Friday, May 24, 2013

how nuts and bolts work...

Rudy, at my local ACE hardware store was telling me yesterday that folks are getting dumber all the time. He's had customers who've not known how nuts and bolts work... not known that they must to be aligned and turned in a particular direction in order for them to fit together. He has observed customers (more than one) in states of obvious frustration trying to push nuts and bolts together and offered, "Here, let me help with that." He says that they are then amazed at what he's accomplished. Intellectual incompetence has become a subject of conversation among clerks at the store.

"Lefty loosey and righty tighty," is a thing some folks have been taught to help them remember how nuts and bolts go together.  I had never heard that until a couple years ago, but it is a way for those who did not have the opportunity growing up with tools and with making and fixing things to gain a rudimentary verbal understanding of the way the majority of nuts and bolts works. I never needed words to explain how nuts and blots work, as I had been taking things apart and putting things together since before I could talk.

A lack of understanding of how things are made and how to fix things has ramifications far beyond just how things fit together. For instance there was the man who wanted to take his family on a float trip on our local river. He asked, "Let me get this straight. We get in the canoes here, and (pointing upstream) come out there?" "No," local guide Ernie assured him. "This is a real river.  I have to take you five miles by road, you'll get in canoes, and after following the river for several hours you will arrive here." The man thought the real river was like an amusement ride at Silver Dollar City or some such. Should a man as dumb and out of touch from a practical understanding of real life as that be allowed to take his family in a canoe? Perhaps not.

How have we have become so technologically proficient and technologically stupid at the very same time?

Part of the problem has to do with education and part has to do with parenting. Parents can hardly wait to put their iPhones and iPads and other such devices in the hands of their kids. This violates a basic premise of Educational Sloyd, that learning move from the simple to the more complex. We get kids involved with fancified technology before they've mastered a simple and fundamental understanding of reality. Complex things can distract and entertain and we mistake that for learning. Having misinterpreted children's ease of engagement with technology as being a leg up on things, we neglect the need that children have to begin their understanding of the universe with their own hands-on exploration of it. Making and fixing things can play a big part in that.

In schools we violate another principle of Sloyd. Learning should start with the concrete and move to the abstract. If you look at the syllabus for any given course, at nearly any school, at nearly every grade level you will find that it begins with broad understanding and only later attempts to lead students into deeper levels. Try to become a teacher and you'll be tested by boring classes long before you stand in front of one on your own. In contrast, when you begin with the concrete and advance toward the abstract, children are led on a path of discovery. Even when they discover that which is already known, the mapping of that discovery in actual experiences recorded in their  bodies, minds and brains, anchors the understanding of abstract principles so that they can be used in even deeper and more abstract understanding.

Joe sent this link to a book on Knife Work in the School Room by George Baldwin. Can you imagine putting knives in the hands of kids? At Clear Spring School, kids have been carving with knives safely for years.

Today in the wood shop I'll be helping my apprentice and working on boxes. I leave on Sunday for Marc Adams School for my class in box making.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Yikes! People not getting how nuts and bolts go together?! The industrial revolution and mass production would not have occurred at all if it hadn't been for the humble nut and bolt. Fuck me.

    I think that working with your hands - getting the hands dirty- is become a rarity it asppears. I've had people look at furniture pieces I've made, point at the end of an exposed through tenon, and ask me why I had 'stuck that little piece of wood on there'(?) When I explained how a mortise and tenon worked, I receive a blank stare.

    It's a strange future we are journeying towards, and the folks making most of the decisions as to where we are going tend to be the ones with the least experience in working with their hands. A little scary if you ask me.

  2. Scary, indeed.

    Another Chris

  3. Anonymous4:45 PM

    Hi. I enjoy your blog. Maybe I ought to be a little ashamed. As a professional mechanic, I use "righty tighty, lefty loosey all the time. Then again, I'm often working upside down, backwards, opposite handed and in constant fear the nut will fall two stories, disappear into an abyss of steam pipes and high voltage transformers, while a cranky journeyman is waiting at the foot of the ladder. I better damn well turn the nut the right way.



  4. I worked for a short time in a store where a woman came in with something - can't even remember anymore what now - and some part of it was loose. She wanted her money back, because it was broken.
    "No, you just have to tighten this screw here. It's just come loose from all the use. Just a turn or two, and it'll be fine again."
    " do I do that?" She asked incredulously.
    "With a screwdriver."
    "Well...where do I get one of those?"
    At this point I'm glancing around where the hidden camera is for the imminent 'haha, you're on Candid Camera' reveal.
    "Uhm...a hardware store. A dollar store maybe. Heck, a quarter will probably suffice."
    "Well....can you just do it" she asked in a snippy, exasperated tone.
    "Sure." Out came my Wave, and a second later her device was as good as new."

    I see that sort of helplessness in the face of "problems" - very easily surmounted, look at it, engage the brain, devise a solution "problems" - all the time. I don't know if it's wilfull or that they're really that hopeless or clueless.

    That I carry some cord and a bit of duct tape and a pocket knife of some description to effect simple changes seems to completely blow some people away. Unfathomable! The guy can fix stuff! Yeah, and I don't think I'm nearly as knowledgeable or handy as some.

  5. The attitude that Exploriment is talking about is really common, and sometimes it comes with an attitude of entitlement that just makes me crazy. "Fix this for me." As if the rest of us were just servants.