Great Projects From Old How-to Magazines

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Introduction: Great Projects From Old How-to Magazines

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...

Magazines like Popular Mechanics and Popular Science once published articles on how to build very capable shop tools like tilt arbor table saws, arc welders, and drill presses.  Those articles are still available on-line through Google Books.  

The photo shows plans for building a 10 inch tilt arbor table saw.  It originally appeared as a two part article in the November (p. 218) and December (p. 217) 1947 issues of Popular Mechanics Magazine.  (The link for the second part of the article takes you to the front cover of the December issue, not to p. 217 and the second part of the article.  See the second graphic.  Enter "217" and press "Enter" on your keyboard to get to p. 217.)

To the right of the box with "217" typed into it are two blue forward and back arrows.  The index for Popular Mechanics magazines is usually on about page 3.  You can also pull down the "Contents" tool in the menu bar and see hot links to most articles.  Oddly, the second part of the article on building a tilt arbor table saw did not appear in the contents menu, but I had to find it by advancing to page 3 and reading the index for the magazine.  

While this table saw is very well-built and full-featured, building it requires some work on a metal lathe to make the trunions and other things.  There is also some welding.  It would be possible to have these things done at a machine shop, or by a friend with the needed skills and tools.  It is also possible to buy a set of trunions for a commercial table saw on eBay.  (The trunions allow the blade to tilt so that its exact axis is where the blade comes through the table.)

Step 1: Need an Arc Welder? Build One!

The September and October 1948 Popular Mechanics Magazine issues carried a two-part article on building your own 220 volt arc welder.  The link for September will take you directly to the first article.  The link for October takes you only to the front cover of the magazine.  Find the remainder of the article by going to page 213 of the October issue. 

This is one of a couple of arc welders from Popular Mechanics which you can build.  The other is from the November 1955 issue (p. 207).  It is a one-part article--no continuation into the next issue.  

One problem with these arc welders is that they are built from step down transformers used on power transmission lines.  Once old transformers no longer useful were fairly easy to obtain from local utilities.  That was before environmentally hazardous PCBs.  Still, if you scour your local scrap yards, you can sometimes find electrical devices with large laminated steel cores that could be adapted for use in a welder.  These articles also show how you can use parallel strands of common copper wire used in household wiring to gain the current carrying capacity needed for the transformer windings.  Before committing yourself to building one of these welders, you may want to figure the actual costs and compare a used welder in local want ads or on Craigslist.    

Step 2: Another Arc Welder

The November 1965Popular Science Magazine carried an article for a portable arc welder built from a gasoline engine and a military surplus aircraft generator.  It is a DC welder with an arc stabilizer.  Its output is about 75 amps., which is adequate for 3/32 inch welding rod.  

Step 3: Drill Press

The January 1948 issue of Popular Mechanics carried an article on building your own drill press largely from pipe fittings (p. 216).  Another set of plans for a drill press made with a differential from a Ford Model A automobile can be found in the November, 1953 issue of Popular Mechanics on page 215.

Step 4: Do You Want to Browse?

When I was in my early teen years our local barber stocked his shop with Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines.  It was the late 1950s and the early 1960s.  When he retired, he remembered how often I read those magazines while waiting for my haircut.  Even though I was away at college, he phoned my mother and asked her if I would like to have those magazines.  From them I learned how to use power tools and make furniture.  Thanks to the Internet and Google Books, I can read those magazines again and browse issues I never saw.  This link will take you to Popular Mechanics issues for about 1960.  Click on the numbers of different pages at the bottom to navigate to other years. This link will take you to Popular Science issues from about the same time.  Click on the hot link for the year to browse the year of your choice.  For me, these magazines were Instructables.com before there was an Internet.  Happy browsing and happy building!

A postscript: These magazines were published in other languages.  My friend Rimar2000 found a web page for Popular Mechanics in Spanish.  If English is not your preferred language, do a little digging and you can probably find these magazines in the language of your choice.   

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    58 Discussions

    I love this. Interestingly enough I have been looking for a way to build
    a paper or book press that can be made to fit the size of paper I make
    (16 x 12) and up. Unfortunately the professional ones cost thousands. I
    remember my grandfather had a magazine that showed how to make one out
    of pipe (for albums ). Unfortunately all I could find was a guy selling
    copies of a plan on e-bay. I also love reading all the old
    advertisements. stuff was so much more interesting in years past.

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    1 reply

    Thanks. Other than the photo of a press you included in your comment, I do not know what might be available in the old DIY magazines. I believe the is a way to search them, but navigating Popular Science is a little different from navigating Popular Mechanics, if I remember correctly.

    i remember when i was about 8 nobody me and my brothers knew could afford a drill when making carts ,so we used to put the poker in the fire for the hot water and burnt holes in the wood like that.how time have changed

    1 reply

    One of the greatest things that came out of those sorts of magazines was the mind set of being able to create your own "stuff." As a boy, I must have logged 1000's of hours messing around in the workshop figuring our how things worked and how to create tools that I wanted but couldn't afford. Plus shopping at "real" flea markets provided many of the raw materials in the form of used arbors, pulleys, motors, gears and all the rest. Today I'm a professional cabinet and furniture maker, and I still design and build my own custom jigs to make fabricating my work easier and more accurate.

    But I sometimes I wondered where the next generation of inventors will come from since the inspirations for this type of creativity had disappeared. Then I found Instructables and people like you and there is hope in the world again. Thanks, Phil.

    3 replies

    Thank you for sharing your story. I also have wondered where the next generation will learn to be creative and practice self-reliance. I have taken some comfort in the interest many have for robotics. Although often a team effort guided by advisors, a lot of DIY skills in several areas are needed to build a machine that can fend off other robots.

    I pre-screen articles (such as this one!) on the Internet, then share them with my son. We buy "dumb" metal tools at Harbor Freight, and ALWAYS buy high quality equipment if it's electric or might break. But with that said, we've beaten a few hammers and wrenches against anvils to make some basics for ourselves. We're looking for the plans to make a treadle powered (or pedals for that matter) boy's wood lathe. Still hunting for the one that used pillow block bearings.

    Thank you for documenting the way for us to look at the old magazines!

    Somehow, I missed your comment. Your search for a treadle powered lathe suitable for a boy could be resolved with copying a medieval foot powered lathe. Actually, the Romans were using these 2,000 years ago. I think someone at Instructables even published plans for one. We saw two of them in Germany. Both were recent replicas. One was in a museum to the Romans in Augsburg. The other was at a medieval knight's festival in Ostfriesland (Dornum, specifically), and it was set up to be used in demonstrations.

    I am sure you are thinking of something with a continuous forward rotation, rather than something that alternates its direction every time the treadle resets to its top position. Still, a young boy would be even less likely to be injured on one of these, and he could learn about the lathe throughout history. The drive mechanism is really simple because you simply loop a spring loaded rope around the stock a couple of times and connect it to a foot pedal. Neither center would need to turn, only to center the work and hold it in place.

    Does anyone remember a Popular Mechanics project of a ered little car powered by twisted rubber bands just like model airplanes of the time The bands were cut from truck inner tubes. Six of them. I think published in the late 30's. I can't figure how they got power from six bands to one drive shaft, or maybe rear wheels. My granson in college engineering tried to make a little car using the energy iln the spring of large rat-traps. Did not work well. The rubber band car would sure put him at the head of the class. Any help will be much appreciated. _ John Mahon, Albertville, AL

    1 reply

    there invaluable for information and projects i'm a faithful subscriber to them, i do have a library dating back a few years.

    1 reply

    I may have mentioned my barber gave my mother his collection when he retired in the late 1960s. I probably should have saved them, but I clipped articles on using power tools and on workshop techniques. A few years later I was married and making furniture we still use more than 40 years later. Thank you for looking and for commenting.

    Sie sind willkommen. Recht herzlichen Dank, dass Sie meine Veroeffentlichen angeschaut haben.

    Ja Danke! Here i found a Method to download some sites from the magazines and to print out -> http://book.huhiho.com/ and than here http://userscripts.org/about/installing

    I have over 100 of the old popular mechanic mags from the 50's and 60's, it's always fun to rereread them

    1 reply

    A local college library has all of the copies back to day one. Several times I have gone there to find some article I remember. It is also great that they are archived at Google Books. It would be fun just to browse the old issue wherever, but life keeps calling me for other things.

    Try looking for some of the old Audels books. They had tons of info in them. Some is no longer economically feasible, but the basic principles still apply.

    Audels is still in business and continues to print great stuff. Problem is they,as well as others, now must be more "careful" about what is in their material (less some irresponsable fool hurt themselves).

    I am the proud owner of a complete set of Popopular Mechanics "How to Encyclopedias" (that is their name as it appears on the cover).

    1 reply

    I had a set of the PM encyclopedias. My impression is that the encyclopedias were assembled from old articles in the magazine. I remember the Audels advertisements in the PM magazines back in the '50s and '60s. I actually ordered the book on mechanical drawing, but have no idea what has happened to it since.

    I did an Instructable on turning a common electric circular saw into a precise table saw and built furniture with mine. In the years prior to the one I did, there had been at least three such conversions in how-to magazines. Now you never see them. I suppose that is partially due to possible liability problems. I guess it all started with that woman who spilled hot McDonald's coffee on herself.

    Thanks for commenting.