Sunday, November 28, 2021

Axle pins and connectors

You can create simple connector building sets by using axle pins. They are designed for use with two sizes of drill bit and are normally used to connect wooden wheels to toy cars and trucks. The tenon will fit tightly into a 7/32 in. hole, or rotate freely in a hole drilled 1/4 in.  diameter.

At the Clear Spring School we use these as axle pins for making toy cars and also for pins to secure pivoting lids on boxes.

Drill 1/4 in. holes in pieces you want to pivot freely, and 7/32 in. holes where you want the pin to fit tight. 

I'll not show you anything further about this, as you can use your own imaginations or rely on the imaginations of your own kids. The point of course is that with a drill, some scraps of wood, and two sizes of drill bit you can build interesting things that move.

Kids love playing with blocks. The pins provide two additional things. Permanency to their creations, and the ability to have the things they've made move into new configurations. It's relatively cheap play, and so much more flexible and unrestrained in its outcome than builder kits less inviting of parental collaboration. The axle pins can be purchased here. Through Amazon smile you have the opportunity to support the Clear Spring School.

A small drill press is useful in making various parts. A workbench with vise is important for keeping hands safe.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Build our own building Sets.

I got an advertisement via email this morning for this Brio Builder Set shown it the photo. It reminded me that many parents want their kids to be doing stuff. It also reminded me that a some parents out there have the capacity to make building sets that are far more interesting and at a much lower cost, and that offer a much higher level of collaborative fun. 

Threaded inserts are a fabulous way of making jigs and fixtures for woodworking, but they are also great for building things that can be taken apart, and put back together in new configurations.

To build a builder set for your child, make a few long joining strips with 1/4 in. holes in them, buy some 10 x 20 steel screws of various lengths and drill random holes in blocks of wood sized for the threaded inserts to fit. Start with a simple set and allow your child to describe what he or she needs for next steps.

The fun of collaboration will far surpass the joy of watching your child open a gift that consists of plastic parts and fake tools. Tomorrow I'll suggest another simple building set using wooden axle pegs.

The point of course, is that it's far better and much more fun to be a maker than a consumer, and time spent working with your kids will offer far greater rewards to all.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, November 26, 2021

Black Friday

Here we are at Black Friday again, and it seems that enough container ships coming from China made it to port and were unloaded in time to make most consumers happy with things that will fill our landfills in no time flat. The goods delivered to us from foreign manufacturers amount to trillions of dollars in cost with a balance of trade deficit that would quickly cripple a smaller nation. But few questions are asked.

Some while back, economists and policy makers decided that we'd have a service economy rather than one that relied on making the things we need. Then we entered an "information age," in which exchange of information over the television and computer screens would earn our keep. It's time a few of us call BS.

The opportunity cost of spending so much on foreign made stuff is that we've lost the character and intelligence that's derived from making things for ourselves.

Most folks just want the things we buy cheap to actually work. A news host on the radio yesterday complained that she'd bought 4 baby monitors, each one too soon after the other. What she wanted was just one that worked. She described her dismay at seeing each failed unit and its packaging going into the trash. And she complained that none could be fixed. And that is the dreadful state we're in except for a few additional effects.

Making all this stuff uses the world's resources in a wanton manner. 
Having human beings making things of poor quality is a waste of human resources wherever.
The cost of international shipping places a huge toll on our oceans and resources.
We spend a huge amount of time shopping for the same old stuff.
We learn and grow too little in the process.
We isolate our own citizenry from the natural creative processes and the feelings of empowerment they provide. 
Landfills are a scar upon our planet that will last forever, and our lives are filled with meaningless stuff.

"Not so many things, but better, must be the cry of the consumer, and things good enough to be a joy in the making must be the demand of the worker, and until these demands become peremptory we shall hope in vain for a civilization that shall be worth while." —Architect Will Price, founder of the Rose ValleyArt Colony in suburban Philadelphia.

Make, fix and create. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is Thanksgiving day and as folks gather to celebrate the holiday let's remember to stay safe and not infect those we love with a disease that may keep them from being with us in years to come.

Ironically, the celebration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday began during the Civil War in the United States as the North was fighting to abolish human slavery and the South was fighting to retain the right to hold human beings in bondage. And yet, now North and South, we celebrate and give thanks.

One of the points that I make in my new book, The Wisdom of Our Hands has to do with the small things of useful beauty that occupy our lives. 

Shopping small and avoiding the big box stores this holiday season, starting tomorrow with Black Friday, gives us a better handle on things. When we buy things that are made in our own communities and by people we know, we are not just buying stuff, we are also investing in the development of character and intelligence on a local level. Things mass produced in China, and transported in huge container ships, may have a certain beauty and cheapness, but if we are looking for true beauty, that which exists on the inside, we may find greater beauty in simple things.

Otto Salomon co-inventor of Educational Sloyd said that the value of the carpenter's work is in the object that the carpenter makes. The value of the student's work is in the student.

If you are local to Eureka Springs, we have a Pay What You Want Shop set up by the Clear Springs School parking lot. There you will find things that students made, evidence of learning and you can pay what you want. The students decided that they'll split the money they make between our local food bank, and buying play equipment for the school campus. 

We also have a free library on the other side of the parking lot that's jammed to overflowing with free books. Take lots. Please! If you are an adult, leave kid's books, please, unless you have kids. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Make, fix and create. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

a bridge

We've finished an arched bridge with student help at the Clear Spring School, and with help from my tractor and some straps we'll carry it for installation on the school campus, giving our students a clear path over a creek between buildings.

On projects like this, that are adult in nature, not every child will be involved with the same level of enthusiasm, but each can help and learn, and too few kids these days are drawn in as participants in adult labor.

In my home woodshop I'm finishing some boxes that had accumulated unfinished. Each is different, so they'll give me a way to provide boxes to a few galleries that handle my work.

When I have quiet times in the wood shop I've been listening to the Path to Learning Podcast. It is readily available through most podcast streaming services and each episode is one that I feel compelled to recommend. I'm currently listening to one with Nancy Carlson-Paige about the essential nature of play as learning. Every parent and every teacher should make use of this valuable podcast.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Humbleized. Is there a better word?

Yesterday I learned that a friend, Joe Youcha, director of Building to Teach, will write a review of my new book for Wooden Boat Magazine. Publication of the review has been approved by magazine editor, Matt Murphy. You may remember Joe as the designer of the wooden boats we made at the Clear Spring School a few years back. In his Building to Teach program schools build boats to learn math. It's based on the understanding that we learn best when we're doing real things.

Joe, having read an advanced review copy of the book, told me that he intends to buy the book for his students, his own kids, and would buy copies of the book for his own teacher if he was able, as some of those are now gone. Those teachers left profound marks on his life. And so it goes with us. We tend to think of ourselves as distinct individuals and disconnected from each other, but that's not the lesson delivered to us through our hands.

Along my own path, I've found many friends who share our understanding of things, that the hands are central to learning and growth. Unfortunately these folks tend not to be the ones who make educational policy. The hands tend to humanize and humbleize (is that a word?) It is certainly not the same thing as being humiliated.

Last week in the Clear Spring School woodshop we made color wheels with Rainbow Group, more toys in Mr. Chris's class and we installed the bat houses with Ms. Juanita's class. This week as we prepare for Thanksgiving I hope to shift attention toward building a bridge over a ditch that divides our school campus. For help in hanging the bat houses I want to thank Clear Spring alum and former student Kyle Hunnicutt and Clear Spring School father of Charlotte, Blake Durr.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, November 20, 2021

a student box

One of my students, Ray Taylor, sent me this photo of a box made by one of his students, making it obvious that we live on in the things we've taught others.

Ray teaches woodworking at the Northwest Arkansas Community College.

The following is from Felix Adler's address to the National Conference of Charities and Correction, Buffalo, July 1888 discussing the value of making a simple wooden box:

"By manual training we cultivate the intellect in close connection with action. Manual training consists of a series of actions which are controlled by the mind, and which react on it. Let the task assigned be, for instance, the making of a wooden box. The first point to be gained is to attract the attention of the pupil to the task. A wooden box is interesting to a child, hence this first point will be gained. Lethargy is overcome, attention is aroused. Next, it is important to keep the attention fixed on the task: thus only can tenacity of purpose be cultivated. Manual training enables us to keep the attention of the child fixed upon the object of study, because the latter is concrete. Furthermore, the variety of occupations which enter into the- making of the box constantly refreshes this interest after it has once been started. The wood must be sawed to line. The boards must be carefully planed and smoothed. The joints must be accurately worked out and fitted. The lid must be attached with hinges. The box must be painted or varnished. Here is a sequence of means leading to an end, a series of operations all pointing to a final object to be gained, to be created. Again, each of these means becomes in turn and for the time being a secondary end; and the pupil thus learns, in an elementary way, the lesson of subordinating minor ends to a major end. And, when finally the task is done, when the box stands before the boy's eyes a complete whole, a serviceable thing, sightly to the eyes, well adapted to its uses, with what a glow of triumph does he contemplate his work! The pleasure of achievement now comes in to crown his labor; and this sense of achievement, in connection with the work done, leaves in his mind a pleasant after-taste, which will stimulate him to similar work in the future. The child that has once acquired, in connection with the making of a box, the habits just described, has begun to master the secret of a strong will, and will be able to apply the same habits in other directions and on other occasions."

Make, fix and create...