Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Quadrant hinges

I'm completing an article for Popular Woodworking Magazine about installing quadrant hinges using my flipping sorry stick technique. Use of a thin story stick allows for such operations to be performed using the router table rather than trying to balance a router on the thin edge of a box. My technique allows the accuracy of the set up and fit to be assessed before completely messing up a near finished box.

In the past, my students have asked about installing this complex hinge, and this article offers me the chance to tell and show how.

While the steps are not necessarily easy, you can see in the photo that they work. All I have left to do on the article is one more coat of finish, the installation of a lining and lead photos.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

craftsmanship as a social art

Whether you are crafting legislation, or poetry, or whittling a stick with buddies on the porch of the hardware store, crafting is a social endeavor. We forget that sometimes. We may spend hours in our wood shops alone. The poet crafting a poem will likely spend many hours in isolation laboring over each word and honing each phrase to be just right. 

But, all is driven by forces within each to respond to that which lies without. Our efforts are not just to turn a phrase, or to whittle a stick into finer form but to thereby whittle ourselves into finer form in the hopes that the world follows. This is the aim and inclination of the common man, to do better, to make more of the world by being better at what we do.

I'm working on an article about the installation of quadrant hinges, and building cash donation boxes to be placed where bicyclists who ride our miles of in-city trails can contribute. I have a new design for a honing jig that I'll make and demonstrate the making and use of. The design came to me in the night and the necessary parts came in yesterday's mail. 

Make, fix, and create. Make the world a better place by learning likewise.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Building a basis for understanding complex things.

One of the principles of Educational Sloyd is to build from the simple to the complex, and certainly, we live in a world that's enormously complex and difficult for most folks to understand. For instance, I'm typing this on a laptop, connected by a wireless modem to the home network, connected to a cell tower that allows what I write to be distributed to you, my dear readers.

And so, we throw in the towel and throw up our hands at the complexity we use, but cannot fully control and will never fully understand. In this complexity that defies understanding, folks have a tendency to grab information that suits their own limited world views and are thereby easily led as blind lead the blind.

So I've been asked lately, "why woodworking?" What is there about woodworking that makes it ideal in education?" We could at the outset throw children into a wide range of crafts from which to choose. In the early days of manual arts training, schools with limited resources had to choose one craft or another rather than provide a smorgasbord of opportunities. But that alone is insufficient in understanding why only one craft was primarily featured in Educational Sloyd. The point was also to build a common basis for understanding the world. Wood is a real thing. It can be harvested directly from the forest, thereby building a relationship with the natural world. The tools used lend an understanding of industrial processes but also invite reflection on body and culture.  Woodworking lends itself to clarity in the recording of direct action. You cut it once and it cannot be uncut. Due to that factor alone, it hones the powers of attention and mindfulness. That it requires the use of sharp tools, is also an inducement to mindfulness and careful use.

Textile arts were also featured in Educational Sloyd. I visited a room at the University of Helsinki where student works are treasured and preserved. But if you can stitch, you can unstitch and correct errors in the making of things. No such luxury is offered when making something from wood, except, thank God for what woodworkers call "plan b." When things go awry in woodworking, you must engage problem solving skills, and because the range of potential errors is wide, problem solving is done on an individual level, thereby cultivating the powers of individual mind.

The management of complexity and the movement from simple to complex is best grown as one would build an item from wood. You begin with small exercises and build step-by-step toward an understanding of larger things held in complex relationships. That's where Kindergarten comes in. Froebel used the term of his own making gliedganzes, meaning "member, whole" and aiming the child's development toward discovery of his or her place within the vast complexity of all things. Not to be blindly led as folks appear to be now. We need to discover or construct a sense of commonality among us, and start at a very early age, moving from simple to complex in order to understand our place in things.

When I visited Sweden and the home of Educational Sloyd in 2006, I arrived having read a number of books about Sloyd, but unprepared for what I discovered there. The home of Educational Sloyd was not just about training teachers to teach woodworking. Instead, it was about teaching teachers to teach, using woodworking as a model through which to build a foundation for excellence in educating the whole child. In addition to work rooms with benches and tools, there was a gymnasium where teachers were taught to address the physicality of their students through games, gymnastics and dance. Regular activities included lectures on the fundamentals of effective teaching, curriculum development and observance and measurement of student growth.

The photo is of my friend treasured friend Hans Thorbjörnsson who was my guide at Otto Salomon's school and throughout my investigations into Educational Sloyd.

I have written too much today, so will head for the shop.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

Future schooling

Yesterday I got a call from the principle of the Future School in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. It is a Big Picture School based on the Met School model in which students are led through internships into their communities to learn in real life. After the caution necessitated by the covid-19 pandemic is eased, we plan to get together, learn from each other and collaborate.

A new theme for meaningful educational reform should be "get real." We could call it "reality based learning." We all need means through which to learn to distinguish between that which is real and that which is proposed as real for the purpose of manipulating us by persons and parties seeking greater power.

To "get real" may be accomplished by taking schooling into the real world as is done in the Big Picture Schools model. That's the perfect solution for high school and college aged students. For the younger folks "getting real" requires bringing the real world into schooling by offering real things to do that benefit the child's learning and relationships with the world beyond the school house doors. That can best be accomplished though experimental science, the arts and the use of real tools to create useful beauty. 

The important thing here is the relationship between the concrete and the abstract. In the abstract without confirmation of concrete reality, you get to make things up and believe whatever you want. That's no way to build a nation in which we have a common foundation for getting along with each other. 

As you see in the photo, the hand is the cutting edge of mind. Starting in pre-school and Kindergarten, engagement in the real world builds, step-by-step, a shared framework for understanding the world and each other.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Welcome to this dawn

There is a nice review of my book Build 25 Beautiful Boxes in the Highland Woodworking Books Review that come in yesterday's mail from Highland Woodworking.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Rosie loves snow

I had trouble sleeping last night. On the one hand, we have the Covid-19 pandemic, and on the other, we're only a few hours before the inauguration of a new president.  The old one, rude and eternally ungracious, is on the way out. If the last few days did not  amply illustrate his failure of leadership, the pandemic does.

The thing that kept me awake, however, was  a new invention. I  call it a "honing truck." It has wheels and is designed to straddle over a diamond honing block to carry a plane iron at just the right angle to sharpen its edge. Once having conceptualized it, my mind went into how it would be made and what  parts I would need in order to make it myself.

I have other honing guides, but this one will offer greater simplicity. And the fact that I can make it myself and that I can show how to make it may be of use to others.  The video from just a few days ago explains how to keep one's sense of humor in difficult times.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Are children learning?

During the massive and widespread disruption in American education that's resulted from the covid-19 pandemic, folks are seriously concerned about "whether or not children are learning." The answer of  course is dependent on refining the question. "Learning what?" If we're concerned about whether they're going to perform as well on standardized tests, the answer is probably not so well. If we are asking whether or not children are learning about life, and perhaps things that won't be on the standardized tests and that are more important to their ultimate success the answer is yes. 

One thing we should remind ourselves about learning is that it's one of the most important and relentless of human attributes. We learn. We learn best under certain circumstances, and if traditional schooling were more focused on providing the right circumstances, we'd not find ourselves in the predicament we're now in.

So what are the right circumstances? Education  must be closely associated with and indistinguishable from real life. In the January 18th issue of Time Magazine is an article about Spanish chef Angel Leon in which he states, "The sea saved me." "I was a terrible student. Couldn't sit still, always in trouble." "But when my dad took me out here on his boat, everything changed." And so as a chef, everything he does is related to the sea that saved him. School cannot do for children what real life can. And by artificializing learning, failing to move from the concrete to the abstract, we diminish its effect.  While we fail to engage student interest, we also fail their intelligence, leaving them ignorant of science and the processes of life that surrounds us.

I was talking with a friend, Elliot Washor, earlier in the week about assessment. The question of how do we provide evidence of learning is one that haunts those American educators, who, out of an unwillingness to understand that learning is the most natural of human inclinations, believe that education must be contrived. 

Elliot has come up with a four part assessment scheme. 

  1. Determine and follow student interest for without student interest nothing else follows. 
  2. Establish relationships. These can be mentors in or out of school, but out of school is important evidence of education having transcended the isolation of schooling. 
  3. Observe growth of skill. These can be skills of processing but aimed toward action. These can of course involve the development of hand skills as well as skills of mind. 
  4. Provide opportunities of growth in the form of delivery of service to the community both inside and out of the school walls.
I drove my tractor to school today to make use of its strength in the assembly of a new jointer at the Clear Spring School woodshop. The jointer was too heavy for me to lift out of the box and onto the jointer stand, so I used straps and the front loader of the tractor to lift it high enough to roll the stand underneath. These being covid-19 pandemic times, this was a safer approach than asking friends to help. The photo shows that. The jointer is now assembled and ready for use after it's cleaned up and grease is removed.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.