Thursday, July 24, 2014

Help for teachers...

This is the time of year when teachers contact me about planning their programs for the next year, so it is also a good time for me to dig through the blog and answer questions. How to secure a piece of wood to a be worked on if you don't have a vise? The following is from an earlier blog post. Tomorrow I will tell just a bit about planning curriculum in collaboration with other subject teachers, and matching the wood shop goals that students may have.

Blog reader Jason began a woodworking program in his school in Canada where he teaches French Immersion. Wanting to teach woodworking (what a great way to teach French or any other language!) without a wood shop, he came up with a simple vise for holding wood while it is safely cut. He notes:
"The bench fixture was born out of necessity. Because we work out of a regular classroom and don't have dedicated work benches, at first we were clamping to the tables and student desks, the wood was vibrating a lot and the students, being shorter than I, had problems getting over their work when cutting with the coping saw. Some students resorted to cutting while on their knees all the while getting saw dust in their eyes. Not good, to say the least. The tables also took a beating in very little time.

"I wanted the students to learn proper posture while cutting so, I quickly made the fixtures out of left over 2x8 fascia boards and only screwed the two pieces together. After a full year's use I will need to add an angled piece behind to provide more rigidity to the upright. The first version of the fixture only had the 'L' shape with no cut outs.
"I found that the students weren't able to steady their work piece against the fixture and at the same time position and tighten the C clamp to secure the work. So, I cut the sections out and that allowed the C clamp to stay in one place atop the fixture as the students readied the work to be clamped. It also allowed the C clamp to clamp farther down providing more evenly distributed pressure to the wood being clamped. I also had a number of students who were left hand dominant and so I cut out the same on both sides so students could use any bench support.

"With this set up the students can use the support to:
  • cut pieces to length using the side as a straight edge guide,
  • secure wood while using the coping saw,
  • cut out sections of their wood that fall inline with the little cut-out sections of the fixture
  • secure wood with the edge almost even with the top of the fixture to plane the edge square using the fixture as a support.
"As an aside, the use of C clamps is something that the boys in particular like using because they get to crank as hard as they can and it only holds their work better; win-win. But then they need to unscrew it with the same amount of enthusiasm;-)"
 I did a quick sketch up illustration of the castle vise (shown above), so you can see where it gets its name. One c-clamp is used through the open arch to secure the vise to the table or desk and another to hold the lumber in place for cutting. The notches at the top give c-clamps a place to rest, making them easier to use. Necessity is often the mother of invention. What Jason has come up with may be useful to others in the same situation.

Make, fix and create...

back to cursive...

Students now tell their teachers when they've been told to read something written by the human hand, "I don't do cursive." What a dumb thing schools have done to eliminate hand writing from our student's educations.

The value of learning cursive is revisited in this article, Cursive is ready for a comeback. Its not that cursive is really ready for a comeback, but that it should be. Unfortunately, reading and writing cursive is not an easy thing to adopt once its been lost, and most teachers these days are more used to poking keypads, than writing real words on paper with pen and ink. If policy makers were to choose it or our schools to pursue it, who would teach it? Just as we've wondered who would teach wood shops if policy makers in that case would come to their senses about learning, we've retired most of those who could teach.

I can easily remember my own school days, when the students in Omaha Public Schools were required to have a certain kind of ink pen with replacement cartridges, so that our thoughts would flow unrestrained in a manner that teachers might read with ease and that we might write with style... and so we read cursive as well as writing it.

History is full of documents written by the human hand: documents like the declaration of Independence, and letters written by soldiers during the Civil War. Without the ability to read what others have written, we have lost something significant of ourselves... the ability to touch and learn our own past.

When I was in Bødo, Norway, everything was new, built after the Nazis bombed the place in 1941.  It was odd being in a place in Europe that was so new compared to places like Tronheim, Bergen and Oslo, but war does that to cities. Our culture is now being bombed in a destructive a manner by our digital devices. The ability to understand and interpret monumental works from earlier centuries is lost as student confess, "I don't do cursive." If the only tool you have is a laptop or ipad, all the real creations of mankind are little more than indecipherable scratches on scrap paper.

If you don't do it, you won't know it and what little you do know will be Jack.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

balls, again...

Richard Bazeley's students finished crafting their wooden balls. They are not perfect, but they learned some geometry and tool use in their making, and one student came up with the method to hold the balls in the vise as they are sanded.

The student's work at the end of the day was gathered in a bowl full of balls. You won't see any absolutely perfect spheres. Richard counts his success rate with 13 students at near 50% but with each student having finished a sphere.

Here on this continent, Beth Ireland and her partner Jen are on the road again with their turning around America van and a new trailer to carry extra art supplies.

You can read about it in Beth's blog turningaroundamerica. Please check out the real things they do with kids, and kids really do need to do real things to find meaning in their schooling.

In my woodshop today, I will be sanding and finishing award bases for the Arkansas Governor's Quality Award, and packing all the small tools I will need for teaching next week at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

Also, congratulation to Richard's students for a job well done. Richard will use the lesson to share with other teachers to illustrate the potential of collaboration between wood shop and math.

Make, fix and create..

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

so far...

Hand carve a sphere and cylinder? The three parts of gift number 2 are the symbol associated with Friedrich Froebel that was used as the marker on his grave. In this case both the ball and cylinder were carved by knife from blocks exactly like that forming the base.

In contrast, Richard Bazeley is using a different approach with his students to make spheres. He reports that students hold blocks in the vise while they work with planes and chisels to form the starting polygon. Then they use a rasp and sandpaper to finish the shape.

The photo below shows my progress so far in making walnut bases for the Arkansas Governor's Quality Award.

This has been a amazing year so far, in that we have ground AEP/SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool to a near halt in their plans to build a massive extra high voltage power line through our small local community. I have had to do a tremendous amount of work to stop it. In addition to writing in this blog, and finishing my most recent book about boxes which comes out in September, and other articles about box making in American Woodworking and Wood, I've written countless letters to governmental agencies, and more to local newspapers, including guest editorials. Without time in the wood shop to bring some form of balance, I would be lost.

All educators and educational policy makers should be alerted to the value of doing real things in real materials and the discovery of craftsmanship. Not only does hands-on learning bring greater character and intelligence, it also brings balance to lives over-encumbered by abstract, intellectual engagement.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission has granted a rehearing to my small organization, Save the Ozarks, as they agreed with us that the power company failed to prove the need for the project. It is designed to ultimately provide 16 times the available local power, and is to take power through us, not provide power to us.

Currently, the APSC is setting a date and time for the acceptance of additional testimony, and evidence, and will set a date for the rehearing, though we are sincerely hoping that AEP/SWEPCO will see the light and pull the plug on the project.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

handling mind...

The title of this blog post comes from an interesting website in Finland that concerns a project that explores the way the hands and mind connect. Handling Mind. My readers might find it interesting.Among the area of interest is how the use of the hands increases the plasticity and capacity of the mind. We mistakenly assume the mind controls the hands, but the mind itself is constructed by the skilled operations of the hands. It is a situation of chicken and egg. Which came first? They developed in relation to each other. And the hands, unlike the other instruments of perception, have the capacity to create and express.

I visited with a friend yesterday who has been a doctor for 40 years. He is frustrated with the ways that technology intercedes between the doctor and patient, and how the hands are becoming less well trained in new generations of medical practitioners. Perhaps we will arrive at a point in medicine where all things are done by robots, each trained to assess things that the trained hands of a physician once did so well. It will be like robots fixing robots. Whereas in the touch of one human being of another, feelings are made known, and in a simple touch, things can be fixed that can never be repaired by a machine.

I have been photographing the making of wooden spheres, and the making of such things as miter boxes, and doing a bit of whittling on the side. I am also preparing my thoughts for my trip next week to Marc Adams School of Woodworking where I will teach for seven days.

The hands are the primary pathway to real learning, and Friedrich Froebel utilized crafts early in his teaching career. He learned those crafts either as an observer or participant when he was a forester's apprentice in the Thuringian Forest in Germany as a very young man.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

learning ops...

The Kansas City Woodworker's Guild has an excellent woodworking facility and is offering a hand-tool pre-school in August and October. In the two day class students will learn to use basic hand tools and build both a shooting board and a pencil box. Sounds like a good deal to me. The class size is limited to 6 so each student will get plenty of help.

I started work yesterday on the Arkansas Governor's award for Quality,  a thing I do each year at this time. I was reminded that this year will be the 20th anniversary of the Arkansas Quality Awards, and so it was twenty years ago that I was asked to design the award base. Time flies.

I am working on the first chapter of the Froebel book, and also continuing to carve wooden balls. I used Richard Bazeley's technique of doing additional marking on the ball following reaching the Leonardo polygon, and found it useful and a bit more methodical.

I am also preparing for this year's classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Starting Monday July 28, I will teach my usual week-long box making class and then a weekend class on making small cabinets. Both classes are full with 18 students each.

I invite my readers to join the linked in group, Hands-on Learning. 

Juhani Pallasmaa, one of Finland's most distinguished architects said "philosophers regretfully continue to emphasize and value conceptual, intellectual and verbal knowledge over the tacit and non-conceptual wisdom of our embodied processes." His book is called, "The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses."

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 18, 2014

fuzzballs in box

Yesterday I became concerned about how it would be best and most accurate for me to tell how to cut a small dado for sliding lids in Froebel boxes. I thought of making a small scratch stock, but after consultation with Larry Willams and Don McConnell at Old Street Tools, here in Eureka Springs, decided that my first inclination was the best approach, that is to simply use a marking gauge to lay out the edges of the groove, and then use a 1/8 in. chisel to cut between the lines. This approach works best with straight grained woods. I've also made (this morning in about 15 minutes) a small solid tool steel clean out plane for clearing the grooves.

Larry Williams gave me a piece of 1/8 in. thick steel scrap left over from making plane irons, and by grinding one edge at a 10 degree angle and having sharpened it,  I hoped to pass it through the grooves to make them more uniform in depth, but so far the experiment is unsuccessful. The steel blank is too hard to hold in my hand if any pressure is applied. I'll need to grind it to a sharper angle and add a wooden grip and depth guide. When faced with academic stuff, smart kids will say, "yeah, I know that." But when doing real things, there is no end to the learning.

While visiting with Larry and Don, I also met their visitor from Finland, Tuomo Rinne. He is a preservation carpenter who discovered that the use of traditional hand tools adds value, integrity, and efficiency to his work. He is here for his 5th visit with Old Street Tools. He had met Larry when he was attending a class on making planes at Marc Adams School, and learned that he wanted more of the kinds of hands on learning that he could acquire in a more direct apprenticeship. I find it remarkable that old country craftsmen would come to the US to restore the tradition of hand work that set them apart in the first place.

In any case, meeting Tuomo was  pleasant opportunity for me.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, July 17, 2014


noun: prowess
  1. skill or expertise in a particular activity or field.
    "his prowess as a fisherman"
    synonyms:skill, expertise, mastery, facility, ability, capability, capacity, savoir faire, talent, genius, adeptness, aptitude, dexterity, deftness, competence, accomplishment, proficiency, finesse.
    "his prowess as a winemaker"
    antonyms:inability, ineptitude
  2. bravery in battle.
    synonyms:courage, bravery, gallantry, valor, heroism, intrepidity, nerve, pluck, pluckiness, feistiness, boldness, daring, audacity, fearlessness.
    informalguts, spunk, moxie, grit, sand
    "the knight's prowess in battle"
Prowess is a thing we gain from the experience of doing real things. And yet we design schools on the basis of pretense. Pretending to get ready to do real things, when the simple and direct approach would be to enter children into activities of real life.

Last night I was reading about Felix Adler's role in building one of the first free Kindergartens in New York City. His Kindergarten was quickly expanded to become the Workingman's School, later to become one of the most prestigious private schools in New York. At a lecture in Buffalo, Adler described a meeting with an aging poet, who I'd suspected was Walt Whitman*. The poet turned to him and said,
"That is all very well. I like your factories and your wealth; but tell me, do they turn out men down your way?"
And Adler asks, "Is this civilization of ours turning out men--manly men and womanly women?" 
There are values of character that come from hands-on learning that our schools neglect and that our children so desperately need. Will those who have been raised without skill except in an academic and financial realm know how to create opportunities for students to gain skills and prowess in our nation's schools? Walt Whitman wrote the following:
The Sacredness of Work
The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places, laying them regular.
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises, according as they were prepared,
The blows of mallets and hammers--Paeans and praises to Him! -- Walt Whitman 
The truest feelings of self worth, come from the experience of usefulness to others.

Richard Bazeley sent a photo of his student's exercises in carving wooden spheres. The steps before smoothing lead to a polyhedron shape that Leonardo had illustrated as shown at left and developed in the photo at the top.

Make, fix, create.

*When asked about Adler's quote of the "aging poet," Walt Whitman said, "I guess that's me: and it is very kindly and friendly, isn't it?"