On March 17, 1877, an amateur carpenter ‘J.J.B’ wrote a request for help in the ‘Notes and Queries’ section of the late nineteenth century journal Design and work:
 Would a “practical hand” give me instructions for making and fitting up a joiner’s tool chest, large enough to fit 2 full size  handsaws, tenon saw, &c, also how to polish small articles such as eggcups, chisel handles &c, and also how to remove  specks of black dirt from gilt picture frame without injuring the moulding? A sketch of a tool chest interior will oblige – J.J.B. [i]
Two weeks later one of the correspondents wrote back with the suggestion:
 I have a tool-box which answers admirably. It is 28 in long by 14 broad, and 15 high. It cost me, exclusive of hinges, lock, &c,  7s; it is dovetailed, and or 3.4 in. plank. The saws, small vice, square, cramp and archimedian drill, &c, are fixed in the lid vide illustration. The drawers I put in myself and stained the whole thing with a mixture of stale beer and burnt sienna. IN the sketch  at the front side of the box is supposed removed – A is a drawer of nests for nails, B is a shelf with four compartments covered  with a lid. There is a receptacle for varnish bottles, glue-pot, &c at C. The size of the box is, I think, the most suitable for the  amateur. As it can conveniently hold almost every tool, including a bench lathe and a driving-wheel provided the latter be  halved and hinged together, so as to occupy less room. The method of fixing the various tools in the lid, so that each may be  removed with ease, must be left to J.J.B’s own invention…. [ii]
The correspondent who wrote this referred to himself as an ‘amateur’ and there are countless other pleas for advice in this journal and other similar ones about how to build other items, from gazebos, rustic chairs, ballot boxes, organs, artificial limbs to making sure cats and pigeon don’t settle on you garden wall by installing shards of glass in putty.
The toolbox described is an early example of amateur ‘worked’ space. By ‘worked’ space I mean the arrangement, organisation, and placement of matter and objects, without any material alteration of the thing. The building of the toolbox constitutes a craft skill, in this case undertaken by the amateur, but it directs the organisation and placement of tools and materials after completion.
The aim of this essay is to analyse the organisation of tools as an example of amateur ‘worked’ space, picking out features that distinguish this ‘worked’ space, and the unique characteristics of amateur space in general.
The above advice concerning the tool chest provides a starting-point for this analysis. In the passage there are some general features that we might consider common to a carpenter undertaking work in his free time. The ‘Amateur’ who provides a solution to J.J.B’s call for help talks from his own experience as a maker – one amateur to another. He advises the use of stale beer to coat the box, a sort of home-made contraption, in much the same manner as a family recipe: a mother telling her daughter a secret way to make a perfect Victoria sponge.
This use of unconventional materials and the dissemination of a domestic type of tacit knowledge adheres to our notion of an amateur as a type of bricoleur, using the materials around him in an idiosyncratic manner either to solve some kind of domestic design problem, or to pursue a certain type of leisure activity. The impression is that the amateur engages in a hobby that is diametrically opposed to the standardisation, regularisation, and stricture of the professional environment. We might suggest that the amateur’s ‘worked’ space reflects his freedoms and blasé attitude to the world around him/her.
There is a fundamental theoretical freedom to amateur practice. There is no compulsion to make in your free time so you can do as you will. And using manuals as your major source material prompts the admission that advice only ever refers to an ‘ideal’ situation, and that doing in the real world is often different. But the manual authors know this. Hence the ‘Amateur’s’ comment that J.J.B should use his own ‘invention’ when affixing tools to the lid.
A deeper interrogation of amateur ‘worked’ space reveals something unexpected. That this space is highly managed, incredibly organised and subject to very similar conditions to those other modern spaces – spaces of the department store, spaces of the modern factory/artisanal workshop. In fact, in certain instances amateur worked space is more ‘professional’ in some ways than the most ‘professional’ of physical realms.
For example let us return to the example of the tool chest earlier. The ‘Amateur’ claims that the tool chest holds all the tools needed for the amateur with requisite drawers for all the little things needed for practice: there is a drawer for nails, a draw filled with lidded compartments for various tools, an area for the receptacles and also a place to hold the saws, and a bench lathe as shown by the sketch submitted alongside the instructive article. [iii]
This organisation, the need to keep a well-organised and tidy toolbox reflects an attitude to tool storage of keeping everything in its right place. It reflected the need to make sure the amateur’s worked space be secure and protected. An errant tool, a sharp blade or something heavy left around without compartmentalisation would be dangerous in the domestic context where most amateur work takes place. Tools needed to be locked away from children. This safety is easily ensured through the addition of locks and the fact that a tool box can be put away and made invisible.
Moreover, in the context of the late nineteenth century when domestic servants were still a fixture in middle class households, tools also needed protection from their misuse. A domestic servant, a cook, for example, might use a tool incorrectly for a job from an amateur’s toolkit and there are accounts of amateurs lending tools to people that they never see retuned back.
The worked space of the toolbox and the tools within it, the organisation, all had to be suited to the confines in which it was used and this often meant a certain degree of invisibility, collapsibility and portability. But most importantly the tool chest, box or rack had to assist the amateur to best carry out the task at hand.
Ellis Davidson, author of the 1875 manual The amateur house carpenter suggests to his amateur gentleman audience that they build a simple tool rack to store tools needed for amateur practice, adding:
 If each set of tools is kept at a particular part of the rack, it will save much time, for the eye will soon become accustomed to the  positions, and will at once seek the tool required in its right place, instead of being compelled to travel along the entire rack. [iv]
The tool rack and tool box make any kind of practice more convenient and easier to do. But with amateur practice this effective compartmentalisation, order and organisation has a particular importance.

As Davidson states:
 [The] amateur has want of time, and annoyance of missing, misplaced, or inconveniently stored tools deters activity. [v]
Here Davidson notes a feature of the worked space of the amateur that will be the focus of the rest of this paper. Amateur practice was notionally free from any system of organisation, but the ‘want of time’, the fact that the amateur always had to fit in practice around something else meant that the need to organise was paramount. In fact the effective organisation of tools in space is more acute for amateurs than professionals. If a hired labourer couldn’t find a tool he would have to continue searching until he found it because the task ‘has’ to be done, if the amateur can’t find a tool then nothing ever gets done and there are limited consequences that arise from this.
Amateur space is worked according to a certain type of hyper-management. In Taylor’s famous thesis concerning the principles of Scientific management (1914) Taylor calls on managers to organise their labour forces with particular emphasis on ensuring that the body of the worker is pushed to be the most productive it possibly can be (imposing the division of labour on the body). He cited a study by a fellow manager who talks about making sure the bricklayer has all the materials around him so that unnecessary walking to and from material is avoided, so that the task can be carried out in the swiftest possible manner. [vi]
Appearing years beforehand, Davidson’s advice to amateur carpenters demonstrates the same need to organise things around you in the most effective way possible to undertake a task. But for Davidson this was not to increase productivity for the company that you were working for, but to encourage amateur carpentry that had to be squeezed in to limited resources of time. The reason for carrying out this work in free/leisure time was to make sure you didn’t have to call in the handyman, relying on your own labour – and this spawns from a mid nineteenth century socio-political mentality of self-reliance espoused most directly in Samuel Smiles’ Self-help. [vii]
The suggestion is that amateur worked space can conversely be more Taylorist – with the space more specifically geared toward productivity – than many of the companies that Taylor himself reformed. It is no surprise that Taylor in his essay identified the enthusiasm in which amateur work was carried out. He noticed how devoted amateur cricketers and baseball players were when they hit their shots and he wanted to map this enthusiasm into the factory and workplace.
Taylor’s work is often cited as the epitome of rationalisation, standardisation and regularisation of work in the modern era, but these conditions arise in advance of his influential thesis. Amateur practice results in an organisation of tools that is regulated, compartmentalised and efficient; descriptive terms we often too easily align with professional space. Amateur space is not distinct and apart from professional equivalents. The structure of capitalism pervades both
One example of this convergence between amateur space and its presumed other was the way in which organisation of the toolbox was like the newly emerging ideals of retail organisation, both exaggerate the availability and ease of use to the user/consumer. For example The Complete Ironmonger in 1900, stated that the appearance of goods is improved ‘when all of one kind are kept together’, adding that ‘the test of good arrangement is that the salesman can find goods easily, and thus serve the customers expediently’ (Hardy, 1900: 27-8). [viii]
This book gives countless tips of how to organise shop space, demonstrating the increasing rationalisation of shop organisation from the late nineteenth century on. The cabinets in ironmongery stores mirrors carpentry manual advice as to the best way to organise your tools.
The amateur maker becomes the consumer to their own organisation, attracted by the perfectly ordered tools that are on display, tempting the possibility of work without the necessity of it having to happen.
Analysis so far has focused on the toolbox and tool chest as the dominant means of tool organisation in the late nineteenth century. One material that provided a more explicit grid organisation for tool arrangement was the 1940s invention of perforated hardboard, or pegboard.
This was a material that was a part of the family of twentieth century hardboard made from blasting particles of wood chip together. There was not grain in this hardboard which made it very easy to shape and from the 1950s pegboard was widely available to consumers.
The company that produced this material in great quantity in the 1950s was Masonite Corp. Crucially their advertising strategy did not just target commercial carpenters and building merchants, but extended to include the domestic handyman – the amateur carpenter. They ran a series of adverts in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, American journals of the 1950s.
The board itself was an all-in-one method of organisation. Just affix pegboard to a surface, nail it over an ordinary wall and you already have a system of standardised organisation on account of the grid structure: the mess of a pile of tools in the garage is made into the image of gleaming order, as the advert stated: ‘change clutter for convenience’ (Popular Science: October 1962, September 1963; Popular Mechanics: October 1962). [ix]
As mentioned earlier this would be done to make sure that when you go to the garage in your free time in order to undertake a job the tool would be right there. But it is important not to underestimate the aesthetic appeal of an ordered garage. What does it say for your social status if your garage is organised like the first picture here, in the context of 1950s American suburbia.
And again the link to retail space can be made. Pegboard is so often seen in DIY stores as a way to organise tools – this is the place where most of us today would come into contact with the material – but it has a general appeal as a metaphor for interchangeable order. Pegboard gives the grid, but with the pegs that hook on to the holes you can create a whole array of patterns, organise in whatever way you see fit and hang objects up in whatever way seems suitable.
And it is the pegboard as a metaphor of flexibility within a pre-arranged system that conveniently leads on to some concluding remarks, for this phrase adequately sums up the nature of amateur space.
As argued through the use of carpentry manual advice for toolbox construction amateur worked space is not opposite to professional or capitalist systems of organisation. Both are embroiled, both interconnect, and perhaps given the fact that the amateur never has to do work, results in his workspace being organised more efficiently.
The French theorist of space Henri Lefebvre argues that space is social, not just a measurable abstract entity. Within this social definition of space which is produced and not just ‘there’ are differential spaces of modern capitalism, the sites locations and mentalities where the norms of capitalism are temporarily suspended. Throughout his work he analyses carnivals and local political activism that resists being amalgamated into wider discernible movements as examples of this differential space. [x]
Amateur space can be described as differential too, but unlike the carnival and local political protest, it involves labour and working. Proactivity and not passivity define amateur space, and the worked space of toolboxes, tool-chests and pegboard reflect this inclination to work, as well as the aesthetic appeal of ‘work readiness’ in itself.
[i] ‘J.J.B.’, Design and Work: a Home and Shop Companion, (London: George Purkess, 1876-77), p. 243.
[ii] ‘Amateur’, Design and Work, p. 277.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ellis A. Davidson E, The Amateur House Carpenter: a Guide in Building, Making, Repairing, etc. (London: Chapman & Hall, 1875), p. 27.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Frederick W. Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (London: Harper and Row, 1974), p. 77.
[vii] Samuel Smiles, Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character and Conduct (London: Murray, 1859).
[viii] George Arthur Hardy, The Complete Ironmonger (London: Offices of ‘The Ironmonger’, 1900), pp. 27-8.
[ix] Popular Science, (Bonnier Corporation). October 1962, p. 191, September 1963, p. 3; Popular Mechanics: October 1962, p. 219.
[x] Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life (London & New York: Verso, 1991), pp. 381-82.