Chapter 5: 1931-1940 5: 2 Magazines with woodworking content; Woodworker's manuals

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5: 2 Magazines and newspapers with woodworking content

(Click here to go down to the discussion of Woodworker's Manuals.)

At the beginning of the 1930s, amateur woodworking emerges as a significant nationwide activity.

According to article number one of issue number one of Popular Homecraft, at the beginning of the 1930s, a surveyed showed that there are a reputed 77,000 home workshops in America.

(Getting documentation on this statistic is proving elusive, but I will keep on the lookout. According to Chris Gleason, in the early '30s, there were "over 77.000 Delta machine owners".

Source: Chris Gleason, Old-School Woodshop Accessories: 40 Tried-and-True Jigs, Fixtures and Tool Storage Projects, Cincinnati: Popular Woodworking Books, 2007, page 8.)

And in 1933, the nationwide National Homeworkshop Guild was launched;  Arthur Wakeling, an editor at the Popular Science Monthly had a prominent role in its formation:

Woodworker's Manuals #9: Arthur Wakeling and the Formation of the National Homeworkshop Guild in the 1930s

Taken together, these two bits of evidence reveal the emergence of amateur woodworking as a major leisure pastime. And, with the Depression causing mass unemployment, the question of leisure, itself, emerges as a national issue, and  new term -- skill hunger -- is coined. For more, checkout the beginning of this document and this account of The Evolving Concept of Leisure .

Newspapers as sources of information on amateur woodworking

Recently I started subscribing to the online database of newspapers -- . It's truly huge, going back to the 1790s, listing currently about 2.5 million pages!

I soon discovered that covers woodworking, but covers it in a way that must be qualified.

First, woodworking as an activity, itself, such as the activities of "guilds", "clubs" and the like, is covered, but not entirely satisfactorily, because many of these activities by local groups go unreported. Or, worse, the keywords -- that is, the terms used to search for articles -- are nebulous. The words reporters use to describe the group activities of amateur  woodworkers in one part of America are not, evidently, the same words reporters use to describe similar activites by woodworkers in other parts of America. 

(Let's hope that this problem comes from my ineptitude as a database searcher, and not the failings of the database itself.) 

Second, since the database is inclusive of everything, it includes advertisements and classified ads, meaning that when you search something like say "Shopsmith", the numbers of hits are huge, but almost all are ads.)

Several periodicals emerge that cover woodworking

Popular Homecraft

Popular Homecraft began in publication in 1930, with six issues per year. Chicago-based, independent, rather than sponsored by a power tool manufacturer, PH's success allowed it to boast a circulation of 83,500 copies by May-June, 1931! Its pages covered much more than woodworking, but woodworking was its primary focus. The issues are almost 100 pages, truly dwarfing the ca. 20-page size of The Deltagram and The Home Craftsman. Checkout PH's first article!

(After viewing several volumes of this periodical, and noting its significance in the amateur woodworking movement, and that I would need to consult its issues frequently, I purchased from a California bookstore the issues for 1930-1940. My purchase, though, is not a complete run, unfortunately.)

From the beginning -- unlike the in-house periodicals, Home Craftsman and Deltagram -- most articles were signed.

(I mention this fact about signed articles because the power-tool sponsored periodicals, Home Craftsman and Deltgram  -- discussed below --  began publication with a policy of unsigned articles, but in later years changed over to authors signing their articles. Why? At the moment, I am not sure, but will keep looking for evidence. Right now my hunch is that it was the corporate-sponsorship that created the policy of not having articles signed. Later, of course, when Harry Hobbs and others assumed ownership of HC, the image of any heavy-handed corporate policy disappeared.)

"By popular demand" from its readers, as the cliché goes, PH's editors soon moved to publishing 12 issues per year.

As is suggested by "homecraft" in its title, PH's coverage was broader that just woodworking; it also included metal crafts, model-building, and home maintenance.

My examination of the contents of PH issues throughout the 1930s shows that PH molded itself to the shifting conditions of the 1930s:

first, in how more and more small-scaled power tools were coming onto the market -- like the Stanley "router-shaper" and the Delta "1180 bench-top shaper" and

second, that, more and more, "amateur" woodworkers were supplementing their incomes by selling products produced in their home workshops.
Already -- from PH -- I have uploaded a few, significant items, but -- in the future -- anticipate that I will upload many additional items. Activities of local chapter of the National Homeworkshop Guild -- link  -- are regular features, and I will report on these more fully later.

popular_homecraft_power_machinery_logo_1930sAnother feature combines the two points above -- small-scaled power tools and amateurs selling their projects.

In the last half of the 1930s decade, PH featured reviews of small "power machinery" currently produced by such manufacturers as Stanley and Delta. On the left is the logo used by PH to mark this section of the issue, and the table of contents announced this section as "Care and Use of Power Machinery". Issue by issue, the focus of articles in this series was clear: bring attention to what must have been then some very exciting events. For the first time, home workshops could incorporate into woodworking projects the router and the shaper. Stanley's Router came on the market first, in 1931, and Delta's benchtop shaper, the 1180, was released in 1933. Accounts of these are available here (for the router) and here (for the shaper). [Both these pages are under construction; please be patient.]

Formation of the National Homeworkshop Guild

Begun in Rockford, IL in 1933,
by 1937 the NHG  boasted about 500 chapters in the United States and Canada. While Popular Homecraft gave much attention to it in the pages of that periodical, the existence of the NHG was never really acknowledged on Home Craftsman's pages, a fact that really puzzles me.

Arthur Wakeling, longtime editor for Popular Science of its woodworking section, seems to be the one person most responsible for the NHG, and inter-magazine rivalry may explain the reason why Home Craftsman failed to acknowledge the existence of what had to be a very large group of amateur woodworkers. Wakeling -- probably in retirement from Popular Science --  was appointed "advisory editor" of Home Craftsman in the late '40s or early '50s [need exact date and more details])

In 1931, manufacturers of scaled down electrically-driven power tools designed for the amateur woodworker's home-shops launched two periodicals. First, Walker-Turner's Home Craftsman, was much more successful than the second, Delta Machinery's The Deltagram.

The Deltagram

Click here for a pdf of volume 1, no. 1 of The Deltagram

However, regardless of the "success" of one woodworker's magazine over the other, the impact of they had -- drawing attention to the newest woodworker's "toys" -- is obvious, I think, at least if your allow yourself to "read into the message" given in code by Earnest Elmo Calkins -- the use of the term, "vigorously circularized", in the passage below gives this away -- by amateur woodworkers, such as Calkins. For evidence, please see image below. (In its issue for September-October, 1932, Popular Homecraft -- discussed above -- weighed in on this "buzz" about the new scroll saws with a lead article, "Jig Saw Puzzles -- How to Make Them!")

Calkins, noted figure in advertising in the '30s, wrote in a Nation's Business article, "Depression is the Fashion", July 1932, 20, page 7:

    ...THE first week in December [1931] I walked into the largest hardware store in New York to buy a new sort of scroll saw. This saw was developed and perfected and put into production last summer. It had been vigorously circularized among that large and growing group of amateur woodworkers of which I am one. I had received a tip from a fellow craftsman that it was "the goods," I had seen a demonstration of it in that very store two months before. I was already sold. I came to buy.... The price of the saw was $19.50....

    Source: Elmer Calkins, Nation's Business article, "Depression is the Fashion", July 1932, 20, page 7.

(The image below includes Calkin's Scroll Saw, but it receives full page treatment on the last page of The Deltagram, Volume 1, No. 1, January 1932. Click here For more details about the place of the Delta scroll saws in the history of the scroll saw's technology. Scroll down to the end of the entry.)

Mission Statement of The Deltagram:

    Why The Deltagram? drill_press_scroll_saw_DG WE ARE not going to start out by telling you that now, at last, the craftsman is to have a magazine of his own. You would know, just as well as we, that this would be just so many words. The Deltagram" cannot pretend in the least to take the place of any of the splendid magazines which have been catering to the wants of the home mechanic and the craftsman. Nor has it any such pretension.

    The purpose of this little journal is simply to be of help to Delta craftsmen; owners of Delta machines. We, at the factory, receive many suggestions from our craftsmen friends, some of whom tell us about their ways of doing things, about the furniture, toys and hundreds of other things they make, about their ideas on workshop layouts, original ways of using Delta equipment and hundreds of other things.

    Many of these suggestions and ideas would be of vast benefit to other Delta owners, but heretofore we have had no practicable means of passing them on, except when an owner wrote to us for a solution of some problem that had put him up a tree. We have had the idea of "The Deltagram" in mind for a long time, and now, at last, we are able to realize it. We want to make "The Deltagram" just as useful and as serviceable as any of the rest of your Delta tools, for that is just what it is: another tool to enable you to get the very utmost in pleasure out of your hobby, if woodworking is your avocation, or in service out of your machine if it is your vocation. And whether this tool is to be a keen or a dull one depends to a great extent upon yourselves, for the editor needs your assistance in making and keeping it "sharp."

    Source: The Deltagram, Volume 1, No. 1, January, 1932, page 3.

Delta's "house organ" The Deltagram consisted of about 20-pages monthly of articles for the hobbyist woodworker. Advertisements for Delta products were scattered also throughout each issue. The many images of Delta tools show woodworkers constructing projects, for the most part, scaled to the tools of the era.

Driven by fractional horse-power motors, the blades on the table saws are still only 8-inch blades, the jointer cutterheads 4 inches, and so forth. (Circular saws with ten inch blades are not available until later in the 1930s.)

Subscription Policies

In the beginning, evidently The Deltagram was distributed free. This free distribution policy was changed in March, 1937: the_deltagram_subscription_


The Deltagram was published 6" x 9" format until the end of 1949. (The issues from 1932 to 1949 were bundled into a 4-volume set, and I was able to find an affordable set on In January 1950 the format was changed to 8 1/2" X 11".


The Deltagram started in January 1932 under James Tate's editorship. Six issues were published each year. As editor, Tate's name is listed only until September 1933; Sam Brown assumed editorship in October 1934. Later, several other editors took over. The magazines frequently features images of home shops. (For more on this topic, click here.)

The Home Craftsman

click here for a pdf of selected pages of Volume 1, No. 1 1931

Home Craftsman, edited by Harry Hobbs, lasted from 1931 to 1965, and at one time -- in the 1950s -- boasted a subscription list of over 200,000 subscribers.


Home Craftsman
started with six issues per year, without advertising, but slowly evolved into a monthly magazine, directed at the home owner -- with home improvement articles -- and the amateur woodworker.

(Judging from the numerous letters, Home Craftsmanwas also a hit with those woodworkers who claimed that their income was derived from woodworking.)

Harry Hobbs evidently acquired full ownership. (The first issues were published without reference to anyone being named responsible for the editorship.[more on this later] )


Most articles in Home Craftsman were signed by the authors, but some were anonymous suggestingsome in-house editors were responsible.

Lester Margon, the celebrated illustrator of furniture pieces from museums in America, Canada, and  Europe, had a monthly article, which -- judging from the letters -- was a "hit" with the readers, who delightedly sent in photos of their results of building Margon's plans for break fronts, highboys, lowboys, and the like.

Woodworker Manual Author #4: Lester Margon -- Master Illustrator of Museum Furniture

home craftsman "circle" 1931
(For me, this phenomenon -- amateur woodworkers of the 1930s eagerly seeking to construct classic furniture pieces creates a sense of wonder, because -- compared with today's scale of power tools in home woodworking shops -- the under-sized  under-powered, 110-volt tablesaws with 8-inch blades and tilt-top tables would make the building these pieces very challenging.)

home craftsman your lab 1st 1931

Occasionally, in issues of HC, Franklin Gottshall and Herman Hjorth, both noted instructors on woodworking in Industrial Arts institutions, had articles -- also on a museum furniture pieces -- but only about once a year.

As I was paging through Home Craftsman volumes for the '30s and '40s, I  looked for -- but did not find -- mention in articles and/or letters of activities of the National Homeworkshop Guild, the amateur woodworking organization I note above. The reasons for this policy by HC of ignoring a woodworking movement that I suspect comprised most of the its subscribers is very puzzling.

5:2 Woodworker's Manuals

  Woodworker's Manuals 1931-1940 -- more and more frequently, copies of woodworker's manuals are being digitized and uploaded to the Internet by Google Books. I try to keep up with these events, and indicate appropriately the titles of woodworker's manuals that can be read on the Web, but it is a large job, so I ask that readers inform me if they encounter web-based manuals. (for stats on numbers of woodworker's manuals published decade by decade, see the woodwer's manuals access page )

The Woodworker Magazine as Book Seller

The images on both left and right, below, illustrate how books were promoted to readers of
Popular Homecraft. In effect, Popular Homecraft (and Home Craftsman) took on the role of book distributor.
ad for books thru PH 1931


ad for wells and hooper modern cabinet work

(This will be a task for the future. From about the middle of the 1800s, the trade journal to the American book industry,
Publisher's Weekly, was (and still is) the major source of information about books, particularly "new" books. Recently I discovered that portions of  the (large) corpus PW is online line and searchable via keyword. As time allows, I will be investigating  PW and reporting  my findings.)

Intuition will tell anyone over sixty years of age, though, that bookstores in smaller centers is a product of the post-WW II era. Thus woodworkers in areas outside of fairly large urban centers would need to locate their manuals from other sources. . Check out these pieces on (1)  the Lethbridge (Alberta) Public Library in the 1930s and 1940s and (2) the Index of Handicrafts and Woodworking. Nonfetheless, I think that I have potentially solved the problem of getting woodworkers connected with woodworker's manuals. Check out the classified ads -- above, on the left and the right -- for "books" in Popular Homecraft 1 September 1930, page 286. PH -- much like what woodworker magazines do today -- used a "forwarding service".)

Intuition will tell anyone over sixty years of age, though, that bookstores in smaller centers is a product of the post-WW II era. Thus woodworkers in areas outside of fairly large urban centers would need to locate their manuals from other sources. . Check out these pieces on (1)  the Lethbridge (Alberta) Public Library in the 1930s and 1940s and (2) the Index of Handicrafts and Woodworking. Nonfetheless, I think that I have potentially solved the problem of getting woodworkers connected with woodworker's manuals. Check out the classified ads -- above, on the left and the right -- for "books" in Popular Homecraft 1 September 1930, page 286. PH -- much like what woodworker magazines do today -- used a "forwarding service".)

Both Popular Mechanics and Popular Science [create links later], very successfully launched in the 19th century, contained articles on woodworking, either about tools and/or projects for woodworkers.

Survey of Magazine Subscriptions by NHG Membership


I have examined several master's theses where the authors conducted surveys of the NHG. Most are disappointing, primarily because the data reported is very sketchy.

(Conducting surveys during the Great Depression, I expect, was problemmatical.)

One thesis, by Marvin A Powell, "Survey of the National Homeworkshop Guild", Colorado State University, 1935, includes the table on the left. While the number of NHG members surveyed is very small -- a little over 600 -- the data Powell tabulated shows us information that might be predictable. That is, the top magazine is Popular Science Monthly -- where the founder of the NHG, Arthur Wakeling, was Homeworkshop Editor --. then follow Home Craftsman, The Deltagram, and Popular Homecraft.

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