introduction to students

In the second Window below is Hjorth's "Introduction and Suggestions to Teachers", in Basic Woodworking Processes, where -- highlighted -- you'll note his reference to the function of "instruction sheets" in IA courses, and how this volume attempts to overcome difficulties caused by any attempt to furnish students with instruction sheets, as they progress with their projects day-to-day.

Hjorth_basic_woodworking_processes_1935b.htm Introduction and Suggestions to Teachers

In this third window are images of Hjorth's elaborate "table-of-contents" for Basic Woodworking Processes:

Hjorth_basic_woodworking_processes_1935 hjorth's table of contents

In the window below -- the fourth in a sequence on Basic Woodworking Processes, chapter xii, "Mortise and Tenons":

Hjorth_basic_woodworking_processes_1935 chapter xii, "Mortise and Tenons":

1937: Herman Hjorth, Machine Woodworking Milwaukee:The Bruce publishing company, 1937.

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1937: Herman Hjorth, Practical Veneering: The Theory and Practice of Veneering in Cabinet Work, 1937, Lippincott, 1938, new edition published as Practical Veneering: Hammer and Caul Methods, Presses, Built-up Patterns, Marquetry, Inlays 1949, Lippincott, 1950, revised edition, 1979.

1939: Herman Hjorth, Forty Pieces of Fine Furniture Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1939, 171 pages

Introduction "Introduction" to Hjorth's <em>Forty Pieces of Fine Furniture</em> 1939 "Introduction" to Hjorth's Forty Pieces of Fine Furniture 1939

Title page, Table-of-contents, and one chapter of Hjorth's Forty Pieces of Fine Furniture 1939

Title page, Table-of-contents, and one chapter of Hjorth's Forty Pieces of Fine Furniture 1939 "Introduction" to Hjorth's <em>Forty Pieces of Fine Furniture</em> 1939 "Introduction" to Hjorth's Forty Pieces of Fine Furniture 1939

1942: Herman Hjorth, Operation of Common Woodworking Machines Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1942.


For more than one reason, this seemingly unprepossessing book has real merit. Perhaps not quite the correct term, I use "unprepossessing" in the sense that the qualityof its production falls short of one's expectations of the publication technology of that era. (In the 1930 Principles of Woodworking many of the 426 illustrations are photos.) It is perhaps because Principles is remindful of some of the manuals of the '20s, particularly Charles G Wheeler's Woodworking , that our expectations are not met.

In the window below is the Table of Contents for Operation of Common Woodworking Machines

Note how Hjorth's organization scheme puts Operation of Common Woodworking Machines squarely in the "instruction sheet" camp. Looking at this manual analytically, we soon determine that, overall, its contents comprise 145 individual "instruction sheets", each designed to take the manual user step-by-step through a particular "sub-operation" associated with a larger set of operations that compose complex woodworking projects.

Hjorth Operation of Common Woodworking Machines Hjorth Operation of Common Woodworking Machines 1942

Operation of Common Woodworking Machines a War-time Publication

Perhaps my ambivalence toward Operation of Common Woodworking Machines stems from the fact that it was published at the height of restraints of war-time rationing, that it thus suffers from a number of obvious forced economies in its production by "The Bruce Publishing Company". (My claims Operation of Common Woodworking Machines are easier to prove when, for comparison, we look a the second edition of this book, published by Bruce in 1958, over a decade after WW II.)

The 1942 first edition contains over 350 illustrations, but all hand-drawn, pen-and-ink. The 1958 second edition adds close to 50 illustrations, putting the count over 400, but at least half of the 400 are good looking black-and-white photos.

Once you get over this aspect of the manual, however, the excellent features -- both descriptive and illustrative -- that Hjorth builds so well into all his woodworking manuals come to the surface, more than enough to give the 1942 manual qualties that sustain its usefulness to woodworkers -- especially "newbie" woodworkers -- of today.

With these thoughts in mind, let's look at Hjorth's "Preface":


When machines were first made, human muscles furnished the motive power. A little later, man learned to harness water and animal power to drive his machines; then came the steam engine, and finally the electric motor. This mechanical application of power left the operator free to give his whole attention to feeding material to the machine, or to feed the cutting element of the machine to the material.

The next development was the completely automatic machine, which is both driven and fed mechanically, but usually performs only one operation.

The most common woodworking machines, however - those usually found in school shops, home workshops, and the smaller commercial shops - are still fed by hand, and a number of different operations generally can be performed on each one.

The aim of this book is to show by illustrations and descriptions how this work of hand feeding should be done correctly and, above all, with reasonable safety to the operator.

To this end, a description of each woodworking machine has been included, because it is necessary for anyone who would use a machine to thoroughly understand

how it works,
how its different parts are interrelated,
how they may be set and adjusted to perform certain operations, and
how jigs and fixtures may be made and used on a machine for special jobs.

Each chapter in the book deals with one type of machine. It has an information unit, which describes the machine and its parts, and several operation units, each one giving step-by-step directions for performing one operation. A set of questions at the end of each information and operation unit should be helpful to the learner.

The book is intended as a reference book for all beginners in machine woodworking, regardless of age level.

Yonkers, N. Y.

Operation of Common Woodworking Machines was listed in the influential Standard Catalog for Public Libraries, New York: H.W. Wilson Company. (For background on the Standard Catalog, click here.) Being listed in that source means that it was a "recommended purchase" for the 1000s of public libraries throughout the United States and Canada that use the Standard Catalog for Public Libraries as a guide to developing their book collections. This is a theme dealt with in Appendix 15.

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