Face Our Past: For Better or Worse

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With “The Anarchist’s Design Book” in the rear-view mirror, I am double-clutching to get our Charles H. Hayward project to the printer as soon as possible.

After eight years of toil by a dozen people, we are almost there. I have only about 40 hours of work to do in order to get it to press. So I am eschewing the shop as much as possible (except for this sweet little diversion).

Our book on Hayward covers his entire editorial stint at The Woodworker, from the 1930s to the late 1960s. It was a period of incredible change in our craft, and you can see attitudes shift as the hand tools are put away and the machines begin to dominate.

However, Hayward loved handwork and insisted on filling the pages of the magazine with it even to the end of his tenure. So I think you will adore this book when it comes out.

Tonight I’m editing the section on glue blocks (yup, an entire section on glue blocks) and was struck by one of the articles called “The Weakest Link.” It’s one of those articles when you can see the old ways start to slip away.

What is “The Weakest Link?” It is joinery.

The article explains how joinery can weaken an assembly instead of strengthening it. Hayward points to studies in the United States that dealt with a door made up of a framework skimmed by plywood panels. (See Fig. 2 above.) Adding joinery to the piece does not add strength to the door, according to scientific studies. So perhaps we can or should skip it.

The assembly is dang ugly, however, no matter how strong it is.

In the same article, Hayward goes into immense detail in discussing glue blocks and offers details you don’t often see. For example: You should plane off the corner of the glue block just a shaving or two) that goes into the corner of the assembly to add strength. Duh. Why have I not thought of that?

To be sure, about 90 percent of the material in this book is about the best practices in woodworking – many times better than what is typical today. But it is interesting to see standards start to slip. Invariably what causes them to slip might surprise you: it’s science.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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15 Responses to Face Our Past: For Better or Worse

  1. I’m looking forward to the Hayward book. I haven’t read anything from him or The Woodworker.

    Conjecture on your comment regarding science causing standards to slip: Science enabled furniture manufacturers to automate many steps in furniture making thus putting craftsman out of the business. These high volume processes pushed manufacturers into making furniture that was easy to produce as opposed to beautiful and comfortable for people. Scientific advances in adhesives and fasteners allowed less appealing joinery to be practical and sloppy joinery to maintain structure integrity.

    Even if my conjectures are correct, I would say that science enabled (vs. caused) standards to slip. People still had choices.

  2. I have many many many- did I say many? I have many of Charles’ books, if not all of the books he wrote and magazines that I have collected over the years – he was the defacto inspirations for my woodworking classes as a teenager. I am looking forward to this publication!!

  3. snowhillman says:

    Mr Hawkins – I would not even go so far as to say science enabled anyone – science is science, and it is neither a good thing or a bad thing. Making science the bad guy is what leads people to believe immunizations are a conspiracy. It’s the application of science that can be troublesome. The shift in manufacturing practices was driven by the customer, not the designers. They merely follow supply and demand. In the grand scheme of things, the question I ask is, what is worse – the overall improvement in quality of life with cheaper, more accessible furniture, or the wounding of craftsmanship and the push further towards materialism?

    • Scott Taylor says:

      Exactly. As much as we woodworker hate much of the mass produced stuff out there the fact of the matter is that most working class folks had little furniture and virtually zero variety until only a couple of generations ago. Handmade is wonderful but few can afford it. Remember Sam Maloof was get $55K for a rocker before he passed…

    • Snowhillman: I believe you misunderstand me and that our views are in unity. Science is science, not good or bad. When I use the word “enable” I mean the Merriam-Webster’s definition. “a : to provide with the means or opportunity, b : to make possible, practical, or easy c : to cause to operate” I don’t mean enable as “enabling a junky.”

  4. paul6000000 says:

    Funny seeing these illustrations now. This afternoon I stopped at a large Toronto antique shop that had the stripped fuselage of an early wood and cloth airplane. The skeleton was made of the flimsiest strips of wood – held together with glue blocks and triangles of thin plywood.

  5. Andy in Germany says:

    Funnily enough we always used to plane off the corners of our glue blocks when we used them, but that was ainly because with the sloppy methods of wood preparation you never knew if there was some muck on the inside of the corners.

    The trouble with ‘choices’ is that there comes a tipping point where it is nigh-on impossible to do things differently. For example, here in Germany we can get rubbish furniture in every town, but it is very hard to get hold of real, decent quality wood to make your own solid furniture.

  6. I have five of Mr.Hayward’s books. They are my constant source of information and inspiration and I look forward to the more comprehensive book. He was a true master who was fully trained in cabinetmaking and gained a lot of experience in a commercial cabinet business. I am really delighted that his work will now become much more widely available in this time and through into the future.

  7. It would be great to have something in the side-bar to let us order straight from here. I’m in Australia and trying to get a copy of the “Woodworker” book. Not easy to find.

  8. Cancel previous comment. Looking for your wordpress ‘follow’ button, I found details of how to order. Funny.

  9. bruceeaton10 says:

    Just flipping through my 1952 edition of John Hooper’s Cabinet Work Furniture and Fittings. Apparently it is revised quite a bit from earlier editions because of the changes in the craft that you mention. From the preface: “Cabinetmaking is, at the time of writing, slowly emerging from ten years of restriction and controls in the war and post-war periods, and is now nearing the beginning of another epoch.”

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