Chapter 7: 1951 - 1960 7:4. Hand tools vs power tools

4. Hand tools vs Power machines

The radial arm saw -- Delta, DeWalt, Sears, Montgomery-Ward all sold variations of these power tools in the 1950s, even into the 1960s, before several factors caused a decline. These machines began appearing just after VE day in 1945, as the champion of the RAS, Wallace Kunkel, proclaims .

(Read the 1950 -- January-February 1950 Home Craftsman -- article by Herman Hjorth on the Delta and Dewalt RAS models designed for home workshops. Also look at the glossary entry on the Dado blade and the extended discussion of the two woodworker's manuals -- published in 1956, by respectively Robert Scharff and the anonymous Delta manual, Getting the Most Out of Your Radial Arm Saw -- extolling the usefulness and versatilty of the RAS as a combination tool.)  

And the Shopsmith is another combination tool --by now the Shopsmith 10ER -- is widely purchased.

(I personally own a Shopsmith 10e and two different vintage RAS: an 1947 GP Dewalt and a 1950s double arm Delta -- for more on them see the discussions of RAS history.)

In a weekly TV program, the Chicago-based woodworking teacher, Walter ("Walt") E Durbahn, demonstrated tools and projects to wannabe woodworkers in the Chicago area.

(As a "teacher", Durbahn had a unique way of inspiring his students: Document 32: Walt Durbahn -- A Model for Work Experience: The Building Trades in 1950s.) 

Among the power tools in Durbahn's workshop is a Shopsmith 10E. He talks about that Shopsmith --including how for years he demonstrated on his TV show --  and other tools here -- Document 33: Walt Durbahn: "Make a Hit With Your Handyman" 1954 -- below, in the box are some of what Durbahn said in the article. (The Shopsmith in the box below is the Mark IV.)


It's difficult to keep away from technical jargon in talking about stationary power tools, but let's take a brief look at the most popular units. If you are lim­ited in what you can spend for the gift, if he is mostly an occasional hobbyist, or if he has only a relatively small area for his workshop, then look into the multi-purpose machines which incorporate sev­eral different tools on a single stand, powered by one motor. 

durbahn showing shopsmith in am

These multipurpose machines, fre­quently combining all, or most, of the features of a table saw, jointer, drill press, lathe, sander, jig and band saw, are often looked upon as a transitional unit, a step forward from hand-tool to power-tool operations. But many owners — especially since the recent introduction of a new kind of setup, in which an in­genious quick-attach motor mounting permits switching the motor from one machine to another and hooking it up in a matter of seconds — look no farther. And their contentment is understandable. 

I have used such a combination machine for years in my Walt's Workshop TV program to show its versatility and ease of operation. But if space is available, if you are not restricted financially, and if the woodworking hobby is deeply ingrained, then I suggest that you talk with your husband — or son, or brother; or father — about his specific preferences in individual machines.

In planning a power work- shop, most men prefer the 8-inch tilting-arbor table saw with table extensions and at least a 3/4- horsepower motor. It's a mighty versatile machine, handling boards, ply-wood, and wallboard with equal facility;cutting, squaring, and beveling materials rapidly and with true edges....

shopsmith adv


This link takes you to a December article in a 1954 issue of American Magazine; during 1954, almost every month Durbahn wrote an article on woodworking and/or "how-to-do-it" for an eager audience of new home-owners. read, for example, his inspirational piece on both "do-it-yourself" projects and inducements for Americans -- men, especially -- to take up woodworking in  1954 issues of American Magazine. As well, during his career as industrial arts teacher, Durbahn wrote for a variety of other national magazines. 

The sponsor of Durbahn's TV program was the Chicago-based Edward Hines Lumber Company, where Phil Creden was advertising manager. For more on Phil Creden, click here. For the  temper of the  times, evidently Durbahn supplied just the needed "tonic":

I'm a Chicagoan born in 1947 …. I remember watching Walt's Workshop on Channel 5. If memory serves me, it was shown on Saturday mornings. The sponsor was a local lumber yard chain, Edward Hines. I don't remember much of the content, but I do remember enjoying the show even then.
Source: Ed Friedl

If you read the text of the Creden and Durbahn pieces, notice the similarity of phrasing used by both : "doing things with your hands" -- "spiritual" rewards. The "spiritual" rewards of woodworking is something I discuss at the beginning of my (incomplete) memoir of 40 years of woodworking

Ad for Supershop in 1953 issue of Home Craftsman [coming]