Wednesday, October 18, 2017

33th semi annual

This Saturday is the 33rd semi annual meeting of the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers (NEAWT). It is being held at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire, and I was proud to have attended their first meeting in that same location, 17 years ago.  To RSVP or get additional information please contact Ben Kellman Networking between teachers gives purpose and strength.

In my wood shop yesterday I made progress in building a "Viking" tool box, fitting a bottom in it and bending the hardware to fit the curvature of the lid. Still remaining are to drill holes in the hinges and hasp, sand the various parts smooth, nail the corners, and attach the hardware. The Danish oil finish will be applied over the hardware, giving it a protective coat.

I have a second chest in the works, also, but with angled sides, and with hinges made from scrap steel. I'll make the hardware for it on Thursday when I have no classes to attend to.

Make, fix, create, and accelerate learning lifewise.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

viking chest...

The Viking chest prototype is ready for a bottom to be fitted and for hardware to be adapted to fit. Bob Patrick left the hardware un-quenched so that it will be malleable and can be bent to the curvature of the lid. He also left the hole drilling for me so that I can choose where to put the hand forged nails he made to hold the hardware in place. In next summer's ESSA class, students will make the chest and hardware in the wood and metals shops.

Today I plan a quiet day in the wood shop.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning lifewise.

Monday, October 16, 2017

hidden splines...

Yesterday, in addition to trying to re-conceptualize the Wisdom of the Hands book, I prepared for another article in Fine Woodworking and the visit of an editor from that magazine in two weeks. This article will be about the hidden spline joint, as in the box shown, that will serve as a prop in the article to illustrate the finished joint.

I have yet to sand the outside and apply Danish oil to brighten the color of the woods. I will also add a lining so that it can be sold when the article is complete. The hidden spline joint gives great strength to the corners of a box, and does nothing to interfere with the grain pattern on the outside. If working with wood like this quartersawn white oak, the hidden spline joint can be the perfect choice. Making the hidden spline from a contrasting wood brings emphasis to the craftsmanship involved in forming the joint, and in this case, I chose walnut to match the top panel and lift tab.

In the wood shop at the Clear Spring School today, I will continue reading the manual for building a Bevins skiff to my high school students.

Nearly all of us, whether we are graduates of high school, or college, or hold advanced
degrees have in excess of 13 years of formal education under our belts. For some
education is a story of success, for some it is a story of frustration and failure. Some are led
by their experience to regard themselves as having great expertise, and some
are led to regard themselves as lacking in any sort of expertise whatever. That is the
accepted standard. Some win, some lose and education serves as a sorting process,
pushing some on a path toward college and some off the path entirely. In
America, we make too few allowances for late bloomers. Children do not all develop on the same schedule, and some of the damage done in schooling is never corrected.

There has been this idea that the digital world, and particularly digital devices in school would open up new worlds of efficient and effective education. That has proven to NOT be the case. Given digital technology, kids play with it. The do not learn. This link tells the sad story: The article suggests that:
“the new digital world is a toxic environment for the developing minds of young people. Rather than making digital natives superlearners, it has stunted their mental growth.”
Make, fix, create and increase the likelihood that others learn lifewise.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

my day (as planned)

Today I am revisiting my materials for the production of a Wisdom of the Hands Book, as I have no other writing projects to attend to.

Have you ever noticed just how much you use your hands—touching, gripping, sorting, folding, pressing or wiping with them? Exploring textures, gauging hot or cold, wet or dry? Holding and manipulating an object? Whether they are pointing, picking, pinching, smoothing or soothing—the list goes on and on—our hands are rarely at rest. Even when we speak, our hands are engaged, drawing out our words and phrases with gestures that give added dimension and emphasis to our thoughts.

In fact, our hands perform an astounding array of discrete actions each day. It’s no exaggeration to say that every facet of human existence, from the artifacts that inhabit and enrich our daily lives to our grandest cultural achievements, was touched by human hands. And yet, we rarely notice.

From one perspective, this is no problem: we function more efficiently when some of our hand skills, practiced from birth, are employed automatically and unconsciously. But because our hands are so closely integrated with our brains and so seamlessly responsive to our thoughts, we tend to overlook and underestimate their greater significance in shaping our individual lives, our culture, and our society. Even more, in America today, we intentionally eschew handwork, preferring the remote-controlled or battery-operated instead. We design things that are “easier to use”— meaning, without manual effort or skill—when those efforts and skills are in fact what can offer the greatest pleasure and growth of intelligence and character and are the building blocks of a meaningful life.

We also design our children’s schools to be hands-off environments, where the eyes and ears are engaged but the hands are too often required to remain in the lap. As a result, we have created an educational divide between hand and mind, emphasizing academics and relegating arts and crafts, if they are presented at all, as extracurricular activities. This bias persists into our society at large, ignoring or disparaging the value of the hands’ contributions to economy and culture.

Worse, is that by leaving the development of skilled hands to be something apart from schooling, we have closed doors for our kids, that open would have given cause for deeper engagement and lifelong confidence in learning.

Hopefully the book will go on from there (and from here). What I had at first intended was a philosophical treatise. It is a thing I've been trying to get my head around for 18 years. I've begun to realize that much of what's needed is a clear path of instruction on how to get going with it. Philosophy alone is not enough.

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The age of distraction.

Yesterday in wood shop, my high school students were at work as I began reading to them from the instruction manual for the Bevins skiff. Some were finishing their models of the Bevins skiff. I had noticed that they had been talking to each other about things unrelated to woodworking and found that reading to them was a way to bring them into a common focus. I will do that again.

Fellow woodworking teacher and author Gary Rogowski has a new book coming out called "Handmade: Creative Focus in the age of distraction" and I became interested in where the term "age of distraction" came from, as I'd been hearing it a lot lately.

Joseph Urgo published a book "In the Age of Distraction" in 2000, describing the adverse effects of technology. That may be the first use of the term, unless something earlier comes up. Do you believe that digital devices are eroding your memory and ability to concentrate for any long period of time? Unless you actually attempt to do real things in the world, that require patience and skill you may never know.

 I have a Clear Spring School board meeting today and will then resume work on a Viking chest in the afternoon. Working with the hands slows one down, and allows one to observe more closely. There is much to be said about being contemplative as an alternative to being distracted.

The hand forged lock shown above is one that I bought as a souvenir in Sweden, and one that would look great on a Viking tool chest.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to learn lifewise.

Friday, October 13, 2017

hand forged hardware.

I received a hasp, hinges, handles and nails from blacksmith Bob Patrick, to fit on the oak Viking chest I started last week. Now it's up to me to finish the chest and take photos for a summer class.

Today I have high school students only, as my middle school and elementary school students are off and recovering from their camping trip. Teachers, too, are recovering with a day off.

I am studying the use of a router to cut scarf joints in plywood, in preparation for building Bevins skiffs. The material comes in 8 foot lengths, and 12 foot is required.

The photo shows the array of hand forged hardware items I received in yesterday's mail.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the opportunity to learn lifewise.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

whittling in camp...

Yesterday I took knives and whittling supplies to Withrow Springs State Park to give Clear Spring School students on the fall campout some instruction in whittling. I also took a set of spoon carving knives even though the task of carving a spoon requires greater strength in hand and more skill than most small children have. Some wanted to try, and while intelligence and strength are not the same thing, both are complimentary powers in the whole child.

The Clear Spring School camping experience is one of learning to take care of each other, as individual children are testing themselves in an experience beyond the school walls and in nature.

How do we help members of our society to understand the value of taking care of and for each other while also taking pride in themselves? I was thinking last night about how it is important that we frame our debates over such things as guns and healthcare in terms that help us to understand our responsibilities and interconnectedness. For instance, I think it is a mistake when the Democrats claim that health care should be a right. Good health is a gift, not a right. We give it to ourselves to some degree. We may be lucky enough to find it sustained in our communities, in our environment or in our family genetics. Some may not be so lucky. We may claim a greater share of it through attention to regular healthcare, good exercise and diet.

The care we give to each other is also a gift and not a right. But then, what does it say of us (and who we are) if we fail to give that gift to those among us who are in need? If we choose not to use the government (our most powerful instrument of collective strength) to be of service to others, what kind of nation have we chosen for ourselves, and what kind of people are we?

I guess our nation has not decided about that.

When will we begin to understand that a large part of schooling is about caring for each other, about working out the small problems that may come up, and beginning to feel as though we each and all are a part of much larger things? And that we have responsibilities to care for each other!

If you look at politics in the US right this minute, you may find that many of those lessons were not learned. And the shame is on us. We do not give to each other only because there are needs, but because we also have a need to serve, and we will never be whole without having made a sincere and unrestrained effort to be of service to others.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning lifewise.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


From the Catholic Catechism:
"Virtue: Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.
There is a marked difference between the artificial world of "virtual reality" and the practice of virtue, which demands the search for truth, and beauty and requires becoming worthy of praise through service to both family and community. Woodworking in school provides a resource for the exploration of virtue.

Reader René asked if we need a new way to measure the effectiveness of schooling. If you are standing in front of a classroom, it is hard to determine whether students are engaged enough to actually understand what you are lecturing about. That's why they developed pop quizzes, tests, and standardized distractions.

But if the students are busy doing real things, or have the opportunity to do so, you can easily witness their level of engagement and skill. If engaged they are learning, and often at a level that suits their learning needs. Can engagement be measured? For those who think measurement is necessary, the following link helps to explain what is called the Student Engagement Instrument.

Today I have a piece of new equipment arriving at ESSA, and in the afternoon will take whittling knives to Withrow Springs State Park where our students, grades 1 through 8 will be camping overnight. The experiences that students have in real life may be challenging to measure, but have profound effect.

The knives in the photo are spoon carving knives, that I made and plan to re-harden and re-handle to take advantage of having learned to do better.

Make, fix, create, and increase the opportunities for students to learn lifewise.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

grasping the full attention of the whole child.

Standardized tests usually offer  a choice of three or four answers to each question. There will be one correct answer, and two or more that are deliberately wrong. The reason why some students do well on standardized tests (even when they've not studied the material) may be that they've been deeply enough engaged in the real world and in real life to recognize a dumb answer when they see it.

That may explain why so many students do best with learning when the hands are engaged in it. The hands have a way of discerning that which is real and true from that which was contrived for educational effect.

That may also explain why students studying science hands-on may have a leg up over those who learn science by lecture, reading and discussion alone. The use of the hands has a very particular way of grasping the full attention of the whole child.

It is worth reading philosopher Karl Popper in this regard, as I described in an earlier post:

Trump's secretary of Education, Betsy Devos is pushing online charter schools, as being the solution for rural kids, even through they have an abysmal success rate. In Pennsylvania, an early adopter of virtual charter high schools, "Not one virtual charter school meets the state’s “passing” benchmark." Virtual and virtuous do not mean the same thing.

Yesterday in wood shop at the Clear Spring School, I intended that my students make wooden puppets. One girl insisted on making a toy cat instead. All of the design of it came from her ideas. All of the work on it was her own with the exception of drilling a hole for the tail to fit. In addition to the cat, she made the cat's playroom also, including a cat bowl.

Make, fix, create, and extend the understanding that we all learn best lifewise.

Monday, October 09, 2017

How do we best learn...

How do we best learn? The following is from research, Modeling best practices: Active Learning vs. Traditional Lecture Approach in Introductory College Biology–– Sokolove, Blunk, Flaim and Sinha, 1998
"University science faculty have frequently voiced concern that active learning is fine
in principle, but it takes too much class time to allow for student discussion and reflection and that the approach does not allow for enough time to "get through the material." In this study it is true that less time was available for "coverage" in the active learning section (Section A). Yet, the results revealed that students enrolled in the active learning section did as well or better than the students in the traditional lecture sections on a majority of the shared test items, and that the performance of students in the active learning section improved significantly across the semester. The results suggest that the principle of parsimony, "less is more," implicit in the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) for K-12 students is also appropriate for large lecture introductory science courses at the post-secondary level." — Sokolove, Blunk, Flaim and Sinha, 1998
I am occasionally challenged by the question, "How do you prove what you say?" My question in return (aside from pointing to such studies) is, "How do you learn best?" And if challenged to name some educational experience that had maximum impact on the life of the learner, the response can almost without exception be interpreted as "Hands-on," not necessarily meaning that only the hands were involved in learning, but that the hands as a symbol of the whole man, or woman being totally engaged, thus gaining an exceptional learning experience at a deeper level and to greater lasting effect. So let's get real. Children and adults learn best by doing real things, not by sitting bored at desks and being told what's what.

If we think back on our own educations in elementary school, middle school, high school and college, during which we were generally bored and disinterested, we must not rest knowing that we've likely imposed that same degraded schooling on our kids. Tomorrow I will attempt to offer just a bit of insight into why hands-on learning may beat lecture even though less time is available to "get through the material." Getting through the material implies a rush job in which very little actual learning takes place, and yet it is what too many teachers across the US are given as their mission on earth.

Today I will continue an introduction to the qualities of real wood with my upper elementary students, and make wooden puppets with my first, second and third grade students.

Make, fix, and create, thus assuring others have an example for learning lifewise.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Viking chest...

I've started playing with a prototype for a "Viking" tool or treasure chest. Blacksmith Bob Patrick is going to make the hinges and hasp for it. Bob, having just returned home from teaching at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, will begin the hardware this week.

The idea is to hold an ESSA class in which students will spend two days making the chest, two days making the hardware for it, and on the final day, everything will come together in collaboration. It will be a way that the black smith shop and woodworking studio can work together, and students can say, "I made the whole thing."

Our hope is that it will lure blacksmiths into woodworking, and woodworkers into blacksmithing, and lead to greater confidence for all.

 A leading Apple designer of the iPhone said in an interview that it is being abused. What is that abuse? He said it mainly involves "constant use." People are addicted to technology that leaves them disengaged from the real wonders that surround them. What are those wonders? You will not find them on google.

Make, fix, create, and enlist others in learning lifewise.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

calligraphy and blocks..

My high school students have been practicing with the pens they've made in wood shop. Each Wednesday their teacher assigns a quote for them to write. Evidence of style is emerging, and the students are enjoying it, as you can see in the photo.

Work presented with style has greater impact. You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you cannot present them through a process that shows integrity and care, you may never get them across the threshold of success.

Yesterday in wood shop, my upper elementary school students made Soma cube puzzles, and as I was very busy assisting, I got no photos of that.

I planned that exercise to get my students to pay careful attention to the alignment of edges, and more careful use of glue. A side benefit was for them to observe carefully the difference between end grain and side grain. End grain absorbs glue more readily and is more difficult to get an effective glue joint. Success can be improved by careful observation of the materials.

To prepare for this exercise I make hundreds of small cherry blocks.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning lifewise.

Friday, October 06, 2017


At ESSA, students are finishing a week-long class in blacksmithing, a week-long class in glass mosaic, and a three day introductory class in wood turning.

At Clear Spring School, my high school students will continue with framing square math, and my upper elementary school students will work on precision and less sloppy work. I have blocks for them to assemble into Soma cubes. In order for these Soma puzzles to work, the blocks must be carefully sanded and positioned with care in relation to each other.

I had noticed a growing mindlessness being applied in their work and I hope to bring them toward greater concentration and concern for the outcome of their work. Making puzzles is an exercise that I hope they also enjoy.

A reader asked for an accounting of the benefits of woodworking in school. Years ago Jack Grube and I developed a list of 21 reasons woodworking is of value in 21st Century Schools. You can find that, here: The reader also asked on behalf of her pastor, of the spiritual benefits of woodworking. Some of those are included (though not specifically indicated or separated) in the list.

I personally do not believe there to be a division between that which is practical and that which is of spiritual concern. Woodworking is a means through which children and adults can seek to serve in their families and communities whether you name that as a spiritual matter or not. There is little more important in the development of a child's life than the creation of useful beauty. The same is true for adults as well. Joseph, after all, was a carpenter, and St. Paul made tents for his living.

The photo shows Kip Powers demonstrating on the lathe. His philosophy is that too much instruction cuts into the student's time on the lathe and interferes with learning. It is better for him to give basic principles, and then to observe and counsel individual efforts.

Trump, in the meantime warns of a "storm coming. Let's hope not. Between guns and hurricanes, we've already suffered enough.

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

Thursday, October 05, 2017

I'm sorry you can't have that.

As our nation attempts to recover from the largest and most gruesome execution of civilians in recent American history, and we make a desperate attempt to come to an understanding of how a single individual can go so far off track, it is useful to take stock. In fact, the stocks of the killer's guns had been altered turning each into a machine gun capable of wanton mindless fire.

Tools can be like that. They can either be engineered to serve as an exercise of mindfulness and concern for each other, or otherwise. They can draw us together or split us apart. Ivan Illich had written a book, "Tools of Conviviality." Guns are often not convivial.

Republicans in Congress, financed by the NRA insist that we must not talk about such things, until the nation has had sufficient time to mourn. They said the same thing following the execution of children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School (and every mass shooting since Columbine) and have gotten away with it. There is a sense of false manliness associated with the owning and use of firearms. Forgive me for my painful sarcasm, but it's like wanna-be cowboy Senate candidate Roy Moore, waving a pistol at one of his campaign events. Whoopie ti yi oh.

It would be OK to adopt a national policy similar to what we have in wood shop. In wood shop students must demonstrate responsible and mindful use of tools in order to be entrusted with their use. To see that tools are being used carefully, correctly, and mindfully, I am a constant reminder. When something is pickup and misused, whether a tool or a stick, I must say, "I'm sorry you can't have that." Would that not be a good thing to bring up in the discussion of guns?

Blacksmith Bob Patrick and I are scheming a class for next year at ESSA in which we will share and flip flop students mid-week, making a Viking era tool box similar to the Mästermyr chest. Students under Bob's instruction will hand forge hardware for the chest. Students under my instruction will make the chest. At mid-week, Bob and I will trade students, and at the end of the week we will gather both groups to complete. Sound like fun? I hope so. The photo above is one example of a Viking era tools chest.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning lifewise.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017


It was rather chaotic in the wood shop today as first, second and third grade students finished their animal habitats. Some needed trees, some needed houses and grass and one needed a cave where her mother cat could care for its "cubs". There was no shortage of creativity, and no shortage of excitement.

Now the students can continue work in their classroom, despite the mess. Most of the students had used sawdust colored green and glued on the board as grass.

Today at ESSA we have Kip Power's teaching introductory wood turning in the woodshop. I also have a program meeting to plan ESSA classes for 2018.

Make, fix, create, and increase opportunities for others to learn lifewise.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Yesterday in wood shop...

My students in first, second and third grades were to make habitat boards for tiny rock animals they have made. In wood shop they were to build home settings for them. I supplied plywood boards and offered a lot of materials for them to consume. They wanted a more concrete starting place, and it was not until I got involved making houses from cut off 2 x 4's that all got into full gear.  In cutting roof shapes, small triangles were formed. "Who wants bushes?" I asked. The small triangle blocks were in great demand, as were the small houses. I made lots of both.

To make trees we used a Veritas dowel former to shape the ends of sticks to fit 3/8 in. holes we drilled in their plywood boards. We will work on these habitats on Wednesday as well.
"Man is a Tool-using Animal. Weak in himself, and of small stature, he stands on a basis, at most for the flattest-soled, of some half square foot, insecurely enough; has to straddle out his legs, lest the very wind supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three quintals are a crushing load for him; the steer of the meadow tosses him aloft, like a waste rag. Nevertheless he can use Tools, can devise Tools: with these the granite mountain melts into light dust before him; sea are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwarying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without Tools; without Tools he is nothing, with Tools he is all." –– Thomas Carlyle
Even in a thing so simple as in holding a hammer, one can feel a change in self. Tools and their skilled use actually shift perception and identity. Guns are like that but on steroids. If people have no capacity to create, they may be drawn to the darkest side.

An interesting point in relation to the shooting in Las Vegas is how the tools we hold shape who we are. They say it is too soon after the shooting to talk about gun control. They say that would show dis-respect to those who mourn. How about right now talking about Columbine, Sandy Hook, Chicago,  Austin, and all those other places that have suffered so. If we indeed wait for all the mourning to cease, there will be no end of it. Capiche?

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning lifewise.

Monday, October 02, 2017

I wonder...

Is it possible to do something about guns, violence and stupidity in American culture? The fascination some men have with guns could be met by the possession of tools. The tools used to shape wood convey a sense of power and control, provided you've learned their proper use, and invested in the development of skill. Through the development of skill, direct relationship with reality is established and sustained.

There are lots of things that can go wrong in society, infecting people with malicious delusions. Generally speaking, however, we are made better and more whole when we are actively engaged in the creation of useful beauty.

My heart goes out once again to those who suffer from the serial events of violence that infect American culture. Some people say that guns are not the problem. I would say that people with guns IS a problem. Guns feed dark fantasies that are too often acted out.

Tools, on the other hand stimulate creative acts. When a man (or woman) has made something useful and lovely he or she is filled with a sense of self-love and self-appreciation. May we please work in that direction?

Today at the Clear Spring School, high school students will be working on independent projects and learning framing square math. Elementary students will be making animal habitats and projects from their imaginations.

Make, fix, create, and demonstrate skill so that others may learn lifewise.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

a link

A reader  (Dwight) sent me a link  ( to an article about toy making and Educational Sloyd, and when I followed it, I found that it carried me to the Journal  published of the Crafticulation Conference in Helsinki, 2009. I was at the Crafticulation Conference in Helsinki, and presented my own paper on Tools, Hands and the Expansion of Intellect. That paper is included in the download, along with many others for those who may have some interest in Sloyd.

Educational Sloyd is not practiced in Scandinavia as it was in the 19th century. There has been exploration and refinement and it is much more focused on creative engagement than it once was. So when people ask whether my woodworking program at Clear Spring School is "Sloyd", it depends on which century you are looking at. My purpose has never been to exactly replicate the Educational Sloyd from 1876. In Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, as well as Estonia and Latvia, an interest in Sloyd and its development has been sustained for almost a century and a half.

Otto Salomon saw his own particular work as a "casting mold" that would be broken so that other forms would evolve from it.

So here we are. 2017. What can we learn about education from Educational Sloyd? One thing for sure. They still have it in the Scandinavian countries. In the US, manual arts have been largely abandoned, particularly in the lower grade levels. Standardized testing does not measure either hand skills or creativity, so in the American teach-to-the-test obsession, there's too little time in school for the arts, particularly those requiring the use of tools.

The volume produced by the Crafticulation Conference and published by Nordfo shows that Educational Sloyd is a still rich field of study. The guiding principles described by Otto Salomon still are valid, and should guide the whole of education at all grade levels:
  • 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.
So where do the hands fit in? If a child sees something that interests him or her, the first inclination is to touch. The hands are our most effective tools of exploration, making known to us that which had been unknown. The development of hand skills provides a model for all learning as we move from the easy to more difficult. The ability to touch and manipulate makes simple those things that appear complex, and the hands provide the bridge between the concrete and abstract. In other words, the theory of Educational Sloyd provides a foundation for educational development that should not be ignored.

The photo shows the use of a Sloyd knife.

Make, fix, create, and help others to discover learning lifewise.