Forgotten Details of Cooking & Screwing


Whenever I have to wait in a doctor’s office, I don’t mess around with their pile of last year’s Time magazines. I bring my own really old magazines – and this week it was issues of The Woodworker from 1916.

Tucked in amid the magazine’s 10-part series on making your own poultry gear (no lie), I found two little gems worth sharing here.

The first article, “Screws and Screwdrivers” is the kind of article that most people would skip over. After all, what is there to say about this basic operation? As always, if you read The Woodworker closely you’ll pick up details and fine points that are worth knowing.

This short article even discusses a pattern of screw – the improved American form – that I’ve not seen before. Sure, the shank is familiar, but the head?

Screws and Screwdrivers

The second article is on “Hay Box Cookers.” I do almost all the cooking in our household, and I enjoy exploring old cooking techniques as much as I enjoy old woodworking stuff. So this article was aimed right at me.

Hay Box Cookers

Hay box cookers are like the CrockPot of the 19th century. The cooker is a wooden box filled with hay. When you make a stew, you bring it to a boiling point. Then you take it off heat, cover it and put it in the hay box cooker and shut the lid for two or more hours.

The hay insulates the stew (or boiled bacon, yum?), cooking it slowly without any more energy. And you can’t scorch the food. There’s even a recipe book out there.

— Christopher Schwarz

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31 Responses to Forgotten Details of Cooking & Screwing

  1. mcdara says:

    Looking at the Magazine, it blows my mind that all of the illustrations then were hand drawn with pen and ink. That American head screw, I wonder if it was not very popular. If your screwdriver was sized corrrectly you would not be able to slip out of the slot.

  2. Chris, where do you find these old magazines?

    • Booksellers in England carry them. The Woodworker published bound annuals for many years. They can be an expensive habit. I think I have sunk about $2,000 into old Woodworker annuals.

  3. Vic Tesolin says:

    I love these excepts from The Woodworker. Any thought to a reprint of the lot of them?

  4. jonathanszczepanski says:

    Haybox cooker? I’m thinking more like a shavings box cooker. Finally something to do with all of the shavings in the shop.

  5. Screws And Screwdrivers
    Pg 108, 2nd full paragraph, 4th sentence:

    “Fig. 10 shows the fork turnscrew bit, which is used for tightening or removing the brass screw rivets that are used to connect the ordinary saw blade to the handle.”

    Funny (as in, not really funny), I’ve had several people tell me those split nuts were never intended to be removed. Always thought that was rubbish…

    • tsstahl says:

      I’ve had several people tell me those split nuts were never intended to be removed.
      Really? That is a small world shaker in my philosophy.

      I believe is was a high school shop teacher that told me rivets are meant to be permanent, screws never are. I’ve never thought any more about that until just now.

      • Yessir. I try my best to be honest and forthcoming in anything I write that is woodworking-related.

        It was a view most prevalent on one particular unmentionable woodworking forum.

        I did not follow that advice, of course, and have removed every split nut I’ve come across that I’ve had the necessity to remove. Thus far, I’m about 9 for 9 with no problems (two back saws and one hand saw that had four split nuts, but one of them was completely missing already).

  6. Jeff Faulk says:

    Is this the same magazine as what the Practical Woodworker books came from? Because the haybox cooker thing looks extremely similar to what’s in volume 1, which I was fortunate enough to pick up for a song (water damage) at Highland…

    • They are different publishers. So probably not (I’m guessing — there are no bylines in either publication).

      Many of these publishers used the same “clip art” from manufacturers of tools etc.

  7. Chris Reck says:

    This one time in college I had to take my screwdriver to the doctor.

  8. Rachael Boyd says:

    I have run into the American head screw a couple of times over the years.

  9. Wesley Beal says:

    Reading current sources on hand-tool woodworking, I have yet to run across anyone recommending that we go get ourselves a push driver (Yankee Spiral Screwdriver). Yet looking on eBay there must of been millions of these things produced, so presumably they used to be very popular.

    I’ve never used one myself. Wondering if anyone has any insight as to why they aren’t recommended now (or if I’ve just been reading the wrong sources).

    • Rachael Boyd says:

      I have had many over the years . I didn’t really like using it to drive straight head screws because I jabbed my finger way to many times. I did love them to drill small holes and pilot holes . they do work well for Philips head screws. I still have a Stanley in my tool chest to this day… to answer you question I don’t think they fit in the old school woodworking or they are just over looked. Chris your thoughts

      • People who hang doors for a living swear by them – even today. And the tools have their advocates. I’ve owned several Yankees during the last 20 years and didn’t care for them. But it’s me, not them.

        I’m too fussy with my screws – I try to start each screw at the same height and position so I can clock it. I want 100-percent feedback from the screw and the wood. So I use old-fashioned ground screwdrivers (actually gunsmith drivers).

        If I were on someone else’s clock, I’d probably have a different opinion.

    • I had an, “Oh, duh” moment when they described the situation where it would be useful (driving a screw in a location that is adjacent to a 90 degree surface, where it would be hard to turn a screwdriver).

      In most cases, your cordless screwdriver is going to serve the same function. I suspect that is why most people don’t even consider using one.

      My dad picked one up for me last year; I hadn’t ever thought of getting a Yankee driver until then. I got an attachment for it that lets me use standard hex bits. I’ll try to keep it in mind in the future.

      • Wesley Beal says:

        It is sort of one of those “for those too pure to just use a cordless drill” sort of options, I suppose, as it doesn’t have any of the benefits of an eggbeater or a brace which give you a lot of control and feedback during the process.

        I’ve wondered whether or not it required the pilot holes to be driven just right for it to work correctly (having your hole through the “top” piece the same diameter as the stem of the screw, & etc.). In which case it would offer the benefit of encouraging correct work.

        But not having used one, maybe it doesn’t do this at all.

  10. snwoodwork says:

    I was ready to build a hay box cooker until I found out it would not make a suet pudding.

  11. drewstout says:

    I’m a little surprised they recommend aluminum for the pan in the cooker. Yes it holds heat twice as well as copper, but cast iron has about 4 times less thermal conductivity than aluminum. I wonder if aluminum was more plentiful than iron during WWI.

    • The specific heat capacity of aluminum is double that of iron. 1 lb-mass of Aluminum contains more energy per unit mass than 1 lb-mass of Iron at the same temperature. That energy gets conducted into the food at a faster rate than to the outside due to the insulation in the box.

  12. I first came across the “American” screw last week, in this comic:
    I assumed it was a mistake from the cartoonist, but maybe I was wrong!

  13. jheimbecher says:

    The only time I’ve seen that improved American screw was in Paul Hasluck’s “The Handyman’s Book of Woodworking”. That was published in 1903 so that screw design must’ve been around for a while and been common enough that it warranted a mention in at least two publications 13 years apart. The Hasluck book has nearly half a page on it.

  14. A modern incarnation (or at least variation with similar principles) of the Hay Box Cooker is essentially marketed and sold as the Wonderbag:

  15. Jeff Faulk says:

    I expect the American style screw did not flourish very far for the simple reason that cutting a closed dado in metal for a slot is rather more difficult than the easily mechanized task of zipping a slot across the diameter of the screw head with a small-gauge cutter, or even just a file if you’re doing it by hand.

  16. Farmer Greg says:

    I’m actually really interested in the poultry gear articles.

  17. My mother-in-law is polish, and she often cooks things by bringing a pot to boil, then wrapping it in several towels. It seems she could use a hay cooker. Only problem is I don’t have any tools in Poland. Maybe I’ll make a knockdown hay cooker out of basswood and mail it to her.

  18. Brian Clites says:

    You like to cook! Now there’s something I’ve actually earned an income from (unlike my weekend woodworking adventures!) If you like the hay method, you should try the old (as in ancient) meso-American method of burrying the food in a clay or brick pit. It will cook 12 – 24 hours and requires very little fuel. (I sense a future cartoon serial for this blog…)

  19. Hay Box Cooker? Sounds an awful lot like a Cozie. We use them all the time backpacking. Get your pot boiling then wrap it up in your sleeping bag and let it sit. It will stay hot for a very long time.

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