Chapter 1 1900 and Before - Education Programs that Support the Growth of Amateur Woodworking

Chapter 1:8:-- Part D The First Real Instructional Woodworking:-- The Russian System.

...I deny that the introduction of manual training does of necessity force out any essential feature of mental and moral culture. The cup may be, and probably is, full to overflowing, but it is a shriveled and one-sided cup. It is as sensitive and active in its own defense as are the walls of the stomach, which, when overfed with ill-assorted food, contracts, rebels, and overflows, but which expands and readily digests generous rations of a varied diet. Did you ever see one whose mind was nauseated with spelling-books, lexicons, and grammars, and an endless hash of words and definitions? And did you, in such a case, call in the two doctors, Johann Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel? And did you watch the magic influence of a diet of things prescribed by the former, and a little vigorous practice in doing, in the place of talking, under the direction of the latter?

The students of a well-conducted manual-training school are intellectually as active and vigorous as in any high-school. Nay, more, I claim, and I have had good opportunity to observe the facts, that even on the intellectual side the manual-training boy has a decided advantage. I have been in charge of both kinds of school, and I know whereof I speak. The education of the hand is the means of more completely and efficaciously educating the brain. Manual dexterity is but the evidence of a certain kind of mental power; and this mental power, coupled with a familiarity with the tools the hands use, is doubtless the only basis of that sound, practical judgment and ready mastery of material forces which always characterize those well fitted for the duties of active, industrial life.

I go a step further. When the limit of sharp attention and lively interest is reached, you have reached the limit of profitable study. If you can hold the attention of a class but ten minutes, it is worse than a waste of time to make the exercise fifteen. The weary intellects roll themselves up in self-defense, and suffer as patiently as they can, but the memory of those moments of torment lingers and throws its dreadful shadow over the exercise as it comes up again on the morrow; and how automatically, as these over-taught children take their places again, do they begin to roll themselves up into an attitude of mental stupidity! Intellectual growth is not to be gauged by the length or number of the daily recitations. I firmly believe that in most of our schools there is too much sameness and monotony; too much intellectual weariness and consequent torpor. Hence, if we abridge somewhat the hours given to books, and introduce exercises of a widely different character, the result is a positive intellectual gain. There is plenty of time if you will but use it aright. Throw into the fire those modern instruments of mental torture—the spelling and defining books. Banish English grammar, and confine to reasonable limits geography and word-analysis. Take mathematics, literature, science, and art, in just proportion, and you will have time enough for drawing and the study of tools and mechanical methods.

Manual exercises, which are at the same time intellectual exercises, are highly attractive to healthy boys. If you doubt this, go into the shops of a manual-training school and see for yourselves. Go, for instance, into our forging-shop, where metals are wrought through the agency of heat. A score of young Vulcans, bare-armed, leather- aproned, with many a drop of honest sweat and other trade-marks of toil, stand up to their anvils with an unconscious earnestness which shows how much they enjoy their work. What are they doing? They are using brains and hands. They are studying definitions, in the only dictionary which really defines the meaning of such words as " iron," " steel," " welding," "tempering," "upsetting," "chilling," etc. And, in the shop where metals are wrought cold (which, for want of a better name, we call our machine-shop), every new exercise is like a delightful trip into a new field of thought and investigation. Every exercise, if properly conducted, is both mental and manual. Every tool used and every process followed has its history, its genesis, and its evolution.

I have been speaking of the shops of the manual-training school, not of the ordinary factory. In the latter everything is reduced as much as possible to a dull routine. Intellectual life and activity are not aimed at. The sole object of the factory is the production of articles for the market. In a manual-training school, on the other hand, everything is for the benefit of the boy; he is the most important thing in the shop ; he is the only article to be put vpon the market. No one can learn from a book the true force of technical terms and definitions, nor the properties of materials. All descriptive words and names must base their meaning upon our own consciousness of the things they signify. The obscurities of the text-books (often doubly obscure from the lack of proper training on the part of the authors, who describe processes they never tried, and objects they never saw) vanish before the steady gaze of a boy whose hands and eyes have assisted in the building of mental images.

Source: Calvin M Woodward, "The Fruits of Manual Training", Popular Science Monthly

The first systems of woodworking instruction with impact -- there are two:-- The Russian System and the Sloyd System -- were imports. The Russian System is treated on this page, the Sloyd System here.

Precursors of the Russian System

In London in the 1840s, Charles Holtzapffelin;

In Urbana, Illinois in 1870, Dean of Mechanical Engineering, Stillman H. Robinson

According to the Reverend George Chaney, as early as 1835, the preparation of a series of lessons for beginning woodworkers, suited to the use of amateurs and others, was undertaken by Charles Holtzapffelin in London. Because Holtzapffelin encountered difficulties of "classification and arrangement", after years of labor, he finally abandoned the scheme. He did, however, use the material that he had accumulated as the basis of his admirable treatise on "Turning and Mechanical Manipulation," one-half of which was published in 1850. (The Holtzapffel books on lathes are today renowned among woodwworkers.)

(George Chaney is one of several educators who created the 1881 manual, Wood-Working Tools: How to Use Them. Chaney also wrote the manual's "Introduction". Wood-Working Tools is distinguished for being the first woodworker's manual in America to include "how-to-do-it" sections, designed to walk newbie woodworkers step-by-step through the process of creating joints and other components of woodworking. More details about this textbook are given below. (For more on George Chaney, checkout this site.)

This feature in Wood-Working Tools: How to Use Them -- the step-by-step details of creating joints in woodworking -- is one of the spinoffs of the adoption in America of the Russian system. As a demonstration to myself of the impact of the instruction sheet concept on the writing of woodworker's manuals, I surveyed woodworker's manuals from 1881 to 2005, to see how woodworkers at different decades -- go through the steps of showing manual users how to construct a "mortise-and-tenon joint. Troughout each of these manuals, the model created by Wood-Working Tools: How to Use Them is easy to detect.

However, the mortise-and-tenon joint is only one of several woodwork joints employed universially in furniture and cabinetwork; to show the centrality of these joints in any attempt to acquire skill in woodworking, I prepared a glossary entry, Woodwork Joints that shows examples of a range of joints from our earliest woodwork maunual, the 1881 Wood-working Tools: How to Use Them.

Around 1870, Stillman H. Robinson, a Dean of Mechanical Engineering at Urbana's Illinois Industrial University, combined theory and practice:-- to become an engineer, the student must first be a craftsman.

Robinson's students learned how to

(1) apply the laws of science and technology,
(2) develop machines, apparatuses, and turbines,
(3) carry out the "complete act of creation".

This meant both drafting their "projects" on the drawing board and constructing them in the workshop.

For Robinson, "In practice instruction consists mainly in the execution of projects, in which the student is required to construct machines, or parts thereof, of his own design and from his own working drawings" "

Through this 'construction' requirement", claims Michael Knoll, a Germany-based historian of education. "Robinson wanted to achieve two purposes: enable students to become "practical" engineers and "democratic" citizens (i.e., citizens who believed in the equality of men and the dignity of labor)".

Sources : Winton U. Solberg, The University of Illinois, 1867-1894: An Intellectual and Cultural History Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1968, pages 140-145; Michael Knoll, "The Project Method: Its Vocational Education Origin and International Development" , Journal of Industrial Education 34, No. 3 Spring 1997 (In this article, Knoll cites a German-language article in where the details are outlined.)

The Stillman Reforms at Illinois Over-Shadowed by the "Russian System"


The "Russian Exercises" system was known in this country as early as 1873, but in 1876 an exhibition of the work of the Imperial Russian Technical School at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, created a real interest in this form of technical instruction. As shown by plate 1, the "Russian Exercises" were a series of abstract exercises, arranged in a logical manner, very technical, and calling for very exact measurements and tool execution. A consensus developed among Americans involved with technical training that these exercises were fundamental, that is, created a foundation, to all forms of advanced technical study. Another point about this system was that group instruction was possible, from 25 to 35 boys could be handled at one time by one instructor.

A prospect of implementing the Russian system was welcomed, therefore, by the educators of the time, who -- aware of the growing demand for some sort of technical education by the expansion of manufacturing groups in this country -- saw that the Russian system offered a good general mechanical training, currently not available in American technical training of the day.

The Manual Training Movement, 1876-1900: -- The Russian System

Development of the Russian system of tool instruction had involved the linking of two key strategies. Master technicians had analyzed their production work, recognizing in their complex and specialized activities the essential tool skills involved in forging, wood and metal turning, joinering, and fitting activities. In concert with the identification of these essential tool skills, educators at the trade school had pursued the strategy of separating preliminary instruction in the use of tools from the student's involvement with factory-based production activities.

The two strategies, thus linked, spelled out a new methodology. At no great expense, the school had established modestly equipped shops in which beginning students received systematic instruction in the care and use of tools relevant to fundamental activities in the mechanic arts.

The United States got its first manual training inspiration from Russia. The account of how the Russian system emerged are laid out with great detail by William John Schurter, in 1982, in his doctoral dissertation. As early as 1868, Victor Della Vos, director of the St. Petersburg imperial Technical School for government engineers, introduced shop instruction and tool work into his school and thus started what has since been known as the Russian System of manual training.

The Russian System undertook scientific tool instruction by using a series of exercises that involved a systematic/sequential technique of fundamental hand-tool processes.

The Director, Victor Della Vos, conceived that the way to do this was to analyze the tools, the processes, the crafts, trades, materials into their elements and to arrangements in methodical courses of instruction.

In other words, cabinetmaking was broken down into its construction rudiments. The result: step-by-step instructions of the different kinds of joints used in cabinetwork. The joints, first, were abstracted from the objects in which they were parts, then arranged into exercises, or -- in a sense -- numerous logical sequences of the tool processes involved were set up.

"Instruction before Construction"

The theory of the Russian work was expressed in the slogan, "Instruction before Construction." The course for government engineers inaugurated by Della Vos in the Imperial Technical School of St. Petersburg required six years for completion, ''three for instruction and three for construction." This, of course, is almost the antithesis of the best thought in America now. The slogan in the schools of the United States might fittingly be, "Construction accompanied by Instruction."

Characteristics of the Russian System.

The basic purpose of the Russian system of instruction in that country was apparently to provide engineers with practical technical training. The competent engineer needed to know how to use materials, tools, and processes.

The general principles of the Russian system are:

1. Each art or distinct type of work has its own separate instruction shop; e.g., joinery, wood turning, blacksmithing, locksmithing, etc.

2. Each shop is equipped with as many working places and sets of tools as there are pupils to receive instruction at one time.

3. The courses of models are arranged according to the increasing difficulty of the exercises involved, and must be given to the pupils in strict succession as arranged.

4. All models are made from drawings. Copies of each drawing are supplied in sufficient number to provide one for each member of the class. The drawings are mounted on cardboard (or, for the blacksmith shop, on wooden boards) and varnished.

5. The drawings are made by the pupils in the class for elementary drawing, under the direction of the teacher of drawing with whom the manager of the shops comes to an agreement concerning the various details.

6. No pupil is allowed to begin a new model until he has acceptably completed the previous model in the course. He must receive at least a grade of three, which is considered good.

7. First exercises will be accepted if dimensions are no more than approximately correct; later exercises should be exactly to dimensions, therefore, the same mark given a student at different periods during his course do not express the absolute, but the relative, qualities of his different pieces of work.

8. Every teacher must have more knowledge of his specialty than is necessary merely to perform the exercises in the course of instruction. He must keep constantly in practice so that his work may be an example of perfection to his pupils. Such dexterity increases the authority of the teacher (16, pp. 17-18).

In describing the features of the Russian system, Lewis F Anderson -- as cited by Ray Stombaugh -- states that

"The new plan was, in brief, that of analyzing workshop operations into their elementary processes, of arranging these in a graduated series and making them the object of systematic drill by the student...."

Rather than to emphasize individual instruction, the course was designed to impart the desired knowledge and skills in the least amount of time to large numbers of pupils. Distinction was made between "instruction and construction", not only in subject-matter, but in physical facilities as well; rate shops were maintained for each. The models, or exercises, were designed only for purposes of instruction, to develop tool skills common to the basic trades and industries. Oddly, no useful articles were constructed by students.

Influences of the Russian System.

The Russian system influenced industrial education and probably general education in Europe as well as in America. The most influential immediate results are considered to be the establishment of the aforementioned School of Mechanic Arts in Boston and adoption of the principles of the plan at the St. Louis Manual Training 1 of Washington University.

Need for a "Textbook"

In 1874, Boston's Industrial School Association began experimenting with ways of introducing handwork in the schools. Their intent, basically, was to implement the Russian system, but introducing a "rigid" program into a school program was problematical: "... if the Russian system is to have any extended application, everything must be done to make such instruction easy and efficient. emerging out of the deliberations was the conviction that a "textbook" -- "a text which showed every detail essential to the best performance of each manipulation".

For the Association, in the end, the best means of incorporating the principles of the Russian system was that the Russian system could be best effected through systematic instruction.

The original intention of the Association was to have the committee engage certain "specialists" who were first to prepare and then revise a series of primary lessons in the use of woodworking hand tools, to be followed by a similar series of more advanced lessons in application of these tools to the production of typical forms in carpentry and joinery.

It is out of this so-called experiment that a textbook emerged: Wood-Working Tools: How to Use Them. The Textbook Committee's charge: create a textbook that employs the best sources available, comprising directions and exercises in elementary woodworking tool processes.

William Ware, Chairman of the committee, credits thirteen persons for important contributions.

According to Ware, in the winter of 1877-1878, the primary lessons were prepared by Channing Whitaker and Raymond Chapell, with the assistance of Alonza Folsom. Chapell, while he was teaching in the Church Street School maintained by the Association, and in the School of Mechanic Arts, used these lessons. The first lesson -- printed as a circular for general distribution to illustrate the work of the school-- attracted much attention. It proved of such general interest at the time that it was later printed in The Polytechnic Review, of Philadelphia, and in the Forty-First Annual Report of the Massachusetts Board of Education for 1876-1877.

In a dissertation on the application of the Russian system in American William John Schurter writes that

Systematic instruction involved students in a series of exercises graduated in levels of difficulty from basic operations to more complex combinations of tool skills. To maintain careful supervision, after the demonstration of each operation, students performed exercises in groups. Group instruction, supported by task analysis, basically, constituted both the economy and the efficiency of the Russian system.

Source:William John Schurter, "The Development of the Russian System of Tool Instruction (1763-1893) and Its Introduction Into the U.S. Industrial Education Programs (1876-1893)" (Diss.) Baltimore: University of Maryland, 1982, pages 120-121.

The Emergence of Instruction Sheets

Students were confronted with models/drawings of joints, and explanations of their instruction, and careful demonstrations of the tool involved.

The construction of a specified number of joints and experience in a definite number of tool processes were the prerequisite to any attempt at even starting of cabinetwork.

Example: Constructing a Mortise-and-Tenon Joint

See examples of instruction sheets in this 1880s woodworker's manual here: Wood-working tools -- how to use them: A manual -- by the Industrial School Association, Boston,

This link leads to a reprint of portions of a chapter from Wood-Working Tools: How to Use Them: Chapter XIII "Joinery" containing detailed instructions on recommended procedures for cutting mortise-and-tenon joints.



    THIS book aims to give, in fourteen chapters, directions and exercises for the use of the Wood-working Tools.

    Like other text-books of its kind, it will best accomplish its purpose in the hands of an intelligent and practical teacher, who may use it for his own guidance in conducting a class. At the same time, it is so simply written and so amply illustrated, that any bright boy will find the book alone a great help in his endeavors to learn the right way of using common tools.

    The book has been prepared for the Industrial School Association of Boston. That Society, having conducted successful industrial schools during the winters of 1876-7 and 1877-8, at 23 Church Street, concluded to offer its apparatus and the results of its experiments to the city, In the hope that such schools would be maintained at the public expense. Meantime, the Society appointed a committee to embody the valuable experience gained in its schools, in a Manual of Instruction.

    This Manual, with the accompanying account of its preparation, is their report.

    The Society hopes that the public will share its satisfaction in the work of its committee. The lessons are few in number, and simple in character. They aim only to give an elementary training in the manipulations common to all wood-working trades. But it is not chiefly in the interest of these or of any other trades that this course is offered to the public. Lessons like these, given at the same time with the studies now pursued in our grammar schools, would relieve the weariness of purely mental exercises, and give a new zest to their pursuit. A single ward-room, like the one used by the school in Church Street, in any city, for the six months from December to May, during which time it usually lies idle, with very little expense beyond the original plant and a moderate salary to the teacher, would meet all the needs of three or four of the largest grammar schools for boys. Three such supplementary schools, if used in turn, would amply satisfy all the rightful claims of industrial education of this kind upon the school system of such a city as Boston. At so small an outlay of attention and money might the native aptitude of American youth for manual skill be turned into useful channels. In so simple a way might the needed check be given to that exclusive tendency towards clerical rather than industrial pursuits which the present school course undoubtedly promotes.

    President of the Industrial School Association.

    Applicants for further information may address Miss S. C. PAINE, Secretary, Brimmer Street, Boston ; and Rev. GEO. L. CHANEY, 7 Tremont Place, Boston, Mass.

    Sources:Industrial School Association, Wood-working Tools: How to Use Them. A Manual Boston: Ginn & Heath, for the Industrial School Association, 1881; Samuel Jesse Vaughn and Arthur Beverly Mays, Content and Methods of the Industrial Arts? 1924- pages 26-27.

    Reviews of Woodworking Tools: How to Use Them

The theme, "The Educative Value of Manual Training", is one selected by those who promoted Arts and Crafts elements in public education -- see The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, Part 1

The Educative Value of Manual Training

At the time of my visit, the school was in full operation. The director, Professor Woodward, — who is a professor of civil engineering in Washington University, and exercises only a supervisory function in the Manual Training School, — bade me make myself perfectly at home, question the teachers, question the boys, and make my investigation as thorough as was in my power with all the help they could give. I devoted four days to the investigation. The results were a large book full of notes, and a. clear impression in my mind of a well-organized and vigorously working school. I cannot here go into details. Suffice it to say, I used my privilege of questioning freely and thoroughly. I followed classes from the school-rooms into the drawing-rooms, and into the shops. I found (he boys equally alert and intelligent in all branches of their work. They were as ready to describe and give the reasons for every step in the process of forging a pair of blacksmith's tongs, as the}- were to state and give the reasons for every step in the demonstration of a geometrical theorem. There are those who doubt the "educative value" of manual training. Let any such person spend a few hours in a good manual training school, like this, observing the boys at their work and questioning them about it; and if his doubts about the "educative value " of manual training do not vanish, it will be because lie measures "educative value'' by standards not in common use. I should desire him particularly to converse with those boys in the machine-shop, now drawing near the close of their school course, and busily at work on their "projects" for graduation day. Let him ask for explanations, question them closely for reasons, observe the quality of their work, note their own criticisms and estimates of it, and he must be an unreasonable man if he does not admit that somehow their school training has developed in them a high degree of intelligence. The result is too striking to be overlooked, analyze and account for it as we may.

Source: Documents of the School Committee of the City of Boston By Boston (Mass.). School Committee Published 1890 page 11; also Calvin Milton Woodward, Manual Training in Education [place:? ] Walter Scott, 1911, page 281; Report of the Commissioner of Education Made to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year ..., with Accompanying Papers By United States. Bureau of Education, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1896, volume 1, page 903.

Like the Sloyd System, the Russian System -- as it was applied in America -- anticipates the Project Movement and the Home Workshop Movement

The Russian System thus anticipates some of the motives that drove both the project movement and the home workshop movement , early in the 20th century. The box below reprints a fragment from Verne C Fryklund's article on the success of introducing instruction sheets into woodworking courses in the 1920s:

    ... [T]he newer philosophy of education ... [was] the shifting of the emphasis from class instruction supplemented by individual instruction to individual instruction supplemented by class instruction. Attempts were made at first to solve the problems of class instruction by means of individual oral instruction, but the method imposed considerably more work upon an already busy teacher. Since the period of the World War many forms of written instruction sheets have appeared in an effort to improve the efficiency of instruction.

    Source: Verne C. Fryklund, "Instruction Sheets and Principles of Teaching," Industrial Arts Magazine 16, no. 2 February 1927, pages 41-44.

Sources: Massachussetts Board of Education Forty-First Annual Report . . . , 1876-77, Appendix, page 220; Massachussetts Institute of Technology, Thirteenth Annual Catalogue . . . , 1877-78, page 61 (not online); Massachussetts Institute of Technology, Thirteenth Annual Catalogue . . . , 1877-78, page 61; Channing Whitaker et al.Wood Working Tools; How to Use Them Boston: D. C. Heath and Company, 1881, pages v-vi; Lewis F. Anderson, History of Manual and Industrial School Education New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1926 (not online full text); Verne C. Fryklund, "Instruction Sheets and Principles of Teaching," Industrial Arts Magazine 16, no. 2 February 1927, pages 41-44; Ray Stombaugh, A Survey Of The Movements Culminating In Industrial Arts Education In Secondary Schools New YorK: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1936; (Contributions To Education. No. 670), page 23; William John Schurter, "The Development of the Russian System of Tool Instruction (1763-1893) and Its Introduction Into the U.S. Industrial Education Programs (1876-1893)" (Diss.) Baltimore: University of Maryland, 1982, pages 120-121.