Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Your Boy Is Safe When He Is Working With Tools And Wood

Okay, this was going to be my first book “review”, but it has turned out to be more of a book ramble. The book is How to Work With Tools and Wood: For the Home Workshop, published in 1927 by the Stanley Rule & Level Plant.

I have no idea who actually wrote the book, and the signature of the foreword is no help at all…

I’m sure that one of the main reasons that Stanley published this book was to help sell tools. And yet there is more to it than that. There is a lot of discussion of aesthetic, craftsmanship and beauty in here too. I’d really like to know who wrote it.

This book is great for three reasons: 1. it smells good 2. it is tremendously campy and 3. it is full of great hand tool information.

First the smell:

What can I say, I love the way old books smell (NOT the moldy ones!). For me, it is a mix of my Grandmother’s attic; the old, old books I was always shelving in Drew University’s library; and summers in Vermont, reading an old book in the sun.

Now the camp:

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

I don’t think I need to say anything more.

Finally, the hand tool content:

It’s a great introduction to hand tool work that starts with a chapter titled “All of Us Can Use Tools” which addresses confidence and rational. I particularly like the hand tool philosophy stated here:

“The fact is that almost anything which we use can be made stronger, more simple, more beautiful, by loving hands than it can by machinery. There is no reason why a kitchen shelf may not be fundamentally beautiful. There is no reason why a door cannot be hung so that it swings at the touch of a hand and is beautiful because it is simple and rugged.

If you will learn to make an ordinary mortise, to form a dovetail joint, a halved joint, or to plane the edge of a board so that it is square; if you will learn to drive a nail straight, to put heavy screws in oak without splitting the board, and handles on a drawer so that they are straight: your work in wood should be beautiful.”


“…You can go to a store and buy a candlestick complete and ready for use, varnished and polished, for from 10 cents to $5.00. You can make that candlestick yourself with perhaps no saving in money. But when you have made it and it is standing on the mantelpiece you have always before you as you look at it the memory of a sharp tool cutting into well seasoned wood. Through your hands, and your hands alone, the world is richer by the existence of that object that you can hold in your hand.

That is the satisfaction which the artisan in paint, the artisan in words, or the artisan in steel, stone, glass or wood feels. There is something priceless about it. You have a value that no man can take from you. Let the candlestick become blackened and charred, let it be broken by careless hands and still the joy of its creation cannot be taken from you, it is yours for the length of your life.”

Pretty deep stuff for old Stanley. It seems to me, that today, most “How To” books focus on the techniques (the actual “how to…”) and don’t involved themselves in the “Why” like this book tries to do – albeit a little strongly sometimes.

There is some very solid hand tool information. Topics covered include: a basic set of hand tools, tool chest (“…which is their respected domicile.”), bench, basic layout, hand sawing, cross-cutting vs. ripping etc., how to set and use a plane, truing up stock, boring with a brace and bit, mortising, how to bore and countersink screws, various work holding devices (including Stanley’s funky little Bench Bracket), the advantages of working from a detailed set of plans (available from Stanley…), finishing, sharpening, and several basic projects.

Throughout the book, illustrations are used to clarify or explain key points. Here is a classic:

One of the photographs from this book was also used by Stanley to advertise their project plans and chests of tools. Here it is, thanks to:

If you are interested in hand tool basics and/or enjoy reading old books, I highly recommend this book. It comes up frequently on eBay, doesn't go for too much, is full of good information, amusing photos and, at least for me, great philosophy.


  1. Wh-a-a-a-t?! There's a woman in the workshop??

    Oh wait, that's just "Mother".

    What a great find, Dan. I love campy books!

    BTW, I asked for one of the books in your library for my bday—the one on David T. Smith workshops—love it!

  2. Dan - what a find! Very interesting and surprising that even back then, as society moved towards mass produced items, that Stanley was trying to being attention to the idea that hand made objects are important. Keith (

  3. VC - Now don't underestimate the importance of "Mother" - she offers valuable moral support in the caption to another photo: "She: That's the best combination kitchen stool and step-ladder I've ever seen. He: And you didn't think I could do it, did you?" Hey wait a minute - I just noticed that it's dark outside the window, junior is nowhere to be seen, and they are sitting in the romantic glow of that single overhead light bulb. Must be "The Woodshop - After Dark!"

    Keith - I agree - very surprising. Of course it could just be that they were trying hard to protect the sales of their hand tools. But I honestly don't think so. I am sure that was part of it, but it really does seem like it was written by someone who deeply cared about woodworking with hand tools. Or maybe I just "hear" what I want to...

  4. Oh, I forgot! I'm glad you like that book Kari. I do too. Of course I don't make things the same way, but I really like the illustrations and have gotten some good ideas out of that book. Teague's cradle was a combination of an old country piece in American Country Furniture 1780 - 1875 and the "Shaker" design in the workshops book. Glad you liked it! And Happy Birthday!

  5. Great book. I'll have to look for it. Has anyone ever published in one place all of those Stanley plans? Now that would be a great gift for young GIT's (Galoots in Training)!

    Thanks for sharing.


  6. Andrew - That's a great idea! Sounds like something Toolemera Press might look into. I've seen them come up on Ebay from time to time...


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