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Thread: Popular Science and Mechanics projects of bygone days

  1. #1
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    Popular Science and Mechanics projects of bygone days

    The thread lamenting the decline of craftsmanship made me think of the Popular Science and Popular Mechanics Magazines of bygone days. In the average drugstore magazine rack, those were the magazines that had do-it-yourself projects. There may have been magazines about "fine" woodworking in those days (-the days before PM and PS lost their DIY orientation), but I didn't see such magazines displayed. When I look at old copies of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, the woodworking projects are remarkably crude by find woodworking standards. They often involve making things with 2x4's and plywood. I don't claim to do fine woodworking myself, but I'm curious whether other people have the same impression of the old projects and whether this is a good measure of what the "average craftsman" of the era undertook.

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    I subscribed to Mechanics Illustrated and Popular Mechanics for years and finally dropped them when they became space age product reviews. They did have some pretty crude projects but they weren't aiming for the artisan woodworkers. What i miss is the how-to-fix-it articles. That was a good service. Now you have some newspaper columns that are dubious at best and product pushers at worst.

  3. #3
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    I used to have a collection of Popular Mechanics from the 1930's thru the 1950's. There was a wealth of information that was actually useable in every issue.

    What is printed today is useless to me, just advertisements/reviews for crap I don't need or want and little content that would improve anything in my life. Too much electronics. No meat.

    Larry

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    I don't claim to do fine woodworking myself, but I'm curious whether other people have the same impression of the old projects and whether this is a good measure of what the "average craftsman" of the era undertook
    Gustave Stickley published The Craftsman magazine monthly - hold on a sec while I look it up - from 1901 to 1916
    Thankfully, some of the devoted fans of the style have scanned some old copies and put them online.
    http://workshoppages.com/WS/Craftsman.htm

    How cool is it to know you can build a Stickley piece of furniture to his original specs using his original plans?

    A precursor to the WW'ing magazines of today was The Home Craftsman magazine.

    Popular Mechanics - which BTW is available online @ google books goes back to 1911.
    It was always my impression with all of the magazines of that type that they were very general and broad based and tried to cover as many topics as possible in each issue.
    A multi page layout for a WW'ing project, that had a very narrow target audience, was probably out of the question.

  5. #5
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    Actually back in the years I mentioned they had some short but very useful items. One I remember was how to build a carpenters center in the trunk of your car. Most people including carpenters did not have trucks back then, and this article show an inovative way to get all kinds of stuff in a folding work area.

    Another couple I remember was how to stop a tractor from bouncing when using a drive belt, and how to get a tractor unstuck with a tree trunk, both of which I have used. Old timers would wonder how I knew some of the old tricks I knew, but I never told them I picked them up from a stack of old magazines that were in a house I bought. Just came to me......

    They were absolutely great back then, now they are not worth the cover price.

    Larry

  6. #6
    I picked up a stack of old PS when I was working at a Boy Scout paper drive back in the 80's. I studied every issue. I'm sure they helped push me into an engineering field. I've not been so impressed with recent issues, though they do still cover some interesting science stuff. I think, perhaps, much of the leading edge science of the day is beyond the scope of a magazine aimed at regular folks. Anyway, as for handyman tips, I've recently discovered Family Handyman magazine. I really enjoy it. There are certainly product "reviews" that seem to come directly from the manufacturer's PR department, but they do go over projects and the proper building codes associated with them. The last one I looked at showed how to do a 3/4 bath in a basement complete with venting requirements and correct drain diameters for the various fixtures.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Tashiro View Post
    I don't claim to do fine woodworking myself, but I'm curious whether other people have the same impression of the old projects and whether this is a good measure of what the "average craftsman" of the era undertook.
    The average craftsman didn't own a router, planer, etc. They had a hammer, nails, screwdriver, bit and brace, and a hand saw. IMO, the handyman projects reflected the cheaply available tools of the time period.

    Today, a garage tinkerer may have or know someone with a 3D printer, DIY-made CNC machine, high strength glues, and a variety of advanced, cheap electronics (Audrino, etc.). This opens up a lot of possibilities: http://blog.makezine.com/home-page-include/

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