Want to build a wheeled, revolving bookcase designed in 1890? Yeah you do
Tools for Working Wood is the name of a Brooklyn-based company that sells, well, guess. And in addition to their retail arm, they've got a website featuring articles on craft along with some very interesting information for makers—from 1889. The company somehow got their hands on several volumes of Work: An Illustrated Magazine of Practice and Theory for All Workmen, Professional and Amateur, a 19th-Century British magazine aimed at craftspeople. And the team at TWW has decided to scan every issue they've got, releasing new updates each Friday and making them freely downloadable.
While the information listed in Work is over 120 years old—TWW goes so far as to include the disclaimer "[some of the articles] describe materials and methods that would not be considered safe or advisable today"—I've totally fallen down the rabbit hole. Advertisements for tools of the day, like this crazy-ass hand-powered table saw...
...share space with articles on how to build a workbench that folds into the wall, or breaking news like the then-new production method of metal spinning, or why you should make your own "callipers" rather than buy a set, and an "Our Guide to Good Things" section where they review tools and materials of the day.
One surprise is their letters section, called "Shop: A Corner for Those who Want to Talk It," whereby craftspeople of every stripe—metalworkers, furniture builders, watchmakers, toolmakers, and even people toying around with these newfangled things called cameras and electricity—sound off with tips, techniques and criticisms. Which brings me to a second surprise: Trolls existed even in the Victorian era. One reader writes in to criticize an article from a previous issue, opening with "I would point out that the description you give of the process is evidently far from correct, nor have I any idea as to what is intended...."
I must warn those of you raised in the picture-heavy internet era that for every illustrated page of the magazine like this...
...there are pages that look like this:
Nevertheless, I think anyone who enjoys making things will get a kick out of perusing Work.
There is no overarching index I can find of what each issue will contain, so you kind of have to blindly download each issue and browse in search of hidden gems. But it's fun to do so, and I find myself reading articles I'd never click to on a website, like an article arguing that British furniture finishers suck but French furniture finishers rock (admittedly expressed in more eloquent language). That piece contained this interesting tidbit on an accidental discovery of a potent wood-staining chemical with a pleasing effect:
The unvarnished and unpainted oak fittings of stables have been noticed to change from their light colour to a rich brown. Observant minds have traced this result to ammoniacal fumes.
In other words, horse piss!
Tools for Working Wood has been providing Work on a weekly basis for about a year, and has just finished uploading all 52 issues of Volume One. They're about to get started on Volume Two, and you can dig in here.