Old Tool Catalogs

March 11, 2014 § 4 Comments

88-OWC 12

Delta Rockwell General Tool Catalog – 1958

When researching old woodworking machinery, the best resource on the web is VintageMachinery.org. Dedicated tool owners have collected a wonderful repository of information, including photographs, how-to’s, manuals, and tons of other things. Also included is a great collection of vintage publications from hundreds of manufacturers. When you are trying to gather information on an old hunk of iron, these publications are an incredibly helpful resource. Long before the world wide web, catalogs were one of the best ways for a company to market itself. As a kid I remember discovering old Sears catalogs in our basement that my father had saved. The amount of detail in some of those catalogs was astounding. The publications, especially the general tool line catalogs, are also a great window into the social paradigms of the time. Browsing the catalogs you can literally see how attitudes and perceptions change through the years. And looking back now through a historical lens, some of them are downright hilarious. Delta Rockwell and their Homecraft series of tools had some of the best, especially in the mid- to late-50’s, at the height of the “Mad Men” era. Below are a few of my favorite exerts. The images are authentic pages from the catalogs. The sarcastic captions and commentary that accompany each one are all me.

88-OWC 01

“The way that man can handle a key chuck, I’m the luckiest woman in the world.”

This is pretty typical of how shops were depicted in these ads. They were large, perfectly organized, not a speck of sawdust or a stray shaving to be found. Keep in mind these were the days largely before dust collectors. These spaces looked more like chemistry labs than wood shops.

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88-OWC 02

Delta Rockwell General Tool Catalog – 1958

“Here at Delta Manufacturing, we understand that women and kids may be interested in working in the shop as well. But please understand that every photograph you will see in this catalog will show only the male head of the household using our equipment.”

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88-OWC 03

Delta Rockwell General Tool Catalog – 1955

Seriously I have no idea what the hell is going on in this picture. Is that upholstery the woman is admiring, or wall paper? I was also befuddled by what appears to be a drill press mounted to a table saw. Then I turned to page 14 of the catalog and saw…

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88-OWC 04

Delta Rockwell General Tool Catalog – 1955

88-OWC 05

Delta Rockwell General Tool Catalog – 1955

…Delta Rockwell’s ancestral ShopSmith. I love the first bullet point, “At last here is an appliance for the man of the house…” Yes, with the women selfishly hogging all the other appliances of the house.

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88-OWC 06

Rockwell Homecraft Power Tools General Catalog – 1949

DRUDGERY! And what is up with that workbench? If you’re going to have a 2″ top, I’m not sure I would recommend attaching boards together in a cross-grain fashion like that. If humidity never changes I guess it would be fine.

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88-OWC 07

Delta Rockwell General Tool Catalog – 1958

This is one of my favorites. At least in this household, that’s as far as the woman can go down those steps (unless the laundry room is down there, of course). To be fair, that is very strategic vantage point, as she can both watch her husband expertly fit that drawer into a cabinet, while also keeping an eye on the oven and the kids. And again we have the all-in-one DeltaShop!

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88-OWC 08

Delta Rockwell General Tool Catalog – 1958

“Ok, honey, a little to the left, now the other way, a little quicker, not that fast, you need to anticipate the curve, now rotate more, more, now back off a little…you know what, I’ll do this one.”

The choice of tools here is not by accident. Scroll saws are one of the most benign power tools, and they strongly resemble a sewing machine, a tool any self-respecting woman should be well-versed with anyway. And in the next year’s catalog we have…

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88-OWC 09

Delta Rockwell General Tool Catalog – 1959

“This used to be mommy’s job, but now that you two are old enough, she can get back to other things.”

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88-OWC 10

Delta Rockwell General Tool Catalog – 1962

Just awesome. This is from the 1962 catalog. I’m guessing men had become highly suspicious of these newfangled “dust collectors” that curiously just looked like big vacuum cleaners. Also at this point the “Homecraft” line is now being called “Light Industrial”. (Someone can correct me on when that term was actually dropped).

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88-OWC 11

Rockwell Homecraft Power Tools General Catalog – 1949

I don’t have anything snarky to say about this one. Honestly, I think it’s a great little scene. That kid looks proud of his birdhouse, as well he should. I would bet that not 1 in 100 kids his age today could build that, much less have parents or schools to teach him how.

While we are glad some of those cultural ideals are no longer with us, we certainly miss the quality of the machines that were produced during this era, among other things. As woodworking hand tools had began their slow, steady decline years before, small shop machinery was still a point of pride in this country. In subsequent years that began to wane as well. Cast iron gave way to pot metal, steel and aluminum became thick plastic, and bakelite was replaced with even thinner plastic. Manufacturing moved overseas, and well, we all know the rest of the story. There are still professional and industrial sized woodworking machines being made in this country, like Northfield, but for the exception of ShopSmith, we have little that resembles the Delta Homecraft line of yesteryear for the small home workshop.

While I’m poking fun here at these catalogs, I don’t mean to criticize Delta Rockwell in any way. That was the era, and their marketing efforts reflected the time. It’s easy to look at them now and laugh, and at the same time feel a sense of superiority towards these antiquated ideas. And yet it was interesting to see the turnout at the last local woodworkers Guild meeting here in town. Towards the end of the meeting, they proudly announced an estimated crowd of 120, which was followed by some light applause. But as I looked around, I saw a grand total of two women, and perhaps one person under the age of 25. Maybe in some respects, at least as far as woodworking is concerned, we haven’t come too far at all.

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