Friday, October 31, 2008

Today will be a busy day. Gary Junken, Taunton Video Director will be here for round two of Rustic Furniture Basics. It is raining so we will bring some of the video shoot indoors until things pass. Today is also the Harvest Party at Clear Spring School. Gary and I will slip by the school for a few moments this morning to get the wood shop booth set up, so there will be some woodworking for the children to do at the party.

I have been reflecting on cursive. What if we learned to regard writing as a meditation? It is for some, and is made more meaningful, full of meaning, by paying attention to how the words are laid down on the page. What if your deepest thoughts and highest aspirations are reflected not only in what you say, but in how they are delivered with full consciousness... not only that of the mind, but the full attention of the body as well?

Would those words become so powerful that they might change the world? They will, one writer at a time.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

In case you want to go back to 3rd grade (1st and 2nd if you are at Clear Spring) and practice your cursive, here is a chart of letters to use as a guide. I had forgotten so much over the years, as my own hand writing is a combination of cursive and print...

Writing in cursive really slows one down, bringing greater attention to applying the words to the page. Get a good pen and try it. It may seem frustrating at first, or may become a delight and carry you back to memories of your first days in school.
Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the Botany class turned wood samples for the school collection, and the 11th and 12th grade literature class turned and carved pens and practiced their cursive. After years of not writing in cursive, I've found it interesting to explore and renew my own skills. Practice is a lot more fun that in was when I was in 3rd grade. I like the way the pen and ink invite swirls and extra ornamentation to appear, and the process causes one to slow down and write with greater deliberation. I am still getting ready for the Taunton video director to arrive tomorrow morning. My fix on the stool rung actually worked! The photo below is of a Botany student turning wood.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

John Grossbohlin sent photos of his boys Joshua and Jesse from when they were 6 and 8 and helped in crafting an addition to their house. John says people would stop on the street to watch, never having seen kids actually do anything real before. If kids don't do anything real, what kind of impression with they have of themselves? Will they think they or anything they do matters?

I love mistakes... not at the moment I make them, but later when I've figured out how to fix them. I can get mad at myself just like anyone, but only until I've reminded myself of how wonderful mistakes can be for learning new things.

I am busy getting ready for work on the DVD Friday and one of the things that happened when I glued up a stool last week was that all the rungs didn't get pushed into the tenons all the way. That left the stool out of square. You get to a point that you may be willing to risk the whole thing... go for broke. So that's what I did this afternoon. I clamped the stool on top of the table saw and raised the blade until it cut through the rung at an acute angle. You will see from the photos what I've done.

After spreading Gorilla glue on the sawn surfaces, I tape the parts of the rung together at the new length. It won't be perfect, but it is great to take chances and learn something new every day. This technique is based on the age old technique used for repairing chair rungs that I demonstrated much earlier in the blog.

If I am lucky it will be good enough so that you and I will be the only ones to know it happened. If I am very lucky, I'll never have to use this trick again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

This is another article related to the discussion of colleges and their appropriateness for all students from "Diploma with a side of Fries". I won't bother to quote what you can read and discuss for yourselves.

Also read the article that stirred the first one up. From the Chronicle of Higher Education: "America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree" By Marty Nemko

Perhaps the issue isn't about deciding whether or not students are capable of college, but whether they are ready for college. We should consider the timing and offer most students more options. Maturity plays a big part in whether college is an expensive opportunity wasted or gained.

I have been following Zac Sunderland's solo voyage attempting to be the first to circumnavigate the globe under the age of 18. He will turn 17 soon and is in the middle of the Indian Ocean headed for Mauritius off the coast of Africa. Not every young man needs adventure on that level, but all young men need opportunities to mature and find themselves as measured against real challenges. Like when Zac believed that he was being pursued by pirates. Fortunately it was just a fishing vessel, but the fear was real. And his confident preparation was real. And when kids hit middle school, they start looking for real. Instead we delay their growth, keeping them hooked to fantasy through video games and distraction.
This is a busy week around here. So I'll have limited time for the blog. I am getting ready for the second round of video work for the Rustic Furniture DVD this weekend. So there is lots to do to prepare.

I also am working on final parts of the book and have school. Yesterday, my school woodworking club helped cut out wooden hands for use in a downtown Christmas wreath that the Clear Spring School had been asked to contribute to the city's holiday decorations. Fortunately, other students will paint and decorate the hands, so they are now out of MY hands, so to speak.

This week we also have the annual Harvest Party at Clear Spring School. It allows the kids to do dress up without all the super hero, witch, and mummy theme that has nothing to do with their formal education. Instead, the students dress up in pioneer style and celebrate our heritage. On Friday, members of the woodworking club will help students from pre-school through middle school make lucky tokens from wood. These will be called "lucky wood pieces," and will be offered with the guarantee to prevent snakebite, Indian attack and broken axle on the pioneer journey west. OK, it's a bit goofy, but fun.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Today the 3rd and 4th grade students went to a local printer and made their own campaign buttons as a follow-up to the wood ones we finished last week. The 1st and 2nd grade woodworkers, are beginning classroom study of Indians, so we went on a hike along the Golden Trail at the high school property and gathered materials for making miniature Tee-pees. It was a beautiful day to hike in the woods and offered some insight into the development of young children. There is often a dramatic difference between a 1st grader and second grader in their ability to pay attention and be quiet, and the exercise of walking silently and observantly in the woods will quickly illustrate differences in maturity.

It is interesting that studies of children's abilities to pay attention and listen have diminished significantly over the last 30 years in which they have been studying these particular signs of maturation. It is believed that the amount of television and computer time are directly to blame.

By the time you get to high school and college, rates and range of development and maturity are in a wide spread. So not all students of the same age are necessarily ready for college at the same time, and some parents may find that college is a very expensive place to park their sons or daughters while waiting for them to mature. Many students benefit from a year or more doing something else first and there are lots of appealing options. When college is what they want most for themselves, the time is right.
Campus violence came to Arkansas last night with a shooting at University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

We live in a society in which anger is directed toward educational institutions. We see it in vandalism at schools. We also see it at these shootings that have become a world-wide phenomenon. It would make sense to begin to question why. Are these just random events caused by minds and emotions run astray? Or is campus violence indicative of other things?

Our culture through video games, television and our own foreign policy reinforces the idea that problems are to be solved through application of force. Easy access to guns and the portrayal of guns in video and television as objects of fantasy put our whole culture at risk of violence... and our own children at risk of death and injury.

If we make the decision that school violence is just random then we have chosen our own powerlessness. If we view these events as the result of something we can control, we should be asking serious questions about what to do next.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

It may seem like I've gone off on a tangent, discussing economic theory in the blog about the hands, but this is very much related to Educational Sloyd in which Salomon proposed that woodworking in school helped to create a cultural climate of dignity and respect for ALL labor.

When the Smith-Hughes Act (1917) was signed into law by former Princeton University President Woodrow Wilson, putting federal dollars into programs isolating the hands from the education of the elite, the white/blue collar divide was institutionalized. Now, in the current presidential debate, Joe the Plumber is playing a big part. Even though he is not a real plumber and he has shown no real skills at anything, the McCain campaign has found him to be its greatest hope. He is a symbol used to frame the debate, and isolate and alienate, taking advantage of the long established class divide that Educational Sloyd worked to alleviate.
If a person has never attempted to do anything creative requiring the skill of the hands, he or she is unlikely to understand the value of the contributions of those who do, laying the foundation for the other side of the divide:

Those whose skills have been marginalized and who've been taught to doubt their own intellectual abilities choose belief over curiosity and become victims of resentment and prey to those who would manipulate them for malicious political purposes.
Meanwhile the newly college educated may be the hardest hit in the declining economy. According in an article in the Chicago Tribune, October 14, "Is College Worth It?" by Megan Twohey, in many professions low salaries and large student loans severely limit the financial advantage of college education. The one third of college students who drop out are left with loan expenses without the salary advantages required to pay them off.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Just a bit more in support of my economic theory is in the following article from the New York Times:
So When Will Banks Give Loans?
“Chase recently received $25 billion in federal funding. What effect will that have on the business side and will it change our strategic lending policy?”
The point of the article is that the banks won't make the kinds of loans that actually empower renewed productivity. They are only comfortable with using the money taken from the American taxpayer Wall St. Bailout to secure their positions of power by capitalizing the purchase of other banks.

So I will repeat the theory for your reading pleasure:
Investors will only invest in the economic sectors they think they understand and in which they place value.
This is what happens when hands-on learning has been removed from schools and broad swaths of American leadership have no connection with productive reality. So we will sit at the sidelines and watch the last of the great American manufacturers and many others go down as a result of under-capitalization. Bye bye, Ford, Chrysler and GM. Sorry, the American bankers just don't understand the concept of making things, because they've never made anything or fixed anything in their lives.
Autumn is the best time of the year to learn about the diversity of our natural hardwood forests, a theme in my work since 1976. Today I am raking leaves and have a beautiful day for it. So I won't bother with my camera, but will share a link to my regular website showing a few of the leaves of Arkansas. But better than images uploaded from my computer, step outside and see for yourself. Real leaves are even more beautiful than the sycamore leaves shown below.
In support of my economic theory in yesterday's post, I offer the following from an interview with Paul Volcker on Charlie Rose:
"It seems to me what our nation needs is more civil engineers and electrical engineers and fewer financial engineers."

The following is from an article describing "a decade of descent" in
And there you have it -- the United States' decade of descent, in a nutshell. Volcker's observation speaks volumes about where the United States economy -- and the nation, at large, for that matter -- is today.

For reasons that historians will undoubtedly debate for decades (globalization, automation, flawed public policies, inadequate regulations, overconsumption, the availability of foreign capital, greed) the United States embarked on a financing boom -- creating an increasing array of creative and untenable mortgage types, accompanied by an equally problematic set of mortgage backed securities. It generated an unsustainable housing bubble, which ended as all bubbles do -- badly -- triggering the global financial crisis.

And yet, all the while, as Volcker observed, public investment in infrastructure -- the physical backbone of the economy, of the nation, really -- declined. That infrastructure is now in a state of disrepair. The nation's schools, hospitals, roads/bridges/mass transit systems/air travel system and even our electric grid are inadequate to meet the nation's current requirements, let alone the requirements of an expanding, vibrant, dynamic, twenty-first century economy.
Our decision in 1916 (Smith-Hughes Act) to follow the advice of former Princeton University President Woodrow Wilson and separate the education of the hand from the "liberal education" of the nation's elite has come home to roost. We have hedge fund managers that can't turn a screw and financial managers and CEOs who let American manufacturing go down the toilet they can't fix.

And this leads me to the second part of my economic hypothesis:
Students will invest their lives and their educations only in economic sectors they understand and value.
By failing to offer a wide range of educational experiences to all students we have pushed our nation toward economic collapse.

In the meantime, the Mad Hatter Ball was fun. My hat was rather hard for the photographer from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette to get on film as it made me about 8 feet tall. And we raised some cash for craft education despite the gloomy economic conditions.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It has become my annual tradition to embarrass myself by making my own wooden hat for the Mad Hatter's Ball, and with the help of some scrap veneer I guess I have outdone myself. I'm hoping it won't be too heavy or as uncomfortable as previous year's models.
Every now and then some American economist is awarded a Nobel Prize for economics based on a simple observation. The award is in excess of 1.4 million dollars. It may come posthumously, or up to 30 years after the groundbreaking principle was first proposed. I have a simple hypothesis that I suspect will play out again and again throughout the course of history and have profound effect. This simple theory illuminates the idiocy of the "trickle down effect."
Investors will only invest in the economic sectors they think they understand and in which they place value.
The theory explains why instead of stimulating expansion of labor and employment, tax breaks for the already rich have simply overinflated values in a few distinct market sectors. So don't expect the leaders of the Wall Street bailout to provide much guidance in our current crisis. They have no propensity to invest in those things they do not understand. On the other hand, I have been a very poor investor in Wall St. I put my efforts and resources in production capacity, knowledge and skill. We have created a class of investors with complete ignorance in two of those three distinct contributors to economic success. CEOs and the corporate investor class, knowing little or nothing about the making of real things will be extremely unlikely to put people to work doing the kinds of things that build a strong, diverse economy.

I may never get my 1.4 million dollars from the Nobel committee for formally stating something that could be noticed by anyone with the slightest modicum of common sense. Making things in America may never lead to such success. It is swimming upstream against an overwhelming tide. But like most American craftsman, I live with the knowledge that making is about far more than money. While some are busy making money, the path of the craftsman is about making a life through which one contributes meaning and value to the lives of others, and harvests rewards moment by moment through the course of one's work.
Today is another day to compete with the Chinese, and I am grateful that there are still businesses in the US selling American made products. I will put the final coat of finish on boxes that go to Appalachian Spring and ship them tomorrow.

Tonight is the Mad Hatter's Ball, a fund raising event for The Eureka Springs School of the Arts. I usually make a wooden hat of some kind, and this year, my mind is a blank. I serve on the board of the organization working to bring quality craft education to our region.

By watching the news, I see that the old Reagan concept of "trickle down economics" is still a driving force in Republican thinking. The question I've always had is "trickle down to what?" Through the application of a modest amount of common sense you would know that people only invest in things they know something about. If you look at the rise of American manufacturing you see that it happened at the hands of tinkerers, inventors and makers. You look at the decline of American manufacturing, and you notice that it happened in the hand of accountants, professional managers, and out-sourcing.

Can you get it? It is not hard to understand but you have to come at the matter from the common sense perspective of the hand. The expectation that the wealthy would use their extra money to put people to work except as servants and gardeners was complete Republican fantasy that has come home to roost as we watch the investment bubble created by misguided, clueless investors come to a point of collapse.

As an interesting case study, look at Apple computers. It was created by inventors, driven into the ground by professional CEOs and re-emerged upon the return of its inventor/founder as the creator of the iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and has been involved in nearly every important innovation in American consumer electronics over the last 10 years. So, yank the professional CEOs and replace them with inventors and see what happens. It will be a change for the better.

So when some blooming idiot mentions trickle down, and gets all starry eyed for the days of Ronald Reagan, just think "trickle down the drain." It is what we have done over the years to the once creative American manufacturing industries.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The 11th and 12 grade students have been quoting Shakespeare in ink with pens they've made themselves, either with knives or on the lathe. What a fun class!

The botany class is turning wood samples for a permanent wood collection to keep at Clear Spring School as shown in the photo below.
I have been enjoying a bit of TV, watching the campaign performances of various candidates and the use of their hands through gesture in support of their ideas and speech. You can watch Sarah Palin and her use of her hands. Now where have I seen that before? Oh yes, in 7th grade as students tried to answer questions posed by the teacher in class. The quickly jabbing pointed finger says, "Oh, yes, I know this one. Or at least I hope I do." It is indicative of studied and practiced recitation.

I will be very glad when this election is over and we have a real change in leadership, and I don't mean McCain. I plan to give my full attention to the most important task at hand... finding the means to help our children become as smart as they can only be when their hands are fully engaged in learning.

When you watch the hands, yours or others, you begin to understand the role they play in the development and communication of thought. Education of the hands is critical to the development of whole children. First, the hands engage the children directly in "real" reality. (Here I'm borrowing from the Republicans, that some Americans are more "Real American" than others.) Secondly, the hand's movements act in concert with the other senses to stimulate and assist the processing of information. And thirdly, the engagement of the hands alleviates stress, and becomes an antidote to depression, lifting the overall level of emotional intelligence.

What we currently see too much of in the current American political arena is the old class warfare designed to isolate and separate us one from the other, and that division falls on the hand. Blue collar and white, and the generation of fear between. But the education of all hands is the key to overcoming boundaries, allowing us all to arise to our highest capabilities and sensitivities.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

This morning in the Clear Spring School wood shop the 5th and 6th grade students continued work on their Soma cube puzzles. We will oil them next week and begin a more intense woodworking project... yet to be decided.

Clear Spring lower elementary school teacher Jenny Ammusen is reading the Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louve and has resolved to tackle "nature deficit disorder" in our children by pledging at least one hour a day outdoor learning time. We are fortunate that our school is located in a wooded area and the campus is filled with natural beauty.

At the other end of the school experience, Pete Golden, our high school science and math teacher is currently teaching Botany. On their first day they learned to identify over 40 plants on campus. Last week we made numbered stakes so that locations can be marked. They will develop a key that can be used by all students in the identification of plant species. Tomorrow the 9th and 10 grade students will begin work on the lathe, making wood samples for a permanent high school collection.

In the meantime, science for most students has become something distant and detached from their own lives. Real scientific investigation and observation has been left to experts. It seems that truth is no longer a matter for direct personal observation and analysis, but a matter of well orchestrated manipulation of public opinion... a thing made easy by the sense of incompetence engendered by school.

If you want to learn truth, you start with simple things. A knife passing through a piece of wood tells the truth of its grain. It won't lie. It is not subject to the mis-interpretion and manipulation by those who would use our self-doubt and uncertainties to leverage their control. Science has to begin with the experience of the real, and without the opportunity to interact with real materials, our students are handicapped, and our nation is destined toward decline.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I have a reader from Brazil who sent me the address of his blog, Henrique Chaudon, marceneiro. Unfortunately, I don't read Portuguese, but I do understand what I see despite my handicap in various languages. I selected a photo of a piece of Henrique's beautiful work to share with my readers. As you might guess, I am particularly interested in well-made boxes like the one below:
Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the 3rd and 4th grade students finished their campaign buttons and made clip boards for taking polls and surveys to predict the election results.

The first and second grade students decorated their reading wands with beads and colored markers. This afternoon, the 7th and 8th grade world geography class students each tackled a continent, beginning to make puzzle maps.
I was alerted this morning to an article by Pulitzer Prize winning author Chris Hedges "The Idiots Who Rule America" and I've written him to share a few thoughts about the human hand:

We have created an educational system in which we tell children what we want them to think, but the earliest educational theorist Comenius said, "boys like to DO things," and by tapping their most natural inclinations, their eager participation in education is assured.

Woodrow Wilson, when he was president of Princeton said the following:
"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."
Another thing of interest is the following from Finnish neurophysiologist Matti Bertström:
The density of nerve endings in our fingertips is enormous. Their discrimination is almost as good as that of our eyes. If we don't use our fingers, if in childhood and youth we become "finger-blind " this rich network of nerves is impoverished-which represents a huge loss to the brain and thwarts the individual's all-around development. Such damage may be likened to blindness itself. Perhaps worse, while a blind person may simply not be able to find this or that object, the finger-blind cannot understand its inner meaning and value.

If we neglect to develop and train our children's fingers and the creative form building capacity of their hand muscles, then we neglect to develop their understanding of the unity of things; we thwart their aesthetic and creative powers.

Those who shaped our age-old traditions always understood this. But today, Western civilization, an information-obsessed society that over values science and undervalues true worth, has forgotten it all. We are "value-damaged."
By isolating and separating the education of the hand from the education of the brain, we diminish all students. We create limits on some and lack of values in others.

I don't know if any of this will make sense to Chris, or what he can make of it, but the tragic circumstances we now face were put in place by the demands of early educators including Wilson, who were firmly rooted in Socrates disparagement of the hands, associating the work of the hands with dirt, filth, and failing to see the pleasures of creativity, and the moral instruction that arises most naturally in the making of things.

Yes, I will agree with Chris that idiots rule America but it is nothing new.

Monday, October 20, 2008

In years past, one of the introductory sloyd projects we've used in the wood shop at Clear Spring School has been the "kindergarten pointer" from the Nääs fundamental series and as shown below.

But what is a kindergarten pointer and how is it used? It was the sloyd knife in my Woodcraft Catalog that first made me curious about the interesting history of sloyd education. The pointer, like the sloyd knife is an artifact with deeper meaning. And again, it has to do with the hands.

Speed reading experts tell us that a pointer used in reading helps to speed the process of reading. The hand brain partnership brings benefit to both. In fact, you can actually read as quickly as you can point. Put the pointer away and do without when your reading speed has accelerated beyond the rate your hand can maintain.

But there is another use more specific to the kindergarten pointer. Air writing! By taking a stick, students can write cursive forms in the air before they begin work on paper. So the pointer does double duty, in both reading and in learning to write.

Tomorrow the first and second grade students will make kindergarten pointers, but we won't call them that. Instead we will call them reading sticks or wands. And watch the magic of the hands involvement in learning.
I am finished with my first weekend of DVD production and have one or two more to bring my part of the project to completion. In the meantime, this month's Popular Science describes our "Hands-Free Future," in which data input will come through eye blinks, voice, and direct brain-wave interface. Aren't we excited to have those boundaries between man and machine dissolved? We are poised to achieve complete man-machine union and seamless interface.

The problem with the hands is that they get dirty. "Say goodbye to grimy keyboards," the article proclaims.

Somehow, the feelings of personal well being that we receive through skilled hands-on textural interface with reality will no longer be needed. We can take drugs instead. Perhaps someday we can shed our bodies completely, and sit as nutrient sustained brains in bell-jars wired to receive all necessary stimuli through a combination of electronic devices and pharmaceutical delivery apparatus.

Or we can rediscover the wisdom of our hands.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

One of the great things about doing similar things again and again is that there is some probability of getting better at what we do. Gary Junken from Taunton Press is here for filming my Rustic Furniture Basics DVD. Almost 2 years ago, Gary did the video work and editing of my Basic Box Making DVD, and it was the first 2 hour long production for Taunton. He did a masterful job, and a number of viewers have told me that it is the best woodworking DVD they've seen. These things are a team effort and I am pleased to be part of a talented team.

In that DVD, I narrated the process as I worked in the shop. It was difficult, both to say things precisely as I worked, and also for Gary to edit the best lines into the best video footage. So, we do get smarter in time. Now, at Gary's suggestion, we are working from a written script, and the recording of voice takes place separately from the visuals. We get lots more done in less time, and it will make the video editor's task more efficient. It will also lead to an even better DVD. This one will also be in high definition... a scary thought.

Gary had asked, "Do you have a tripod of some kind to hang the script on so you don't have to hold it?" He has observed that if the hands are engaged in gesture, the words come more easily to mind and flow more freely and with clearer emphasis through the human voice.

Now, tell me again, why we would have children sit at desks with their hands stilled? Only a nation aimed toward the idiocy of its youth would dream up what we have for schools in America. We could do so much better!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ben Lexcen was the Australian boat designer whose winged keel sailboat took the America's Cup away from the US back in 1983. An article in this month'sWooden Boat Magazine tells a bit of Ben's tale and a brief but interesting history of the boats he designed and the craftsmen who struggled to put his ideas to work:
Ben Lexcen often said he was glad he had never been formally trained, because it gave him the freedom to be creative. He was undisciplined, impulsive, never afraid to push the boundaries. He challenged the traditionally trained boat builders of his day to adapt to his vision. Master craftsmen that they were, they met that challenge and made his great ideas work.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The 11th and 12 grade students at Clear Spring spent their wood shop time today carving and turning pens and practicing their cursive writing with ink in preparation for writing lines of Shakespeare. Tomorrow, Gary Junken, from Taunton Press will be here to work on the Rustic Furniture Basics DVD, so I am busy getting supplies together and continuing to clean and organize the wood shop. I may not have much time to contribute to the blog for the next few days.

I have been reading the latest issue of Wooden Boat Magazine and thinking about half models. I had written an article about half-models for Woodwork Magazine a couple years ago, and while I was in the Estonian Naval Museum, I found the display shown above: These half models are constructed in layers with wooden dowels holding them together for alignment. Lofting full scale designs from these models involves taking the model apart, tracing around each layer and then scaling measurements to determine full size and shape for various stations on the ship hull. The half model shown below is one I made in my shop to demonstrate the technique used in the Estonian models.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Our 5th and 6th grade students are making Soma puzzles from hardwood cubes as part of their studies in math. More about Soma Cubes can be found at Wikipedia or at the Mathematische Basteleien website. To prepare for this lesson, I milled 7/8 in. square hardwood stock in 3 species and then cut cubes from it using the sled and stop block on the table saw. I cut hundreds of cubes and will cut hundreds more from the remaining stock before next week's lesson.

The Mathematische Basteleien Website is a great resource for hands-on exercises to reinforce math skills. check out the Froebel Star inspired by Friedrich Froebel, inventor of Kindergarten.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

You probably noticed my fasc- ination with wooden boats (or for that matter, boats of all kinds), if you were reading while I was in Helsinki.

What you see in the advertisement at above is an example of what you find in the classified section of the publication Wooden Boat. Wooden boats are an incredible repository of hand skill and hand-driven wisdom and intelligence. To see a boat that was made in the 1930's or before, still under sail and maintained as near new, illustrates a deep commitment and understanding of the Wisdom of the Hands, both by those who invest huge sums of money in the care and keeping of these boats, and by those who dedicate a significant amount of effort and investment of skill in both their upkeep and use. We should not forget that hands bring a boat into the wind, raise the anchor and sails and control the tiller or wheel. All hands on Deck!
Against conventional wisdom. The Republicans claim to be better for business, and many business leaders connected with large corporations like Walmart are died in the wool Republicans... So the following is interesting:
Democrats fight for reasoned regulation of the markets using a consistent, fair framework. Republicans chaff at any restraint, sure that the market can be "self regulating." So how much data do you need to see which side is right?

Since 1929, Republicans and Democrats have each controlled the presidency for nearly 40 years. ... As of Friday, a $10,000 investment in the S.& P. stock market index would have grown to $11,733 if invested under Republican presidents only ... Invested under Democratic presidents only, $10,000 would have grown to $300,671 at a compound rate of 8.9 percent over nearly 40 years.

$1700 in growth under Republicans, $290,000 under Democrats. Even if you exclude the failure of the markets under Hoover, Democrats still come out with six times the results of the GOP.

Of seven Republican presidents, three turned in negative results and the average rate of return was only 0.4%. Every Democratic president since 1929 has turned in a positive performance, with Bill Clinton setting the record at a 15.2% rate of growth.

So the next time someone suggests to you that the market averages 6%, or 7%, or 8% growth over the long term, remember this caveat: only when Democrats are in charge.
Republicans pursue policies to put the "invisible hand" of the market at play, through deregulation, but it has been suggested that what we have seen at work on the American economy over the last 8 years is the highly visible "hand of idiocy." As soon as Obama gets elected, put your money back in the market. You will be very glad you did.
Today the first and second grade students carved pens for home use, and the 3rd and 4th grades finished their mobile of American political symbols. The upper middle school and lower high school classes at Clear Spring made signs for the campus nature trail. The stakes numbered 1-60 will be used to develop a key for the identification of plants, trees and shrubs. Photos below:

Monday, October 13, 2008

At some point soon, I hope to get into my Helsinki photos and organize them a bit. In the meantime, I feel an inclination to rummage around and share a scene or two. Today I prepared for tomorrow's classes and worked in the shop a bit to prepare for the video work on Friday. It was nice to see the stock market rebounding slightly, but I hope we will all have learned a bit from the experience of watching our economy implode. It would be nice if we were to take up with the hands where we left off in the 1950's. If each home in America were full of craft activities instead of or in addition to television, we would be smarter and happier.

The view in the first photo is from a dock on Pohjoisranta south across the harbor towards the island of Katajanokka. Not shown just to the right would be Uspensky Cathedral, a famous Russian Orthodox cathedral and tourist destination. The woman below, selling knit hats, mittens and gloves in the harbor market, had fingers moving so fast that only bright sun allowed the camera to stop the action.
Start a "Recession Garden" It may be too late for this season, but something to plan for next!
A reader sent a link to photos of "Russian windows" This photo of intense hand work is one of many on the site showing photos of old buildings in Siberia. Warning. You could get lost in examination of the detail and want to keep the site on your desktop for days. Parts of Eureka Springs looked a bit like this when I moved here in 1976. It took years for newly aspiring renovators to arrive and restore homes to their Victorian glory.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

This afternoon my wife and I and friends went to an open house, or more appropriately an "open farm" at Foundation Farm a local organic farm operated by Patrice and Karen Gros of Eureka Springs. It seemed half the town was there, celebrating the harvest and the growing role of wholesome agriculture in our small community. It was a beautiful afternoon, lively entertainment, children playing in hay bales, and every thing one would wish from delightful country life. I hope many of my readers shared in equal blessings this day.
I have been reading on-line and I am amazed at the incredible amount of verbal content. Some of it is good, some not. And yet I am amazed at the volume. With fingertips poised at keyboard one can fall into mindless blather, and I know at times, I do the same.

You can also fall into mindless making. With anything else that has the potential of expressing human creativity, strict editing is required... Something that I will be faced with if the Wisdom of the Hands ever comes to press. George Orwell gives examples of bad writing in the body of his essay, and by looking at the examples you can also look at your own work in any medium with an editorial eye, leading to better, clearer expression of thought.

I first became interested in Orwell's essay, not as a tool to better woodworking or writing, but as an explanation of the last 8 years of Presidential politics and what we may have to look forward to if McCain/Palin are elected. Poor expression and foolish thought are inseparably bound. I'm concerned that we will continue destroying both the language and the environment and lowering the standards of American education. If you want to know what I mean, read the text of a Sarah Palin interview or her debate with Joe Biden. What will it mean to have leadership that can speak in coherent full sentences without a teleprompter? We can hope, and I do.

George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946
Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.
Read Full Text Here!

The process of editing physical work can take years. You make something and try out the process. Then you try out the object you've made. Then you test it in the hands of others, and then go back to the drawing board, or practice new skills and try again with what you have learned from your first attempts. Editing verbal content should be easier. Cut and paste on a computer is much easier than the way writing was once done, in ink. So it should be easy, but editing seems to be the last thought and not the first. So there is a lot to be said about the old way. Think clearly about your thoughts before fingers touch keyboard or grip pen. Be as sparing in your words as you would be in the use of fine materials in the making of things.

In other words, the wisdom of the hands is not just about making things, but making things well or stating things clearly, edited with a sharp knife and with deep affection for the quality of the mark we make.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Some of my oldest friends in Eureka Springs would be amused by this photo showing a dry toilet similar to some I made years ago for friends committed to water conservation and protection of the environment.

Helsinki is built on a series of rock islands with insufficient soil for waste water filtration. They became leaders very early in the environmental movement to protect groundwater.

My first pay as a writer came when I got a check for $50.00 from Mother Earth News for information about the use of sawdust for neutralizing odor and for composting human waste. So, it would be very natural that I might be one of very few at the Helsinki City Museum interested in this important part of their history. There are other tourists sites that get lots more attention.
I am busy cleaning today due to having the video producer from Taunton coming this next week. The shop has to be clean and ready for the camera. I wanted to share just a bit of woodwork from Tallinn, Estonia. These photos are from a small shop I visited in the walled city of Tallinn that specialized in handcrafted wood items. Some of the hand carved bowls were really beautiful, and I would have bought several if I were more flush with Euros. All the wood products in this shop were finished to a level that no sanding marks could be seen. International distribution of manufactured objects have pushed woodcrafts into a corner. While once wood products were for everyday use, now they are almost purely decorative. But spoons, bowls and cutting boards can always serve dual purpose.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Well, I can't honestly say that I'm the only one making anything. The photo below is from regular reader and friend, Mario Nunez in Buffalo, New York. He is getting ready for Christmas.
During Tuesday night's presidential debate, which already seems a long time ago, Senator McCain stated that he would likely make Meg Whitman, former CEO and founder of eBay his secretary of the treasury. This was on a day that eBay announced that it was laying off 10 percent of its staff.

The rise of eBay is an interesting phenomenon that is characteristic of the state we are in. As John McCain pointed out, many of the members of the audience in the town hall debate were likely to be participants in eBay.

We have a society in which everybody is selling something, but nary a soul makes a blessed thing anymore. It was what I noticed on my trip to Dallas so many years ago.

It is such a shame to have devolved into a nation of helpless consumers. Perhaps Meg Whitman would be the Secretary of Treasury that we deserve in our state of economic and moral bankruptcy. But please excuse me while I hope for better and more. The photo below shows more boxes having been assembled since my last post. Next they get trimmed with the band saw, sanded, routed, sanded again and hand-rub finished with Danish oil (3 coats).

I've had a lot of practice with these and you can't expect your first work to be high quality. It is the same way with manufacturing products of any kind. When a manufacturing plant is closed down and its work sent overseas, a creative culture is eliminated from American society and it takes a tremendous effort for it to arise again. But with a clear national will, we can make changes that I hope even Meg Whitman might understand.
It is Friday, my classes at school are done for the week and once again, it is my day to compete with the Chinese. The markets around the world appear to be in a state of meltdown, and investors are left wondering why. The US Congress will have hearings to investigate and a craftsman in Arkansas might have just a bit of insight that might be useful to a few and ignored by most.

Years ago I made a sales trip to one of the Big Merchandise Marts in Dallas Texas, and I was surprised to find that nearly every thing sold was imported. Nothing, nothing at all was made in the US anymore. Then a few years later, Walmart did a major advertising blitz, showcasing all the things they sold that were made in the USA, but they put so much pressure on those manufacturers to cheapen the quality and price of those goods, that many of the companies went out of business. Now, Walmart would have some real difficulties finding American companies to showcase in a promotion.

Is there a link between the decline of manufacturing in America and the current state of our economy? You tell me. What do you think? I am going to go back to making boxes. You take some materials, add some labor of your very own. Pay the bills so you have a place to keep your tools, and with some care and attention, you make things that may be useful to others and perhaps even add beauty to humdrum lives. If the economy is strong, you sell them and get what you need to keep going. If the economy falls and fails, at least you have skills left that can be diverted to help your family and community survive.

The photo above shows boxes recently assembled and parts waiting their turn.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Today, we went full circle in the Clear Spring woodshop. Two days ago the first and second grade students carved their writing pens, and today the 11th and 12th grade students began the same thing. They are studying Shakespeare and will write their favorite quote in ink using pens they have made themselves. So perhaps next week we'll see some calligraphy. You may have noticed yourself how hand writing degrades over time as poke and press take over from the swirly scrolls in marking our relationship with paper. Now if you get something in the mail that was actually beautifully written by a real person, it is nearly a miracle. But when you see words committed to paper using real dip in the well ink, you know that someone was giving something very vital and rare these days. Their full and undivided attention.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Wisdom of the Hands is starting to catch on. Lee Valley has asked for articles about woodworking with kids that will be featured in their newsletters. American Woodworker has an article coming out about Clear Spring School, and they have asked for permission to republish my articles about Sloyd on their website. Since they are the new owners of Woodwork Magazine, that should be an easy thing to arrange. These opportunities are in addition to more materials coming out on the Fine Woodworking website.

The whole point, is of course, that all children require the opportunity to learn through their hands, not just by having fingers carefully arranged on keyboards, but by the manipulation of real materials in the making of real things.

Is that simple or what? Is there something in this simple formula that is hard to get? The lines have been drawn for too long, dividing us into classes, and groups, but the truth of the hands is that we are all smarter when they are in use, and there is no one on earth that wouldn't become more competent and more respectful of others if given the opportunity to learn in the way we, as a species learn best. Hands-on.

Ion Art Magazine published here in Northwest Arkansas has several articles that are of direct interest to me. The magazine is full of friends. The cover image shown above is by artist Leon Niehues, whose wonderful baskets I have featured before in the blog. The collector profile is one I wrote about my friends Robyn and John Horn. Page 2 is advertising showing the work of one of my very best friends, Jim Nelson. The achievement page is celebrating the retirement of an art teacher friend, Jack Clancey. I feel so well connected!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Today, the 1st and 2nd graders made ink pens and the 3rd and 4th grade class was put off for one week. the children in the photo are using a samp set to put their initials on their pens.
Today the 3rd and 4th grade students at Clear Spring will be assembling a mobile that they started two weeks ago using symbols of our nation cut from wood. They have been studying elections in the class rooom and conducting polls to determine the fate of the election and our nation. The 1st and 2nd grade students will carve writing pens to begin their writing of cursive. Yesterday in the classroom, the teacher, Jenny, had laid a rope in an easy cursive scroll so they could follow the pattern with their feet. The whole body is important in learning.

On the same subject, I was challenged by a reader for interjecting my political commentary into the blog, and I would like to remind my readers that the hands are crucial, not only to learning but to how we understand each other. Years ago, Socrates had informed his followers that those who worked with their hands should be the slave class, and that it would even be denigrating for women of the citizen or free class to do such things as sewing, cooking, gardening or knitting. The hands and their use were proposed as the dividing line between social classes. So today, we have white collar and blue collar. And both are hurting.

When the US was founded we had two forms of slavery, indentured servitude affecting the Scotch-Irish, and pure purchased and sold, hijacked from Africa, body and soul slavery of blacks. Racism was promoted in the early colonies as a strategy to divide and conquer. By interjecting the concept of white supremacy, and fostering a disdain for blacks among indentured servants, natural alliances were prevented that would have disrupted control by the ruling elite. Those alliances that would have arisen from social class and shared poverty have been effectively eliminated by the promotion of racism and fear by those who would do anything possible to keep power and control out of the hands of the people.

Do I sound like a radical, revolutionary? I have always been one. If that offends you, come back in about 30 days. Maybe then the dust will have settled and we will still be challenged to put our hands to work for our nation and our children's future.

Monday, October 06, 2008

I got some good news today concerning the development project that would have destroyed Arrowmont. The development deal is declared dead! We have had our share of "developers" here in Eureka Springs who blow in with their high falutin' plans that have little sensitivity to the reality on the ground, or the real needs of the community. The news doesn't mean things are over, but the petitions sent to the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity should help them to understand how important Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts is in the hands-on community. Hopefully they will think twice before pulling the rug out from under this important instituion. Now let's keep our fingers crossed. The photo at the top is the wonderful wood studio at Arrowmont, and the photos below are what happens inside.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I generally try to avoid politics in the blog. But when political campaigns decide to fight on falsified issues of "character" and fear rather than matters of real substance, real solutions to the problems that face the American people, we all lose and so I take off my gloves to share the following video from the Obama campaign:

You will note that when someone just doesn't get it, when they don't have a clue, when they have lost all framework for understanding, all direct sense of reality, we say that they are "out of touch!" Our hands are our primary and most essential connection with reality. touché!

This is what happens when a candidate spends too many years in the US Senate, relying on past heroics to cover hollow bluster, lives in so many houses when most people would feel pleased and blessed to actually own one. Unfortunately John McCain has announced that it is time to turn the tables on Obama, campaign dirty and change the subject from the issues that trouble the American people to what he claims are the faults of his opponent's character. And McCain is so far out of touch as to not see how deeply stained and hollow his own character has become.

This reminds me of something else the hands are good for. A good Sunday morning day of rest kind of thing to do. We can place them together face to face and pray that the American people are led by wisdom and pursuit of greater good in their selection of president.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What to do in tough times... This afternoon I've been watching CNN and noticing that many of the commentators have no confidence in the ultimate success of the massive Wall Street Bailout Bill that was pushed through Congress and signed into law by President Bush yesterday. The idea is that by alleviating the banking industry of the huge debt from failed mortgages, banks will be restored to a condition from which they can continue to fulfill the American need for consumer and mortgage credit. That will allow us to continue buying cheap stuff from the Chinese, and keep our consumer economy spending along without regard to the environmental and social impact of rampant blind consumerism. We can keep on exporting our best jobs overseas while essential human services are in drastic decline.

Of course it is ironic and tragic that the government would be so concerned about corporate America while showing little concern about the thousands of people whose homes are being foreclosed each day. Help to homeowners in the first place would have protected the solvency of the loan institutions without the massive bailout. But Americans are not known for wisdom.

Real solutions seldom come from the top down, but arise from the people who care deeply and take action in their own lives. So what to do, what to do? Stop wringing your hands. Put them to use. You might start thinking of things you can make and sell in your own community. Practical and useful things. If you work with wood, and have some simple tools, make wooden utensils, cutting boards, practical containers and boxes. There will always be a need for such things. If you sew, or knit, make items of clothing. In Finland I was impressed by the knitting women in the market. They made gloves, mittens, caps and socks to sell to tourists. Their trained fingers could fly and many would work the needles as they sold their wares. Theirs is not an easy life, even with the intense skill they have developed, but as the Euros I left in their hands can attest, the work of skilled hands can make a difference.
I'm not suggesting you quit your day job and take up the work of a craftsman, but rather that you turn off the TV time, use that time to develop your skill and lift your own spirits and personal economy through the skilled engagement of your hands. It may seem an unbelievably small response to an incredibly large problem, but if you take the actions of of millions of hands as an alternative to the feelings of helplessness we all share, you may see the point. The decline of the American economy is directly connected to our disassociation from the practicalities of life presented by our hands and that fortunately, is something we can fix.
John Grossbohlin sent the following photos of his sons Jesse and Joshua helping other kids make tool totes at a recent woodworking club show.
John tells me that his son Jesse just learned something that other young men should have the opportunity to discover: Displaying skill is one of the effective ways that young men gain the attention of young women. Jesse asked his dad why the older girl in the first photo wanted to make a tool tote? "Maybe she wanted to learn to hammer?" John suggested. But the boys knew there was something more going on than that."Maybe she wanted to meet you," John followed up. Jesse and Joshua thought that was a more reasonable answer.

That is not something I've mentioned before in the blog, but it is an interesting thing to note. Harrison Ford is one example of a movie star whose career began as a carpenter and who used his woodworking skills (in the movie Witness) to build a huge following. Can you name a football player who has reached that level of stardom in the eyes of particularly sophisticated and intelligent women?

Thanks for the great photos, John.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Today, as I continue to recover from jet lag (they say it takes one day per hour of time change) I have been once again competing with the Chinese by making things.... little boxes to be exact. I am so grateful in these questionable financial times, that I still get orders from galleries. I returned home from Finland to find two large orders waiting for me from Appalachian Spring, a fine crafts gallery with 5 locations in the Washington, DC. area. When I get orders I spring to action in the wood shop and feel a charge to get things done! And for those who aren't regularly engaged in making things, I would encourage you to try. It is fulfilling and fun and may help you to face the challenge of hard times to come.

I watched today as the House of Representatives passed legislation we all hope reverses the decline of the economy. We can keep our fingers crossed and tied in knots that their actions are guided by wisdom, but it is far better to get busy and make things with the wisdom of our hands.

Today I also got a review document of the article that will go in American Woodworker about the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School, and I received copies of the November/December issue of Fine Woodworking with my latest article "Better Way to Build Boxes." One of the editors said of my flipping story stick technique described in the article, "That one technique is worth the price of a whole year's subscription!" It means a lot to me that simple things I have discovered in my own wood shop have that kind of effect.

If you are a subscriber to Fine Woodworking, your copy should arrive soon. If not, you will find it on the newsstands and bookstores in one week, or you can subscribe at the Fine Woodworking website.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Lucas is the son of an artist and has always been involved in craft work of some kind. It shows in his sensitive gouge work, texturing the edge of a walnut plank.
This morning I've awakened early, the result of adjusting to 8 hours time difference between Helsinki and Arkansas. I have a very long list of things that require my attention. But I m also transitioning from the conference and my opportunity to focus intensity on the hands.

During the night, I had restless dreams that I could find no elements of connection between concepts and events... that I was moving between things that were intellectually disconnected and abstract. This extended dream sequence illustrates the importance in the human intellectual framework between the concrete and abstract. It is concrete experience that builds the capacity for journeys deeper into our own intellectual landscapes.

One of the things I've noticed is that powerful tools can carry you to a point at which you are intellectually disconnected from the original intent of your endeavor. For instance, if you want to plant a garden of flowers and bulbs, a backhoe will be the wrong tool, quick and powerful but insensitive to delicate roots. Even if you are in perfect control of its bucket, huge tires and pads will inflict lasting damage to the surrounding area. It is the same way with behavioral statistics. They will give you a powerful overview of education, but not serve so well in meeting the teacher's need for educational discernment in the classroom.

Today, as I pull my own jangled disconnections of consciousness back into place, the simple tools will do the job. A sharp knife pulled with skill along an edge will do wonders for the disconnected thoughts that haunt the travel weary soul.

I get back to school today and I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Walker Weed sent me the following:
Your writing reiterates a favorite quotation of mine by 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."

What would Goethe have thought of our information age?
Not much.
Mario asked for a few more photos of Helsinki and that is a question you should never ask a photographer. The first photo is more of the cobble stone texture to be seen throughout the downtown area. The second is a stern view of the ice breaker fleet tied up at their summer mooring in Helsinki harbor. Each is capable of breaking ice 15 meters thick, so that should give some idea of what weather conditions can be during Baltic winters. The third photo is another from my round the islands cruise, and the fourth is a ship model in the Helsinki City Museum, a free museum illustrating the history of the city. What a difference a week can make. When I arrived in Helsinki, I looked down from the plane and observed a single blaze of maple having turned its fall colors. By the time I left, the trees all over town were turning, and the leaves were falling fast. What a difference a week can make!

In the 1800's when Finns emigrated to the US many settled in Northern Minnesota where climate and geological conditions are most like those of Finland. While Minnesota has been described as the land of 10,000 lakes, in Finland there are 187,888 lakes larger than 5 acres in size. One lake for every 26 inhabitants.