I used to make a lot of gifts for Christmas, but I now suffer from a shortage of talent, time, and temperament. Plus, I have little family left, and my circle of friends no longer exchanges presents. So while I once made clocks, planters, wind chimes, and other items, I now pick up a couple of gift cards for my nephews and call it a day.
But I couldn’t help myself recently when, at a garage sale, I came across a 14-volume set of books from Popular Mechanics Press called “What to Make.” Of course I took them home, despite an utter lack of shelf space. But the drawings and typesetting were just too good to pass up, and there are many practical projects that I might actually get to someday. The books were issued yearly and I have volumes running from 1939 through 1954. Click on any image for a larger version.
I guess people, particularly men, had a lot more spare time in those days, and home woodworking shops were fairly common. Making things was also an affordable way to acquire items you might not otherwise be able to buy.
These days, when you consider the value of time and supplies, it may actually cost more to make something at home than it would to buy it retail. There weren’t so many cheap items from abroad back then.
In addition to the great drawings for which Popular Mechanics is well known, I particularly like the type choices in these volumes, which make the best of a limited font selection.
Many of the items were meant for children, especially during the war years when it would be mostly grandparents in the shop, and when shortages of metal, rubber, and other items made it harder to find commercial products.
My dad was a wood shop nut who made many things for us kids, including a see saw, riding carts, clocks, a boat, and even guitars. But little of his cleverness was passed on to me.
I have just enough talent to follow directions and do decent work, but I lack the patience to get through the homemade process. I either lose interest or give up at a particularly difficult point.
And let’s face it. Who has the time these days to make a merry-go-round or midget house trailer for their kids? We barely have the time to fight the crowds at Toys”R”Us to grab the latest fad item.
But I do see more people making crafts, and computer-assisted items like picture books, calendars, and coffee mugs have become somewhat popular. So the spirit of gift making is not completely dead.
After looking through all 14 volumes of “What to Make,” I have a lot of great ideas. I could really use a porch on wheels, and a tire-tube catamaran sounds like fun even though I don’t live next to a body of water. Now if only I had a basement or garage I could turn into a wood-working shop. Then all I would need are friends or kids who would welcome the gifts. After all, there are only so many things you can make for your dog.