Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Permanent Collection: “Woodwork Joints”

Contemporary writing on woodworking, of which I am woefully guilty, always seeks to make the craft as simple as possible. We try to make the joints easy, quick and straightforward. We tend to promote furniture designs that have straight lines and wide appeal.

But if you’ve never studied any book on joinery that’s more than 50 years old, you’re in for a rude shock. Joinery and case construction was far more complex and demanding before World War II than it is today.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Charles H. Hayward’s seminal work: “Woodwork Joints.” First published in 1950, Hayward’s masterwork was a survey of the different kinds of joints and how they are used to produce casework. When I first encountered this book (thanks to Don McConnell of Clark & Williams fame), I was struck by how many variants there were of seemingly simple joints, such as the mortise-and-tenon.

And at the time I was bewildered by the complexity of some of these joints. Many of them seemed like they would be exceedingly difficult to produce, such as all the door joints that incorporated mitered stuck moulding into the rails and stiles.

But after a few years of working with this book by my side, I came to realize that a fair amount of the complexity was the result of me trying to graft a power-tool perspective onto a hand-tool operation. Once I started looking at the tasks from the perspective of the chisel or the plane, most of these joints were no more than cutting to a line.

(There is an exception , the fox-wedged tenon still scares the snot out of me. You only get one shot to assemble this blind wedged-tenon joint.)

Beginning woodworkers will be well-served by the first sections of Hayward’s book, which discuss how to design, lay out and cut basic edge joints, tenons and dovetails with remarkable clarity. Hayward’s line drawings of workshop practices have yet to be equaled.

Advanced woodworkers will revel in the same clarity that Hayward offers on some of wilder joints, such as three-way mitered tenon joints, mitered secret dovetails, proper rule joints, knuckle joints and joinery for bow-front frame-and-panel assemblies.

This book, my 1954 edition published by Evans Brothers Ltd., will be one of the things I scoop up (in addition to my daughters) if our house ever catches fire. I’ll leave the modern paperback versions of the book (including the edition from Sterling) to the flames. Though I’m glad that some modern publishers have kept the book in print, the reproduction quality of the photos and line drawings is poor indeed when compared to the early editions. It’s worth paying the extra money to find a bookseller in England, I’m sorry to say.

In addition to “Woodwork Joints,” Hayward has many other excellent books, some of which are in the “permanent collection,” but this book is my favorite of his. Look for it at all the usual places: addall.com, bookfinder.com, abebooks.com, powells.com, Amazon.com or through your local crusty and cranky used book seller.

– Christopher Schwarz

13 thoughts on “The Permanent Collection: “Woodwork Joints”

  1. lawrence R Gates

    HELP, I HAVED MOVED AND CANT SEEM TO BE ABLE TO FIND A CHANGE OF ADDRESS FOR YOU GUYS. PLEASE HELP. MY NEW ADDRESS IS PO BOX 1045 NEWPORT WA. 99156. GREAT ARTICULES AND I WANT TO CONTINUE WITH THEM

    THANKS A LOT

  2. Ian Smith

    My 1960 version of "Woodwork Joints" arrived today. What a great book. We have had a bit of a discussion of the the history of the "Woodwork Joints" title, published by Evans Brothers Limited, on the Australian Woodwork Forum.

    http://www.woodworkforums.ubeaut.com.au/showthread.php?t=52148

    My nickname on the forum is Mirboo.

    In the front of my copy of "Woodwork Joints" it says that the book was first published in 1950, was reprinted 1951 and 1954, and was revised and enlarged 1960. I hope revised and enlarged isn’t publisher speak for "dumbed down."

    Regards,
    Ian.

  3. dave brown

    Got my book today and I gotta some quick feedback.

    Point 1: woodworkers today have no idea what a complicated joint is

    Point 2: I’m really inspired to incorporate more complex joinery into my projects. Not for show but because the joints work.

    One of my favorites is the hammerhead tenon joint. Here’s an image of it that I found online: http://sawdustmaking.com/woodjoints/images/f171.jpg

    regards,
    Dave

  4. Christopher Schwarz

    Ian,

    That is very interesting. A quick perusal of the book makes me think it isn’t the same book. But it’s a darn good book. And the price is right.

    I’ll do some digging in the coming weeks.

    Chris

  5. Ian Smith

    There is a book titled "Woodwork Joints" that has been re-published as an e-book by Project Gutenburg. The Gutenburg title was originally published by Evans Brothers, just like the early Hayward editions.

    I did a quick search of the title "Woodwork Joints" on BookFinder and found that Evans Brothers published a book of that title from as early as 1918 through to 1975, with the later editions credited to Mr. Hayward.

    Do you know whether the first Hayward edition was simply an update of the earlier Evans Brothers editions or was the Hayward edition a completely new work?

    Regards,
    Ian.

    P.S. I have ordered a 1960 edition of the Hayward book from the UK, supposedly in very good condidtion. I should receive it next week.

  6. Gene O'Rourke

    This seems like one of those books that Lee Valley (through their Alcorn Press) should re-publish. Of course, I have no idea how the the copyright issues play out in that scenario.

  7. Christopher Schwarz

    I haven’t spoken with Graham lately (but I need to — his last couple issues of "Woodworking in Action" have been superb). But Graham has long been one of my heroes. Most of my early experiences with tools and joinery were guided by his books — still rotting on my shelf from the 1970s and bound for the "Permanent Collection."

    By the way, Hayward’s book also covers the joint you are discussing.

    Chris

  8. J. Leko

    Mr. Schwarz,

    Have you been talking with Graham Blackburn lately? The last sentence of the first paragraph sounds suspiciously like a design philosophy he was professing at the beginning of this month.

    Regarding fifty-year old joint books, this has been my experience too. Try looking for a reference on a "dovetail splice" (two pieces of wood joined end-to-end with a dovetail on each face), which I have also seen called "and end-on-end dovetail". None of the "current" joint books even bother to show as much as a picture, nevermind give details on its construction. One exception to this is one of Blackburn’s more recent books, "Traditional Woodworking Techniques" in which discusses a number of these "forgotten" joints. I am told that he is working on a forth coming volume which will be exclusively joints.

    Finally, regarding the foxed tenon there is hope. If you screw it up you can always saw off the tenon (through the gap left at the shoulder), drill out the remainder and replace it with a floating tenon. If you are feeling bold, you can even fox both ends of it (but you knew this already)! 🙂

    Regards,

    J.

  9. Christopher Schwarz

    Good luck finding it at the libraries. Most of my best woodworking books are ex-ex libris (that is, cast-offs from libraries). However, it is really worth your time to visit the library’s woodworking book section. Odd stuff shows up. That’s where I found "Grimshaw on Saws" many years ago. A geeky thing to read, but fun.

    Chris

  10. P. M.

    2 out of 2.

    I know that owning the book is paramount for some people but your local library may have these books, mine does. Since not too many people are reading these books I can have them as soon as I need them and keep it as long as I have to. I just have to plan a littl bit more in advance if I’m going to use the book as a "sideworkbench" (if that’s a word) book.
    That is saving me some money (wich I will spend in tools of course) so as the list grows my pocket remains intact (up to certain extent).
    Hope my local library doesn’t mind the saw dust that might be stuck in the pages.

    Rgards,

    P.M.

  11. Michael Rogen

    I bought my first copy of this book over a year ago when it was first recommended to me by a certain Mr. Schwarz. I believe that I paid less than $10 for the book, and it was possibly the best $10 I ever spent on a book. Being a novice I didn’t want any convaluted theoretical jibberish that would just confuse me even more than I already was. That’s the beauty of this book, it’s approachability is simplistic compared to other books on the same subject.
    Hayward’s explanations are easy to grasp, and make dovetailing for instance seem, well humane. nd for a beginner trying his or her hand at this joint humanity comes in handy. I have two copies of this book, but I guess it’s time for a third.
    Michael

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