The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Something old.


My family and I spent a long Independence Day weekend at my in-law’s farmhouse in upstate Pennsylvania. The place is remote, as in no internet access, dirt roads, nearest town 25 miles remote. Thankfully I had a kindle to read because the weather wasn’t so nice, but unfortunately there was little to do but read, and woodworking was obviously out of the question. Yet I did make a few discoveries that I felt were interesting.
Firstly, the farm has been in my wife’s family since the end of World War 2, and because it was once a working farm, there are lots of old tools hanging about. I did just a little snooping around my wife’s grandfather’s old workshop and among the assortment found three Disston hand saws-two rip-filed, in excellent condition, a Disston one-man and two-man cross cut saw, about half a dozen braces of various sizes, a chair making scorp, an adze, several draw knives, a few Stanley block planes, an ancient smoother, and a large assortment of files, chisels, bits, hammers and mallets and hatchets, among boxes of old hardware etc. I don’t think my wife’s grandfather was necessarily a woodworker, though I would be sure that he at least dabbled., rather, these tools were used in and around the farm.
Though I have been to the farmhouse many times, this was in actuality the first time I really got an in-depth look at all of the tools at once.  I even considered asking if I could bring a few of the tools home and work on them, but I did not want to overstep my bounds. Though my wife and I have been married for nearly 12 years, and we’ve been together for 16 plus, there are still certain things that you don’t ask your father-in-law, and one of them is to borrow and work on his inherited tools. And though the tools were interesting to look at, perhaps the most interesting thing I found was an issue of Popular Mechanics from 1952.
At first, I thought the issue was a reprint simply because I couldn’t imagine that it would have survived for 60 years. But sure enough, I checked and double-checked, and triple checked and indeed it was an original copy. 1952 was significant in terms of the magazine because it just so happened that this was a 50th anniversary issue, as the magazine began publication in 1902. One article in particular was telling, as it showed an advertisement of woodworking machines available for sale in 1902, and most appeared to be treadle or hand powered. Also, one page showed a list of “Your Grandfather’s Woodworking Tools” which included a wood jack plane, a brace w/bits, some chisels, etc. I took a few photos of the pages, but I stupidly did not take any pictures of the “new” power tools sold to replace the old hand powered ones. I also missed the opportunity to take photos of the advertisements for not only tools, but lots of other items that are no longer readily available.

Plan for a closet banquet cupboard.

Plan for a closet banquet cupboard.

IMG_1133[1]

Your grandfather's woodworking tools.

Your grandfather’s woodworking tools.

out with the old...

out with the old…

Craftsmanship gets a "new" face.

Craftsmanship gets a “new” face.

As you can imagine, the magazine was not in the best of shape, and I handled it as little as possible it so as not to destroy it, but what I saw made for some interesting reading. Companies such as Atlas, Millers Falls, Greenlee, Stanley, and Craftsman were well represented in the pages. Interestingly enough, the article concerning the power tools makes the case that those very tools made the hobby of woodworking a possibility for thousands, if not millions of people, in essence stating that power tools created the hobby of woodworking, at least on a large scale. While I do woodwork with handtools far more than I do with power tools, I don’t advocate one method over the other, yet I do agree with that conclusion.

I’ve said before that without the advent of homeowner level power tools,  which many so called hand-tool advocates love to insult and denounce, none of us would be here today talking about how great it is to woodwork with hand tools. There would be no hand tool “renaissance”, because the hobby of woodworking likely wouldn’t exist, at least not how most of us know it, and that is something to think about.

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9 Comments

  1. Kinderhook88 says:

    What a find! I don’t know which is more awesome, the magazine or the tools.

  2. Greg Merritt says:

    What a fantastic way to spend an Indendence day. Exploring the tools that brought/gave independence to the last generation. Great find!

  3. bloksav says:

    Hi Bill

    Reading in such old magazines is really interesting. Some of the things that were cuting edge technology have since become obsolete, while we are still waiting for some of the others e.g. flying cars for everyone and space travel at an affordable budget and so on.
    I am always amazed at the relative difficult projects that were suggested, and often with comparatively few instructions comparing to a magazine of today.
    Maybe it was just understood that more people knew some basic hand working techniques, or maybe people were just really good at finding a solution if they came to a problem?

    I didn’t think there was such a thing as a “remote location” at all in the eastern part of the USA.
    I alway imagined it to be well manicured and kind of like a cartoon suburbia. I know that Alaska has got a bit of wilderness, as does a couple of other states as well.
    I guess it is just difficult from someone coming from such a small country as Denmark to really get an idea of how large the USA really is.

    If I had to emigrate to the USA, I have always toyed with the idea of the Northwest, because I believed it was one of the few places besides Alaska where it was possible to find somewhere a bit remote to live.
    It turns out that I learned something new today as well 🙂

    By the way, a little late
    Happy Independence day to you all.

    Brgds
    Jonas

    • billlattpa says:

      When you get north of the city of Reading, and west of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is very much a rural state. There are still many family farms in operation. When you are north and west of the city of Scranton, the state becomes heavily forested. My in-law’s land is not very far from Red Rock Mountain, which is one of the highest points in PA (just about 1/2 mile I believe) which is not extremely tall, but it makes for a heck of a steep drive.

      The area is very remote, not in the sense that you need a helicopter to get there, but that there are few towns/ houses in the region. The nearest town is approximately 20 miles, and it only has a population of 600. The roads are not paved, and it is mostly woods and farms. When you get to the middle of PA to the north, there are vast forests that run into the state of New York. You can walk for hours and see nothing but trees in all directions, which is a good thing considering that PA had once lost nearly half of its trees to logging back during the 19th century, it is now one of the “greenest” states per square mile in America. Obviously Alaska is mostly wilderness. I’ve never been further west than Oklahoma, which is very flat, but I know people that have lived in Northern California and Oregon and they say that it is very much filled with trees and national park land.

      I am lucky just because there are two state forests within a 20 minute drive of my house, not to mention Valley Forge National Park, which is small compared to a state forest, but still contains more than 26 miles of trails. For as much as I have issues with some of the Pennsylvania State Government, the state itself is very beautiful and has some of the nicest parks and forests you will ever see.

      I went with my family to Washington DC for 3 days this past week, and it was quite honestly the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to. The parks and architecture are just amazing, and the monuments and museums are just everywhere. The city is immaculately clean and well laid out. We went from Sunday to Wednesday, and the only bad part was that we needed at least 5 more days to see everything that we would have liked to seen. It was really America at it’s absolute finest. If you get a chance I would suggest going, even if just to see the Air and Space museums. If you get a moment check them out on the internet.

      Thanks.
      Bill

  4. Roger Davis says:

    You can see the article at:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=tNwDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA127&dq=50+years+of+craftsmanship&hl=en&sa=X&ei=LhKcVeqrBMOcgwTM25rQBw&ved=0CDYQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q&f=false

    starting on page 242. Click on the arrow in the page number box, and you will get a pull-down to choose that page directly.

    • billlattpa says:

      Yeah, it seemed to be an anniversary issue of some type, but I couldn’t tell because the cover was almost gone and some pages were missing. Thanks for the link!
      Bill

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