Friday, February 29, 2008

Shown above are early models at Nääs, which I photographed on an original workbench in the Sloyd woodworking building. You will recognize the flower pot stand as being a project Clear Spring students are working on now. The lower photo is of a picture frame made using a half-lap or "halved" joint like the one used in the flower pot stand. You find these frames in use throughout the Nääs campus faming photos of graduating classes and school activities. In most Sloyd work, decoration of the finished object was discouraged, but on these frames, the interesting knife-point carved-motif created a rustic, rough wood appearance in what was essentially very fine, highly-skilled work. The small gaps and misalignment are the result of over 100 years of seasonal expansion and contraction.

At one point, years before administrators at Nääs reawakened to its history as a Sloyd school, thousands of early models were hauled out and burned. Fortunately, some of the early models were saved and the unique history of Nääs is now appreciated and preserved.
The plans shown at left are from the Alfred Johansson Nääs model series from 1890. Click on the image to see a larger version.

At Clear Spring, we have been attempting to make these using bass wood, known for its excellent carving qualities. Join us in your own shop or classroom. You have the plans. These things are difficult at first, even when working with wood well regarded for its working qualities.

Instead of supplying the students with rough lumber as was done in the early days of Sloyd, I supplied dimensioned stock, and instead of relying on the knife alone to make the half lap joint, we've been using saws and chisels. But this project has been an excellent illustration of the process of developing skill. Normally in schools, there is time to touch on subjects or to memorize information, but skill comes from careful repetition, the critical observation of results and the refinement of actions toward the achievement of quality.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Today in the Clear Spring wood shop the 7th through 10th grade students with a couple 12th graders thrown in for good measure began scroll sawing puzzle maps of American territorial expansion. since we only have 3 scroll saws to keep such a large class busy required a second project, so we started making Sloyd plant stands from the Alfred Johansson Fundamental series 1890.

I have an internship student Dylan, who is working with me in my shop to learn the business and the life of a professional woodworker. Dylan is interested in turning wood and is working to develop a line of turned tops that can be sold in his mother's store. I'll show photos later.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

At last night's math expo at Clear Spring School, teachers shared their methods for teaching fractions at the various grade levels, illustrating for parents the scope and sequence used in teaching our children. One of the questions that a parent brought up was the use of the hands in counting. She remembered from her own early schooling, seeing children hiding their fingers under the desks as they counted in the solution of math problems.

The movement in thinking from the concrete (symbolized by fingers) to the abstract (where solutions are derived in the mind alone) is a sign of mastery that comes through varying amounts of repetition and use. But it can't be pushed. You can see in the the hiding of hands under desks in nearly every mathematics classroom in America that the use of the hands in counting and in the development of abstract thought is suppressed. The consequence is that children are taught to not like math, and to doubt or become unconscious of their own abilities. In fact, MRI scanning of the brain reveals that as students solve math problems, the same parts of the brain are active as would be if the fingers were in motion.

If we consider what we now know about the movement of the hands in the development of thought, you can see that putting the fingers back in classroom math would be a very good thing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Today in the Clear Spring school wood shop, the 3rd and 4th grades students worked on their sail boats, and the 1st and 2nd continued with dinosaurs. Tonight we have a math expo at school, so I will be there with sample projects that illustrate the role of woodworking in the math curriculum at Clear Spring School.
The following is my article from last year's Spring issue of Encounter, Education for Meaning and Social Justice

Sometime in the late 1700’s a child in Pestalozzi’s school challenged his teacher, “You want me to learn the word ladder, but you show me a picture. Wouldn’t it be better to go look at the real ladder in the courtyard?” The teacher was frustrated by the child’s remark and explained that he would rather not take the whole class outside the building just to look at a ladder. Later, the same child was shown the picture of a window and again interrupted the teacher. “Wouldn’t it be better to talk about the window that is right there? We don’t even have to go outside to look at it!” The teacher asked Pestalozzi about the incident and was informed that the child was right. Whenever possible children should learn from real objects, the real world and the experiences it offers (Bennett 1926, 119).

I doubt that you could find any educational theorist who would disagree with Pestalozzi on this. We can follow the long line of theorists from Commenius, Rousseau, and Froebel, through William James, John Dewey, and Howard Gardner. But still, in schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children. When I was a college student, I was often asked, “What are you going to do when you get out in the real world?” Students know that the academic world is contrived in comparison to the multidimensional reality beyond the classroom doors.

Perhaps the greatest problem in modern education is disinterest. Adults often fail to engage children's innate capacities for learning. And it is no wonder. At a very early age, children are instructed, "don't touch!" "Keep your hands to yourself!” But the hands and brain comprise an integrated learning/creating system that must be engaged in order to secure the passions and "heart.” It is the opportunity to be engaged through the hands that brings the seen and known to concrete reality. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged. When the passions are engaged, and supportive systems (teachers, community resources, technology, etc.) are in place, students find no mountain is too high, and no concept too complex to withstand the assault of their sustained interest.

My Own Story

I came to my own understanding of the role of the hands in learning by observing my own life as a woodworker, and I hope that this essay will stimulate you to reflect on the role of hand activities in your own experience.

During my college years, I had planned to become a lawyer. During the summers while also working in my father’s hardware store, I had an opportunity to work with a craftsman, who helped me restore a 1930 model A Ford that I bought with my savings of $400.00. That craftsman took note of the ease with which I stripped the car down to the frame, rebuilt the engine, and then reassembled a seemingly new car. He asked me one day why I was studying to become a lawyer when my brains were so clearly in my hands. His prophetic remark led me to examine my own goals and led me to choose the life of a craftsman.

In 1976, I became a self-employed woodworker, making custom furniture for local clientele. I also built small inlaid boxes for galleries throughout the US. In 1995, I began writing articles about woodworking, and my first book was published in 1997. At that point, I began communicating with other woodworkers on the Internet, and I became disturbed by the sharp decline in woodworking in the schools. Woodshops were being seen as irrelevant to modern education. Industrial arts classrooms were being converted to computer labs, and even the remaining industrial arts classes, now called “tech-ed,” were being taught through simulated programs on computer screens rather than as hands-on activities.

Reflecting on my own life and my own learning style, and reflecting on the role of my hands in learning, I came to regard the closing of woodshops throughout the U.S. schools as tragic. I realized that in my own experience, woodworking was intimately connected to nearly every field of study. During my work, I was actively engaged in math, engineering, artistic design, and business. I was constantly learning about the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the materials. I came to regard the woodshop as the ideal multidimensional, multi-disciplinary, integrated learning experience. I therefore began reading and learning as much as I could about the role of woodwork in education. I also decided that, to avoid being dismissed as a disgruntled voice on the educational sidelines, I needed to become a woodworking teacher myself. In that way, I would have some credibility.

Historical Notes on Woodworking in Education

In recent years, it has been generally assumed that woodworking was where you placed slow learners, those who would not be capable of tackling more academic subjects. The woodshop was often thought to be the place where troubled youth could be parked to keep them in line and out of trouble—while keeping them in school instead of allowing them to drop out. Actually all of that was very far from the original intent.

In the late 1870s, the "fathers" of manual training in the US, John D. Runkle at MIT and Calvin Woodward at Washington University, St. Louis, had noticed that their engineering students were having a great deal of trouble thinking in three dimensions. Their students' academic work was leaving them handicapped in the kinds of spatial understanding and awareness that were essential. So Runkle and Woodward started woodworking programs to improve the students’ thinking skills (Bennett, 1937, 316-324). This relationship between the use of the hands and the ability to perceive in the abstract is something that very few academics may understand, but it something that every craftsman knows very well.

In the founding days of manual training in the US, there were two rival systems competing for a place in American education. One, the Russian system created and promoted by Victor Della Vos of the Moscow Imperial Technical Institute, used woodworking as a means to prepare students for industrial employment. This was the system that first inspired Runkle and Woodward when it was introduced in the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. A rival system, commonly called “the Swedish system” or Sloyd was started by Uno Cignaeus in Finland and was further developed and promoted worldwide by Otto Salomon in Nääs, Sweden. Educational Sloyd was a developmental tool to be used in general education and applicable to the learning needs of all children. Salomon believed that woodwork and other handcrafts can foster a variety of important character traits, including industry, independence, perseverance, and an appreciation of the need for precision and exact work. He saw handwork as developing both the mind and the body (Bennett 1937, 7, 55-69).

Hand and Brain

The relationship between the hand and the brain is suggested by classic works on neurology. In Penfield and Rasmussen’s The Cerebral Cortex of Man (1950), the “homunculus” drawing of the brain reveals the disproportionately large amount of the cerebral cortex utilized by the human hand. As Frank Wilson (1998) emphasizes, the use of the hand for tool-making and tool-use must have been pivotal in human evolution, and the development of manual capacities co-evolved with the development of the brain. Wilson believes that this co-evolution extends well beyond the creation and use of the early stone instruments.
“No one knows precisely when our ancestors started handling textiles and manufacturing thread, but our ability to do this, along with many other tasks, was made possible because of two critical and parallel changes in upper limb and brain structure. Biomechanical changes in the hand permitted a greatly enlarged range of grips and movements of the hand and fingers; the brain provided new control mechanisms for more complex and refined hand movements. These changes took place over millions of years, and because of the mutual interdependence of hand and brain it is appropriate to say that the human hand and brain co-evolved as a behavioral system.”

“The entire open-ended repertoire of human manipulative skill rests upon a history of countless interactions between individuals and their environments—natural materials and objects. The hand- brain system, or partnership, that came into being over the course of millions of years is responsible for the distinctive life and culture of human society. This same hand-brain partnership exists genetically as a developmental instruction program for every living human. Each of us, beginning at birth, is predisposed to engage our world and to develop our intelligence primarily through the agency of our hands”
We can gain an appreciation of the subtle interrelations between hand and consciousness by paying attention to our own hands during woodwork or other handcrafts. For example, you will observe that the hands initially become engaged in sensing the surface qualities of objects, but when these qualities become known, the consciousness of sensing diminishes. If there is some change in the surface qualities, the consciousness returns to take note.

Of the motor functions you will notice that as working movements become skilled patterns, they no longer require conscious attention to motor activities. Instead, they become conveyances through which other object qualities can be known as those objects are transformed. An example from woodworking involves the holding of a chisel. For a trained carpenter, the hand itself disappears from consciousness, but for a beginner, the proper grip and the angle of the wrist take tremendous concentration. As skilled movement is acquired the hand requires less consciousness and the mind senses only the engagement of the cutting edge at the end of the tool in the surface of the material being shaped. In essence, the hands move out of the way of direct consciousness to allow direct access of the mind to the surface qualities of objects. It is part of the miracle of the hands that they are empowered to act in seamless unconscious harmony with thought, so perhaps it is only natural that the importance of their contributions to our learning would go unnoticed in modern education.

There are a number of areas of research that tell us that the hands must not be overlooked in education. As expert musicians will testify, the playing of a musical instrument critically involves manual dexterity and sensitivity (see Wilson, 1986), and research suggests that playing of instrumental music in school has a significant effect on the development of math proficiency (Catterall et al. [2002, Reference] This research was co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. It is truly astounding how rarely the United States Government is able to take its own advice. It is a clear case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

A second interesting bit of study involves the use of gesture. Susan Goldin-Meadow (2003) hypothesizes that the movement of the hands actually facilitates the movement of thought in the brain. Goldin-Meadow observes,
“Why must we move our hands when we speak? I suggest that gesturing may help us think - by making it easier to retrieve words, easier to package ideas into words, easier to tie words to the real world. If this is so, gesture may contribute to cognitive growth by easing the learner's cognitive burden and freeing resources for the hard task of learning.

Moreover, gesture provides an alternate spatial and imagistic route by which ideas can be brought into the learner's cognitive repertoire. That alternative route of expression is less likely to be challenged (or even noticed) than the more explicit and recognized verbal route. Gesture may be more welcoming of fresh ideas than speech and in this way may lead to cognitive change.”

A third interesting bit of research is found in Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn (2002). Their research into the use of hand signs in communication with toddlers has started a movement among parents wanting to give advantages to their own children. The results of the research show that:
* At 24 months, the children taught sign language were on average talking more like 27- or 28- month olds. This represents more than a three-month advantage over the non-signing babies. In addition at 24 months the research subjects were putting together significantly longer sentences.

* At 36 months, the children on average were talking like 47 month olds, putting them almost a full year ahead of their average age-mates.

* Eight-year-olds who had been research subjects scored an average of 12 points higher in IQ than their non-signing peers.

Our understanding of the hand/brain system and the role the hands play in learning is far from complete. In the meantime, we are doing harm to our children by requiring them to sit idly at desks with hands stilled.

The Clear Springs School

In 2001, I joined the faculty of the Clear Springs School, an independent progressive school that was expanding to the high school level. We secured a foundation grant to start a woodworking program called “The Wisdom of the Hands.” The purpose of the program was to provide evidence of the value of the woodworking experience to all children regardless of their ultimate educational objectives.

The Wisdom of the Hands program started out much like other high school woodworking programs with afternoon classes at the high school level, but with two distinct differences. The first was that rather than being pre-vocational in purpose, woodworking is part of the arts curriculum, and students are encouraged to design their own work.

Our program also differed from traditional pre-vocational programs because we tried to integrate woodworking activities with other courses. We found it easiest to integrate woodworking with the math and science areas. For example, we made wooden models of geometric solids and we built mineral collection boxes for earth science classes. We also studied the various species of local woods and trees to enhance the biology curriculum.

In 2002, inspired by my studies of Educational Sloyd, we began woodworking activities in the lower grades. We built adjustable workbenches that could be used at the 1st and 2nd grade levels, and we soon offered weekly activities to all Clear Spring elementary and middle school children.

There are no textbooks that can offer enough projects for stand-alone weekly woodworking courses at all grade levels, but that was never our purpose. Our woodworking projects are developed in collaboration with core teaching staff. They tell me what they are studying, and if they or their students have any ideas about woodworking projects that might correspond to their studies. We then plan and prepare materials for weekly projects.

Some of the best projects have been student-initiated. For example, the first and second grade students complained that the other students were constantly running past their classroom, and it was annoying and distracting. They suggested that we make signs in woodshop that would tell the others to please walk. In their classroom, they designed snails and turtles and various road signs on paper. In the woodshop, we transferred the shapes drawn by each student onto wood and cut out the shapes. The students cut sticks and sawed points so they could be driven into the ground at places where the children would see them and be reminded to walk slowly. They nailed the signs to the sticks in woodshop and returned to their classroom for painting and lettering.

The fact that this project grew out of students’ own interests is very important. It allowed the children to express their feelings and concerns to the larger student body and was therefore empowering.

As you can see, being woodworking teacher at Clear Spring is not an isolating activity. All the teachers have become creatively engaged in helping to plan projects and work side by side with the students in the woodshop.

In an accreditation evaluation of our school, the team leader called special attention to the Wisdom of the Hands program. The program, he said,
"introduces all students at the School to the wonders of woodworking, creative exploration, and problem solving that brings about nascent artistic talent. The ability to touch, feel and begin to understand the value, beauty, and nature of wood; to measure accurately; to learn about angles; to take risks; to be patient in finishing the created product; to take pride in one's accomplishments; and to produce a work of beauty lead to an understanding and awareness of the inter-connectedness of knowledge. It integrates the world of nature, the fine arts, economics, history, cultures,and one can include poetry in its endeavors. I find it difficult to think of a better way to immerse children in the learning process."

The Wisdom of the Hands program has had additional benefits for the Clear Spring School. For many years, the mission of the school was somewhat vague. We talked about “the Clear Spring way,” but it seemed to mean different things to different people. While serving on the school development committee, I began looking at the various interesting programs that have defined our school as unique through the lens of the Wisdom of the Hands program. Like woodworking, our camping, community service, annual trash-a-thon fund-raiser, and outdoors programs involved learning through the hands. In late 2005, the Board of Clear Spring School revised the school mission as follows: "Together, all at the Clear Spring School promote a lifelong love of learning through a hands-on and hearts-engaged educational environment

Concluding Comments

Woodworking in school—with real tools, real materials, real work, and making real objects--turns abstract concepts to concrete, experiential learning. At a time when the high school dropout rate is so distressingly high, and we wonder why, we might consider the need for greater use of the hands in education.

In the final moments of the movie, Apollo 13, the character played by Tom Hanks, at the moment of disaster, looked in reverence at his own hands, realized his own creative power, and saved the mission from tragedy. Let’s take a moment to look at our own hands and know that a promising future of American education lies within our grasp.


Acredolo, L., and Goodwyn, S. 2002. Baby signs: How to talk with your baby before your baby can talk. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
Bennett, George A. 1926 History of Manual and Industrial Education up to 1870 Peoria, IL: Manual Arts Press
Bennett, George A. 1937 History of Manual and Industrial Education from 1870-1917 Peoria, IL: Manual Arts Press
Catterall, J., et al.2002 Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Social and Academic Development, Washington, DC, Arts Education Partnership
Goldin-Meadow, S. 2003 Hearing Gesture: How Our Hands Help Us Think Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press
Pennfield, W. and Rasmussen, T 1950 The Cerebral Cortex of Man New York: The Macmillan Co.
Salomon, O. (undated but prior to 1900) The Theory of Educational Sloyd London: George Philip and Sons,
Wilson, F. A. 1986. Tone deaf and all thumbs? New York: Viking-Penguin.
Wilson, F. A. 1998. The hand. New York: Vintage.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I am safely home from my weekend travels, and of course I have to wonder whether that kind of information is necessary to state in a blog... the trivialities of modern existence. My class in Indiana was near the city of Battleground, which was the site of an early Indian battle between troops led by William Henry Harrison and an alliance of tribes led by Tecumseh. The wood shop where my class was held overlooks the Tippecanoe River. The old election slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!" that many Americans learned as school children referred to Harrison who years later tried to capitalize on his fame as the leader of the victory over the Indians. His Vice-presidential running-mate, was named Tyler, and perhaps their inane slogan was prophecy of what was to come later in American presidential politics.

Speaking of prophecy, Chief Tecumseh had a brother named Prophet, a "medicine man" who claimed that his powers would make the Indians invincible to the white man's bullets. They attacked in the dark and it seemed to work OK until the sun came up and the Indians realized the number of their dead and dying. There are things that change when the dawn comes and we awaken from conjecture and stupidity to the cold harsh glare of physical reality.

The hands are like that. We have thought that it's OK to stop being a people who make things and exercise creativity in physical reality through the use of our hands. Like modern day Socrates, we have discouraged our children from engaging in manual creativity. We give them toys that battle in the dark. The consequences have gone unnoticed. But the crack of dawn is at hand. It is nice to be home in Arkansas, but also very nice to have shared my weekend with others who love making things from wood.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I had a great weekend with the Wabash Valley Woodworkers. There were about 30 members attending my box making class, and that was a great turnout for two snowy days in rural Indiana. I want to thank all the woodworkers for their courtesy and attention.

My demonstration box is almost done. I made a lid support from steel strapping and nylon line, and used rough sawn and weathered oak for the top panel. It is fun to work with a variety of textures, both smoothly crafted and rough, the latter, from the initial milling and the effects of weather. I will do some sanding on edges, rout with a 45 degree chamfer on the bottom edge and finish with Deft Danish Oil.

Friday, February 22, 2008

This following is an excerpt from the commencement address delivered by Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts at Stanford University in June 2007.
The loss of recognition for artists, thinkers, and scientists has impoverished our culture in innumerable ways, but let me mention one. When virtually all of a culture's celebrated figures are in sports or entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young. There are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child's imagination, and we've relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.

Of course, I'm not forgetting that politicians can also be famous, but it is interesting how our political process grows more like the entertainment industry each year. When a successful guest appearance on the Colbert Report becomes more important than passing legislation, democracy gets scary. No wonder Hollywood considers politics "show business for ugly people." Everything now is entertainment. And the purpose of this omnipresent commercial entertainment is to sell us something. American culture has mostly become one vast infomercial.
The photo above is from today's box making class with the Wabash Valley Woodworkers We got the first box assembled and will be ready tomorrow to add hinges, lid stop and a pull. It was a great day shared with enthusiastic woodlovers. Tomorrow I should be able to show a finished box.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I am in Lafayette, Indiana for my box making class with the Wabash Valley Woodworkers on Friday and Saturday.

A report on NPR this morning told that this is the 50th anniversary of the start of the Mickey Mouse Club which featured the introduction by Mattel of year round television advertising of toys, and the start of a serious decline in childhood creativity. The report told of the sound making tommy gun introduced in advertising on that program. No longer would children need to make noises with their own lips or drawn from their own imaginations. The consequences of television and the decline of imaginative play are well defined. The first consequence is in the loss of “self-regulation.” When children were tested years prior to the TV and toys revolution, 3 year olds found it difficult to sit still when asked. Now 5 year olds suffer from the same difficulties, though before they could sit for as long as 20 minutes. Before, 7 year olds could sit for nearly as long as an observer would be willing to wait. No more.

Why would this be important? Self regulation is important in the decision making function in the human being and grows from private speech… the internal dialog in which new ideas are discussed and developed within the mind before being followed by activities testing those ideas in the real world. When the store bought tommy-gun makes all the noises, diminishing the personal creativity involved in play, the consequences are a dumbing of the imagination, creativity and intellect.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the 5th and 6th grade students worked on a project from the early Nääs Sloyd series, making a plant stand. This project involved an introduction to marking gauges, provided practice in making square, very accurate cuts and introduced the use of the chisel. The students enjoyed the project, even though it was challenging, or perhaps because it was so. I had explained that the value of the project wasn't to have a finished project at the end, but to have the skill at the end that could be applied to the making of other things. Photos are shown above and below. The mallet being used by Killian is one he finished earlier in the day.

Today on the Fine Woodworking website, my woodworking projects for kids made their debut. I hope these projects encourage parents and grandparents to take the education of their own children in their own hands, or encourage their local schools to learn from the example we set at the Clear Spring School.

I will be away for the weekend, teaching box making in Lafayette, Indiana, so the next posts to the Wisdom of the Hands Blog will be of that seminar.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

This morning in the Clear Spring Woodshop, the 3rd and 4th grade students began work on their sailboats, using folded paper and scissors to design the hulls and coping saws to cut them to shape. The 1st and 2nd grade students finished their triceratops as shown in the photos at left and below.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Feb. 25 issue of Time Magazine has an excellent article on making better teachers. Among the things the article tells are these:

"It takes at least two years to master the basics of classroom management, and six to 7 to become a fully proficient teacher."

"A third of teachers quit within their first three years on the job and as many as 50% leave poor, urban schools within five years."

Many teachers leave the profession because of poor salaries, but an equal number cite issues related to working conditions: too little time to prepare, too heavy of a teaching load, too large of class size, student behavioral problems, and lack of influence in schools.

A sidebar by Linda Darling-Hammond tells of the success of other nations in keeping teachers, guiding students to success in the classroom, and providing teachers a respected place in community. The article, How They Do It Abroad should be required reading by every teacher, every administrator and school board member in America. We are falling behind and failing to engage our children by failing to give teachers the encouragement and support required for their success. I also have to note that Sweden and Finland are among the top schools in both the keeping of teachers and the success of their students. Is it any wonder that Sweden and Finland were the birthplace of educational sloyd? Finland and Sweden are among those nations in which sloyd handcrafts are still a part of their national school curriculum. It is not just a coincidence that they would be so much better than us, hands down.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

It is interesting that with all the talk about global warming and new technologies to reduce energy use, the real saver, conservation is avoided like the plague. Reduce speed by 5 miles per hour and significantly reduce fuel use. Use better planning to cut out unnecessary trips, and reduce the impulse to go shopping as entertainment, and you will have significantly reduced our carbon footprint, and saved a lot of money, too!

But politicians avoid the subject of conservation for a very good reason. If you reduce the impulsiveness of the American shopper, you'll have had a major impact on the American economy. If people were making things and growing things and cooking things themselves instead of shopping for Chinese made products, factory processed foodstuffs, and calorie laden fast foods, we would have a crisis. Jobs would be lost, and the political establishment would be shaken.

Perhaps we have a crisis anyway, one that politicians prefer because it keeps them in power. The crisis is this: global warming, combined with massive waste of the earth's resources, declining nutritional value in our foodstuffs, declining access to affordable health services, and an epidemic of depression, anxiety, and related mental health problems. You notice I still haven't mentioned terrorism, and a variety of international problems that are associated with our dependence on foreign oil, or the strategic loss of manufacturing in the US or our balance of trade deficit. It gets scary, right?

I'll repeat a short story I've told before that comes from the history of educational sloyd.

In mid 19th century Sweden, villagers practiced various crafts in their homes during the long dark winter months. By doing so, they kept seasonal affective disorder at bay, kept alive a sense of creativity and competence while producing hem sloyd -- crafts that they were able to barter and sell to their neighbors to produce some income during the months that weather conditions made farming impossible.

At that point, a huge influx of well-made and inexpensive German and English manufactured goods entered the Swedish marketplace, and greatly diminished the value of their home-crafted products. As a result, the Swedes turned to the making and sales of alcoholic beverages. They could sell it, and they could drink it, providing a small amount of revenue and temporarily alleviating the effects of winter. It had disastrous effects on the Swedish culture and economy.

The same thing happened with the American Indian, the cultures of Africa, Asia and South America. When the values of individual involvement in the making of things and the shaping of personal lives are lost; when access to the traditional sources of self-esteem and empowerment are lost, the effects are tragic. Educational Sloyd was supported and encouraged in Swedish schools by the Lutheran Church as a means to restore and preserve the traditional values.

So, here we are now. When we make something ourselves instead of buying it from China, it may involve an economic loss for the world's trading and political conglomerates. When we grow food ourselves, and prepare it for our own tables, it may involve loss for the multinationals and their economy. But these activities involve renewal of self-esteem and restoration of dignity and power for those who who engage in them. It is radical. It is what happens when we begin to look at the dangerous concept of conservation.

Change is certain. It is one of those inevitable facts of life. It can be good if you know it's coming and you have taken steps to prepare. It can be disastrous if it catches you unaware. Make plans for yourself. Learn to do things with your own hands. Plant a garden, or plan and cook dinner tonight. Make something from wood. Share that pleasure with your child. Your partial withdrawal from the economy, taking life into your own hands, will prepare you for change and for the better.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

My subscription copy of Fine Woodworking arrived today and you can fine it shown on the Fine Woodworking website. Also featured there, you will find an article showing two kinds of miter sled excerpted from my book Basic Box Making. Still to come in the next day or so will be my woodworking with kids project articles.
I've been spending a two year term as president of the National Association of Home Workshop Writers. I agreed to serve because of the organization's potential in promoting hands-on learning. One of my duties is to rally the troops through our quarterly newsletter. What follows is my contribution for spring 2008. Those who read here regularly will recognize it's core as coming from an earlier blog post.

A friend once told me, that it's great to go with the flow, but it is best to know first where the flow is going. Her idea was that you might be pleasantly floating in a meandering stream on its way to a cataract, or down a storm sewer.

As writers, we work day to day, from one job to the next, going with the flow and hoping it is headed in the right direction. Most of the news out there isn't good. People are reading fewer books. They are happy with sound bites and snippets of information. Young men and women spend their time gaming instead of fixing and making, and no one seems at all concerned with the strategic implications of all our stuff being made in China or with the huge debt we owe them for it. The news of the environment is dire. Tornados, heat waves, fire, avalanche and hurricanes dominate the 6 o'clock. We are messing things up, have no one to blame but ourselves, and have little grip on how to change or bring change.

It's a bit like floating in a canoe and hearing the massive falls up ahead, or worse, the sucking sound of a civilization going down the drain. Those who have some experience with a paddle know that a simple stroke, well timed and placed can turn the course.

We few, as a small family of "How-To" writers have some special qualities that come from making and fixing and having developed the capacity to tell about it. What we do requires an integration of hand and mind that has been discouraged and disparaged since the time of Socrates. That integration is needed more now than ever before in human history.

In the late 1870's when manual arts were first introduced to schools in the US by Calvin Woodward at Washington University and John D. Runkle at MIT, it was because these early educators had noticed deficiencies in their engineering students. These students needed hands-on experience in 3 dimensional reality to be qualified for the intellectual components of their work. In those early days, the connection between the hands and the brain in learning was widely accepted as an educational concept.

During much of the 20th century, however, using modern manufacturing as their model, educators sought greater efficiency and economy in the processing of students through the system. This meant large numbers of students in the classroom, with material being delivered by lecture, often missed or ignored by students whose hands were now to be stilled and neatly folded on their desks. It also meant a division in schools, separating the work of the hands from the work of the intellect as described by Woodrow Wilson when he was President of Princeton.

"We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."

When he became President of the US, Wilson pushed the Smith-Hughes Act through Congress simultaneously providing certain schools with money for technical education and stripping academic institutions of the challenge and responsibility of providing hands-on experience.

My program at the Clear Spring School, Wisdom of the Hands was founded on the recognition that the engagement of the hands is an essential element in the engagement of the intellect and the realization of its full capacities for all students, including those who choose to pursue academic careers.

It is interesting that now, at last, modern scientific methods are proving the hand/brain system that had been widely observed and understood by early educators and largely ignored in recent decades. Researchers at the University of Chicago, University of Rochester and other top research universities are finding the use of the hands in gesture to be a clear view into the workings of the mind as it processes information and as we learn. Most simply stated, the movement of the hands facilitates the movement of thought in the brain, and as we use our hands in learning and making we become more intelligent as well as more creative.

Those of us who write about what we can do with our hands; those of us who express wisdom and intelligence through our hands in the making of real things, shaping physical rather than virtual realities, have a sacred trust. Theorists and the evening news can tell us how bad things can get. People untrained in skill of hand and mind will flounder. You, our nation's Home Workshop Writers are gifted with working hands and the power of the written word to inspire, encourage and give confidence.

So, here we are, hands on paddles and some knowledge of the stream ahead. We know that things wrong require hands and real tools to fix. We are empowered. Dig deep in the water with each and every stroke.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mario Nunez sent me photos of a box he recently completed, a bit larger than earlier boxes, pushing the limits of his stationary belt sander and challenging his confidence during the work.

Pushing the limits of one's confidence and riding on the edge is where growth happens, and we are helped by the chemicals our bodies produce that push us to engage in some way at the edge of our potential.

I've been reading a book about sailing, The Godforsaken Sea, by Derek Lundy. It is about a race around the world in the high latitudes, Arctic icy waters and in the worst sea and weather conditions even an experienced sailor could possibly imagine. In the Vendée Globe, solo 60 foot racers, built light for speed, and carrying as much sail as they can handle without coming apart, sail from France, around Antarctica and back in just over 100 days (if they make it back at all). Derek Lundy raises the question, if you've been there, why would you go back? and which he answers by observing the chemistry of the body.
There's an element of compulsion here, a whiff of addiction. Drugs are involved: the seductive high of adrenaline, for example. It's a powerful substance. The athlete, the daredevil, the extreme-sport practitioner sometimes the soldier, all return to the action in part to recapture the physical sensations produced by the body's own chemistry when it is in danger. There's also dopamine, the chemical produced in the brain, when people have good experiences. It's what makes us feel pleasure and we try to repeat the actions that trigger its secretion.

Reader Joe Barry could tell a bit about this. He and his wife Dee have made over 300 parachute jumps each. Joe is a licensed rigger and learned to sew meticulously as an adult in order to receive certification. Sewing our tiny sails isn't the same as sewing a parachute in which your stitches may mean life or death, but the sense of accomplishment the students feel at Clear Spring is real none the less. And it is interesting to note that the human body once it is introduced to its creative potential is chemically driven to advance our accomplishments and push us to risk growth. Way to go Mario. Ride that gentle high.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Today, the 9th and 10th grades students at Clear Spring School finished their sail boats, using a sewing machine to sew the sails and fabric paints to decorate them. It was the first time for all but one to use a sewing machine. They asked, "Do we get to take these home today?" It is a question I get often from kids of all ages.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Joe Barry reminded me that the Japanese tea bowl is an example of the belief that an object could be invested with the perceivable energy and spirit of its maker.
The value was perceived to be in the pure spirit of the skilled craftsman's hands in forming the bowl. Many mistake it for a fascination for crude workmanship and it is anything but! Any apparent crudity is as a result of the fortuitous accidents of the firing process. What they found pleasure in was the uniqueness of the natural process and not the flawless anonymity of the mass produced item. The most most valued items would have been culls in a factory kiln operation.
The tea bowls shown in the photos above are from eBay and made for western consumption.
I've ignored the blog for the last couple days as I worked on an article for the National Association of Home Workshop Writers Spring Newsletter, and was interviewed yesterday and photographed today for an article in the features section of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper.

The hands are actually a no-brainer. You really don't have to be very head-smart to realize the role they play in the development and understanding of intelligence. So, I think I was able to explain things without being too offensive or off the wall.

The 5th and 6th grade students worked on their Arkansas cutting boards this morning while the photographer took photos of the kids and I at work. The photos above and below were taken this afternoon of projects in the woodshop. The siege tower was made by 7th and 8th grade boys. The windmill is being designed and made by a group of 4 high school students.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Some people attribute mystical qualities to hands. In some religions "laying on of hands" is believed to have healing power. If you are Buddhist, Hindu, Roman Catholic or any other of a wide range of religious beliefs, your religious practice calls for particular gestures to be made with your hands. So this week's survey explores the idea that the energies of the maker are invested through the hands as energy present in the objects made. Are they there? Do you perceive them? Do the hands have the power to invest objects with non-material qualities? Choose one answer please.
It is an icy day in the Ozark Mountains and school was cancelled today because of freezing rain. Today I am doing prep work for tomorrow's classes, and since both the 3rd and 4th grades and the 9th and 10th are making sail boats, I've gotten my daughter's sewing machine out and I'm making sails. This is the first time I've done this much machine sewing since I made seat covers and interior upholstery for my 1930 Model A Ford as a high school student.

I'll take the machine to school tomorrow so the kids can either try it or at least see how it works.

You can tell what is happening in the sewing world by making visit to Walmart. Like a canary in a coal mine, Walmart is a great indicator of what goes on in American communities. They drop the products that aren't selling at enough profit and volume and leave slow selling items to small scale niche marketers. They closed their sewing section and severely reduced their available craft supplies to increase space for more profitable items.

It is just the way of things. It's done. Its over. And those who still sew are required to look elsewhere for supplies.

How do we reignite a creative passion where it is dying to our left and right? Put the tools and creative opportunities in the hands of the young.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The tour group came and went, and I'm glad I had done some cleaning before they arrived. 45 (or so) extra people in the wood shop meant that the place was very crowded, and to rub up against a piece of equipment wearing clean clothes meant dirty for the rest of the day. My guests were wonderful... Attentive, inquisitive, and experienced in making things themselves, or knowledgeable of the investment an artisan makes in his or her work.

Today Mario sent me a photo of a friend for the Blokes in Basements and Sheds, Geezers in garages series. Above you find Jim Long from Jennings Lodge, Oregon. Mario had met Jim over 40 years ago while they were waiting in line to buy concert tickets and they have been friends ever since. Use the search block above to find Mario in his Buffalo, New York basement wood shop. Like Mario, and so many others across the US, Jim takes pleasure in fixing and making things. What you see in the photo are conventional woodworking tools in a space flexible enough to pull in a car or boat for a quick fix. The shop is the size of a two car garage with the spaces aligned end to end and with a front room for wife Judi's gardening stuff. The blue tarp is used to divide the shop in cold weather so it is easier to heat. Jim's shop reminds me of my first shop in a small 1 1/2 car garage with exposed rafters. I will always have the fondest memories of my many hours working in it.

As a society we are caught up in inexplicable technology. We can't fix things or even understand how they work. The engines in new cars are sealed under plastic shrouds so we won't be troubled by the complexity, or be tempted to think we might be able to fix things ourselves. Unless we take positive action with our children, we may find the age of the American inventor and entrepreneur and back yard fixer and designer to be reaching its end. Why worry about fixing things when they are so cheap and meaningless in the first place?

On the other hand, I asked my 3rd and 4th grade students if they liked fixing things. "Yes!" they all assured me, "Yes!" Not a scientific poll, I grant you, but their enthusiasm makes up for what I lack in behavioral statistics.

I forgot to mention the blog to my guests yesterday, but I did have some cards available for them to take home with the blog address. If any of my guests are reading this today, I want to thank you for your visit and for your support of the arts.

My thanks also to Mario and Jim Long for the Blokes in sheds contribution. Those of us who make and fix are the cultural antidote for what ails the digital age. Sharing something of ourselves with others is part of the fix. If you would like to submit a photo, place yourself in the center of the shop, wide angle so we can see your stuff. Use the self-timer and tripod if you have one. Slow the exposure and avoid flash if possible, by using natural shop lighting. Tell just a bit about yourself, what you make, what other personal needs your shop fulfills. Submit your photo scaled to about 1 meg in size.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

When I was a kid in high school and college, (60' and 70's) the world flipped on its head. No longer was success to be gained by showing up in the long term and through the long range cultivation of skill and technique. Fame and success came quickly to a few launched by the music industry into stardom and huge financial success on a worldwide stage. Measurement of success became based on things that apparently took place in an instant, decisions made in boardrooms. "Being discovered," was the term used by for those longing for the lights of Hollywood, or the Hollywood Bowl.

Conflicting inclinations... Today I have a bus load of arts patrons visiting from Little Rock, so I am involved in a cleaning and arranging of my studio (work shop), office, and the usual weekly cleaning of the house. Having guests is always a confusing thing for me. Do I show them the usual real-life chaos within which an artist most often works, or put on the front of order and perfection. This time since my wife is involved as co-host, we are leaning toward the latter. Now if I can keep things in order until Tuesday, my home and studio will still be in order for a visit and interview with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette Features editor.

It seems my work and my program are attracting some attention. Some of it is luck. some of it is timing, but I remember thinking years ago as I watched young men and women launched to instantaneous recognition, how much more meaningful success would be if it were earned a day at a time over a lifetime of work. It requires showing up each day and having goals, set, reached and renewed. Working with ones hands through involvement in relationships and community provides a deeper, richer life than that suffered by stars or endured though empty longing for celebrity.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Today in the Clear Spring wood shop, the 9th and 10th grade students, as part of their earth sciences class, began making working model sailboats. The intersection between the sailboats and their studies are two fold: oceanography and meteorology. We used a folding paper and scissors technique for designing the hull and keel, so each is unique. Next week we will make masts, booms, sails and rudders. Tomorrow, my small shop and home will be visited by a bus load of 45 arts patrons and enthusiasts from Little Rock. Too much to do, so no time for the blog.

The sail boats are made from white pine and the keels are made from scrap galvanized sheet metal from a local heat and air installer.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The photos above are of the simple 5-board bench I began today for the book. The wood is old rough-sawn pine, lightly sanded to preserve the circular saw marks. The sample board shows milk paint on pine. First barn red was applied and then green. By sanding lightly, the base coat is revealed, presenting a rustic, worn and primitive appearance.
There is a barred owl in the woods this afternoon. Its voice goes "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-aahl?

This morning the post master greeted me as I picked up my mail and bought a stamp. I didn't know he knew me but he wanted to talk about boxes and classes, learning to work wood. I had the same conversation this afternoon with the FedEx express driver who was delivering the last of my boxes being returned by Taunton Press from the upcoming article. There is something to working with wood that people get and get good when they have at least a chance. There is something about it that soothes the soul. This afternoon, I've been working on the second project for the new book... A rustic 5 board bench made from rough-sawn pine. There are rich textures in the wood, markings of a large circular saw, and this project is to be done in milk paints in two colors, a base coat and top coat, allowing the texture to be highlighted.

So, that owl. Its sound is much like the traditional Chinese folk greeting, "Nee How", which means "have you had your rice?"... A sign of deep concern for the basics of life. Can you see that an owl in the woods and a villager in remote China might know the same language and give voice to the same concerns? That they might understand one another?

You have to be somewhat involved in the outdoors to have a sense of reality, and the underlying values of life. Hang out too long in the artificial heat and cold and in your shelter from the elements, you can get your sense of reality twisted. Then when the voice calls from the woods, you may not know its meaning.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

This morning at the Clear Spring school wood shop, the 5th and 6th grade students worked on their Arkansas cutting boards. Each shows the boundaries of the state, the major rivers, cities and points of interest. After cutting the shape of the state, first with scissors, and then with scroll saw, the students pencil in the details and use a wood burning pen for permanent marks. Each cutting board serves as a learning device, but will serve long after as a record of learning, a stimulant to curiosity and reflection, and each records the story of a great day in wood shop. When the papers and reposts are in the land fill or recycling center, and their contents forgotten, the cutting boards, or at least a few, will be kept as treasures.

This morning on NPR, it was mentioned that there is a one percent annual decline in American participation in outdoor recreational activities. That means that Americans are becoming further out of touch with environmental reality and sensitivity. Environmental organizations are concerned that there will be little motivation for people to protect and preserve what is essentially unknown to them.

The other report of interest is that the service sector is shrinking. That can be bad for the economy. Hardly anyone making things anymore, and then the service sector shrinks as well. Remember that American politicians have thought our economy was OK because the service sector was growing to offset the decline in manufacturing jobs. But as I'll discuss below, the making of things has always been of strategic importance. The service sector is made up of tasks that people could do for themselves if so inclined... often things that would be better done in the homes than farmed out to corporations. What is better for example, and what is better for you, a home cooked meal or lunch at MacDonalds?

If the shrinkage of the service sector means that people are cooking, gardening, doing their own repairs, and living better, more meaningful lives as a consequence, is that all bad? Maybe a few people are learning about their hands.

A much neglected issue is the strategic value of a manufacturing economy. Americans seem to know nothing about it, but you can bet the Chinese do. You remember the old saying, beating swords into plowshares in times of peace? What if you have no one capable of beating or making in times of war? If we were to go to war with China, maybe we could throw big Macs at them, for surely, we are a nation of idiots.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Today at the Clear Spring School wood shop, the 1st and second grade students started work on their triceratops, or three horned dinosaurs as shown. The top photo shows the process used to lay out the cut lines when preparing several blocks for classroom use. The second and third grade students finished their sand boxes by making tiny sand rakes. We also had a boat discussion and demonstration to prepare for next week's project, making sail boats.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Today at Clear Spring School I've been preparing materials for the week's classes. As you will see at right, I've started a new feature. A hands-on poll. You can select more than one answer in this one. The purpose of the poll is to help me to become better acquainted with my readers and to allow you to share your thoughts and feelings without having to leave comments. Please take part in the poll, but please leave comments related to blog post, too. Your participation helps to give voice to our hands. As a friend of mine Frank Wilson stated, the hands are like a large mountain. They make their own weather. Their impact on our lives is so profound as to go unnoticed.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I was intrigued today, listening to a radio program on NPR in which author Will Self was interviewed about his book, Psychogeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place. Does it make sense to you that how we perceive our physical reality is dependent on the means through which we experience it?... that a walker might live in a completely different contextual landscape than a bicyclist, a rider in a car, or a passenger in a plane? This would be a no-brainer for those who know themselves and the functioning of their intelligence as being more than just a brain... for those who know wisdom in their bodies and in their communities, and who just might know that to fully know, one must slow down, remove the barriers of technology and plunge themselves confidently and consciously into the icy waters of physical reality. So go for it. Take a walk. See what you see and feel what it means to pass slowly and quietly on foot. Report back. Some might be interested in knowing that there is a real world out there.
Walker Weed wrote to say that he was not the one to originate the notion that Dartmouth students should be required to make a chair. That idea, he says, came from Peter Smith, director of their Hopkins Center. Mr. Weed also contributed the following quote from Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832)
"The time has now come when any man who cannot turn to some form of art or handicraft is extremely unfortunate. With the world moving at its present pace, mere knowledge avails us nothing; by the time a man has taken note of all there is to know, he has lost his essential self."

“Art is not the fruits of one's labor but the labor itself. Art is integral to life and work - not the shoemaker's shoe but the integrity with which he makes it. In this sense art is accessible to everyone, and when we fail to take advantage of it, we forfeit completeness - both as individuals and as a society.”
The photo at left showing Time writer and blogger Lev Grossman's daughter gaming on her laptop shows how easy it can be to come to the right conclusion while giving the wrong impression. Lev is one of those young men who grew up on gaming and then couldn't wait to infect his own daughter with his addiction. Something made him wonder, however and he decided to consult an expert Susan Gregory Thomas whom he now calls Susie Joykiller, because she explained to him that his ideas of the wonderful advantages like hand/eye coordination he was offering his daughter were just his own destructive fantasies offered as rationalization.Then the magazine article pulls the plug on Lev Grossman's discovery by offering websites for tiny gamers. A better thing would nave been to tell where to buy scissors.

What this article illustrates is that we are now entering a second generation in which children have been turned over to machines to entertain and instruct while the age old tools of human creativity remain untouched. As people generally read only the first few lines of articles, most readers will be influenced by the picture of Lev Grossman's daughter gaming (Oh! So cute!) and never understand the stupidity of the idea nor the complexity of the issues involved.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Joe Barry informed me that I'm not the first to urge the Ivies to develop affirmative action for hands-on education. Walker Weed, New Hampshire furniture maker, 1940 graduate of Dartmouth and long time director of an avocational furniture making program at Dartmouth proposed at the time of his retirement that every student be required to make a chair for their use during their time of attendance. What a great idea. Shown in the photo above is a chair made by Walker Weed and associate Gordon Keeler. Shown below is a hammer handle chair made by Wharton Esherick in the late 1930's. Its history is described in a wonderful article in this month's Woodwork Magazine.
The American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, South Carolina was founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo when community members amidst destruction realized the immense value of their architectural legacy, and that the present society had left them with very few trained artisans to restore and preserve it.
"The American College of the Building Arts believes in graduating well-rounded, highly qualified and knowledgeable artisans. Our students will simultaneously evolve academically and artistically resulting not only artisans who can utilize materials to high levels of sophistication, but also professionals who can become leaders in the process of creating and preserving our building legacy.

Historically, building artisans were seen as equals to doctors, lawyers, and clergy. Unfortunately, the manual trades have lost much of the aura and respect they previously held. This trend must be reversed. The College is dedicated to reawakening the respect people once had for master builders and artisans. Students will receive an excellent general education and the best training available in the building arts. With this education and training in hand, the College’s graduates will help change the face of America for the better."
The American College of the Building Arts and the few others like it are a important first step. But we are a very long ways from the hands reaching the Ivies. Someday schools like Columbia University, Harvard and Yale will come to an understanding of the value that the hands impart to the learning and intelligence of all. Until that day, like stone masons of old, we will keep chipping away.

In making small wooden mallets at Clear Spring last week we talked about the masonry tools that were used to create the architectural masterpieces we take for granted today. Small men, smaller tools, immense effort, clear creative vision. There are those who've come up with strange notions that the pyramids of Egypt were built by aliens. They, like way too many others have lost comprehension of human power and creativity. Like the tapping of our small mallets, small tools in rhythmic acts over time have great power to transform. If we don't act to create beauty, our only lasting marks will be the immense volume of trash we've contributed to the nation's over-flowing landfills and the massive scars left by our voracious consumption.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Shown below is the cover of the April issue of Fine Woodworking Magazine. All 4 boxes on the cover and those illustrating the article inside are mine. If you are a subscriber, your copy will be coming in about 2 weeks. You can subscribe through the website or buy a copy at your local bookstore.