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.