Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Friedrich Froebel, woodworker...

Yesterday I made Friedrich Froebel's gift number 2 which consists of a sphere, a cylinder, and a cube. If you were to go to Froebel's gravesite, you would find these three geometric solids stacked in granite as his grave monument and a symbol of his having been the inventor of Kindergarten. What some may not know of him was that he was a relatively skilled craftsman as well as an educator.

References of his being involved in crafts from various biographies discussed the making of nets from string as early as 1808 and in 1817 his students worked with wooden blocks of his design that he made for student learning. Earlier he had been a forester's apprentice and would have thus become knowledgeable of forest crafts, including the use of a spring pole lathe, as was likely used in forming the sphere and cylinder of gift number 2. He would have had some knowledge in the use of saws and cutting boxes for making wooden cubes, perfectly square on all sides from having observed waldhandwerkers or what the English would call "bodgers" on innumerable occasions. He would have known what few teachers know to this day... how to sharpen and use the tools of the craftsman to beautiful and lasting effect.

Even with a deluxe Oneway® lathe, it is not easy making a near perfect sphere. It takes practice. My own technique is to make a quarter circle template that I can use to check progress as I gradually cut away that which is not spherical. The cylinder is easier, as initially forming one is the first step upon which nearly all turned objects depend.

As I make Froebel's gifts, I am reminded that while  kindergartners in the US were buying their gifts from Milton Bradley®, Froebel had shaped the beginnings of Kindergarten in his own hands.

There are advantages in making your own instructional materials. Just as cutting firewood warms you twice, to have made the objects of your own child's learning is a warming experience. You gain skill, a love and a grasp for the work and for the craftsmanship, and are changed in character and temperament at the same time preparing for your child's intellectual growth. Whether you are a parent or grandparent or a teacher, what could possibly be better than that?

Make, fix and create...


  1. hello. As a newer woodworker i've been enjoying your blog immensely. I have been inspired to make Frobel's gift 2 for my daughter. I've carved the sphere and made the cylinder: all pretty simple, but I cannot figure out how to make a jig that allows for the diagonal hole from corner to corner of the cube. I have a drill press but I can never get the hole properly lined up on that axis. How did you do it? I know it's a busy time of year but if you have a moment I sure would love some tips. Thank you again for all your great work on this blog.

  2. I do not know how to make a diagonal hole from corner to corner on the cube, either. I used a screw eye to be able to hang it from a string. I have not as yet imagined how they were able to do that. If you learn, please share with me.

    Thin drill bits have a tendency to wander and follow the grain. So even if you could get it to start on the corner (that in itself is hard) the hole would not likely go straight.

    In the old days, carpenters would use spoon bits for drilling wood. That might be something to try, but it is my suspicion that the holes from one corner to the other was a thing that was developed after Froebel's invention of kindergarten and by others like Milton Bradley.

  3. Thank you for responding and making a whole post about it. I may have come up with a solution. It seems that any "equatorial" line drawn around a cube resting on it's point describes an equilateral triangle. So i'm thinking that a little triangle-shaped jig made up of three pieces of wood with each mating surface cut at 30deg (so 3, 60deg angles) would leave a little hole in the middle that could be used to stand the cube perfectly vertical. I've made a mockup and it seems promising but it isn't very stable yet. I think a bigger triangle with a larger hole would solve the problem. I'd send you a photo but don't know your address.
    Thank you again.

  4. Regarding the act of putting a drill bit in the corner. I think if I just nip that corner off flat...smaller than the diameter of the whole I want but large enough for the brad point bit to get a purchase then it would track nice and straight. I am drilling 3/16" holes so I think a 1/8" flat would work well.