Thursday, April 17, 2014

Down for the count.

Sanding, music, dance, math and the power of attention...

 This morning, I am sanding boxes, and am in the third course, having gone from the stationary belt sander to 120 grit and 180 grit sand papers on the orbital sander. I now have two grits 240 and 320 to go.

I have heard sanding referred to as a mindless exercise, but done well, it is not. Each edge and every flat plane requires scrutiny and multiple examinations during the progression from coarse to fine. It is a tactile as well as visual progression as tool markings and small abrasions from coarse sanding are eliminated by subsequent grits. The surface quality may seem OK until the final finish is applied, as sanding dust can obscure defects that may be revealed later, so there are no short-cuts to be taken if a high level of finish is expected. When a person knows that other craftsmen may examine the work and make judgements of craftsmanship and quality of character based on what they see, and touch and if you are one of those encumbered by self-respect, you begin to realize that the quest for improvements in craftsmanship can be relentless.

Counting helps to keep the mind engaged and to direct the course of sanding just as the count is important in music and ballet. The count one, two, three,  four is useful for more than just the waltz. It can help in controlling  the length of time the edge of a box is engaged on the surface of a power sander. Or it can count the number of strokes with a hand plane or sanding block to approach perfect uniformity. Counting engages the attention and helps direct the motions of the hands. It keeps the mind and body at a state of awareness and complete engagement.

In any case, while someone watching from outside might think that sanding is a mindless task, please let me assure you that sanding is no more mindless than ballet. And yet there are idiots afoot in the world that would assume ballet is mindless because it is based on extensive practice and control of the body.

And how are we to have successful education in the US while policy makers are focused exclusively on standardized tests to measure our effectiveness? Instead, we should be focused on the things that really count in the lives of kids... things that make schooling real. The arts, dance, music, wood shop, laboratory science and other things that allow children to express what they've learned and make it relevant to their own lives.

Make, fix and create...


  1. You might want to stop counting at 3 for a waltz. Od as it may seem to some, I don't mind sanding at all.


  2. Hi, Doug.

    I've been reading your blogs since we visited your school (and the woodshop!) last week.

    I enjoy your writing and it was nice to read about our visit from your perspective.

    I've subscribed to your blog by email.


  3. Mike, I should have known that a waltz was only a 3 count.

    Balazs, thank you for visiting the blog and for being a part of our visiting team. You mentioned sending me some information on your brother's woodworking. Please feel free to do so at any time.

  4. Hello Doug , sanding is mindless? Where I work I have often seen students round a crisp edge or create a dip in a flat surface because they do not use s sanding block. Mostly it is lack of experience but often they do not want to put in the small effort it takes to prepare one. Sanding is a common way they "adjust" their surfaces away from what they want. Thanks. Kurt Stern.

  5. Sanding can be mindless, and so many teachers in the early days of manual arts in school prohibited sand paper.

    Done mindlessly sanding can screw things up in a hurry. I am reminded of teaching at Arrowmont one year, and planning a box for the students to make that had a small banding of inlay on the top edge of each side. It would have been beautiful, but without warning, students decided to hold their boxes against a large horizontal belt sander, when a bit of careful hand sanding or a card scraper would have been more than enough.