Wednesday, October 31, 2012

those for whom school was not intended...

Guess what these are!
I went for a long walk with a friend last night and the conversation fell to schooling. He was interested in Educational Sloyd and where our current model of American education was falling flat.  It is obvious to those who have lived through the experience that it is not designed for everyone. It advances some forms of intelligence over others, and so naturally fails to validate the intellectual possibilities of all.

Howard Gardner did kind of a remarkable thing, in that he offered academic validation that a variety of forms of human expression are forms of human intelligence. Music smart, nature smart, smart in the physical use of one's body, may not measure up to listening engagement and analytical processing in the rigid realm of American education, but at least Gardner in his recognition of multiple intelligences, gave other intellectual capacities claw marks on the school walls as more generations were disappointed, discouraged, disengaged and left stranded.

Educational Sloyd ought to serve as the model for overall school reform. It offered the following precepts. Start with the interests of the child, move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex, and from the concrete to the abstract. Conventional public education has a couple parts of this formula down pat. Through scope and sequence of curricula, it is set up to move from the easy to more difficult, and from simple to complex, but it often fails to engage the interests of each child, fails to start with what is known to the child, and most often fails in making the steady move back and forth between the concrete and abstract.

Making real, useful and beautiful things engages all the senses, and all forms of human intellect, and so educational Sloyd was understood by early practitioners to be the best way to build upon the good start made by Kindergarten.

Yesterday I mentioned doing something different by expressing skill. On a radio interview later in the afternoon I heard Ellen Langer describe her new book, Counter-Clockwise, Mindful health and the power of possibility. I think my readers in particular will understand the relationship between doing hand work, which might seem mindless to those who are outside observers of it, and the development of mindfulness.

As to the photos above, please Guess the Use!  Can you figure out what these are for, and how they are to be used?  What are the holes used for and why the steel pins? I offer this hint. They are parts to be used in the small cabinet I am packing to send to Fine Woodworking for photographs for an upcoming article on the installation of knife hinges. Use the comments section to share your guesses.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

doing something different? try expressing skill for a change.

Yesterday a few of my high school students decided that instead of conventional round sound holes on the face of their cigar box guitars, they wanted them to be other complex, difficult to accomplish shapes. I carefully described the risks involved: That this pointy shape cut in wood would be fragile and inevitably break... that sound hole, centered in the top would be too large and interfere with the placement of the bridge... that this particularly complex shape would be challenging even for me to cut with my long years of practice working with wood. "Will you cut if for me?" they asked. "Do I look like I have time for that?"  "What skills would you acquire by watching me do it?" I asked in reply.

But there is pressure among kids to be different these days, and it is a challenge to get them to understand that by doing a thing particularly well, expressing skill and simplicity of design in a useful and beautiful object would be different enough in this age of unskilled workmanship.

I explained that students would learn more by screwing up than by taking the safe course, but that put me in a awkward position because I truly hoped for their success, not failure.  This was their last wood class before fall break, so I plan to have some new tops ready by the next class so they can opt for better work when their experimentation is complete.

Back in the 1930's there was a big blow-up over this same issue in the world of educational Sloyd. Famous Swedish craftsman, Carl Malmsten believed that the teaching method promoted at Nääs did not allow enough student experimentation and originality. The Sloyd model series was intended to provide a steady growth in skill. Other educators had also claimed that the method was stifling. And so finding that balance between skill and creativity can be a challenge. Should woodworking be an anything goes, anything is acceptable indulgence, or something more in which students learn to apply meaningful standards of craftsmanship to their work? If the purpose is education rather than indulgence, the standards of craftsmanship should come into play.

I had a conversation with my 4th, 5th and 6th grade students yesterday on the same subject. They want to come to wood  shop wanting to simply do their own thing. They are creative enough to reach into the scrap bucket, pull out 4 pieces of wood and come up with something. But I ask them to do projects that build greater skill, and I have particular ways in which I want things done. I explained that the greater skill that can come as a result of their participation can make them even more creative. Do we do then any favors when we offer empty praise for their creativity in making junk that will not survive or serve as useful beauty? I tend to think not.

Today the first order of 300 boxes leaves my shop, and I pick up materials for the next order of 500. I guess you can imagine what I will be doing for the next month and a half.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, October 29, 2012

competitive advantage...

One of the things that we do as human being is to select fields of interest based on what we perceive to be our own competitive advantages. Among siblings and within peer groups, children and adults will choose areas of interest that allow them to gain competitive advantage in gaining recognition, self-differentiating themselves from each other. For example, two children within the same family, equal in nearly all ways will choose different emphasis on activities, with one developing athletic advantage, and the other academic. No doubt, this natural process is part of the foundation of the success of the human species, giving us a variety of bases and perspectives for creative problem solving.

School, on the other hand, has been described by Sir Ken Robinson, as a mine in which particular students are  extracted from the earth of humanity, while heaps of slag in the form of non-useful human beings are pushed to the side. A farming analogy would be that of separating wheat from chaff. Some few are chosen for advancement based on a too-narrow definition of human intelligence.

A more reasonable system of education would offer a wide range of possible options for student success. This is essential for two reasons. First, all children need to have opportunities as human beings to see themselves as competitively responsible for contributing to human culture, economy and community. Secondly, those who may not have developed skills in one area or another, need to bear witness to the valuable contributions offered by others, to see the level of work and engagement required as each contributes unique qualities to the necessary matrix of human engagement.

All children need to become at least a bit engaged in making, even when they have no pre-ordained interest in it. This is necessary in order for the value of skilled making to be understood as a cultural and economic value.

Not long ago, the powers that be in the United States, an academic and political elite, decided that we as a nation would no longer need to compete with other nations in the manufacturing of a wide range of necessary goods... We were to be a service economy, and then when most realized that that would mean flipping burgers in fast food restaurants (which too, requires skill), it was announced in the press, that we would be an "information" economy, in which bits of data would form the basis of economic value.  But in a true healthy economy and culture, the making of real things of useful value must play a very strong part.

In the mail on Saturday, I received a catalog from the Japan Woodworker  which I will pass along to a former student, Easton, who is studying to become a blacksmith. Don't be deterred by the power tools shown on the opening page of their website. They have some of the finest chisels and saws for fine craftsmanship made in the world, even though most are too expensive for the common woodworker.

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, 4th, 5th and 6th grade students will be finishing their pencil boxes and high school students will work on their cigar box guitars.

I am all set to deliver 300 boxes, and have been asked if I can make 500 more.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

sliding pencil box...

Clear Spring School sliding pencil box.
Readers have asked about simple box designs to be made by kids. The last two weeks at Clear Spring School we've been making simple sliding top boxes. They can be adapted to a variety of sizes and uses, from pencil boxes as shown in the design to top display boxes as shown in yesterday's post. They can also be decorated with a variety of designs, and my 4th, 5th and 6th grade students are putting their initials on top. Click on the image for a larger view.

The materials are cut from standard 2 x 4 building stock, spruce or fir, and I usually buy pre-cut studs as they are a bit cheaper and often of better quality in our local market. When cutting into small parts, the actual length is not important. This project requires some teacher preparation. The materials are cut to dimension, but not length, leaving that part up to the students. The front and back require a 1/8 in x 1/8 in. groove for the sliding lid. Alignment of parts during assembly is challenging as the grooves for the sliding lids must be in alignment with the top edges of the ends in order for them to slide. One of the values of this project is that it requires students to pay particular attention to how things go together, and the lesson that what they do, and the attention they apply to what they do really matters. There are ideas in the academic world that hand work is a mindless exercise. Nothing could possibly be further from the truth.

You will notice in the drawing above that the ends are made from thicker stock which allows students to drive the nails into more substantive stock. These thicker ends are essential to the student's success in completion of this project, as even the most proficient adult woodworkers would have difficulty positioning nails accurately into 1/4 in. end grain stock without splitting.

Today in the wood shop I'm getting the cabinet sanded and finished for Fine Woodworking and continuing work on an order for Appalachian Spring Galleries. Last night, we of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts held a very successful Mad Hatter's Ball, raising money for support of educational programs in the arts.

On another note, Jacques Barzun passed away at the age of 104. He was a writer and scholar who noted the decline of western civilization partially related to the mechanization of science. It was becoming purely academic, rather than engaging each of us in scientific exploration.
While he maintained that modern science was “one of the most stupendous and unexpected triumphs of the human mind,” he attacked, again and again, any hint of “mechanical scientism,” which he said had baleful consequences.
As I've said before in the blog, you can't whittle a stick without becoming engaged in scientific exploration and rudimentary hypothesis. When we've removed crafts from the lives and education of our children, we've left them scientifically and culturally illiterate.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Disrupting college?...

A sliding top "top box" holds some and displays favorites
Box makers who work with kids may enjoy my new design for a "top display box". The elementary school kids at Clear Spring School love tops and also love boxes, so the box shown at left provides a way to keep a few and display favorites. Some major preparation work must be done in advance, and all of the kids had some difficulty making this box... bent nails, negligent alignment of parts.

But if it were easy, what would the educational value be?

 Rip material for the bottom, sides and ends from 2 x 4 stock. Then cut a shallow groove down the length of the sides to house the sliding top. If I weren't so busy at the moment, I would offer plans and dimensions. Perhaps those can come later.

Just as the computer has disrupted nearly everything else from business, the exchange of information, sales (wholesale and retail), the lives and family lives of most people in the developed world, there is an idea that computers will disrupt the standard idea of college education. While students in many European countries attend college for free or nearly for free, even through masters and doctoral degrees, here in the US, the amount of money owed by students for college attendance exceeds the total amount of credit card debt held by every person in the US, and we have too little real evidence of its success. Many students attend for years without graduating.

Our students (and parents) invest heavily in education, hoping for some bright future. Parents push their students into college and university situations costing a fortune even though in many cases those students are emotionally unprepared to make best use of the opportunity and have no real sense of what their objectives might be. In other words, the inefficiencies involved in higher ed are staggering.

The October 29, 2012 edition of Time Magazine, reinventing college explores the issues in depth, from the staggering debt faced by our students and nation, to the on-line university websites that seem to be offering a solution that in some cases are free.

There are some things that can be learned (with sufficient interest) from lectures or on-line. But looking at all education (including university) through the lens offered by understanding the relationship between the hands and brain, informs us that all education to the extent humanly possible, should have an expressive hands-on component. To simply watch  or listen without becoming more deeply engaged in personal experience leaves us detached, ignorant and unproductive.

On a related subject, last night NBC New featured the North Bennet St. School. Ssorry for the advertisement but the video is worth the wait.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Today in my woodshop, I am getting my small white oak knife hinged cabinet ready for shipping to Fine Woodworking where it will be photographed for the upcoming article. I am also working on boxes to fill an order for galleries in Washington, DC (Appalachian Spring) , and working on my presentation for the ISACS conference in Louisville, KY.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

captured by a noble notion...

One of the too often unmentioned purposes of modern education is that of connecting with, substantiating, and activating the nobility as well as the intelligence and character of each child. Each child has the potential of exercising nobility. Many children arrive on the planet with a sense of justice, a sense of moral outrage when they are witnesses to injustice, and  in schooling we need to develop means through which that sense of justice and injustice can be refined, and brought in service to our culture and our nation. All children have some sense of longing to be good at things that they can understand and that allow them to distinguish themselves in some way from others and from the commonplace.

John Rouse and students at BFBB
There are a number of ways to activate a child's sense of nobility. David Henry Feldman who had made a study of the gifted and talented wrote of the child as craftsman. Boston Family Boat Building as shown in the photo at left links a sense of history to the child's inclination to explore and develop real skill.

At the Clear Spring School, my high school students are making cigar box guitars. Some are being led step by step through a process that they just don't quite understand. Others are enthusiastically engaged, and can hardly wait to hold their finished guitars in hand. I am having to be somewhat dictatorial through the process in order to make certain we arrive at useful completed objects. The object of a noble notion is never complete. Instead, it is like a doorway open to the future in which things are changed and made better. Some grand notions are wasted and may seem to lead to naught. Some are practice for greater things.

A noble notion is a thing that grabs you and connects you with things larger than yourself and the drawing forth of noble notions from each child is one of the most crucial elements of civilization and too often forgotten in American education.

The video above illustrates another use of noble notion. Can children be drawn from themselves and become impowered to act as the driving force of human cultural renewal, even under the nearly worst of circumstances? You can bet on it.

Make, fix and create..

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Boston Family Boat Building...

Today every flat surface in my office and finish room is covered with boxes drying from their final application of Danish oil. It is good that these 300 boxes have the opportunity to fully dry before packing for delivery. Each box, taken on its own could be considered a work of art, so this has been a satisfying project. I'm relieved to be on schedule for completion. I've made thousands of boxes but never so many at one time.

Abigail Norman from the Eliot School in Boston visited the open house for Boston Family Boat Building and her reports is as follows:
On Saturday, I attended an Open House at Boston Family Boat Building's new workshop on Fan Pier. It was a warm day, and as I approached a large sloop sailed past, slicing through wind and water, close to shore. I imagined myself on board and experienced a rush of liberation.
It took BFBB's founder, John Rowse, five years to convince a big waterfront developer to give him free space. The temporary building, good for this year, contains two spacious workrooms with plate glass windows overlooking the harbor. John told me that the students often ask to eat their lunch on the sea wall.
BFBB works with fifth graders from Haley Elementary School. The students go sailing in the fall, then spend the winter in small groups building dinghies, which they donate to the Courageous Sailing program on Jamaica Pond. In spring, they conduct oral history interviews with African Americans in the maritime trades. 
John and his volunteers take selected students on a sailing trip in Maine, and pay close attention to individual kids. On Saturday, a 7th grader was hanging around the workshop with his mom. He told me he wants to be an engineer when he grows up. BFBB helped him go on, after fifth grade, to build a bike with Bikes Not Bombs and find a place at Match Charter School.
It would be wonderful to find ways, over time, to create pathways for students to take what they gain from BFBB and our programs at the Eliot School, and carry them forward in both mastery and enjoyment throughout their middle school years, laying a groundswell for expansive lives as adults. I left BFBB's new space feeling uplifted and inspired. I encourage you to visit next time you are in Boston.
The Boston Family Boat Building model is a thing other communities can emulate, even those without water. For example, take what is best in your community. In assessment of community resources, ask, "What are the things unique about us, and answer the question, how can we use what we are to make our education of our students interesting and unique?" The highest standards of education should not be a thing measured on standardized tests, but rather be the answer to this question... "How do we take the best of who we are as a community and apply it directly to the education of our kids?" The highest standards for education are not those set by the federal or state governments but are achieved when unique communities are engaged in the making of unique schools, diverse, artistic, creative, calling forth the best from our kids, teachers and ourselves.

In the CSS woodshop today, the first, second and third grade students made boxes for tops. The project was challenging. We will finish it next week. The 7th, 8th and 9th grade students supplemented their study of the trees and forests with a study of woods, making a collection of various species of Arkansas hardwoods.

Here in Eureka Springs, we have no ocean at hand, but we do have wealth in the arts and natural forest resources that call the hands to make useful beauty from wood.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


"Nature has not adopted the young animal to the narrow desk, the crowded curriculum, the silent absorption of complicated facts. His very life and growth depend upon motion, yet the school forces him into a cramped position for hours at the time, so that the teacher may be sure he is listening or studying books." ~ John Dewey, Schools of tomorrow
Yesterday at the Clear Spring School we had the "opening of the woods," an annual event in which children are given permission to freely roam (within limits) the forest and small meadows that surrounds our complex of school buildings. During the spring and summer the woods are "closed" to keep children from exposure to ticks and chiggers, bugs which make children miserable. Needless to say, "The opening of the woods" is a much anticipated event, and the children are excited. The opening is a formal ceremony in which all children meet with the teachers and listen carefully as the rules are explained. Then the teachers lead the students on a tour the boundaries to make certain they know without doubt how far they may freely roam. From now until spring 2013, children will be able to play in the woods during recess and at lunch, and this play has profound effects.

Froebel had clearly stated the importance of nature study.
"...pupils and teachers should go into the fields and forests together, striving to receive into their hearts and minds the life and spirit of nature."
Today in the wood shop, I will be applying the final finish to boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, October 22, 2012

ideas and ideals...

From T.W. Berry's Educational Handicraft, 1912...
Any course in Manual Training that does not give the pupil both ideas and ideals is a failure; ideas of the use of tools, of the nature, adaptability, and strength of materials, and somewhat of their value in money, of the common devices in joining woods, and in simple textile ares, and, at the same time, teaching the necessity of co-operating with one's fellows if good work is to result; and placing ideals of neatness, accuracy, truthfulness, and economy before the pupil. It is no small gain socially that Handicraft is helpful in later life which may provide pleasant and profitable occupation for what might otherwise be dull evening, if not evenings spent under unsatisfactory conditions.
I am nearing completion of the 3oo boxes I started less than one month ago, and was nervous about whether I would be able to get this amount of work done (and teach school and take part in the photography of two articles for Fine Woodworking. I am relieved that with the help of a friend, I've come this far. And now I can return my thoughts more deeply to other things.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, 4th 5th and 6th grade students will be finishing their puzzle maps of Pangea, and beginning to make pencil boxes. My high school students will continue work on the necks of their cigar box guitars.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

the chronic diarrhea of exhortation...

a fraction of over 300 boxes nearing completion
Not much to say here, except that some colorful language has been used throughout history to make the same point which I make over and over again in the blog... We learn best when our hands are engaged and not quite so much of the mouth is used. The chronic diarrhea of exhortation was Jonathan Baldwin Turner's description of the classic form of education where the teacher stands at the head of the class and spews for all he's worth. He stated in his Griggsville address, May, 1850:
There are, moreover, probably, few men who do not already talk more, in proportion to what they really know, than they ought to. This chronic diarrhea of exhortation, which the social atmosphere of the age tends to engender, tends far less to public health than many suppose."
I am reminded of my time in college studying political science, trying to find some meaning in it and sitting through mind numbing lectures. And for most educators in the US, that is the model they have been presented and come to understand as what school is about. Those who learn best in that way are advanced to universities where they take part in the continuing exhortation and become teachers and sustain the faulty methodology to be imposed on others.

If you observe the workings of your own mind (a thing I recommend), you will notice that when listening to a lecture, your own attention will of necessity wander to and fro. When you hear the professor's words and then attempt to translate what you've heard into your own experience or what you've read, that process requires you to cease listening for a moment in order to do so, in which case your professor's words are no longer recorded in your thoughts until your attention is allowed to return. Formulate a question in your thoughts, and you will find that question the more pressing concern than whatever your professor is presenting at the moment. Can anyone in their right mind consider this to be an effective way of imparting knowledge? Many learn from this scenario that they don't like schooling, or being lectured to, or being taught. The irony of course is that most folks find learning outside of school to be fun and that schools have become anything but.

If schools were to be made places where children learned from their own experiences by doing real things, we would discover better institutions and learning cultures to have been formed. One of the best ways to make schools experiential is to make things of useful beauty. Even a simple box can be transformational. Make the box, make the craftsman, and make a school culture with enthusiasm for learning, each and all at the same time.

Jonathan Baldwin Turner was the father of the land-grant university system, now celebrating the 150th anniversary of the legislation, signed by President Abraham  Lincoln, which led to the founding of major universities in each of the 50 states. The land grant colleges were at one time proposed as places where practical learning in the agricultural and mechanics arts might take place as a counterweight to the classical educations in law, religion and philosophy offered in universities. Turner had graduated from Yale with a degree in Philosophy, so he knew the faults of classical education well. After graduation and in the wilds of Illinois, 1833, he discovered the value of a more practical education.

Today in my wood shop, I will be fitting lids to the bodies of boxes. They have been laser engraved and some need the addition of color in the engraved lines to make the image pop. I am using burnt umber oil color brushed on and wiped off to give a uniform color to the laser design, as burnt umber is very close to the color of lightly charred wood.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

land grant and the mechanic arts...

We are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act which served as the foundation of our nation's land-grant universities.
The purpose of the land-grant colleges was:
without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.
The land-grant university movement was begun by Jonathan Baldwin Turner, a man who's ideas I've covered previously in this blog.
"...a classical teacher who has no original, spontaneous power of thought, and knows nothing but Latin and Greek, however perfectly, is enough to stultify a whole generation of boys and make them all pedantic fools like himself. The idea of infusing mind, or creating or even materially increasing it, by the daily inculcation of unintelligible words--all this awful wringing to get blood out of a turnip--will, at any rate, never succeed except in the hands of the eminently wise and prudent, who have had long experience in the process; the plain, blunt sense of the unsophisticated will never realize cost in the operation. There are, moreover, probably, few men who do not already talk more, in proportion to what they really know, than they ought to. This chronic diarrhea of exhortation, which the social atmosphere of the age tends to engender, tends far less to public health than many suppose."
"I think the exclusive and extravagant claims set up for ancient lore, as a means of disciplining the reasoning powers, simply ridiculous when examined in the light of those ancient worthies who produced that literature, or the modern ones who have been most devoted to its pursuit in this country and in Europe. If it produces infallible practical reasoners, we have a great many infallible antagonistic truths, and ten thousand conflicting paths of right, interest, duty, and salvation. If any man will just be at the trouble to open his eyes and his ears, he can perceive at a glance how much this evasive discipline really does, and has done, for the reasoning faculty of man, and how much for the power of sophistical cant and stereotyped nonsense, so that if obvious facts, instead of verbose declamation, are to have any weight in the case, I am willing to join issue with the opposers of the proposed scheme, even on the bare ground of its superior adaptation to develop the mental power of its pupils."
"The most natural and effective mental discipline possible for any man arises from setting him to earnest and constant thought about things he daily does, sees and handles, and all their connected relations and interests. The final object to be attained, with the industrial class, is to make them thinking laborers; while for the professional class we should desire to make laborious thinkers; the production of goods to feed and adorn the body being the final end of one class of pursuits, and the production of thought to do the same for the mind the end of the other. But neither mind nor body can feed on the offals of preceding generations. And this constantly recurring necessity of reproduction leaves an equally honorable, though somewhat different, career of labor and duty open to both, and, it is readily admitted, should and must vary their modes of education and preparation accordingly."

In other words intelligence is developed by doing things, by making things, by growing things, not by educational nonsense devoid of engagement in reality. Your own local land grant university may be holding celebrations of the Morrill Act which was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, applying to all states, even those in rebellion against the North. Please join us in celebration of the great forgotten notions of effective education. We learn best, most effectively, most truthfully and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on. In my wood shop today I am lining boxes. Make, fix and create...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Making things real by making real things...

This morning I am packaging hundreds of box lids to deliver to the engraver. While the lids are being engraved on the underside (to provide and effective surprise), I and my assistant box maker will be applying Danish oil to the last of the bodies of 300 boxes. There is always satisfaction in making real things that offer useful beauty. To hold something in your own hands that represents the culmination of your own efforts and imagination is a powerful tool for engagement.

In schools, we put children at desks, eliminate their opportunities for hands-on, tactile creative expression, and then expect them to sit still, and act attentive, but compliant. What were educators thinking when they arrived at that model of learning? Very sadly, our current schools have proven that for many, or even most children, that model is ineffective and often has the reverse effect. Instead of engaging children more deeply in learning, it leaves children estranged from their natural inclination to learn.

When I was in college, my friends and I would ask each other, "what do you plan to do when you get to the real world?"We clearly understood, that even college was an isolating institution, rather than one that led to greater engagement in real life. But open the doors of education wide. When you make something of useful beauty, you ARE engaged in real life. When schools become places of artistic expression and creativity, we will advance American education and increase student enthusiasm for learning.

Can you observe this principle in your own life? Do you think I'm just making this stuff up? The comments function of the blog will allow you to share your own observations.

Make, fix and create... 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

boxes galore...

With the help of my assistant, I continue to make progress on boxes as you can see in the photo above. Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, first, second and third grade students did paper sloyd, learned that equations could apply to paper and wood as well as to numbers. In math class, they have been learning about equations, and the wood shop is a place where they can actually apply what they know to real things.

The 7th, 8th and 9th grade students made pencil boxes, using skills they acquired last week in the use of the scroll saw and cutting straight lines marked with pencil and square.

Early educators believed learning was a two way street. What became known was to be tested and demonstrated through action.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

today in the wood shop...

Today I am getting ready to package the lids for 300 boxes so I can send them off for laser engraving. They each have their first coat of Danish oil finish. I still have nearly 100 box bases to make and finish. When the lids are returned, the bases and lids will be put together, the boxes lined, and a final coat of finish applied.

Yesterday in the Clear Spring School wood shop, students began making the necks for their guitars, so there was a lot of imaginary fingering of cords and strumming taking place as students began actually sensing how their real guitars will feel in their hands. The 4th, 5th and 6th grade students cut out maps of Pangea, so they were not only developing skill on the scroll saw (close attention is required), but they were also learning the continents and how to spell the continents and beginning to understand continental drift. Their Pangea puzzles will fit in folders that will keep them as souvenirs of learning, and also provide a place for keeping additional materials.

Randall Henson reported on his weekend class with Bill Coperthwaite.
"I finished a tool making and carving workshop with Bill Coperthwaite and Taz Squire over this past weekend. The workshop was held at the Center for Whole Communities in Fayston VT. Over the weekend we made single bevel hatchets, crooked knives, straight knives, work benches and had time to carve a few spoons and bowls too. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend time working with Bill discussing tool design and techniques. Bill even showed me an old Finnish technique of knitting called Nalbinding."
Regular readers will recognize Bill Coperthwaite and his work with tools from my visit last summer at his home in Maine. Use the search function at the upper left hand corner of the blog to join me on a visit will Bill. Type in "Coperthwaite," and read deep.

Make, fix, and create...

Monday, October 15, 2012

one busy week...

Last week in addition to working on 300 wooden boxes, getting the lids ready for laser engraving, teaching at Clear Spring School, taking two days for a photo shoot with Fine Woodworking, making a small cabinet and a box, having the Clear Spring School semi-annual board meeting, we organized a small meeting to introduce A+ Schools to our small community. That may have been the most important thing of the week, for it is proven that children engaged in the arts (including wood shop) are more deeply engaged in learning and perform better at all measures.

In addition to scoring better on standardized tests, students in A+ Schools also develop better creative skills, and traits of character, and cooperation that will serve them in good stead for their long and more meaningful lives.

The highest standard a school can reach is not that of meeting national objectives in the scoring of standardized tests, but that of accurately reflecting and utilizing the strengths of character within its community. That in itself demands the use of the arts in education. Our meeting concluded with several public school board members and public school teachers excited about possibilities. And I hope it also helped to build bridges between Clear Spring School and other local educational institutions.

Where the hands are engaged, the heart follows. The hands present the rationale for the arts. When the arts are a part of every facet of learning, the culture of schools is altered profoundly. Just as students are more deeply engaged in learning when that learning is hands-on, teachers too, are more deeply and creatively engaged.

Paul Leopoulos from the Thea Foundation talked about the silo effect, in which teachers, classes, curricula are isolated from the rest of learning, and thus disconnected from real life. The tragic effect is that students fail to see the necessity for learning and choose to disengage. Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, 4th, 5th and 6th grade students will use scroll saws to cut puzzle maps of Pangea as they are beginning to study earth science, plate tectonics and the formation of the earth. My high school students will be working on their cigar box guitars.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

first to fall....

Today, hickory leaves seem to be the first fallen on my deck and in my yard. With just a touch of irony or coincidence, the box I made during the FW photo shoot was made of spalted hickory and the leaves of the hinges almost resemble the shape of hickory leaves. If only I'd made that connection earlier, I'd have been able to make the resemblance between leaves and leaves even more complete.

Sunday October 14, Paul Leopoulos, of the Thea Foundation will help me to get the folks of Eureka Springs to understand the value of the arts in education. It will likely be a long struggle, as getting real change to penetrate the institution of public education  will likely face resistance.

Richard Burman asked me to ask you, dear readers, to vote for his documentary film project on the maker culture currently in competition in the Cuban Hat Contest.  His proposal called "the creative touch" is shown below and the winners receive financial support for the making. The projects with the most votes win, and so your vote may be the one that puts the hands over the top. You will need only provide your name and email address in order to vote.

make, fix,  and create.

learning by doing...

I just spent two days with Matt Kenney, senior editor from Fine Woodworking, taking photos for an article on installing knife hinges, and a "master class" on making wooden hinges. I posed for hundreds of shots, tools in hand.

I had days of work to do to be ready for the two day photo shoot, making both a small cabinet, additional(stunt) parts of a cabinet for an alternate technique, and a rustic wooden box. These are shown in the photos above and below. All this was with the back drop of making 300 small boxes. I will be relieved to get back to a more normal schedule.

I want to remind local Carroll County, Arkansas readers of Paul Leopoulos' 1:30 PM presentation at the Elk St. Unitarian Church here in Eureka Springs, Sunday October 14. The purpose of the presentation is to introduced A+ Schools, a program to integrate the arts in learning, thus improving test scores, student engagement in learning and overall school performance.

There is an inclination to think that we can gain understanding by seeing. But gaining confidence in oneself requires that we act upon what we learn. Learning without doing is empty understanding, in the same way that many soda drinks offer empty calories and no nutrition. Life-long learning and the cultivation of life-long learners requires that we give students the opportunity to test what they have learned in real life. There is a joy that real life learning can provide. There is no better way to find it than to spend time in the wood shop.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

future of shop class?

Diane Rehm interviewed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and then two others, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, and the conversation turned to the role of shop classes in the future of American education. Sadly, none seemed to see much point in the return of woodworking classes in American Schools.
REHM 10:55:33 Do you think that high schools are likely to put more and more of that vocational training back into the curriculum?
FERGUSON 10:55:42 I think, yes, but I think it's going to look very different than what we saw in the past. This idea of working in a shop is probably not going to be what we're going to see.
FERGUSON 10:55:50 But seeing students being able to do medical training, perhaps, on-site at a lab near their school or have folks come in and teach them certain things, if they think that they're going to be interested in studying medicine or studying science or engaging in partnerships with local businesses who mutually support the school, I think that it's going to be innovations on this theme, perhaps, a career technical education for the 21st century is great.
REHM 10:56:12 Randi, I'll give you the last word.
WEINGARTEN 10:56:13 If we -- so I just -- I can't reiterate what Maria just said. If there was one thing -- if I could have one wish -- and this is as a former high school teacher -- this is about you have to take kids where they are, not where you want them to be.
WEINGARTEN 10:56:29 And I think if we figured out a way to have project-based learning so that every child, every student had a project that they had to focus on, whether it was art, whether it was music, whether it was vocational educational, things like that, we would actually find ways to create real relevance for kids because we have to connect them the way so that they see that education is key to their future.
Sadly, educators of nearly all stripes fail to understand the specific relationship between the hands and learning. I say yes to the internships, yes to the career and technical education. Yest to the project based learning. Each can engage the hands. But we also need opportunities for ALL students to engage the world creatively, making things of useful beauty in order to more fully understand the culture we have inherited from our grandparents. And for children to understand and appreciate their own creative potentials.

Today in the wood shop, Matt Kenney from Fine Woodworking will join me to photograph processes for two articles. My temporary assistant will be applying Danish oil to boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


While we are making cigar box guitars with the Clear Spring School high school students, I need to share the work of my friend Zeke. Salt City Found Object Instrument Works. Zeke's instruments are fun, fanciful, and freely shared as he performs with each on his blog at completion.

Zeke's guitars, ukeleles, and assorted instruments are far more imaginative than ours, and it would have been fun to have had Zeke come in and teach a class. Hopefully, the first guitars made at Clear Spring School will help launch some new models.

Many of the most creative  things are easiest to teach one-on-one, like the guitar shown above made by an 11 year old in Zeke's shop. The guitar shown below is autographed by famous folk musician and environmental advocate Pete Seeger.

Make, fix and create... 

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

boats in Ireland...

Anke Eckardt and Rui Ferreira are boat and furniture makers in County Cork, Ireland. Anke is a member of the Craft Education Panel organised by the Crafts Council of Ireland. She did a model boat making project with 6th and 7th grade girls in Ireland as a demonstration project in an Irish school.

There is little in the world appealing to emotions, imagination and intellect than a wooden boat, and I know my readers will enjoy reading about this project in their blog, and it may call to mind some of the boat building projects here at Clear Spring School. As you can see from the photos above and below, their models made from a variety of woods are lovely.

I particularly like the boat like frame used to hang the finished boats from the ceiling as a mobile. Just the touch of class one might expect from an experienced furniture designer.

You can learn more about our Clear Spring School boat making projects by using the search function of the blog page at upper left. Type in "Boats."

Gerald (Jerry) sent a link to an interesting article about the Swiss opting for vocational school as an alternative to college, even though college education in Switzerland is free. Who Needs College? The Swiss Opt for Vocational School.

Today in the wood shop I will still be making boxes, as I will be for many days to come.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, October 08, 2012

inlays, sawing frets, and boxes...

Today I came up with a new box design based on what the kids at CSS know how to do. Certainly, they are not successful product designers at this point. The do need to be led toward greater success, even though they would like to just be putting things together without regard to how they come out. My own preference as their teacher is that they show some evidence of craftsmanship and turn out products with some sense of quality in that they should be both beautiful and useful. For as they grow they will become more critical of their earlier efforts. I notice things that they don't and won't unless I take a moment and point out how things might be improved.

The high school students are working on their cigar box guitars. They are excited about the project, and seem to have concerns when things aren't going just right, rather than (in every case) plunging along to the destruction of their project. We are inlaying the spaces between the appropriate frets with round maple dots as you can see in the photo below. The photo at the top of the page shows my new box design... a sliding lid pencil box intended for the 4th, 5th and 6th grades.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, October 07, 2012

working together...

This morning I listened to part of Humankind, a radio program that fosters a better relationship between human beings, each other and the planet. That radio program would cause some conservatives to shiver, and its availability would be the reason many hard-core Republicans want to shoot big bird in the head. Public radio, and public television often remind us that we are here on the planet to work together, a notion inconsistent with the idea of winner take all and screw the 47 percent.

 In any case, this morning's program was the second in a series on the Diet-Climate Connection and dealt with community gardens. Two that were featured were in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and participants and founders made the point that they were not just growing food, but that they were growing communities, and growing themselves. The understanding of relationship that can come when one actually gets dirty in service of others can have profound effect.

 I woke up having had dreams of friends engaged in a serious attempt to put pieces together into something more beautiful. Working in my own shop, I can take pieces of rough, ugly wood, and reshape and fit it into more beautiful and useful form. When we get down in the dirt to work with others, things become more complex. Right off the bat, I know I've thrown a few off the bus, so to speak, by mentioning conservative politics. Those persons strongly identifying themselves as conservative stopped reading at the first lines and are now fuming at me, and not listening to a word I've said since. But true conservatism knows the interdependent relationships we have with each other and our need to conserve planetary resources.

The real point is not what we say, but what we do. As one community garden founder stated clearly, when folks cross that line and enter the garden, get the gloves on or hands dirty, differences fade, and real work is done, that when successful raises crops, but even when failing  raises individuals, and lifts them to conform to highest ideals of humankind.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, October 06, 2012

engagement of community resources...

Use a simple doweling jig to locate dowel holes in the sides
Allowing schools to reflect the resources within their communities? Admittedly, not all communities are as interesting and vibrant as Eureka Springs. Folks come here because we offer more of something they want. Our winding roads, forests, lakes, historic architecture and the arts all have their appeal. Spring St. winds down through the center of town, with small shops and galleries, each offering things you may not find anyplace else, and certainly not at your big box store, and folks do like to shop. We have great restaurants and diverse lodging experiences, from big chain motels, to historic hotels, mom and pop motels, and bed and breakfasts in historic homes. We even have two tree-house cottage lodging facilities if you want to walk up steps to your own temporary (but cute) domicile. Sorry, no real trees, just steps, but that is OK in the fantasy world tourists hope to find here.

Use a drill press for top and bottom
So what if you live in an inner city, and schools in your community are  a bastion of safety for kids in a world that is so turbulent, so destructive of childhood innocence and so out of touch from educational objectives. Are there still community resources that one might find to build better connections between home, school, community and life? The political and academic elites undervalue the common folk of all communities and ignore the potential contributions they might make in the education of our kids. Is education only (as it has been for too long) about reading and managing data? What about all those once common skills that are being lost each day? Are there ways that folks with real skills in tactile arts might be brought into schools that children might begin to understand that learning is not just about black boards, electronic white boards and data, but also about real life? Education at its best is always a two-way street, with both the teacher and students lifted in self-esteem. To bring skilled carpenters, artists, nurses, bricklayers and all skilled tradesmen into full participation in local schools would be a game changer for children's lives and their communities.

I leave this as an uncompleted thought for us all to ponder. "How do we make our schools more reflective of real community life rather than disconnected puppets on a string controlled by state and federal agencies?" "How do we open the school doors to real life and engage community resources?"

In the wood shop today I am taking a break from boxes as I make a small cabinet from parts shown in photos above to prepare for this week's photo shoot for Fine Woodworking. I'm also making one small box to use in demonstrating the making and use of wooden hinges. The box is now ready to finish with shop made hinges next week.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, October 05, 2012

utilizing our most valuable resources...

Spalted sycamore and white oak
I realize that I have very few local readers. Most come from other places in the US or from around the world. But just in case a few local readers wander in, I am on a local push for the arts. The arts are certainly larger than Clear Spring School and every child deserves the benefits of learning that hands-on arts provide.

Eureka Springs is one of the top 25 arts destinations in America, selected annually as one of the finest communities for the arts. We have more artists per capita than any other small town in the United States, and arts are our greatest resource as a tourist destination. Arts are our industry. And there is a connection between learning and the arts as I describe in this invitation:
Children who are involved in the arts perform better in schools, hands down. Whether we’re talking about music, dance, theater, or the visual arts, involvement in the arts affects grades, test scores, depth of learning and overall educational enthusiasm. And so here we are in Eureka Springs, one of the foremost arts communities in our nation, and there is absolutely no reason that we could not have the very best schools in our nation… schools that reflect the deep relationship we have with the arts.
I propose a broad alliance between our schools and the arts and artists that make our community vibrant and unique. We are poised to open a new high school building, and that in itself offers the possibility for a complete cultural renewal of our schools, but what direction will that take? I suggest that we strongly consider greater integration of the arts.
All across the United States schools are struggling to improve and demonstrate improved learning, and in Eureka Springs, we are pushed along by state regulations all the while demonstrating failure to utilize our most valuable community resources. Just as our community is on the cutting edge in the arts, our schools in collaboration with the arts could an be on the cutting edge of educational reform, serve as a model for our nation, give the best of all possible lives to our children, and insure their futures by making best use of what lies immediately at hand.
The arts. A+ Schools is a program that started in North Carolina and has a proven track record of raising test scores through the integration of the arts in learning. A+ may or may not be as far as we ourselves would want to go in the integration of the arts in our schools, but investigation of A+ Schools should be our first small step in what many of us know to be the right direction.
Paul Leopoulos of the Thea Foundation will introduce A+ Schools at a meeting of artists, educators, parents and interested public on Sunday October 14 at 1:30 PM at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship 33 Elk St. Eureka Springs. I want to personally invite all concerned citizens (and artists) to attend.
Today in the wood shop, I (with help) will be sanding the bodies of boxes and making lids. The first of many finished boxes for this commission is shown above.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 04, 2012

100 boxes

The photo shows what 100 boxes looks like standing on their sides after being finished with Danish oil. This is a third of the number due on my current box making commission. I am grateful to have help.

Tomorrow I begin shaping lift off lids and will continue sanding the second hundred boxes. I have been working with Matt Kenny at Fine Woodworking on an article about installing knife hinges for small cabinets using the double flipping story stick. He will be arriving on Wednesday evening so we can begin taking photos on Thursday morning. That means in the midst of my box making extravaganza, I will be taking time to clear the wood shop to get it ready for photos.

In the meantime, Clear Spring School students are on their fall camping trip. So this morning I prepared carving stock and delivered the whittling knives.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

this for me is heaven...

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, first, second and third grade students helped in the making of two bird feeders, sawing and planing each of the parts by hand, and wanting to hammer each and every nail (until they got bent and wanted help). It is fun working with such enthusiastic young folks.

The seventh, 8th and 9th grade students had a practice day using crosscut saws and squares and scroll saws. We weren't making anything in particular, just testing and developing skill.

One of my 7th grade boys exclaimed, "This for me is heaven." And I tend to feel that way myself. A bit of time in the woodshop makes many things better. I explained that many woodworkers enjoy wood working because the level of concentration required makes all pressing problems disappear from view, which was confirmed by one of my young woodworkers who came in crying because her small sister had been taken this morning to a far away hospital for emergency surgery to save her life following a serious accident. As she was leaving wood shop with evidence of her own learning and concentration, she told me, "It worked."

There have been those who've believed that wood shops no longer have a role to play in modern education. Due to the prevalence of stupidity and insensitivity to its true worth, I can suggest that schools have been made plain and boring for too many as a result.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

castle vise...

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

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

With this set up the students can use the support to:

cut pieces to length using the side as a straight edge guide,
secure wood while using the coping saw,
cut out sections of their wood that fall inline with the little cut-out sections of the fixture and,
secure wood with the edge almost even with the top of the fixture to plane the edge square using the fixture as a support.

I hope this all makes sense. I'd love to hear any ideas that you have that could improve on the design or other potential uses for the jig.

As an aside, the use of C clamps is something that the boys in particular like using because they get to crank as hard as they can and it only holds their work better; win-win. But then they need to unscrew it with the same amount of enthusiasm;-)
 I did a quick sketch up illustration of the castle vise (shown above), so you can see where it gets its name. One c-clamp is used through the open arch to secure the vise to the table or desk and another to hold the lumber in place for cutting. The notches at the top give c-clamps a place to rest, making them easier to use. Necessity is often the mother of invention. What Jason has come up with may be useful to others in the same situation.

In the photo at left, you can see progress in my box making.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, October 01, 2012

fret boards, cigar boxes, keyed miter jig...

New miter key jig.
I split my day today between the Clear Spring School wood shop and my own. At school, 4th, 5th and 6th grade students practiced on the scroll saw by cutting their initials from wood. My high school students worked on fret boards, both cutting grooves for frets, and also doing inlay as is required on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, and 15th frets. They also worked on making the cigar boxes using the router jig made for the article in American Woodworker last summer.

In my own shop, I've been cutting mitered corners for boxes and also made a new keyed miter jig to hold the boxes flat against the fence and at the right angle as the key slots are cut. Making these 300 boxes efficiently requires a slightly different set-up than I've used in the past. So 15 minutes making a new jig is time well spent. It might in fact shave a minute or more off the making of each box.

In this jig, a piece of plywood slides along the fence and two pieces of wood interlock with the fence rail to hold the jig in exact position as it slides back and forth. Blocks with 45 degree angle cuts are attached to the plywood slid to hold the box in position and at the right angle as it slides over the blade. The procedure is simple. Nest a corner of the box in the jig, and make the first cut. Lift the box and turn it for the next cut as the jig is slid back to the starting point. Cut each corner in the same manner.

Make, fix and create...