The following is the introductory note to our new book “Honest Labour: The Charles H. Hayward Years: 1936-1966.” This entry explains the history behind the project and the doubts that we battled throughout. I know that it is an odd book for us to publish, and I promise that our next titles will be filled with the nitty-gritty how-to information that will help you at the bench. This book, however, might just help you in other aspects of your life.
Our series of books called “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years” began with a big stack of books imported from the U.K., a box of magic markers and a few too many bottles of beer and wine.
(Actually, to be honest, “The Woodworker” books began as the germ of an idea after woodworker and toolmaker Don McConnell introduced me in the 1990s to Charles Hayward’s books published by Evans Bros.)
The idea was that we were going to cull the best woodworking articles from the period when Hayward worked at the magazine, 1936-1969. To do this, we had to comb through 360 issues of the magazine and flag the best articles (for scanning, then OCR, then image processing, then…).
So over a series of long evenings, Ty Black, Phil Hirz, Megan Fitzpatrick, John Hoffman and I sat at my dining table and did just that. I thought the process would be quick. It wasn’t. What slowed us was the content. After scanning an article and flagging it, we all became captivated by the quality of the articles themselves. These magazines were filled with pieces that you don’t find in modern magazines. And so we read the articles instead of simply moving on.
The techniques demonstrated were many times far more advanced than a modern magazine would dare. But they were explained simply with excellent drawings. The articles made you ask: Well why couldn’t I make a barred glass door with only hand tools?
So it took months instead of days for us to work our way through the issues. And for me there was also an unintended consequence of revisiting these old magazines.
At that time, I was editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, and I had to write an editor’s note at the beginning of every issue called “Out on a Limb.” I refused to make my column a simple rehash of the issue’s contents (“…and if you love birdhouses, we’ve got some great ones by Steve Stevies from the Gopher State…”). I wanted to say something meaningful or useful.
So, I was keen to see how Hayward handled that task with the “Chips From the Chisel” column, which headed up every issue of The Woodworker magazine. One night when we weren’t reading and flagging old magazines, I sat down and began to read those columns.
It was like walking into a different universe. “Chips From the Chisel” was filled with philosophy, history, poetry and the writings of a clear-eyed and experienced woodworker. It spoke to our fears and aspirations as people who work with our hands. It recognized the balance between the importance of handwork and the promise of machinery. It talked about things I had felt but could never put into words. It challenged me to become a better woodworker. (And a better editor and writer.)
For the lack of a better explanation, Hayward’s work encouraged me to grow up quite a bit as an editor and a woodworker. It was like having a parent who never lectured you, but instead showed you how to live and work by example.
My first urge was to publish a book consisting entirely of the “Chips From the Chisel” columns and share this wisdom and great insight with the world. Then I realized that was a stupid idea. Who would buy a woodworking book from a woodworking publisher that didn’t teach you a darn thing about building furniture? I shelved that book idea, and we spent the next five years or so getting the four volumes scanned, cleaned up, organized and printed into the four green volumes that I consult every week in my own work as a furniture maker.
Time passed, and in 2017, I read (no, devoured) Nancy Hiller’s excellent book “Making Things Work: Tales from a Cabinetmaker’s Life” (first published by Putchamin Press) and had some second thoughts about a woodworking book without plans, techniques or dimensions.
I showed Kara Gebhart Uhl some of Hayward’s columns and she was intrigued. After reading a few of them, she came up with the book’s title, “Honest Labour,” and we were off to the races. Well, off to the turtle races. “Honest Labour” was a back-burner book since its inception. When you’re a publisher, you’re not supposed to express doubts about your books. But I was (and I still am) worried that this will be a years-long waste of effort and tree pulp.
I hope I’m wrong.
By the end of the editing process, Kara had become similarly enchanted with the “Chips From the Chisel” columns and became convinced that we should attempt to push this book outside of the woodworking category.
“You’d think I’d be over this book by now but I’m not,” Kara wrote to me. “Actually, I love it even more. The premise alone is the start of a great book review: Hidden in back issues of a U.K. woodworking magazine are 30+ years of incredible writing on life, labour, leisure, nature, ancestry, art, politics and the world before, during and after WWII. What’s more, it all holds up. I haven’t typed … an essay yet that doesn’t directly tie in to life today in some way.”
I agree with Kara, and I hope you will, too.
Oh, before you begin reading, I have one favor to ask. Please excuse or ignore the choices of pronouns and male-centric language. We are all products of our time, and Hayward (born in 1898) was no exception. It’s interesting to note that as the magazine entered the 1960s, the language and pronouns began to modernize as well. (I’m sure my own writing will be interpreted as specist in 2243 by our squid overlords.) Hayward’s insight and inspiration are legitimate, honest and important – no matter which pronouns are attached to the ideas.
A note on the dates of Charles H. Hayward’s editorship. Sources disagree about the exact dates of Hayward’s term as editor. Most sources agree he joined the staff in 1935 and became editor in 1936. The year he left the magazine, however, has been reported as 1966, 1968 or 1969. The confusion might be a result of the fact that he contributed to the magazine after retirement. For this book, we have focused on the columns from 1936 to 1966.