‘The Carpenter Bench’

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I got an email recently asking about the image atop my Facebook page (and above), a young girl planing at a workbench. It’s from a 1918 booklet, “A Catalogue of Play Equipment,” by Jean Lee Hunt; it was published by the New York Bureau of Educational Experiments.

I’ve copied below the (out-of-copyright) text that accompanies the image, but the booklet is well worth paging through in its entirety (there are some adorable animal-themed pull toys) if for no other reason than to marvel at the comparison to today’s play equipment and safety regulations. You’ll find it here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/28466/28466-h/28466-h.htm


The carpenter equipment must be a “sure-enough business affair,” and the tools real tools – not toys.

The Sheldon bench shown here is a real bench in every particular except size. The tool list is as follows:

Manual training hammer.
18 point cross-cut saw.
9 point rip saw.
Large screw driver, wooden handle.
Small screw driver.
Nail puller.
Stanley smooth-plane, No. 3.
Bench hook.
Brace and set of twist bits.
Manual training rule.
Steel rule.
Tri square.
Utility box–with assorted nails, screws, etc.
Combination India oil stone.
Oil can.
Small hatchet.

Choice of lumber must be determined partly by the viewpoint of the adult concerned, largely by the laboratory budget, and finally by the supply locally available. Excellent results have sometimes been achieved where only boxes from the grocery and left-over pieces from the carpenter shop have been provided. Such rough lumber affords good experience in manipulation, and its use may help to establish habits of adapting materials as we find them to the purposes we have in hand. This is the natural attack of childhood, and it should be fostered, for children can lose it and come to feel that specially prepared materials are essential, and a consequent limitation to ingenuity and initiative can thus be established.

On the other hand, some projects and certain stages of experience are best served by a supply of good regulation stock. Boards of soft pine, white wood, bass wood, or cypress in thicknesses of ¼”, 3/8″, ½” and 7/8″ are especially well adapted for children’s work, and “stock strips” ¼” and ½” thick and 2″ and 3″ wide lend themselves to many purposes.

About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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7 Responses to ‘The Carpenter Bench’

  1. Bureau of Educational Experiments? Yikes.

    Thank s for sharing. I’m not on the Facebook, so I had no idea.

  2. deucerraylewis says:

    Like all of your written and spoken words. It gives me pause!

  3. Michael o says:

    Thanks Fitz. Paging through the PDF of this book brings back memories of 62-71 years ago when I was in grammar school, and our playground had various injuries lying in wait for the unaware child, oblivious as we were to the inherent hazards that were lying in wait like a crouched cat ready to pounce. One only had to get walked on top of the head or under the jaw once by the see-saw with its 2.5 inch thick by 10 inch wide by 14 feet long Oak plank to make a lasting, and not to be repeated painful memory. (Personal experience here) Broken bones were an accepted norm from time to time on the playground. Despite these fun time land mines, we all survived and became more situationally aware of our surroundings. While some newer protective measures are indeed a good thing for children, many are overzealous in their attempts at bubble wrapping kids. As a father of 5 kids (now adults), and a grandfather of 18, I can state with certainty, that if there is a way to do something in an unprotected way, the ever adventuresome child will figure that out.
    Thanks for this blog.
    Michael O’Brien
    Valley Head, AL

    • fitz says:

      Oh, I know! I wish I could dig up a picture of the AMAZING merry-go-round type thing we had in my backyard in the early ’70s. It was all exposed, sharp-edged metal arms connecting the hub and I think four platforms (in the shape of an airplane?) that a kid could lie down on. I don’t remember if it was manually spun or electric, but they platforms went up and down as they turned around the hub. And I remember is being kinda fast…but maybe only to my memory (had to be at least 45 years ago). And of course, Jarts, and all the other sharp-edged metal toys I had…and stupid things I did! (But I didn’t break a bone until I was in my early 30s!)

  4. jbakerrower says:

    I love the “small hatchet”…

  5. Dohnn Wood says:

    Megan, This catalog looks a lot like a current Waldorf School. The products are more refined and we don’t give kids real woodworking tools until 5th grade, but overall it looked familiar. Trying to find reasonable ways to ground children in this world. I often tell people who are concerned kids will fall behind without doing everything on computer while wearing a bubble wrap suit, we encourage children to look and participate with the world thru AR glasses rather than VR. Cheers, Dohnn

  6. o2bsam says:

    Our society has done such a disservice to our children under the guise of safety. Teaching is the way. Plastic playground equipment is the work of the devil. Bring back those blazing hot metal slides!

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