Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 3, Simply Beautiful Boxes at Marc Adams

We finished day 3 of box making and you can see progress in the photos above and below. Today I demonstrated how to cut hinge mortises, how to install tabs for opening, how to make a box joint jig and box joints using the table saw. There is a great deal of learning going on. We make mistakes and we learn. We are successful and we learn from that, too. Most of my students are working on a variety of box designs using a variety of woods. Tomorrow I will teach one more joinery technique and begin instruction in making inlay. No doubt there will be other things, too. I am grateful for the excellent staff at Marc Adams School.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 2, Simply Beautiful Boxes at Marc Adams School

As you can see in the photo above, we are making real progress in box making. I tell my students that we are not merely making boxes. We are reshaping our own confidence and creative capacities. In schools, principals, common teachers and parents might have thought the kids in woodshop were making things. In truth, and as every wood shop teacher would have known, each student in the woodshop was engaged in a process of growth. Confidence and creativity.

When I was in high school, I, like other students, had to choose whether I was "college prep" or would enter the trades, and the college prep curriculum, allowed no time for participation in wood shop. But early manual arts teachers had noted that students engaged in the manual arts learn math, science, and other subjects with greater efficiency and enthusiasm, and so could participate in the manual arts without diminishing learning of other subjects. It is a great national tragedy that we no longer recognize what was once American common sense.

This evening, a news commentator told of the "double dip" recession we seem to be facing and also warned that the only successful course out of recession will be an increase in actual American physical, tangible, creativity. It is interesting to hear a talking head on TV putting words to what I've been sharing in the blog for years now. Perhaps there is time for us to come to our senses.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Simply Beautiful Boxes at Marc Adams, day one.

We finished our first day of making decorative wooden boxes at Marc Adams School, having had design lecture, safety talk and beginning demonstrations. This afternoon the students were turned loose to have fun. By late afternoon, most had cut near perfect miters for making their first boxes. In two or three days, each will be making boxes following their own creative inclinations. More photos will come later.

A blog reader, Nick, who teaches shop in British Columbia reminded me of the writings of Karl Marx, as follows:
Also relevant for me is Karl Marx's concept of alienation. According to Marx, man is self-actualized (becomes human) when he makes things that others then use. The Industrial Revolution and the resulting capitalist organization of production separates man from his product (through factory work) thus alienating him from his essential being. When I studied Marx in philosophy 101 and came across this concept, it was one of those "aha" moments for me that helped explain the satisfaction I got from building things and the sometimes emptiness that I saw in the lives of acquaintances who were not creative in any way, who merely saw themselves as "consumers".
I haven't studied Marx, but I was surprised one time when I was telling a college honors student about my woodworking program and was informed by him that he thought it sounded "Marxist". Maybe he was right, though I would prefer to think that any human being paying attention to the kinds of feelings one gets from making things would arrive at the same conclusions concerning satisfaction and alienation. The principles and effects are universal.

Alienation is certainly alive and well in American consumer culture, as shopping and owning have become poor, unsatisfying substitutes for feelings of personal creativity.

Most human beings are complicated in our judgments and simple in our perceptions of others. So we would paint Marx in the worst of colors without ever coming to an understanding of the value of the full range of his thoughts. On balance, most of the philosophers I've studied have been regarded right in some things, and wrong in others, as perhaps you and I will be remembered.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Scandinavian boxes, day 2

We finished our two day Scandinavian box making class and tomorrow I begin my 5 day long box making class at Marc Adams School for 18 students. Today we nearly completed our boxes, and I was very pleased to see my student's creativity and success. There is a saying that a teacher's work is finished when his students surpass him. It will be a continuing challenge to stay ahead of the pack, as you can see in the photos above and below.
I'll show my demo box from the Scandinavian Box class tomorrow along with photos from Day One of my Decorative Wooden Boxes Class.

Many of my readers are no doubt familiar with the writings of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi whose book "Flow" describes the contemplative state of mind often achieved through craftsmanship. While in Indiana, I have been witness to flow of another kind. You don't have to be in Indy to see it, but while I am so close to the home of the Indy 500, I can't help but find the highways to be informative, illustrating matters of human consciousness.

Each morning and afternoon I drive Interstate 65 from the motel to Marc Adams School, and then home again after a day of class. There is a dramatic contrast between the two. Yesterday, driving, I was reminded of films from the Serengeti, herds of wildebeest, and antelope streaming like rivers though African grasslands, cars and huge trucks moving in wild and mindless scynchrony, as hunted prey. In class, in contrast, students work with intellectual intensity, entering a state of timelessness and control. And so, I wonder, which is the truth of our humanity? Are we one or the other, or is one the ideal that we might seek and that we might uphold as the future for our relationship to our planet?

Tomorrow I may choose a road less traveled that can be driven with more contemplative and peaceful intent. As a good friend of mine used to say, "before going with the flow, look to see where the flow is going."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Scandinavian boxes

This was day one of making Scandinavian Bent Wood Boxes at Marc Adams School and you can see progress in the photos above. Tomorrow we will make bottoms, lids, handles and latches. I have twelve students for the two day class.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Marc Adams School

I am leaving this afternoon for my classes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking and will have more to report as the week unfolds.

And so while I'm on the road, I'll leave you with a couple points to ponder. When things are no longer in control we say they are out of hand. When someone is without understanding we say they are out of touch.

What then can we say about American education?

We know that hands on learning is learning at its very best, and that when someone has learned from his or her own experience, He or she has what he has learned at hand for life. And so, the question arises once again, how do we put the best of learning back in schools? The hands are not just devices to leave hanging in belt loops. They are both tools for success and the means of monitoring implementation. The hands are the keys that unlock the motors of reluctant learners, but also bring equal benefit to all.

Just as the hands can be used to measure physical dimensions, as we witness their implementation we see education at its best. When we see them stilled and silent we are witnesses of isolation, repression, depression and failure. As a counter measure for that circumstance, I prescribe the strategic implementation of the hands.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the ghost in the machine

Most of my readers will be familiar with the moment in the Wizard of Oz when the little yapping dog Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the tiny little guy masquerading as the all powerful wizard. That is a great example of what Gilbert Ryle was first to call "the ghost in the machine." We assume that there is a separate entity most call mind behind each act. The following is from wikipedia's discussion of the "ghost in the machine," a concept Ryle first described in his book, The Concept of Mind.
The Concept of Mind (1949) is a critique of the notion that the mind is distinct from the body, and it is a rejection of the theory that mental states are separable from physical states. According to Ryle, the classical theory of mind, as represented by Cartesian rationalism, asserts that there is a basic distinction between mind and matter. However, the classical theory makes a basic "category-mistake," because it attempts to analyze the relation between "mind" and "body" as if they were terms of the same logical category. This confusion of logical categories may be seen in other theories of the relation between mind and matter. For example, the idealist theory of mind makes a basic category-mistake by attempting to reduce physical reality to the same status as mental reality, while the materialist theory of mind makes a basic category-mistake by attempting to reduce mental reality to the same status as physical reality.

Ryle rejects Descartes’ theory of the relation between mind and body, on the grounds that it approaches the investigation of mental processes as if they could be isolated from physical processes. In order to demonstrate how this theory may be misleading, he explains that knowing how to perform an act skillfully may not only be a matter of being able to reason practically but may also be a matter of being able to put practical reasoning into action. Practical actions may not necessarily be produced by highly theoretical reasoning or by complex sequences of intellectual operations. The meaning of actions may not be explained by making inferences about hidden mental processes, but it may be explained by examining the rules that govern those actions. According to Ryle, mental processes are merely intelligent acts. There are no mental processes that are distinct from intelligent acts. The operations of the mind are not merely represented by intelligent acts, they are the same as those intelligent acts. Thus, acts of learning, remembering, imagining, knowing, or willing are not merely clues to hidden mental processes or to complex sequences of intellectual operations, they are the way in which those mental processes or intellectual operations are defined. Logical propositions are not merely clues to modes of reasoning, they are those modes of reasoning.

The rationalist theory that the will is a faculty within the mind and that volitions are mental processes which the human body transforms into physical acts is therefore a misconception. This theory mistakenly assumes that mental acts are distinct from physical acts and that there is a mental world which is distinct from the physical world. This theory of the separability of mind and body is described by Ryle as "the dogma of the ghost in the machine."

He explains that there is no hidden entity called "the mind" inside a mechanical apparatus called "the body." The workings of the mind are not an independent mechanism which governs the workings of the body. The workings of the mind are not distinct from the actions of the body and may be better conceptualized as a way of explaining the actions of the body.

Cartesian theory holds that mental acts determine physical acts and that volitional acts of the body must be caused by volitional acts of the mind. This theory is "the myth of the ghost in the machine."
Thus is this morning's food for thought. Quite a lot to think about. Naturally, Gilbert Ryle, having spent most of his life at Oxford University, would lay a bit heavier emphasis on thought as "action" than would a craftsman, more attuned to physical reality. But one can thank Ryle's performance as the yapping dog Toto, alerting us that the Wizard is not exactly what we have believed him to be. The photo above is of Gilbert Ryle. You may think that this is an extremely long and boring post that has little to do with the Wisdom of the Hands. The point I would make is that to think that children in schools are "Minds to educate" separate from the needs of their bodies to make, move, express and thus prosper is the greatest of pedagogical errors.

I am preparing for my classes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, by gathering my tools and thoughts for more practical investigations: Box making!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

new formula

We tend, as a culture to denigrate the contributions of the hands and praise and value the contributions of "mind." And yet, when we begin to understand the hands and their integral connection to the exploration of material, the fabrication of concepts, the development of intellect, the shaping of moral values, their expressions of our humanity through music, and their creative fashioning of beautiful and useful things, we discover that mind alone is not what we had thought it was. And so, here is a more accurate working formula: brain+hands=mind. And of course the point is that once you realize that the hands are essential to the development of "mind," you also realize that hands-on learning is necessary in all schools, all subjects and at all levels if we desire our children's success.

Today I welcome many new readers who may have wandered here from the Fine Woodworking Email Newsletter which today featured my experiments using sawdust to extract oil from water. It can be read here. Woodworkers come in all shapes and sizes. Some work with hand tools, and some are more high tech. Regardless, we all seem to share a better than average sense of appreciation for hands, and a better sense of what they can do to increase engagement in learning. Most of us are saddened by the loss of hands-on learning opportunities for our children in school. This blog is about making a significant change in education by reintegrating the hands in learning.

The photo at left is an answer to where one might find sawdust... a question someone asked me in relation to using sawdust to help separate oil from water in the BP disaster. Furniture maker Dolly Spragins is working on a project to bring attention to the Emerald Ash borer and its effects on our hardwood forests, Rising From the Ashes. The pile of sawdust shown is destined for disposal and was created by chipping urban trees. That's Dolly in the photo.

At left, you can see that I have finished my small walnut chests of drawers.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

nurturing the right side of the brain

This video TED Talk by Jill Bolte Taylor provides added material on which to reflect with regard to the preceding post. Which side of your brain do you want working and why? Both, of course. But as expressed by Nobel Laureate Roger Sperry: "What it comes down to is that modern society discriminates against the right hemisphere."

What we need is an affirmative action program for the intellectual engagement of the hands, for both our children and ourselves.

On the one hand and the other

Richard Bazeley, Shop teacher extraordinaire from down under, suggested the following link to an interview with Dr Iain McGilchrist, writer and psychiatrist on his new book The Master and his Emissary; The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. The interview can be heard on Australian Broadcast Company. It appears that our divided society, with a few grasping the value of hand skills, and most not, parallels what happens in our own brains. While most argue that thought is a word thing, and some would argue otherwise, to believe that all thought is founded on human discursive abilities comes at the cost of marginalizing half of humanity, half of ourselves. Make, make, make. You will discover your missing half and be much happier for it.

I find this discussion of the left and right hemispheres of the brain interesting in part because all the early educational theorists emphasized balanced development of mind and body... not just mind and body equally, but more. Otto Salomon believed that the use of gymnastics could help to overcome the imbalance brought on by handedness, regardless of whether the right or left hand was dominant. He had attempted experiments to get children to use both hands in their work, but those experiments were abandoned as he realized it was too difficult to get children to use their unfamiliar hand. Nevertheless, he designed sloyd exercises with the full body/mind in mind. In the Theory of Educational Sloyd, he devoted chapter XI to the "Uniform Development of the Physical Faculties."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

this week at MIT

As I prepare to leave the Furniture Society Conference, I note that there are many young people on campus today. High School students are here for an event called "Eurekafest" and there are signs all over on lamp posts proclaiming "Eureka". Coming from Eureka Springs, Arkansas, I could not help but feel their welcome.

I want to talk just for a minute about the relationship between science and the crafts... a subject I have pursued before in the blog, but that comes to mind again, inspired by meeting Alex Slocum whom I mentioned in an earlier post, and being on the MIT campus surrounded by high tech kids.

One new friend at the conference told me that as a biologist turned woodworker/furniture designer he sees the hands and their use as a biological imperative. Perhaps a psychologist would see them as a necessary psychic compulsion. If my friend were an electrical engineer, he would probably have used the term, "hard wired." From a more general perspective, more metaphorical, I see the hands as "touching" every facet of human existence, from the way we think, to the ways we talk, to the ways we understand the universe and each other. And as each of us becomes more watchful and cognizant of the role our hand play in our lives, we may each become more astounded.

But what the heck are we touching, and what are we using the hands to explore? Shall we launch their explorations toward the fundamental biological, physical and cultural landscape, or narrow their exploration to the serial iterations of consumer devices that are designed to monopolize their attentions with illusions of creativity? It is a question we need to ask. For thousands of generations, human scientific understanding was based on observations that took place in our physical manipulations of material through the making of beautiful and useful objects. Thus it can be stated without reservation, that the hands provided the foundation of human life and understanding. In honor of the human inventive and creative spirit, make, fix, repair, care, create in physical form, plant, sew, nurture and tend. Heureka! It is the process of learning as discovery, and what we are celebrating this week at MIT, which was a foundation site for the digital revolution. Much earlier, it was a foundation site for the launch of the manual arts in America. Anyone know how to punch rewind?

One of the things I wanted to make clear to yesterday's audience was the role of the knife in the practice of educational sloyd. First, you cannot cut wood successfully with a knife without becoming attentive to the properties of wood. Thus we encounter the foundation of scientific exploration of material properties. Secondly, because a knife is used to cut curves, it invites intellectual engagement in the process of design. A line, using the terminology of a boat builder, is either fair or not, which is often a thing that is more easily perceived and understood by the hand than by the eye.

If you achieve greater intellectual engagement with your own hands, you may gain an insight into what we are ignoring in the education of our kids. Use whichever terminology is most comfortable for you. State it as a biological imperative, or a psychological compulsion. Regard the hands as hard-wired to the brain. They make you smart, and perhaps even more so if you take the time to notice, and nurture their effect.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Conference talk

I had my conference presentation this morning to a group of about 30-40 very interested furniture makers. Now that my presentation is over, I can relax, rest and enjoy the company of other furniture makers with far less pressure. Those of you who have made presentations to groups of people on any subject will understand.

I'll be home in Arkansas tomorrow. Our Sloyd panel discussion was recorded and will be included in a publication developed from the conference and its availability will be announced in the blog at a later date.

Now, who in their right minds would go to a panel called Sloyd? I had a few attendees mention that they had come to the conference specifically because they had seen my presentaion on the program and were familiar with my writings on the subject. The momentum is growing for a return of Sloyd to American Schools. Since I don't have a photo from my presentation, I share another piece showing nice use of texture in the photo above. The photo below is from the early days woodworking program at North Bennet Street School.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Furniture Society, Day one.

Today at the Furniture Society Conference, we started out with comments by Alex Slocum, one of the directors of the MIT Hobby Shop, and a keynote address by Ray Magliozzi, of NPR Car Talk fame. Ray was funny, but Alex was right on. His web page at MIT states his mission as: "Teaching and tinkering and teaching how to tinker." Alex is on President Obama's science committee for the BP disaster, and an avid woodworker. He spoke of the integral connection of hand and mind, and noted that one of the prototype caps for capturing the spill came from his own home workshop. Engineers from BP asked, "How did you get someone to make that so fast? You just designed it yesterday!" He replied, "I made it myself." They were amazed. Engineers don't do that kind of thing anymore, except the very smart exceptions from places like MIT. The Hobby Shop is where MIT students and faculty go to make things and it was where we had demonstrations throughout the day.

I am spending a quiet evening to go over my notes and make certain I am prepared for tomorrow's talk. The photo above is of Will Neptune's demonstration on carving for furniture makers at the Hobby Shop. As you can see from the images below, the conference is just across the Charles River from Boston, and as usual, features an exhibit of wonderful craftsmanship.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

three views of the same thing

I am now in Cambridge, Massachusetts at MIT, for the Furniture Society Conference. This evening, I met with Paul Ruhlmann, Woodworking teacher at Buckingham, Browne and Nichols School and Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, Executive Director of the North Bennet St. School to prepare for our presentation on Educational Sloyd. The objective is to keep our presentations brief so that we have time to invite discussion. It is interesting that there are two distinct views of the value of manual arts. Some think that manual arts are for those not going to college, and I'll not argue with the value economic value they offer to those who might want to consider work in a trade.

Paul Ruhlmann's program at BBNS, one of the most prestigious private academies in the US, offers woodworking as an arts elective. Few parents of his students would fail to see the value woodworking skills impart to their children's lives. But few, if any of Paul's students would consider entering the trades. Few parents of BBNS students would push their children toward success in the trades.

There is a third view, that woodworking education offers value to ALL children's lives. For some that might include the economic value of working in the trades, but for all children woodworking education includes direct problem solving skills, hands-on exploration of tools and materials that leads to what I have come to call, "educational enthusiasm".

I can share pictures of what educational enthusiasm looks like. I often share photos of my own students at work, but the photo above is from North Bennet St. School.

Jules David Prown, in his essay, The Truth of Material Culture, describes artifacts as a means through which to engage in study of other cultures, a process that is most often distorted by our predispositions. It is difficult to engage objects, without the interference of our own biases. He states,
The problem is a problem of mind. We are trying to understand another culture whose pattern of belief, whose mind, is different from our own. Our own beliefs, our mindset, biases our view. It would be ideal, and this is not as silly as it sounds, if we could approach that other culture mindlessly, at least while we gather our data. This is the great promise of material culture; By undertaking cultural interpretation through artifacts, we engage the other culture in the first instance not with our mind, the seat of our cultural biases,but with our senses. Figuratively speaking, we put ourselves inside the bodies of the individuals who made or used these objects; we see with their eyes and touch with their hands.
I had my own experience of that today. A friend shared my flight to Boston, with each of us heading for different conferences at MIT, but on different ends of the hands-on perspective. Mila, sitting in the row behind mine wanted me to see her new iPad, and all its wonderful tricks. It is amazing. It is intriguing and engaging and powerful. I, on the other hand, would advocate simpler technology, particularly for the young. Will young hands encountering real tools understand their use and their potential when wielded by skilled hands? Will they have aspirations that those hands be their own? Will hands that have never explored their full potential have a grasp of of the value of the artifacts of human history? We may be in the process of finding out. In the same book containing Prown's essay History from Things, Essays on Material Culture, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's essay, "Why We Need Things" explores our psychic dependency on objects.
We like to think that because objects are human made they must be under our control. However, this is not necessarily the case. An object with a specific form and function inevitably suggests the next incarnation of that object, which then almost certainly will come about. For instance, the first crude stone missile begat the spear, which begat the arrow and then the bolt, the bullet, and so on to Star Wars. Human volition seems to have less to do with this development than do the potentialities inherent in the objects themselves... Thus artifacts are sometimes symbiotic with humans, but at other times the relationship is parasitic, and survival of the object is at the expense of its human host.
In the iPad, you can see the sequence of development that Csikszentmihalyi describes. iPod, iPhone, new generations of each leading to the Pad. Are these things being created at the expense of their human host? If all the creativity is inherent in the machine, what will be left of the human impulse to create? Just asking. The bells and whistles of new technology are enticing. Will there be a place in our future for simple skills of hand, shaping wood to become objects of useful beauty? Is that a good question to ask while visiting at MIT?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

working with hands...

A summer job working for a plumber diverted Jarrad Taylor from Penn State to a career in the trades.

The photo is from an article in the Washington Post that tells how for many, working with hands in skilled trades is preferred, for a variety of reasons.

More college-educated jump tracks to become skilled manual laborers

I guess it could make us wonder why skilled work with the hands isn't a part of every child's education. Through at least two generations, skilled workmanship was disparaged, thought work for dummies. As the article points out, high school counselors encouraged those who were thought not bright enough for college to enter the trades. But work with the hands is intelligent and meaningful work. At some point, I hope that we can all understand that work with the hands is an enrichment of intelligence for all, even for those who ARE going to college.

Some of the new tradesmen (many of whom are women) note that it can be hard to explain the rewards of working with their hands to their college educated friends. You just can't explain some things to those who have absolutely no experience in what you're talking about. Educational Sloyd was intended for all children, and one of its benefits was to create a sense of the dignity of all labor. If we had stuck with Sloyd, instead of allowing it to decline we would have a completely different society, far more noble and supportive of skilled manual arts. And the matters of academia, business and government would be handled with far greater intelligence.

This is also interesting reading from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, A Jobs Mismatch, which suggests that we are failing to prepare our college educated students for available careers. First, far too few students complete their college educations, and second, too many universities fail to offer courses that prepare for actual careers.
The United States economy is in serious danger from a growing mismatch between the skills that will be needed for jobs being created and the educational backgrounds (or lack thereof) of would-be workers. That is the conclusion of a mammoth analysis of jobs data being released today (June 15, 2010) by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
I would not have been able to choose a career while in college. I had no idea that a life as a craftsman was available to me. Nor do most children today. So there is a lot of good to say about a liberal arts education, but it should include some form of skilled craftsmanship as a requirement of the core curriculum.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Furniture Society, Hand and Mind

This year's Furniture Society Conference is being held in Boston at MIT, and the title of the conference is "Fusions, Minds + Hands Shaping our future." Personally, I would reverse the order, as the human hand is the source of human intelligence. Mind and hand developed simultaneously as a system, given structure and form by the physical properties of the hand.

I'll be presenting with Paul Ruhlman from Buckingham, Browne and Nichols School and Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, Executive Director of the North Bennet St. School on the subject of Sloyd, Friday the 18th. I'll be flying to Boston on Wednesday. Please join us if you can. The image shown is a building on the MIT campus.

The meaning of place...

Yesterday we celebrated the 100th year of our Carnegie Public Library with a birthday party, and I have found myself reflecting on the meaning of place. In History from Things, Essays on Material Culture, edited by Lubar and Kingery, I was surprised to see cemeteries and gardens being subjects of thoughtful discussion. Gardens, cemeteries and old buildings hardly fit the common sense definition of objects. But stretching things very slightly, one can see how the objects that we create, or that were created for us by others, frame our sense of reality, provide a sense of emotional certainty, and call us to our highest potentials as members of community.

I was too busy working with kids in our improvised wood shop to take many pictures or to wander much through the festivities. What could be seen at a glance was hundreds of people each gathered for a single thing... to celebrate their own personal relationship with our library.

Our party took up nearly a whole block, with crafts in both meeting rooms, and reading to children inside the library, in addition to all the street side activities as you can see in the photos above.

For the antique car lovers, the car in the photos is an extremely rare 1911 Model T Ford Touring. It is similar to those that would have driven by as our library was under construction.

Below, you can see my portraits of the library in quieter times. Some people don't see much value of such old things. I celebrate with those who do. And cherish those who invest in their preservation.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Happy 100th Birthday, Eureka Springs Library!

Today is the 100th Birthday Party for our local Carnegie Public Library. In addition to many other library activities, a woodworking buddy, Glen and I set up with woodworking for kids in the meeting room next door. As you can see in the photo above, we ate cake designed as a replica of our Carnegie Library, and cupcakes and outdoor grilled burgers and hot dogs and a huge quantity of food supplied by local banks. One of our wood shop activities was to make toy cars and some of the kids worked for over an hour, making unusual toy cars and trucks.

The photo below illustrates the process used to shape the drawer pulls for the small walnut chests I've been making... I use a cut off sled with a fence screwed down at the chosen angle. A stop block and clamp hold the pull in place during the series of cuts.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

objects as a means of behavioral investigation

It is really difficult to understand human beings without coming to terms with our relationship to objects that we have created or to those objects that have been created for us to co-inhabit our physical and emotional landscapes. Tool objects give us the power to manipulate and change physical reality. Expressive objects serve memory and build relationships between us. Weapon objects allow us to subjugate others. The impulse to alter our physical surroundings through gardening, decorating and design, are uniquely human behaviors enabled by our having hands. Earlier in the blog, I had made reference to Chester Cornett, chairmaker, and a book about him by Michael Owen Jones, Craftsman of the Cumberlands: Tradition and Creativity.

Man is not so much a being as a "doing", and even though in these times, that "doing" may be limited for some to their tiny keyboards, please watch their hunched shoulders, and the quick motions of their fingers for the clearest expressions of their realities.

Michael Owen Jones, in his essay in History from Things, Essays on Material Culture, uses traditional chair making as a means through which to explore sociology. Behavior offers far greater truth and authenticity than words alone.

This morning, I assembled the small walnut chests of drawers as you can see in the photo above. Then most of the day was spent preparing for tomorrow's wood working extravaganza at the 100th Birthday party for our Carnegie Public Library. If you are in the neighborhood, join us from 3-5 PM. We will make tops, toy cars and sloyd trivets, listen to speeches and eat cake. So, how can one make points on over a hundred small dowels for making tops? Use an electric drill and belt sander. The points are perfect in no time. Remember what you see below as it may come in handy for other things. The Drill and sander appear still, a trick of the flash.

In the photos above and below, you see the pulls for my walnut chests taking shape. I form tenons on the ends to fit the mortises routed in the drawer fronts. Then each piece was cut to shape and routed. Next will come sanding and ebonizing. The angularity of the pulls is intended to harmonize with the angular surfaces of the chest.

Friday, June 11, 2010

drawer facings...

Today in the wood shop, I did sanding on the walnut chests of drawers and routed the fronts for drawer pulls to fit. They are nearing completion. Tomorrow I'll be able to make the drawer pulls and assemble the chests.

Also, I found a new way to put points on dowels for making tops. I put the dowel in an electric drill and then hold it at a slight angle against a moving sanding belt. It creates a perfect tip for a top.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fine Woodworking Features Sawdust, Oil and Water

Fine Woodworking has taken an interest in my proposal to use sawdust to clean up the gulf oil spill. Do woodworkers hold the key to a quick clean-up of the gulf oil spill?

Today I've been cleaning the wood shops, both here and at school, and still getting ready for the conference in Boston and my Sunday Carnegie Library Birthday Party wood shop for kids. I did have time to cut the top and bottom of the walnut chests of drawers to shape. As you can see from the photo, they are beginning to look lighter in form. Next will be routing and sanding.

educational enthusiasm

Today, I continue working on small walnut chests of drawers as shown in yesterday's post, and also work on the Carnegie Library Birthday party woodworking extravaganza. I'll be moving work benches to the library meeting room and meeting with my co-conspirator in the event.

In addition, I am gathering my notes and photos in a powerpoint presentation on sloyd which I'll co-present with Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez and Paul Ruhlman at the Furniture Society Conference, Boston, on the 18th.

Much of all this boils down to what can be expressed as a "show of hands"... "educational enthusiasm," which is expressed through the hands, and which is captured by the hands, and brought close to engage the heart, by the hands. The raised hands shown in the photo above, expressing "educational enthusiasm" are at North Bennet Street School in their new program partnership with Eliot Middle School. Miguel said that one of the things that kids enjoyed the most in their new partnership was their tour of the school. Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a dark room, and then open your eyes to a whole world of possibilities? That is what it would have been like. Creative and productive capacity within reach! Most kids don't know that such worlds exist.

The Washington Post, seven decades past Rosie the Riveter, seems incredulous that women could and would want to build careers in the trades. My sister Sue would not be surprised. Her husband is a noted author and university professor, so if there is a tool belt worn in the house, it is on Sue's hips. She built her daughter's play houses (both outdoors and in), as well as doing all the repairs and gardening, and takes great pleasure in it all. Any question what's happening here? Look at the photo above and see who's hands are up.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

drawer fronts and return to "classical education?"

Today, I am fitting the drawer fronts for my small walnuts chests of drawers. The photo above shows the process of cutting small mortises on the inside edges of the drawer fronts for the tenoned sides to fit. I've set the height of the router bit to correspond with the depth of the tenon and positioned the fence and stop blocks to control the position of the cut. Normally, I would rout the mortises first and then the tenons to allow for any variance in the width of the cutter. In this case, however, I already had routed mortises in an earlier operation to allow me to double check the fit.

Reader, Mario, sent this link to an editorial in the New York Times, A Classical Education, Back to the Future, by Stanley Fish, bemoaning the loss of classical, read and rote education in our nation's schools, in which he concluded, "Worked for me."

No doubt, you will find thousands of people in our nation whose success allows them to say the same thing. You will find millions more who were not captured by educational enthusiasm for any half-dozen of a thousand reasons. Fish's editorial offered review of three current books on education, all written by those whose success in their fields indicates that yes, for some, the education that we've had has for them worked and for some continues to work. And yet, the statistics of our failings are stupendous.

Here in Arkansas, a state which ranks 49th out of 50 states in the proportion of residents 25 years or older having college degrees, the graduation rate from state universities is 38% in 6 years. That means that 62% don't make it with that time frame and that despite the millions of dollars invested in college education, the story is far, far from success. You can read about it here.

Read Fish's essay and let me know what you think. Mario had noticed a couple things missing, music and the hands. If you want educational enthusiasm for all, for learning to capture the hearts as well as minds of children, you start with the hands, then keep them engaged creatively and expressively throughout the process of education.

As you can see in the photos above and below, the next step in making the drawer fronts is to rout the groove for the bottom to fit. I have made the drawer fronts slightly deeper than the drawer sides so I can fine tune the exact spacing and fit after the drawers are assembled. Stops on the router table provide stopping and starting points for travel, keeping the grooves between the mortises. After all the milling is done to the drawer fronts and the test fitting and fine tuning is complete, I cut them at the angle of the chest sides. A pencil line inscribed on the back of the drawer fronts indicates where to cut.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

notes for later...

I have been at school making more and more wheels and round blanks for spinning tops, and also at work on the small walnut chest of drawers. As you can see in the photo above, the maple drawer sides and back have the bottom panels fitted in place, and next will come the addition of drawer fronts.

What follows are notes for later discussion later, saved from my comments to an edutopia discussion.

"An excellent plumber is infinitely more valuable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."--John Gardner, Excellence, 1961

Educators are challenged in their efforts to implement a multiple intelligences approach by the fact that teachers are selected from among those who are college educated, having a demonstrated facility in language but often little else. Put a teacher in front of a classroom, and he will resort to the means of teaching most accessible in his proven repertoire. Talk, talk, test.

When we have high school science teachers who have also proven themselves in craftsmanship, music or dance and are given the latitude to use them in class, we'll know we are making progress in engaging all learners at a higher level of accomplishment.

sawing, history and hand skills.

Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, director of the North Bennet Street School in Boston sent me these photos to help prepare for our presentation on Sloyd during the Furniture Society Conference at MIT on June 18. The first is from their current project in partnership with Eliot Middle School. The one below is from much earlier in the history of the school when Gustav Larsson was director of the Sloyd Teacher training at NBSS. Some things don't change much. Children still need to become engaged in learning through their hands. There is nothing that so deeply engages one in learning as the development of skill.

In the meantime, I am continuing work on my small walnut chests of drawers, using a simple mortise and tenon technique for assembling the drawers. I cut mortises in the drawer sides and then form tenons on the backs, and on the front of the sides where they will attach to the drawer fronts, as shown in the photos above and below.

Monday, June 07, 2010


While we are on the subject of Greek and words that make the idea of hands-on learning more scholarly, (you remember yesterday's post on hermeneutics, it is time to talk about the Greek word "heuristic". It's derived from Archimedes exclamation that became the name of my wonderful home town, "Eureka! Springs" Now, let's holler all together, "Heureka!" for it conveys the sense of discovery, and is what education should really be about in the first place. Now when educators talk about "heuristic," you will be able to exclaim, proclaim and explain what the heck they think they are talking about... a means through which to create an opportunity for hands-on direct personal discovery.

Using Greek terminology is much better at capturing the attention of scholars, because it gives them time to scratch their heads, run for their Greek dictionaries, and then converse in such a manner that they can regain higher ground, keeping peons at bay. It is always fun when you can talk like a pro, an insider, taking comfort that many around you don't know what you mean. It makes you feel exclusive like talking in pig Latin. Andshay onway. Just in case you are not adept at Pig Latin, you can translate through this website.

I made a trip to the handle factory this morning to get scrap rounds for making wheels. I now have about 4 hundred wheels made for making toy cars at the Carnegie Library Birthday Party. I am also fitting drawer guides into the sides of drawers as you can see in the photos above and below.

Ed Bronson sent a link to a blog on describing a renewed and growing relationship between Career and Technical Education (CTE) and High School College Prep, Bridging the Gap. As described by John Ruskin, "Let the youth once learn to take a straight shaving off a plank, or draw a fine curve without faltering, or lay a brick level in its mortar, and he has learned a multitude of other matters which no lips of man could ever teach him."

Sunday, June 06, 2010

wheels and drawer guides

As usual in the wood shop I have a number of things going on at once, not multitasking, but moving between projects. I will be having a woodshop for community children at the Carnegie Public Library 100th Birthday party in one week, so there are lots of small parts and materials to be prepared for projects. We are expecting over 100 children to attend, many of whom have never done anything like it before in their lives.

I am also continuing work on the small walnut chests of drawers, beginning to rout the drawer guides in the sides as shown in the photo above. I use a spacer which is moved from left to right to control the position of the cut, so that a single setting of stop block positions will allow for routing each pair of matching drawer guides at the various heights along the chest sides. This process must be precise. The photo above shows the bottom most drawer guides, simple grooves routed into the cabinet sides, blind at the back and open on the front edge to provide clearance for the drawers to slide.


From wikipedia
Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation theory, and can be either the art of interpretation, or the theory and practice of interpretation. Traditional hermeneutics — which includes Biblical hermeneutics — refers to the study of the interpretation of written texts, especially texts in the areas of literature, religion and law. Contemporary, or modern, hermeneutics encompasses not only issues involving the written text, but everything in the interpretative process. This includes verbal and nonverbal forms of communication as well as prior aspects that affect communication, such as presuppositions, preunderstandings, the meaning and philosophy of language, and semiotics.
Hermeneutics is named for the Greek god Hermes, who was believed the "inventor of language and speech, a liar, a thief and trickster." The Greek view was that words can be used either to illuminate or hide the truth.

I am on the subject of hermeneutics today, because the word is becoming of fashion in academic circles, and it is interesting to note that modern hermeneutics is intended to transcend language itself, by looking beyond mere verbal and literal interpretation. How do we really interpret things? If interpretation is based on words alone, then we live the lives of fools and in such foolishness, make a complete mess of things, and fools of ourselves.

Without personal experience, interpretation falls on deaf ears, idiot minds, and much of what we witness in modern life is the tragic result.
"The mind and hand are natural allies. The mind speculates; the hand tests the speculations of the mind by the law of practical application. The hand explodes the errors of the mind, for it inquires, so to speak, by the act of doing, whether or not a given theorem is demonstrable in the form of a problem. The hand is, therefore, not only constantly searching after the truth, but is constantly finding it."--Charles H. Hamm, 1886
"In other cases, even by the strictest attention, it is not possible to give complete or strict truth in words. We could not, by any number of words, describe the color of a ribbon so as to enable a mercer to match it without seeing it. But an accurate colorist can convey the required intelligence at once, with a tint on paper." -- John Ruskin, 1879
While waiting for the pendulum to swing, returning hands-on learning to American schools, there are steps you can take yourself, thus finding a place in higher consciousness. Cook, clean, cleanse the mind by use of the hands, create, fix, make, tend, restore, repair, plant, harvest and make. Make good, Make whole. Hermeneutics is not just about interpreting for others, but about interpreting for ourselves and requires a foundation in the real world from which to discover truth.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Matter and form

The following is from the introduction to Robert Friedel's essay, "Some Matters of Substance" from the book History From Things, Essays on Material Culture, edited by Lubar and Kingery and published by Smithsonian:
In the second book of his Physics, Aristotle sets out the central concerns for students of the physical world, by which he means not only the world of nature but also that shaped by humans--the world of artifacts, if you will. At the center of these concerns is the recognition that there are two aspects to all things: matter and form. He chides earlier philosophers for being too much concerned with matter at the expense of understanding the form or essence of the thing. As befits Plato's star pupil, Aristotle urges us to pay more attention to form or design.
Is it time to do a back flip? We have begun to flub up rather badly by failing to understand the material aspects of our universe. As children become further enthralled with the capacities of their iPhones (aren't we all?), are we missing some important matters of substance?

I have been watching helplessly as the oil surges from the latest BP contraption in the gulf. The images are haunting. The robots are busy injecting thousands of gallons of dispersants into the spill. The dispersants break down the oil, keeping it from rising to the surface, spreading it out so that bacteria can do their work on breaking it down into more natural components. As bacteria eat the oil, they rapidly consume the oxygen in the water, depriving all marine organisms in the spill zone of what they need to survive. What we are witnessing is the death of a natural ecosystem brought on by arrogance and greed. Successful regulation would have saved British Petroleum and the Gulf region from unprecedented disaster.

BP in now on plan D, E, or F in stopping the spill. I've lost count. It's become tragically apparent they never had a plan A in the first place, and seemingly did not have engineers with real hands-on wood shop experience to understand the implications of gravity on the processing of material. One thing you learn when you cut wood, is that if it isn't fully supported, when you draw close to the finish of the cut, the weight of the wood can cause the blade to bind... which is exactly what happened to their diamond saw.

Not having people educated in success and failure in the use of material puts us all at risk. Getting back to Aristotle... form and material are two sides of the same object. We kind of got the idea that integrity of material was of little consequence back in the days when we discovered we could sell just as many TV sets in wood-grained plastic cabinets as we could when they were made of real wood. We became a society in which form mattered over substance. In contrast, in an age of craftsmanship, caring about the implications of both form and substance were of integrated, inseparable concern. When we gave up on craftsmanship as the primary means of human growth, we really screwed up.... Everything.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Why We Need to Make Things

The following is from the essay "Why We Need Things" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in History from Things, Essays in Material Culture:
"Our addiction to materialism is in large part due to the paradoxical need to transform the precariousness of consciousness into the solidity of things. The body is not large, beautiful, and permanent enough to satisfy our sense of self. We need objects to magnify our power, enhance our beauty, and extend our memory into the future.

In looking at these functions, it seems clear that power objects are not only the most dangerous but also the most expensive with respect to scarce resources and labor. When things are necessary to prove dominance and superiority, human costs start to escalate very quickly. It is striking to note in comparison how inexpensive things that stand for kinship and relatedness tend to be. Tokens of remembrance, respect, and love typically have trivial intrinsic value and labor invested in them is usually voluntary. Thus, the kind of selves individuals choose to build have great consequences for the material culture and for the natural environment that must be despoiled in order to create it."
Most of us have been horrified at the images coming from the Gulf of Mexico, the BP oil spill disaster and its consequences on the natural environment. We are arriving at an understanding of the costs of our dependence on fossil fuels, and our irresponsibility in the use of environmental resources to sustain a relentless parade of meaningless consumer goods through our personal lives into landfills. Csikszentmihalyi states further that
"The addiction to objects is of course best cured by learning to discipline consciousness. If one develops control over the process of the mind, the need to keep thoughts and feelings in shape by leaning on things decreases... A Brahmin can afford to live in an empty home, because he does not need objects to keep his mind on course."
There are a variety of ways that we can reduce our addiction to objects as definition of self. One is to make music. Another is to grow things. One is to prepare food to serve others. Another is to care for the old or the young. Ironically, so too, is the making of beautiful and useful things. When we invest ourselves in an object, heart and soul, not in the owning of it, but in the making of it, it becomes a reflection of highest human principles. The making of it provides the discipline of consciousness that human beings so desperately require.

Csikszentmihalyi, in his essay, tells about objects of power, and describes how among men in primitive tribes, power, physical, psychic and social was concentrated in the spear. At Clear Spring School in the last two weeks of school, some of the 7th, 8th and 9th grade students turned "bats" on the lathe. One worked on a turned handle for a "light saber". We had to take them away during the school day, as the sense of power the children derived from them became disruptive of other learning activities. There is greatest power in the objects that reflect our own learning and growth. By neglecting our children's power to make things themselves, we prime them for addiction to objects which have far greater environmental and social costs. In the photo above, Killian is making a small ball bat.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A future, made by hand...

Their Future, Made by Hand is an article in the New York Times describing culinary entrepreneurs, responding to the downturn of the economy by making meaningful lives for themselves and life more meaningful to others, by working with their own hands.

Two of my daughter's friends at Columbia University have started a small business, making truffles, as shown below. Their company is called Mimi Truffles.

The creative use of the hands is so compelling, we ought to do more with the hands in our nation's schools and universities. It would would make learning much more fun for all.