Saturday, December 31, 2016

continuous and uninterrupted learning.

A class of Sloyd scholars at Nääs
I m reading Whittaker's book, the Impact and Legacy of Educational Sloyd. It describes the sometimes contentious relationship between its two fathers,Uno Cygnaeus in Finland, who named and invented it, and Otto Salomon who built a school and taught thousands from around the world to teach it. Cygnaeus believed that two separate schools were required, the folk school, and the Sloyd School. Salomon was always deferential to his senior, but believed that the folk school and sloyd school should be one and the same. Both agreed that education should, as a goal, be a seamless and continuous process from infancy and Kindergarten through the upper grades, but for some reason or another, Cygnaeus suggested they were in disagreement.

Both educators were strongly influenced by Friedrich Froebel who hoped that a single continuous education might be developed. One of his core principles was that of "continuity:"
The Second Principle: Continuity

Just as the gifts were numbered, with each leading developmentally to the next, Froebel intended that education offer a sense of continuity through all grade levels, starting with kindergarten. This second concept of continuity was described by H. Courthope Bowen as follows: “As that which is exercised (whether mind or muscle) grows constantly capable of higher or more varied activity, so must the exercise given grow continuously higher and more varied in character—keeping pace with the development, never outrunning it too eagerly, nor lagging lazily behind— every stage growing naturally out of that which precedes.”
Today I plan to begin finishing the underside of the table top and then proceed with final shaping and sanding of the trestle base.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likeliness that others learn likewise.

Friday, December 30, 2016

This day...

Yesterday I was out of the shop, as we were driving my daughter to the airport in Tulsa. It seemed more important to spend time with her than in the wood shop.

Today I will enlist the help of a friend to turn the large table top over so I can sand and finish the underside. After gluing all the heavy pieces together, they are too much for one man to move or manage, and if I was to do this kind of work on a regular basis, I would want to have some kind of crane or hoist. There is, however, a social calling to work, and we should, as often as is possible, use it to bring us together in mutual encouragement of each other.

When the table top is turned upside down, I will have a full day to sand it and prepare it for mounting to the walnut trestle base.

I have been delving into David J. Whitakker's book, The Impact and Legacy of Educational Sloyd, and note that I have failed to give it as much attention as it deserves. There are some important points that it pulls together from a variety of sources that help to illuminate the history of Educational Sloyd. One is that Uno Cygnaeus' life story and his relationship with Otto Salomon are described in the book. Another is that he describes the role that Educational Sloyd played in the schools of the UK. Whittaker also did an extensive review of current thinking and antiquated philosophers to provide an overview of where Educational Sloyd fits and fit in educational development. It is much more a book for scholars and history buffs than for lay people, but for those interested in the hands, it offers a deep mine of wisdom in the form of quotes, like this one from Honore de Balzac: "A hand is not simply part of the body, but the expression and continuation of a thought which must be captured and conveyed."

Of course the amazing thing about human wisdom is how fully we can neglect and ignore that which we know to be true, particularly when it comes to designing education.

The photo above is from an early Sloyd class in the UK.

Make, fix, create, and put forth an understanding that we all learn best likewise.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

shape and sand...

Use a stick to create a smooth curve.
Yesterday I shaped and sanded the white oak table top and applied the first coat of Danish oil to the top side. I made a simple routing template that could be flipped to create a symmetrical shape, first using the saber saw, and then a template following router bit. The steps are shown, except for the sanding which took hours and left my arms sore.

The steps are described briefly in the captions, but here is a deeper review: 
  1. Bend wood to create  smooth curves on the template with the template being a few inches larger in each direction than 1/4th the size of the table. Curved lines intersecting a couple inches in from the corner will work. 
  2. Use a block plane to smooth the edge after the lines are cut using the band saw. 
  3. Lay the template in place at each corner of the assembled table top, paying attention that the final dimensions of the top are accounted for and mark the shape of the finished table.
  4. Saw the shape using a saber saw. (in this case, with the table top being too heavy to take to the band saw, I take the tool to the wood.) 
  5. Clamp the template in place and rout using a template following router bit. 
  6. Then sand and finish. I used a half sheet orbital sander to avoid the kinds of irregularities that can come from a smaller random orbit sander.
Make, fix, create, and insist that others be given the opportunity to love learning likewise.

Use a block plane to smooth the edges
Use a saber saw to cut the shape
Follow the template with the router

Sand thoroughly and apply Danish oil

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

sequential gluing.

Start with adding a board on each side of center.
Yesterday I was faced with gluing up heavy white oak boards into a table top, and it would have been a daunting procedure to glue the whole thing up at once. So I decided to use a three step glue and clamp process.

Building up from the center, I started with three boards, then added two more and then two more in subsequent operations. This allowed me to make certain that each added set of boards was planed and fitted to glue with no gaps between. It also allowed me to do it with less panic.

Add two more
I used biscuits to help assist alignment and to add some strength.

The other interesting technique I used was to join the edges of boards using a plunge router and straight edge. It is difficult to pass large panels across the joiner to straighten an edge, so the strategy becomes, "bring the tool to the wood" rather than "bring the wood to the tool," as one would do in box making.

The other thing that may be obvious is that my glued up table top will stay right where it is without asking a friend to help move it when necessary.

Today I will begin shaping its edges and cutting it to final size.

I am having a pleasant and productive break from school.

Make, fix, create, and set the example that others may learn likewise.

Glued in sequence to full width

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

a warm day in the shop

Today I will spend my day in the wood shop, preparing for assembly of a large table top of solid quartersawn white oak. The wood must be planed to a uniform thickness, then the edges of each heavy plank must be made straight and flat so that it may be joined to its neighbor on both sides. As the table top is glued together it will become of enormous weight and difficult to move in the shop. At some point in the day, I'll set up an area in the shop where the top can be assembled, cut to shape, sanded, routed and finished with as little additional movement of it as possible.

I often tell my students that box making can build skills for other areas of the woodworking crafts, but there is a distinct difference between working with small pieces of wood that can be handled easily and accurately on the table saw, and the pieces of wood I am using in this project.

But I have always taken pride in being a "woodworker," and not just a "box maker." Boxes can be made from scrap, or from just any old thing. Furniture of a larger scale, simply takes larger wood,lots more of it and to handle larger wood takes greater strength and often requires different strategies than one would use to cut small stock. This often involves bringing the tool to the wood, rather than bringing the wood to the tool, particularly when the wood is too long, thick, heavy and cumbersome for safe handling.

It is important to have variety and change of pace in one's work so making this table allows me to think in different ways and to take some satisfaction in my continued growth.

My daughter Lucy is home for a brief holiday visit from teaching high school in New York. Her school is an incubator  for New York City of new, better ideas and ideals and she's preparing for a week-long cooking intensive. Besides making food, (and eating it) the students will learn some math, measuring, chemistry and cooperation, while having fun. Boys and girls will take part in the class. Cooking is one of the most popular classes offered during the special week of intensives. This will be Lucy's second year of teaching that particular class. The important thing for all educators and educational policy makers to remember is that all students need most to do real things. Education mired in abstraction leaves children bored, disinterested, and sometimes disruptive.

Make, fix, create and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Monday, December 26, 2016

to be formed a carpenter...

Despite the weather being 30 degrees above normal, we had a lovely Christmas day followed by a wonderful dinner with friends... friends who share our views and our hopes, our level of intelligence and experience and with whom we could discuss strategies for putting our nation back on a progressive track.

If psychologists  have confirmed that donald trump is indeed crazy, then how do we manage to prevent him going completely off the deep end? Is there an effective management strategy for psychosis, and what is it?

Our friends had not heard Matti Bergström's theories about finger-blindness, but one, with his PhD in German, was well acquainted with the meaning of fingerspitzengefühl.

The following is from Emily Dickinson. The idea that when a person makes objects of useful beauty, the self is also formed for higher purpose had been widely understood, even here in the US, during the 19th century.
Myself was formed—a Carpenter

Myself was formed—a Carpenter—
An unpretending time
My Plane—and I, together wrought
Before a Builder came—

To measure our attainments—
Had we the Art of Boards
Sufficiently developed—He’d hire us
At Halves—

My Tools took Human—Faces—
The Bench, where we had toiled—
Against the Man—persuaded—
We—Temples build—I said—
                –Emily Dickinson

I have been planning for my new year, and have several classes lined up at various schools. My box making class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking is already sold out. I also have a new website going online in the next few days. With the nearing completion of my box guitar book, I'll be considering other publishing adventures, including the possibility of a book about Sloyd. We are in fact, formed, not only by what we think, but by what we do and share with others. As described by Dickinson, My plane and I together wrought. An analysis of her poem suggests that she was describing how a publisher had attempted to get her to modify her poetry for his purposes. But (as is often the case when it comes to a craftsman's engagement in the arts) there were temples to build in which the self is formed in relation to higher purpose.

Make, fix, create and offer others through your example, the inducement to learn likewise, and thus form self in the image of creation.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

cut to the chase

Let's cut to the chase.
This year in our family version of the Icelandic Flood of Books, my wife gave me a copy of Urban Forests by Jill Jonnes, and I gave her a copy of a book about Iceland which is where the flood of books began. I heard from a friend that some of my books are under a tree, too. So surely books are one of the better ways for ideas (particularly good ideas) to be passed around.

Twitter, on the other hand has pushed politics to a dangerous edge. The defense minister of Pakistan has threatened nuclear war against Israel over fake news, but then our own American president-elect set the new international standard for stupidity like that– read fake news, then tweet about it, making sure to infect others.

Urban Forests explores the relationship between people, cities and the trees that are able to survive in the midst of it all. Trees actually have a way of humanizing a man-made environment. The irony of the Icelandic book flood is that the landscape of Iceland, shown in so many photographs is nearly devoid of trees, reminding me of how lucky we are to live in a forested landscape, and how much books are particularly needed when things become bleak.

In any case, this is Christmas Day and I wish the very best for all my readers and friends, where ever they or you may be. My friend Hans in Gothenberg (Sweden) says it's green there, which is unusual and an effect of global warming, which the president-elect of the US denies is real. Here in Arkansas on Christmas day it is 55 degrees. Trees are one of our best defenses against global warming that the greedy, the malicious, the ill-informed and the deliberately stupid among us deny is real. Let us read real books, make real sense of things, practice the scientific method in our examination of material qualities, make real objects of useful beauty and set the world on a better path for 2017.

Make, fix, create and increase the likelihood of others learning likewise.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

a carpenter's life...

I bought a copy of Larry Haun's book, A Carpenter's Life to read during the Icelandic yuletide flood of books, and could not resist getting an early start. Larry says at the beginning of his book:
My mother told me that I started to take a real interest in the few carpentry tools we had around home when I was seven years old, back in 1938. She said I would sit on the sunny side of the house for hours taking apart orange crates that came to our village once a year. For a boy with nothing but homemade toys, these sweet smelling soft pine wooden crates were the mother lode.

Our curved-claw hammer was missing a claw, so I pulled the small nails out of the crate with a pair of pliers. Once the crate was apart, I fashioned the wood into play objects, a small house, a wagon, boxes and shelves to hold things. It was here that I learned one of my first carpentry lessons: to hold my thumb a good distance from the head of the nail.

This is Christmas eve day. I trust that those who are making lovely things to share with friends and family are nearly done. Lovely things are best not rushed, and it's when we get in a hurry and lose consciousness for a moment that thumbs are struck. Slow down, be mindful in your labors. Enjoy the moment  and the exercise of making.

Larry Haun's book is on very special sale at the Taunton Store, as are some of my own books.  Follow this link. To find my own books, use the search term, Doug Stowe.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others receive the gift of learning likewise.

Friday, December 23, 2016

From about 1840 to 1900

Boring large mortises, first the edges and then the middle.
From about 1840 - 1900, about a million Swedes emigrated to the US. Sweden had been a nation of peasant farmers, and as the population grew, farms were passed down to subsequent generations in ever smaller sizes. What had been a single family farm of 80 acres or more, was halved then quartered and then reduced to less than 1/8th  or  1/16th its original size.

So, not only were Swedes suffering from a rise in the consumption of brännvin,  (every small farm had a still) they were overpopulated on small farms incapable of providing enough food. The rise of well-made manufactured goods from Germany and the UK diminished the value of home crafts, and the peasants could no longer support themselves by selling the objects they had crafted during long winter months.

Large tusks lock the mortise and tenon joints.
Emigration to the US provided a much needed safety valve on population growth, and the Lutheran church endorsed Sloyd education to counter the tragic moral effects of a loss of traditional handcrafts.

Sloyd was introduced to raise the character and intelligence of the Swedish people during a time of rapid societal change, and the first Sloyd taught in the US was by Swedish immigrants to Minnesota. If you want more information on Sloyd, this link is to the first article I wrote about Sloyd in 2006: Educational Sloyd.

I also wrote the original article about Sloyd in Wikipedia. It has been expanded by others around my original core.

I've been at work on the table, forming large mortises to secure the two leg sections to the central cross brace. I used my rarely used horizontal boring machine to form the mortises, shaping them to an exact fit. Some minor chiseling was required, so I used my original Nääs chisel, now restored to original condition and sharp enough for another century.

I have been working in heavy walnut to build the table, but the real heavy work has been taking place at ESSA. They used a crane to lift all the heavy timbers into place to build the new woodworking studio. It will be a remarkable structure.

On the national front, donald J. trump now has launched a new arms race with the threat of expanding our capacity to annihilate  civilization as we know it. His minions are now trying to say, "No, he didn't mean that." But he's saying "yes he did." Then China told trump that if he really wants a trade war, they will start by targeting Republican states. Arkansas is one of those, and the Republicans have earned what they get. Incidentally, For all those Walmart shoppers, the Walmart headquarters are in Bentonville, Arkansas, just 40 miles from Eureka Springs. If China targets just the state of Arkansas, Walmart shoppers throughout the US will notice rising prices.

Republican senator John McCain had said you really have to listen to the trump for two days in a row and not take any given tweet as being trump's true position until it's been repeated on day two. The man is truly delusional, has gone into his second day of proposing a new arms race and civilization will suffer from people having been fooled by trump, Russia and the FBI during the last election.

For those who read here daily in the hopes of escaping politics, my condolences.

Make, fix, create and thus increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sloyd's Sweden

Use a tenoning jig on the table saw to begin.
At the time Sloyd was invented a typical Swedish parish was described as follows:
Besides the 254 peasants and cotters who owned and lived on assessed land, there were 39 persons listed as artisans and apprentices, 92 squatters, 11 enlisted soldiers, 6 innkeepers, 5 horse traders, 3 house-to-house peddlers. There were also 274 farm servants, 23 bedesmen and bedeswomen, 104 "ordinary poor," 18 sick and crippled, 11 deaf and dumb, 8 blind, 6 nearly blind, 13 almost lame, 4 lame, 5 near idiots, 3 idiots, 1 half idiot, 3 whores and 2 thieves. On the last page of the church book, under the heading "End of the Parish," were listed 27 persons who had moved away and never been further heard from.

The poor, "the ordinary poor," and other old and ill and incompetent people, were divided into three groups and cared for according to special regulations passed by the parish council. The first group included the old and crippled who were entirely incapacitated. They received first-class poor help, or "complete sustenance," which might amount to as much as three riksdaler cash per year—about eighty-seven cents—plus four bushels of barley. In the second group were those only partly disabled, who could to a certain degree earn a living for themselves and their children. They were helped with sums of cash ranging from twelve shillings to one riksdaler a year—from six to twenty-nine cents—and at the most two bushels of barley.

The third group included people who only temporarily needed help. They received alms from a special fund known as the Ljuder Parish Poor Purse, under the supervision of the parish council. This last group included also "profligate and lazy people who had themselves caused their poverty." They, according to the council's decision, "should be remembered with the smallest aid from the Poor Purse, thereby getting accustomed to sobriety and industry." Destitute orphans were auctioned off by the parish council to "suitable homes at best bid." For these "parish boys" and "parish girls" the council sought to find foster homes where the children would receive "fatherly care and in good time instruction in honest habits and work."

Conditions were similar in other parishes in Sweden at that time.
Cut the cheeks of the tenon.
The preceding was from Vilhelm Mober's classic novel the Emigrants, which described the departure and journey of a group of Swedish peasants to resettlement in the US. As you can see, things were not good and the exodus of millions of Swedes for the US, was for them a very good thing. It was in the interest of being of service to these poor and society at large that Otto Salomon developed Educational Sloyd.

Yesterday in the wood shop I cut large tenons for the table I'm making, as you can see in the captioned images above and below.  Pay particular attention to the second photo above. Note that two cuts are made on each cheek, the first being slightly away from the fence. This keeps off-cut stock from being jammed between the blade and fence and subsequently thrown back at the operator.

Make, fix, create, and inspire others to find passion through learning likewise.

Cut the cheeks, step two.

Cut the cheeks step 3.

Clean up with chisel.

A secure connection between parts.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

as you can see...

As you can see, I am making progress on the trestle table, and have turned bun feet to lift the leg units slightly for ease of cleaning, and for decorative effect. I turned the four matching feet from walnut, using the new Jet 1640 lathe at the Clear Spring School.

My hope is to have the table compete before the Christmas holiday break from Clear Spring School is over on January 4. I also applied the first coats of Danish oil to the walnut box for a hinge review at Fine Woodworking Magazine. The box will not be so shiny when the finish has been rubbed out. This will be ready to ship for photography on Thursday or Friday of this week.

The following is from an article my friend Hans Thorbjörnsson wrote for Unesco about the life of Otto Salomon.
Salomon looked upon the contemporary elementary school as being too theoretical—and even that in a most insubstantial way since factual knowledge was learned by heart and repeated. This rote learning of pure facts led to the children adopting negative attitudes towards the school and towards each another: vanity, arrogance and bullying behaviour were commonplace. The children also suffered from being seated for long periods without any physical activity.

A child has a desire for both knowledge and activity. These needs are met when manual work is introduced into the conventional school curriculum.
Vanity, arrogance, and bullying behavior! Are those not the best known characteristics of the new "president elect?" Where was manual training when we needed it most?

Make, fix, create, and increase thereby the likelihood that others will be inspired to learn likewise.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

planing wood...

Even a small block plane can give pleasure in the process of shaping wood. In the photo, I've bandsawn parts of the base for a trestle table to rough shape, and am using a block plane to flatten the irregular surfaces left by the saw. The massive walnut is not something that I use every day, and was a challenge to shape on my small bandsaw. Fortunately a sharp blade in a plane can fix a line that's not wandered too far from its intended home.

Today I will turn small round foot pads on the lathe and begin adding some additional detail to the trestle parts.

My wood shop will be my sanctuary during dark times, while stupidity and xenophobia reign on the national scale.

We have about 5 making days left before the Christmas holiday. Let it be both a season of making and of giving what we've made. If in doubt of what to give, tools are a good choice.

Craftsmanship and creativity are the two cornerstones of civilization. Let us not wander far from our roots.

Make, fix, create, and propose that others have the opportunity to love learning likewise.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Does being on facebook make you smart?

My wife set up a facebook page, for me and will keep up on it, leaving me time to do real things.

During the presidential campaign I watched a rally in which a woman explained to Mike Pence that she was constantly paying attention to "social media, on facebook all the time" as she next proceeded to ask questions that showed how deeply detached from reality she had become. If you are addicted to social media, it would be best to follow some simple advice.
Get a life. Do some real stuff.
If you are reliant upon social media to gain your view of the world and what's happening in it.
Get a life. Do some real stuff and purposely detach from stupidity.
Today is the day that the electoral college meets to vote on President-Elect Donald Trump. We have a pathological liar on the one hand, and a populace twisted by engagement in social media on the other.

If you go to my facebook page, you may notice there is also a fan page "doug stowe box maker extraordinaire" that is occupied by a troll. At one point, the owner of the page was answering questions as though he was me. If you choose to visit his page, please note that he had promised to remove it months ago and has not done so. We have too much fraudulent stuff in the world already.

The point is that the creation of useful beauty serves in two ways. One is that it provides the individual with powerful cultural objects to share with others. The secondary benefit is that the maker receives a replenishment of intelligence, character and confidence.

In the wood shop, I've nearly finished a box for a review of a particular type of hinge for Fine Woodworking Magazine.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

shop time

 I got in some good shop time yesterday, making a box to use to demonstrate a particular kind of hinge for Fine Woodworking. It is made of walnut, involved using a Gifkins Jig to cut dovetail joints. The only problem was that they fitted just a bit too tight, and I should have loosened the fit slightly, following the adjustment scheme, which requires thin paper shims to loosen or tighten the joint. Too perfect a dovetail joint is when a mallet  (over fist tapping alone) is required to assemble the joint.

I will add a bottom to the box, and cut the lid free and then install hinges, a pull and brass feet and ship it to Fine Woodworking for photos to be taken. What I get paid will be poor in relation to the amount of work involved, but any excuse to be in the shop on a cold winter day is a good one.

I have begun to wonder what happens when a maniac stokes anger in a crowd of folks and then use the power they've given him to act against their interests? We will likely learn more about that in the coming months as dawn rises on the read intentions of the man some of the American people voted into the position of despot on chief.

Remember John Dewey? He wrote a book about education and democracy: that the real purpose of schooling was to build a truly democratic society. Children were to learn the fundamentals of getting along with each other, solving problems through working together, and discovering in each other the common threads of human culture.

If you've not noticed, things have changed. Children in modern American schooling are to be tested and launched into competition with each other, and schools too, are told to compete, not for the quality of their kids and how they get along with each other, but to get the best scores in standardized tests. We are in a trumpian wilderness in which fake news drives the political discourse, and crowds of vicious morons have been encouraged to chant, "lock her up."

Psychologists have been deeply concerned about a trump presidency. Their concern is that the man suffers from acute narcissistic personality disorder that would make him dangerous as commander in chief.  You can read about that here.

In the meantime, this will become a lovely box.

Make, fix, create, and change the whole world of education so that others may gain the opportunity to love learning likewise.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

in the wood shop...

I am off from school for the coming week, so will get extra time in the wood shop. I am forming large tenons on the beam that holds two trestles together to form a table base. Because these tenons are 7 inches long, they cannot be formed in the usual way. I've been using the plunge router and guides. One guide is clamped in place and the others are added as spacers to create a series of routed grooves, tha tcan then be easily worked into a flat plane.

I tell people that box making is a good way to build skills, useful in other woodworking projects, and while that's true, there's a distinct difference between working with large pieces of walnut, and the thin materials used for box sides.

I am also making a demonstration box for a hinge review in Fine Woodworking and working on a new version of my website. In addition, it's that time of year to ship a few items to shoppers., so I have just renewed some of my boxes available for purchase on

Make, fix, create, and through your example, encourage others to learn likewise.

Friday, December 16, 2016

An important thing.

Early advocates of manual arts training insisted upon its potential to build the character, integrity and intelligence of a nation and its people. Now we are on the edge of a massive failure in our democratic experiment, due at least in part to a failure in our public education. Where were the manual arts when they were most needed in our nation?

When children learn through their hands, they build a relationship with investigative principles that  serve as a foundation for adult learning. It may come as no surprise to some that Donald Trump would be elected by a very small majority in the electoral college, based on support by those Donal Trump referred to as the "uneducated," "whom he dearly loved." Those persons were trained to believe in right and wrong answers rather than to observe for themselves. Those persons were taught that their opinions mattered over all else, and they were entitled to their own opinions and beliefs, that did not require being tested and proved. These persons, were avid consumers of fake news on Facebook, ready to believe anything they were told. These persons are likely to continue to be malleable in hands of despots.

So we went through an election in which fake news was not only dispersed, it was believed. We went through an election in which a foreign power (Russia) took part to assure their preferred candidate won. That should be considered an act of war against democratic principles.

We are nearing a point of crisis in America. Does the existing, legitimately elected President of the USA turn over power to an illegitimately elected moron, who does not believe in science, believes only in his own power and inflated sense of importance, who was elected by lying, and through malicious interference by a foreign power?

We have arrived at a time in American culture that was predicted by Mr. Charles B. Gilbert, Superintendent of the Newark, New Jersey Public Schools when he spoke about the danger of sacrificing our democracy on the division between academic work and skilled hand work in the 1905 meeting of the Eastern Manual Training Association:
The great function of all public schools, afterall, is not to give specific knowledge or fit for specific things, but to train democratic citizens. The attitude of the teacher toward manual training has very much to do with the democracy of the teacher. Any sort of separation of children into classes intended to go for all time through their lives is exactly antagonistic to democracy--could not be more directly antagonistic; it is the antipode of democracy... What is the great foe of democracy at all times? It is the building up of walls--permanent walls--between classes; is it not? So long as wealth disappears with a single generation or two generations there is not any great danger; but when we get into the position--condition (If we ever do)--that many of the countries of the world are in; if a child is born with the feeling that he is born in a class--that there is a great gulf or a high wall between him and his neighbor who is born in a different class; then democracy is dead.
Unfortunately American schooling does little to create a sense of the dignity of craftsmanship. But there are answers to be found within. Craftsmanship is the foundation of human culture and of democracy. One cannot be a creative and successful craftsman without being intellectually engaged. One cannot be a craftsman without being true to particular values that uplift the community in which craftsmanship is nurtured and takes place. Unlike American politicians who spew small lies and exaggerations right and left with every breath, a craftsman must be true to his materials, his design and to himself.

Now as a further cause for outrage against both Trump and Russian Hackers, Trump is claiming that the Russian Hackers did Americans a favor by interfering in the American Presidential Election. I am not sure how Americans can get out of this mess. But is it the sign of patriotism or treason to welcome  foreign hackers set in motion by a foreign power to disrupt the American democratic process?

Make, fix, create, and insure we thus survive that others may learn likewise.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

where does the power to learn lie?

Today I begin my holiday break at school, and apply myself more fully in table making in the shop. Is it Tischler? Today, yes, though at any other time, I may be something else, defined by the operations of my hands and mind and the system they comprise.

I ran across the following yesterday from New Zealand in the in the 19th century. How can that be relevant today? far as the elementary school is concerned, manual training is to be valued not so much for its direct results, important though these may be, as for its disciplinary effects—that is to say, for the contribution it makes towards the development of character and intelligence. I have already alluded to the intimate interdependence of hand and brain. That inter-dependence has long been more or less vaguely recognised, but the recent researches of Ferrier and others have given a new meaning to the phrase. It has been shown that there are in the brain distinct motor-centres, of which those of the hand are specially important; that these motor centres have a distinct but limited period of growth, extending over, roughly, the period from the fourth to the fifteenth years; that their development depends on adequate exercise of the corresponding muscles during this period; that these motor-centres are so intimately connected with other parts of the brain that if they are imperfectly developed there is apt to be a corresponding loss of mental power.
So many of the problems of today are related to an educational misunderstanding... The idea has been that children must be led to learn, whereas in actual fact, they are too often restrained from learning by the failure to use appropriate and readily available resources.

Learning is THE most natural impulse, and yet we've designed schools in which children's most powerful learning resource is restrained from use. There are several simple ways the hands can be put in service of character, and intelligence. Athletics can help, as will music, the arts, and the making of useful objects in service to community, humanity, and the quest for beauty. Still the hands, spoil the child, and spoil the mind of the child.

The photo above is of the new lathe room at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. The large beams  are ready to install over the machine room in the coming days.

Make, fix, create, and extend toward others the hope of learning likewise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

on the use of rubriks

Yesterday  I received the following comment of particular interest, and it is related to a dream I had in the night.
You've written before about "artificial learning environments," but I would be careful about "artificial assessment tools." I would consider a rubric to be that.

When people go to buy a good or service in the world, they generally do not pull out a rubric and calculate a score. They make a judgement as to whether a purchase provides enough value for the money.

For example, if you were to make a wooden chair for me, I would not grade it on a rubric. I would look it over, try it out, and see if I felt I got sufficient value for the money paid.

This type of assessment is more real-world, and therefore it might fit better within your theme of real-world learning environments.
In my dream... I was talking design and someone insisted that it was best to rip wide boards down into thinner stock so the grain could be alternately flipped and that would allow the stock to remain flat. That can make sense if you are making cutting boards. Aside form the addition work involved, there are two problems I pointed out.The first is that you've introduced several glue joints that could fail, but more importantly, you've taken wood that is wide and beautiful and made it less so.

A rubrik can  be a way of getting students to look reflectively at their own work, and to understand more clearly what the teacher is looking for in his or her assessment of it. In an ideal world, students in school would simply do marvelous things, having been allowed and encouraged to do so, and adults would be observers, encouragers and empowerers of such real engagement. The children themselves and their community would assess the results in real effect.

On the hypothetical chair, I suggest that a rubrik already exists in the form of an idealized chair in the mind of the person who ordered it, and in its maker. Both of whom would assess its value based on a range of objectives, including comfort, look, finish, strength, each of which play into an overall assessment of it and its value. So, its not enough to simply do the work, but we must learn to reflect on its value. So in the woodshop, we have conversations about how things turn out. And fortunately, I am not required to submit grades on student performance. Grading is a number one culprit in artificializing a learning environment.

The image above shows the pride of a Finnish sailor. If you care about your boat (and about yourself), even the placement of lines is intended to show that care, and a sailor might not leave the boat without telling others a few things about him or her self.

We do not live in that ideal world, but we can be aiming in that direction.

Make, fix, create and extend toward others, the likelihood of learning likewise.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

11 making days...

We are down to the wire on making gifts for the Christmas holiday. Taunton press is having an up to 80% off sale on some books. Use the code Taunton1 at checkout, as additional discounts may apply.

We had four 80 lb. pigs in the trap this morning. The key is to get one to go in and the others to follow.

The box shown is one finished by one of my students today. He had used some cedar sanding dust and glue to make a filler where there were gaps and he was pleased with the results. It's a keeper.

The pigs, on the other hand, were killed and removed to be butchered.

Each day, I get emails from woodworking suppliers suggesting things I should buy in order to make. The vast number of specialized tools that are intended to make my creative life easier is enormous.

In the meantime, the law of parsimony suggests that simple is good. If you know the use of simple tools and have them at hand, you can get work done while others are searching through too many drawers and cabinets in search of an over-complicated response.

Make, fix, create, and suggest to others the joy of learning likewise. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Today at CSS

This is our last week of woodworking at Clear Spring School before the winter break, so students will be busy today making gifts. I spent the whole weekend with a bad cold, which gave me the chance to catch up on the last chapter text and drawings for my book on making box guitars.

Taunton Press has announced a one day only extra 20% discount on their full Fine Woodworking Magazine archive from 1975-2016 at the Taunton Store.  That is 41 years of the best content in woodworking publication. To get the discount, you will need to type in the coupon code GREEN20. The archive is available on USB or DVD and contains the various articles I've written for Fine Woodworking Magazine, not including the most recent which falls in the 2017 publication year.

Make, fix, create and use your creativity to inspire others to learn likewise

Sunday, December 11, 2016

a lovely book

I received a lovely book from the American Folk Art Museum, thanking me for sharing my home and studio with their members during two visits in the fall. Meeting them was a delight, as was the opportunity to sell some of my work, so no such lovely thanks were required. The boxes above are from that book, American Folk Marquetry by Richard Mühlberger, and published by the Museum of American Folk Art.

So many of the fine works of art in the book, most of which are boxes of some sort, were made by anonymous makers. The following is from D.H. Lawrence:
"Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing for long years.

And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them."
Donald Trump exists within a state of juvenility. I sign my work because my customers insist upon it. But to place one's name in gigantic fake gold plastic letters on the top of buildings and to bask in such egotism is the sign of a diseased mind, bringing to mind the work of another famous poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
There is humility in the well crafted beautiful and useful thing. Many of the objects in the book were made as gifts to celebrate both craftsmanship, and the love one felt for another. May we, at some point return to such wholesome regard for the well crafted object and the spirit that leads men and women to create through the power of their own hands.

Make, fix, create, and engage yourself anonymously in the fabric of humanity, that we may all thrive in personal creativity and health and love learning likewise.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

box drawings...

I have begun working on drawings to illustrate my box guitar book. Sketchup Make is my program of choice. The version I use is free and gives me enormous capacity to convey useful information to readers and to the illustrators for my books and articles. Like everything else in life, using it is part of the process of knowing it. The brain can serve as a repository for useless information, but use is what anchors ideas in the mind, and helps us to determine whether or not it's worth keeping in the first place.

Our democracy is poised on a precariously edge. It is becoming clear that while Trump won the election on a razor's edge of votes in key states, interference by the FBI director and Russian agents both played important roles in pushing the Trump candidacy over the top. Would it be right to allow Donald Trump to take the office of president under such circumstances? We will find out. And regardless of what happens in the Donald Trump escapade, one way or the other, the nation will suffer from the stupidity.

In the meantime, I've announced the holiday challenge, open to participants in last summer's box making class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Winners will be announced in January. The competition is simple. Make a box, send photos, win prizes. While I'm at it, should I have a contest open to a wider audience?

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others are inspired to learn likewise

Thursday, December 08, 2016

there are days like this...

I normally start my day by writing in the blog, but find there are mornings when I have nothing of particular interest to say.

My parties are over. My books have come out. My latest article in Fine Woodworking has been delivered online, in bookstores and in mail boxes. My children at school finished their toy making project and are now making Christmas trees out of wood.

Yesterday I went to a Christmas party to celebrate ESSA's volunteers. As my contribution I went to our local fudge maker and bought two pounds of fudge to share with guests. In the meantime, my rustic coffee table at the Writer's Colony where the party was being held had been taken out of service to return to me. I was uncertain how it had come into their possession in the first place, and was reminded that I had loaned it to them for a display, and they had not forgotten it was to be returned. That it was still mine came as a complete surprise to me.

In any case, when you've been working with wood for for as long as I have, you will remember your work, but may become fuzzy on the disposition of it. Rather than bring it home or find some other fresh place to put it, I've now assigned it to a more permanent loan to the Writer's Colony, and they were pleased. That particular table was made for my Rustic Furniture Basics Book available from Taunton Press. Remember the special code, Taunton1. Some of my other books can be found HERE.

You can see that I've made it through a day in which there was nothing to say. Making beautiful and useful things is just about the same. If you want to become a maker, you must set yourself in motion making things. And it you want to have a permanent, lasting impact on the world around you,

Make, fix, create, and uphold for others the likelihood of learning likewise.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

hinges, fine woodworking, rubber bands and student made gifts...

I have an article in the new issue of Fine Woodworking on the selection of hinges, and a tip about making your own box making clamps. This is issue number 259, February 2017. I received copies in the mail yesterday as well as an inquiry from a reader. The tip is on page 17 and the article begins on page 50.

I spent most of the day yesterday writing text for my box guitar making book which I hope to have completed during this week. I submitted two chapters today. All together, there will be 10 chapters with two to complete before the editing process begins.

Today my first through sixth grade students and teachers will present student made toys for holiday distribution through our local food bank. The point of course is not that the children at the food bank need the toys that our students have made, but that our students need to learn generosity and to put themselves into relationships of service to the community. A child that may serve others in some real way represents the future of our human culture.

On the subject of box making, a reader asked about the large rubber bands that I use to assemble boxes in my books and DVD on box making. At one time, I simply went into our local office supply store and bought the largest sizes they had in one pound boxes, without paying much attention to the numeric size. But our office supply store closed last year, and ordering online requires precise information.

Here is what I recommend:

Go to and order rubber bands in sizes 105, 107 and 109. These may be a bit large for some of the smallest boxes you would make, but those can be assembled using more common off-the-shelf rubber bands that you would find in your desk drawer or in any big box store.

Make, fix, create, and extend toward others the likelihood of learning likewise.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

if you are the best...

If you are the best in the world, what do you do next? If it is in behalf of your children, you take steps to become better yet. Here in the US, however, parents attempt to isolate their own children from the rabble and provide themselves an excuse to ignore public education.

Finland has been lauded as having the best public schools in the world, and yet they continue to develop and grow toward a more ideal education. Teaching is an art, after all, and artists should be supplied with all the tools necessary for their creativity and success.

The latest in Finland is that they have chosen to remove all the artificial boundaries between various disciplines. They will have no subject areas: no math, no chemistry, no social studies, etc. They have been involved for years now in an extensive teacher retraining, so that all the abstract and artificial boundaries will be removed. In case you are wondering, this is a bold move, and most of the educational world is astonished by what they have done.

Let's look at my own simplified theory of education. 1. Children love learning. 2. They have real interests that teachers can help to sustain, by doing real things. To develop a strategy to meet these two realizations, we must:  1. keep education real by doing real things, and 2. keep it meaningful by  supporting the child's interests to do real meaningful things on behalf of family, community and planet.

This does not mean the teacher simply sits at the sideline and watches a room full of cats playing on keyboards. The teachers are the adults who have experience and training in guiding growth.

It is tragic that in the USA,  people think that we are the greatest nation, that all good things were invented here, and that if it wasn't invented here, it is of little or no value.

Several years ago (2008) I asked the dean of the graduate school in behavioral sciences at the University of Helsinki whether they had been able to find evidence of the role of educational sloyd in the success of their schooling. It was actually too narrow a question. The one I should have asked was whether they might find evidence of Uno Cygnaeus' implementation of Kindergarten style learning in the success of Finnish Schools. If you go to Finland and visit a school, you will find evidence of learning through play and evidence of learning cooperatively by doing real things that break the boundaries of traditional disciplines.

In the US, we should embark on a serious program to learn a few old things about learning. In the meantime, some reality can be restored to American Schooling through the following things: Wood shop, music, field trips, museum visits, internships, math through manipulables, dramatic performances, art and other activities that are truly meaningful to kids.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others may be empowered to learn likewise.

Monday, December 05, 2016

the nutshell: Make it meaningful, make it real.

Education, according to Salomon (and to Dewey) had two purposes. One was to prepare the child for economic success. The other was to prepare the child (and later the adult) to get along with others within communities: to grow as human beings in understanding of self. To focus on doing both is a tall order, particularly if you've created a contrived system of learning virtually devoid of real, meaningful work.

At my 40th year of woodworking celebration, family members came from Nebraska, and old friends came from Wichita Kansas, and in the midst of these two groups two young boys met for the first time, my nephew Knox, and Wyatt, the grandson of old friends. The two boys took to each other immediately, having age in common, but also sharing a profound love of dinosaurs. The two could have played and talked about dinosaurs for hours and days and it was difficult to pull the two boys apart when it was time for my show to end and for guests to part ways.

In planning the school experience, and in selling the necessity of the school experience to parents of young children, promises are made of the child's glorious future and economic success. But too little emphasis is laid on the social aspects of learning, and the election we just endured is an example of what we get when children grow into adults having not learned the fundamentals of interpersonal cooperation.

I was greatly relieved yesterday that the US Army Corp of Engineers shut down construction of the Dakota pipeline, thus handing a short-term victory to the valiant protestors who had already been forced to endure too much. I was so well reminded of our own fight against the destructive powerline three years ago, in which an ill conceived power line with no purpose but that of power company profits, was to be built needlessly across our lands here in Northwest Arkansas. We stopped that unreasonable monstrosity, and I again celebrate our own success in theirs.

Schools, focused only on the further academic success of their students put the entirety of human existence on the line. Without environmental studies to link our children to the splendors of the natural world (both large and small), they become careless of resources and allow corporate greed to rule all. Without training in how to cooperate and get along with each other, and without the opportunity to learn deeply of each other (in all classes, races and orientations) our democracy is placed in dire straights.

There are two basic principles that pull the whole of learning into alignment. Both of these can be derived from a study of Educational Sloyd, and have become the core of my own educational formula. Make it meaningful to the child (throughout his or her schooling) and make it REAL.

Tomorrow, I will get more specific in how this can be accomplished.

Make, fix, create, and offer others encouragement to learn likewise.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Educational theory and reform in a nutshell

Using toothpicks to attach the bottom of a Shaker box
No Child Left Behind was a top down scheme in which the feds set standards and rewarded or punished schools based on student performance on standardized tests. There was some resistance to federal mandates, so the states became involved setting their own top down scheme using the "common core." Great ideas, however, are hamstrung by faulty implementation and ill conceived methodology. Yes, it would be wonderful if all students were to arise to do their best. Despite the best intentions of policy makers, they are simply in the wrong place from which to interfere to make necessary change.

This takes me, again, back to 19th century educational sloyd. The principles, I repeat once again in the hopes they may become yet more clear: Start with the interests of the child. Move in necessary increments 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.

Planning the move from the easy to the more difficult is easy. Starting with the interests of the child, in a complex culture is not so easy, in that even in a small class of first graders interests and level of prior experience will vary to a great degree. So starting with the interest to the child requires that the child's interests be known and allowed for in the PLANNING of school activities. If planning instead, is done on the state level or federal level, where is the necessary skill and sensitivity in that?

Moving from the known to the unknown can also be problematic, in that some students will arrive on their first day of school, having had interests and supportive experiences far beyond, or far less than their classmates. Some students will arrive at school intent on scholarly success, driven by parental expectations, and some will not.

Moving from the simple to the complex is relatively easy, as it is always easy to make simple matters more complex, but to make that movement in such a manner as the complex is made simple and clear to serve as a foundation for the next level of complexity, is not a thing to be crammed through without careful personal assessment of the comprehension level and interest level of each child.

So here we come to the most important point, moving in increments from the concrete to the abstract. This is not to say that the concrete should in any way or at any point be moved away from, but that it should infect every branch and every level of learning.

So, to bring things home, I want to make planning for student success simple enough  for any teacher or any educational policy maker to understand. When it comes to schooling, make it real, and insist that what you offer is meaningful to the student.

In tomorrow's post, I'll address making it real and keeping it meaningful. And yes, woodworking in schools has an important role to play in educational success.

Make, fix, create, and increase through your example, the likelihood that others will be inspired to learn likewise.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

cultural recapitulation theory.

A much beloved cousin with whom I share the same birthday sent me a link to a New York Times Article recommending a youtube program, Primitive Technology. The article alone should convince my readers of the potency of this program, even before watching a single episode.

There was a proposal at one time shared widely in education, that children should be encouraged to grow through all the earlier stages of human development as a means of fully grasping technology, and as a means of understanding human culture and each other. G. Stanley Hall was one of the proponents of this.  The idea was that the development of the individual would best parallel the development of human culture. With that proposal having been ignored in most schooling for the last century you can look around and discover for yourself that many folks are "out of touch." I had written about cultural recapitulation theory in education at an earlier point in the blog. And so it may make some sense for new readers to dig back into the whole of this blog from its early days.

It makes even more sense to dig into the early culture of man so that we may know where we came from AND sense the vector of human destiny. Are we to be disembodied observers of man (unnamed) on a youtube channel, or are we to become more? Can we move from passivity to action and evolution? Here I'm not proposing adoption of new technologies, but that we use skill and craftsmanship consciously to reshape the human spirit.

It does not surprise me that modern man would be fascinated by the ancestral means through which the human species developed. Various episodes of Primitive Technology have been viewed over 5 million times. We have a longing, particularly in this age of abstraction, to sense our origins asconcrete relationships to the environment. The question remains, however, whether we will be voyeurs of reality or engage in our own concrete creativity.

Today I have a Xmas holiday sale of work at Lux Weaving Studio from 4-8 PM, 18 White St. Come see me. Buy books and buy work.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to discover the joy and effectiveness of learning likewise.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Iceland's wonderful holiday tradition

Yesterday I worked on large timbers for a dining table, continuing with the forming of mortise and tenon joints. Tomorrow in addition to teaching at the Clear Spring School, I will begin setting up a display of my books, cabinets, sculpture and boxes for a holiday sale at the Lux Weaving Studio on Saturday, from 4-8PM.

Iceland has a wonderful holiday tradition that my wife has taken up here, and that I suggest for my readers as well. On the night of Christmas eve, Icelanders exchange books as gifts, leading to long hours of reading in the night.

Jólabókaflóð in Icelandic refers to the Christmastime flood of books. In Iceland, it seems that almost all books are published at Christmastime when they have the greatest sales. There are not so many readers of Icelandic, so the annual flood makes sense. Consisting of fewer than 600 new books, the flood is a great way to keep their unique language and culture alive. In the spirit of that tradition, I'll offer my own flood of books. Just in case you need to buy my new book Tiny Boxes, Here's a link.

To qualify for free shipping from the Taunton Press Store, you will need to spend $25.00 or more. To make a sweet deal, and meet the requirement for free shipping, add my book Building Small Cabinets, which is currently on sale for 1/2 price.

To sweeten the deal even more, take 10% off, using the promotion code "Taunton1" as described in the banner add below. Then to raise the tide in your own flood, you will find even more of my books there with special discounts. Use the search function at the top of the page and type in "Doug Stowe."

Have your own flood of books. Acquire the instructional books that set your hands and mind in motion for the coming years. Do not forget to use the code "Taunton1" for an extra 10% off.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others have the opportunity to learn likewise.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

a table and a sleigh

 In the CSS woodshop, one of my students has been busy building Santa's sleigh out of bits and pieces of wood. He keeps adding things to it. But with each addition, adds also to his understanding of construction.

How does one measure the success of such a thing? The measurement is not something that goes on a report card, nor will it fit the statistical framework into which school districts and educational policy makers attempt to cram kids. One important measure is that when he carries things home from school, his father asks with some surprise (as he reportedly does), "Did you really make that?"

In my own shop, I'm working with timber larger than is usually the case for me. Large mortise and tenon joints made in heavy timber to form a table base presents a change of pace. Ripping a large beam down the center so that joints can be cut and that it can then be re-glued into a single solid piece, is not something I do every day.

I received a wonderful letter from a young wood worker who has found inspiration in my books. He will grow on to other great things. At 12 years old, he's already cut dovetails and box joints.

Make, fix, create, and extend what you do and love so that others may be inspired to learn likewise.