Wednesday, June 27, 2012

meeting a 90 year old Sloyder...

My dedicated finger-joint jig in this month's American Woodworker
This afternoon as I was teaching at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, a woman and her father came through and were admiring my display of boxes. Since it was obvious that the gentleman had more than a casual interest, I asked him whether he did woodworking. Usually I can tell. He answered, "Not since Sloyd, but I don't suppose you would know what that was." He told me that his own lessons in Educational Sloyd had been in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about 80 years ago. He proceeded to tell me that his first project in Sloyd was to make a box, and that he was allowed to do nothing else in the wood shop until that project was finished to his teacher's satisfaction.

"Have you heard of Sloyd?" he asked. He didn't think that these days anyone would have heard of it before. I mentioned the articles I'd written on the subject, and my travels to Sweden and Finland and the current efforts for renewal of Sloyd in Boston Schools. I explained to his daughter the theory and purposes of sloyd, that it recognized the relationship between the hands and the development of intellect, that it led the child on a creative journey from the easy to difficult, from known to unknown, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract, but started with the interests of the child.

I mentioned that Sloyd was known to have benefits that were both economic, in that it imparted skills that made students more capable of earning a living, and formative in that it built both character and intellect in each child. The gentleman concurred. From his sixth-grade student perspective, he remembered that Sloyd was about making a box, and then being allowed and having the power to make whatever he wanted. In that, he learned about learning itself. He was surprised to learn more about Sloyd from the teacher's perspective, and to see how much thought was behind it. He said that the lessons he learned in Sloyd, making that box, had stuck with him like nothing else and the lessons learned about attention and perseverance enhanced the quality of his life for all these years. His interest in my boxes that I had mistaken as the interest of a modern day woodworker was in truth that of someone who had been called back after all this time to remember his own 12-year-old Sloyd self.

I am planning stage two of my New England adventure in which I go to Boston to discuss the value of woodworking in schools, and it was a pleasant and affirming omen this afternoon to meet someone who had been at the other end of things... a student of Sloyd from back in its heyday who had found benefits from it throughout his whole life.

Also, my article about making a dedicated finger-joint router table arrived in mail boxes yesterday across the US and one of my students brought in his copy today. The lead photo is shown above. You can find copies of American Woodworker in your favorite bookstore.

Make, fix and create.


  1. Tim Holton3:19 PM


    Can you update us on efforts you mention to get Sloyd back in Boston schools?

  2. The effort is being led on two fronts. The North Bennet St. School has renewed a partnership from the 1880s when it offered woodworking Sloyd to neighboring Eliot Elementary School. Now they are doing the same thing again with Eliot School which is now a middle school. The other organization is Eliot School in Jamaica Plaines which is hosting after school programs in woodworking. Both programs are hoping to support each other in such a way to increase the interest in woodworking education throughout Boston

    I'll be meeting with them on Thursday along with other interested parties to brainstorm a return of Sloyd

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  4. Really moving story - thanks.
    I found your blog this morning and have been reading through all day. I'm a former teacher, currently working in San Francisco as a grad student thinking about how the "maker movement" (Maker Faire,, all that good stuff) could better contribute to k-12 education. Great food for thought here. Thanks.