Tuesday, January 31, 2017

hammers part two

As a professional woodworker, hammers and nails were to be avoided. The finest work is fitted together with intricate hand or machine cut joints. But in woodworking with kids, using softwoods, hammers and nails are essential. In the photo above or at left the hammer is a blaze of motion, and gripped near the head. A Vaughan and Bushnell Bear Saw is shown on the bench.

Vises are essential both to hold stock while it is cut (thus keeping the hands safe) and during assembly as is shown to hold parts while they are being assembled (again keeping the hands safe).

These students in first grade are making tiny foxes to further animate a book they were reading in class. To make animals like these, I supply a block of wood with cut lines marked. Some help is always required to get the wood firmly positioned in the vise. My students often have collections of work that are treasured for years to come.

I remember being told by my father to move my hand down the length of the handle to get more strength. But that will come in its own time.  Just as it took primitive man some time to develop the handle, the full potential of the handle is not immediately grasped. As the child matures his hand will move further down the length of the handle, the result of growing strength and confidence.

We use Vaughan and Bushnell Little Pro hammers that were a gift to our school when I won my first Golden Hammer award for my how-to writing in 2002. The tools is rather expensive, but has held up well through many years of use. Chinese import hammers can be found online for as little as $2.22.

Make, fix, create and extend the likelihood that others will become intelligent through similar means.

Monday, January 30, 2017

hammers and hammering... part one.

Six ways in which segments can be rotated for use as
tools and weapons. The stippled areas represent adhesive.
A hammer seems such a simple thing. I'll offer more about them in the next days, but we need to start way back. As you watch a child grip a hammer for the first time, you will notice that he or she will grab the hammer as close to the head as possible. This is in part because of being unaccustomed to its weight, but also, I believe, it reenacts the process of human development. The full use of the handle to extend the range and power of the hand came quite late in human development with our species having existed millions of years without it.

It was thought until recently that man began use of the handle to extend the power and reach of his arm 30,000 years ago. I was astounded to learn that the handle was such a recent invention, and in response to a request for more current information,  Mary Marzke at the University of Arizona sent me links to an article by Lyn Wadley on the use of adhesives to attach stone to wood in the making of shafted tools, weapons and instruments.

Wadley's work was published in Current Anthropology, and illustrates the intellect and environmental acuity involved as early man crafted tools to enable his survival. Evidently, there was enough adhesive remaining on some crafted pieces of stone from 70,000 years ago to analyze reformulate the means through which they were attached. This work pushes forward by 40,000 years, the earlier speculation by V.G. Childe and others that the handle came as late as 30,000 years ago.
Compound adhesives were made in southern Africa at least 70,000 years ago, where they were used to attach similarly shaped stone segments to hafts. Mental rotation, a capacity implying advanced working‐memory capacity, was required to place the segments in various positions to create novel weapons and tools. The compound glues used to fix the segments to shafts are made from disparate ingredients, using an irreversible process. The steps required for compound‐adhesive manufacture demonstrate multitasking and the use of abstraction and recursion. As is the case in recursive language, the artisan needed to hold in mind what was previously done in order to carry out what was still needed. Cognitive fluidity enabled people to do and think several things at the same time, for example, mix glue from disparate ingredients, mentally rotate segments, talk, and maintain fire temperature. Thus, there is a case for attributing advanced mental abilities to people who lived 70,000 years ago in Africa without necessarily invoking symbolic behavior.
There is no concrete evidence that man's development came as a result of language alone, but there is evidence that the making of things took a leading role in the development of man. There is a growing body of evidence that making the tools for our survival and the increased size of the human frontal lobe were parallel developments. You can find Lyn Wadley's article Compound‐Adhesive Manufacture as a Behavioral Proxy for Complex Cognition in the Middle Stone Age here. In order to understand all this and write this paper, Wadley had to make the adhesive from materials found in the natural environment and then replicate the methods for attachment, demonstrating again that you won't really learn all that much about real things by just yakking. "Her main research interest is ancient cognition and her experimental archaeology is geared towards understanding the mental architecture required for various behaviors."

Over the weekend, A+ Fellows went through a dance routine requiring physical rotation described on what the teacher called a "magic square." The exercise was a means of applying spatial sense in problem solving, very much like the process used in making the adhesive as described above.

In order to better understand your own mental architecture,

Make, fix, create, thus extending your reach that others may learn likewise.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

changing the culture of schooling.

I spent several hours yesterday and the evening before with A+ Schools Fellows. These are the teachers and trainers that serve schools in implementing an arts first strategy. It is currently supported by Thea Foundation and others, with the idea of turning around schools in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and other states. I was invited to sit in with Arkansas Fellows so that I could learn what they do, how they do it, and so that I would consider either joining or helping in some way to add woodworking to their collection of available arts.

As we watched in a video on Friday night, everything starts with the question, why. Why is the word that contains a world of motivation,  and without the question why, teachers, schools and students are left at ground zero. Without connecting in some way with my student's own wonderings, their interests would wander instead of being applied.

It seems that teachers from way back, like Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel and others had wondered about why and how students learn, and then, based on personal observation, had determined that children learn best when doing real things. And yet when it comes to devising schools, instead of student needs, the needs of the administration come first. Education is turned over to middle management and the children suffer. In the meantime, learning is the most innate and natural part of being a human being. We must breathe, we must eat, we must drink, and we must learn. The question then becomes how. And of course that's where the arts come in.

For me,  the why, the impetus to make change in education stems from being told as a young man that my brains were in my hands. That arrested my attention, caused me to reflect, led me to frustration with how children's natural inclinations to learn are frustrated at nearly every turn.

And so, how do we make necessary change? It is a long process, but could be shortened by arriving at a common understanding: 
What we learn hands-on by doing real things engages the heart of the learner. What we've learned hands-on has sticking power that leads directly to growth, for teachers, schools, students, and even administrators.
Tomorrow I will resume a discussion of common tools. Richard Bazeley in Australia sent a photo of a "shaving pony" that clamps to a work bench so that it can be used as a shaving horse and put away when not in use.

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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A+ Fellows

Last night I was asked to introduce myself at a meeting of A+ Schools Fellows. I had been invited to their meeting to learn more about them and to consider ways I might help. What a fine group of enthusiastic teachers! Last night we began learning to use dance as a means of active classroom learning. Just as woodworking is potentially connected to all of life, dance too can be a means to bridge the gap between the artificialized classroom environment and students' needs to be engaged in real life. Dance also has the advantages of not requiring tools, being safe, and allowing the students to move beyond desktop learning.

The real point is simple. Make learning real.

Woodworking can be one means to do that. Laboratory science another. And dance yet another. The arts, music, gardening, the care of small animals, field trips, internships, travel, and the manipulation of tactile objects all lift the school environment out of artificiality and supercharge learning. All of these fall under the category, "hands-on," and where the hands are engaged, the heart follows.

In Matthew Crawford's books, Shop Class as Soulcraft, and the World Beyond Your Head, each place heavy emphasis on a quote from this blog.
In schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged. --Wisdom of the Hands blog post of October 16, 2006
I have an all day meeting with A+ Fellows and will resume my discussion of woodworking tools, processes and projects when I am home in Eureka Springs.

In the photo above, my 3rd grade student had made a doll house for his sister and then decided he needed to make a chair for it. It became larger than he first intended, and he spent much of the remaining part of the classroom period working through failures in the attachment of legs. I could have stepped in and interfered with his discovery process, but would have robbed him of an important and memorable learning experience.

Make, fix, create, and assist others to learn likewise.

Friday, January 27, 2017

new sawhorse bench...

One of the important things about children in the wood shop is overcoming the inclination to hold work in one hand and saw in the other. An effective means of holding the wood is required for student safety. One of my readers Jason, came up with what I call a "castle vise" that clamps to the table and allows the student to use "c" clamps to hold wood while the student saws.

Bench vises are expensive, and while small kids workbenches equipped with vises are the best route, the costs of vises may be a deterrent to some schools and parents just starting out. Vises, too, must be carefully thought out. Some readers have made benches from a design  I wrote about in Woodwork Magazine, but I have also been working on a new type of saw horse intended to serve the sawing and hammering needs of students and be produced for much less cost, as shown in the drawing above. I bought the wood for it yesterday for a total cost of $10.70, but it could also be made from salvaged materials, construction 2 x 6 and 2 x 4 lumber. It is complex enough that it needs some demonstration to show the full range of use. And it relies on the use of "c" clamps to hold stock while it is being cut and should allow for both ripping and cross cuts. It also has a small assembly space on the top that serves as a workbench. With the addition of 2 large "c" clamps, the total investment should be about $30.00.

Don't build it yet. It requires testing, and while I build it, I'll take step-by-step photos to help that would aid in your own construction.

If you want to know about Jason's castle vise follow this link. If you want a link to my earlier article about building benches for student use, it can be found here.
On the Fine Woodworking website, the bench can be found here.

Today I travel to Little Rock to help choose the 2017 Arkansas Living Treasure and to attend a meeting of the A+ Schools Fellows, attempting to restore the arts to Arkansas public schools.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2017

work with kids...

I had a conversation with a school principal from Canada yesterday and he asked for some details about setting up a school program. One aspect is the cost. What would one expect to pay for the necessary tools and materials to put children to work? There are a couple different approaches.

Back in the days of Educational Sloyd, it was suggested that there be a bench and complete set of tools for each student in class. So if you had 10 students in a class at a time,  ten benches, 10 of each type of plane, ten of each size of chisel, 10 of each type of saw, and ten of each required type of marking tool would be required.

I'm more of an incrementalist in my approach. You do not need to start out with every tool in the book, as you would never introduce all the tools at once and confuse the child over which tool to do what. With that said, however, a basic pull type saw,  a small block plane, a knife, and a hammer are enough to get going, provided you have some way to hold the wood so it can be safely cut. Tomorrow I'll raise the issue of vices and clamps. Instead of having individual workbenches, each with its own set of tools, tools at Clear Spring School are kept on racks, and tools that have less frequent use can be in smaller numbers to be shared.

For years, I've used Vaughan and Bushnell Bear Saws in the school wood shop. And over the next few days, I'll focus on one type of tool at a time. One of the advantages of the Bear saw is that it's of Japanese deign so that it works on the pull rather than push, and it has smaller teeth to make a lighter cut than a more conventional western hand saw. Also useful are coping saws. They present a bit of confusion in their use because they can make a curving cut, but the thin blade passes easily through wood without the binding that comes from a wider blade in inexperienced hands.

It is funny how easily a saw will cut wood, but how difficult it can become if you begin by awkwardly twisting the saw this way and that, making the work so much more difficult for yourself. Students can end up fighting the tool rather than fighting for the control of their attention in the first place. So the big challenge is not mastery of the saw, but mastery of the hand and mind holding the saw.

One of the benefits of woodworking is that children must become more aware of their own bodies to do it. In order for a saw to pass straight through wood, or along a marked line posture is important as is smooth motion and steady control of the limbs. The cultivation of the power of attention is an aspect of development that takes place through woodworking that applies to every other activity in school and in life.

I will come up with a selected tool list and approximate cost, keeping in mind, however that the world is full of unused tools that can be acquired for less than one might think.

Yesterday in the wood shop, my first through 6th grade students worked on projects that they decided for themselves. One 5th grade student, having made a doll house for his sister on Monday, decided to make furniture and a doll today. Part of the challenge a teacher faces in wood shop is to watch over safety but avoid interfering with the student's opportunity for discovery.  A first grader insisted that glue enough would hold the house she was making together. After the glued pieces kept sliding apart and falling, she asked, "How can I do this?" "Would you like to try nails," I asked? You can see her success in the photo above.

It is always a mistake for a teacher to walk into a classroom, unprepared. It is also a mistake to insist that the teacher's lesson stand in the way of real learning. Instruction should come when the child asks for it, proving him or herself ready.

Rather than tell the whole of the woodworking with kids story in one blog post, I alerted the Canadian School principal to a page of notes found in the column at right. The link is called Doug Stowe's WOH Articles and Papers, and could keep an enthusiast reading for a week. It includes youtube videos, articles about woodworking education I wrote for various magazines, and scholarly articles I presented at conferences in Finland and Sweden. All of these papers are hosted in a folder on my website: dougstowe.com

In addition to classes at the Clear Spring School, I've finished my scissor tail box guitar, so it and a few others are ready to ship to my publisher for the cover photography. I made tail pieces for 4 guitars today, and after nuts and bridges are made, those too, will be ready for strings.

Make, fix, create, and offer others the chance to learn likewise.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

slow making

The boxes at left are newly finished Shaker boxes by two of my students.The following is an earlier post (April 3, 2011) that was picked up and published also by the Unitarian Universalists. 
We've all heard of the slow foods movement. The idea of making things quickly, too easily, thus providing empty calories for the creative soul is a notion we should explore, and thence avoid as unhealthy for the human spirit. Blog reader Amy sent the following quote from a novel, Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. LeGuin:
"It was a good thing for me to learn a craft with a true maker. It may have been the best thing I have done. Nothing we do is better than the work of handmind. When mind uses itself without the hands it runs the circle and may go too fast; even speech using the voice only may go too fast. The hand that shapes the mind into clay or written word slows thought to the gait of things and lets it be subject to accident and time. Purity is on the edge of evil, they say."
One of the things that can slow a person down in woodworking is the knowledge that what one makes can last a hundred years or more. When an item is crafted with useful beauty in mind, it transcends not only the years it may last, but also the need one might feel to hurry in its making. What are the few extra minutes to do things right when each moment of attention is witnessed in the finished piece for such a lengthy span of time? What's the rush in the light of generations?

We have become so impulsive, so undeliberative in our actions, that I urge my readers to contemplate the very slow making of things. Can we invest greater mind through the application of conscious attention of greater magnitude in the making of the things that fill our lives and awaken our sense of beauty? And what would the effects of such actions be?

It seems that much of our hurry is driven by the metaphor, "time is money." But time is not money. It is the opportunity to invest care, carefulness, attention, listening. What if our new metaphor for time was craftsmanship?

Make, fix and create, that others may learn to love learning likewise.

new and old tools.

Yesterday in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, we unpacked two more heavy boxes of tools sent to us by a school in New York where the tools were no longer of any use. The boxes contained brand new carpenter's handsaws, old hammers, new mallets, carving chisels, auger bits and more. These tools, like the others we received from the same school, had been stored in a closet while the school moved into robotics and other high tech stuff.

That makes me curious. Robotics are seen as preparing students for the jobs of the future, but how many adults actually get jobs in robotics? Is it our destiny to stand idly by watching machines do what we might have enjoyed learning to have done for ourselves?

Hand tools prepare students to better understand the nature of reality, something we could all use a bit more of. And craftsmanship, also, is a thing that benefits the whole of humanity.

Today I have a phone call with a school principal in Canada who wants more information about my Wisdom of the Hands program. So the pendulum swings. One school gives up what another one wants. But part of the problem has been that the developmental aspect of the manual arts was brushed aside. The school wood shop became the place where those students who were not going to college would be managed and taught while most kids were being sent on to college and would thereby avoid manual employment.

I have been working with a web designer to revamp my boxmaking101 website, allowing me to edit it more easily and making it more responsive to various devices.  It went online today. Check out boxmaking101.com For those who have visited the site before, it will look almost the same.

Make, fix, create, and insure that others learn likewise.

Monday, January 23, 2017


This morning I heard from one of my mother's kindergarten students, who is now retired from the marines and reading my books with the intention of introducing woodworking to his three sons. He asks whether I think my mother would be proud of me, and I assured him that she would be proud of him, too.

I was listening to the radio yesterday as they interviewed an actor and film director who's done a documentary film on the reformation. What the reformation did, was take religion out of the sole hands of the specialist priest class and put it in the hands of common folk. Part of the power of the reformation had to do with the invention of the printing press and the ability to print bibles in all native languages. But when Martin Luther nailed his treatise to the doors of the church, such a dramatic act of opposition and defiance could not be ignored.

I participated in a similar act of defiance over the weekend when my wife and I joined 10,000 others at a rally of solidarity with millions more around the world, in opposition to the trump presidency. I believe many of those who supported trump during the election had many of the same hopes and frustrations shared by the millions of women that marched on Saturday. The question we all had, both in the march and in the election, was how do we make the world a better place for our children.

I have some ideas of my own but that are rooted deeply in human culture. Martin Luther insisted that each man be taught a trade, not just one of the mind, but of the whole body, that human culture might be of whole cloth. That would be a first step to take in education. Why should there be a purely academic class that fails to excite future plumbers and electricians in the intricacies of human history when that class might be made hands-on and appealing to all? Why should the classes that enable children to create in tangible ways, be denied to those who may ultimately shape the course of human destiny?

Betsy Devos, trump's nominee for secretary of the Department of Education insists that parents should have a choice as to where they send their children to school. That may be all well and good for some. I would go further and ask that all children have the opportunity to choose what they learn in school, that it apply directly to their interests, and that schools and children should (must) do real things.

There is a story I've told before about Pestalozzi. One of his teachers was troubled when a child learning vocabulary challenged him. "Why should we look at a picture of a ladder when there is a real one in the shed?" "We don't have time to go outside," the teacher answered. Later when they got to the word window, the student challenged him again. "Why should we look at a picture when there's a real window right there and we don't even have to go outside to see it?" The teacher out of frustration went to Pestalozzi to complain. Pestalozzi replied that in every circumstance, when education can be made real and be drawn from the real world that surrounds us, it must be.

And yet, we have schools at all levels k through college whose foundations are built upon artificiality, and wonder why children's minds wander and they fail to become engaged. I propose that every child learn a trade (of their choosing) and be trusted with doing (and learning) real things.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

a simple formula for education reform....

This next Friday I've been invited to join a group of "fellows" of A+ Schools, the purpose of which is to bring arts education back to Arkansas Public Schools. The idea is that arts make a difference. When students are engaged more deeply in learning, they have a greater likelihood of following through to graduation, and that the arts have, therefore, a important role in re-energizing education. Therefore, based on the A+ model, the arts should be integrated throughout schooling and in every classroom activity. I believe it.

I was invited to join because some had thought that woodworking should become an important part of the mix of available arts. But it is my intention to bring more to the group of fellows than that. If you understand the role of the hands in learning, then the arts are a no-brainer. You see imeeediately why the arts are essential and where they fit in. The same applies to auto body repair, laboratory science, travel, field trips, music, gardening, the care for small animals, dramatic performance, cooking, internships, and yes, wood shop.

While asked to supply woodworking to the mix of available arts, my point is not to offer one more activity to fill the school day, but to make certain that the hands are engaged usefully in every minute of a child's education.

The engagement of the hands is the measure we human beings use to discern a firm foundation for reality. To learn hands-on is to learn "first hand" from reality itself.

The oddest of all possible things in education is that every educator will know him or herself as being a hands-on learner and point to particular moments when the reality of that was made clear, and then our of laziness, misdirection or lack of training allow education to proceed as an abstract endeavor. With a bit of encouragement, even history teachers can teach hands-on.

Yesterday my wife and I went to rally with 10,000 or so advocates in opposition to the trump administration. It was energizing to be with people who share our values of love and consideration for each other.

My simple formula for education reform? Use the hands to leverage reality in
to learning. 

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017

about the weather...

Winter weather is a common topic of conversation in the midwest. Last night I was at my nephew's wedding and we were talking about how mild this winter has been. An old gentleman interjected that it has nothing to do with global warming. He suggested that when the earth emerged from the last ice age, there were no automobiles in sight. I suggested that he become more acquainted with science, scientific method, etc. But in his mind, science is corrupt.

I wish good luck to us all. Education in which right and wrong answers and not scientific method are the primary fare, leaves citizenry so seriously misinformed that the world is put at serious risk.

During the turn of the century, from the 19th to the 20th, it was recognized that an informed citizenry was necessary to the safety of democracy. In order for citizens to be fully informed, students (future citizens) would require a means through which to sift and sort information to get at the truth. That meant in part that they would be engaged in learning not just what they were told by others, but through direct engagement in reality.

Charles H. Hamm had said that the mind seeks the truth but the hands find. That is only true to the degree that the hands are actively engaged in the search for truth.

Woodworking and crafts were part of the means through which aptitude would be constructed as a foundation for greater understanding. One cannot whittle a stick without observation, reflection, and the use of fundamental scientific method. But for those whose education stopped too soon, on platitudes and facts, and without reflection, the world is simply a place where you believe what-ever-you-want, with the beliefs that guide your participation in democracy are derived from your tv network of choice.

Make, fix, create and pray that others learn likewise

Friday, January 20, 2017

lovely tine...

I received this lovely tine box from friends in Norway. It is a treasure box that needs no treasure inside. It is made of spalted alder and willow and laced with birch root.

Tiner, have humble beginnings being used in the making of cheese. They became symbolic of Norwegian culture and craftsmanship, just as the dala horse is a symbol of Swedish craftsmanship.

Unlike Shaker boxes that are all made to exacting formulas, tiner were made in hundreds if not thousands of small villages by thousands of individual craftsmen over many generations, so they were diverse in design, just as our students should be allowed greater diversity in school.

I am in Lincoln, Nebraska for a nephew's wedding. The box I finished last week is a gift for him and his bride. Tiner, too, were used for gifts at the time of marriage, and many of the antique tiner you may find on eBay will be dated in celebration of marriage.

Next Friday I take on a new volunteer assignment as a "fellow" with Arkansas A+ Schools. I have mentioned A+ before as their mission is to place the arts in a more central position in education. I hope to convince a few art teachers that the true mission is more than just the arts, but to simply place the hands as the primary focus of educational attention. The mind seeks the truth and the hands discover it. Where the hands are engaged education moves from abstraction to certainty, And when the hands are engaged children are lured to deeper engagement. When the role of the hands in learning is understood, there is no question for the necessity of the arts. It is a simple formula. It is easy to try. But first we have to remove schooling from the tyranny of testing and cut children and teachers free to learn real things, by doing real things.

Make, fix, create, and offer others the excuse needed to learn likewise.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

diverse interests – exceptional possibilites.

Outgoing U.S. Education Secretary America, John B. King Jr. said:
Finally, we must recognize that the growing diversity of our people is an asset, not a liability, and support diverse schools. Diversity helps more children succeed, broadens their perspectives, and prepares them for the global workforce.

I am convinced the growing conflicts in this country over race, religion, and language would be profoundly reduced if our children learned and played alongside classmates who are different from themselves and if they encountered diverse teachers and leaders in their schools.
In support of Kings' remarks, there are some structural changes that must be made in schools to be able to sustain diversity and diverse interest. First is class size. No teacher with 20-25 students or more in a class can provide for diverse student interests to be cultivated and met. Second, we must firmly reject the teach to the test mentality that is destroying education and stifling diversity and student interest.

Adding hands-on real subjects would be a no-brainer, not meaning that the brains are not required, but that anyone with a brain would not question the need for hands-on learning. We need to restore the arts, music, laboratory science, home economics and more, and then make direct attacks of each of the academic subjects, seeing that they too are taught hands-on.

I wanted in the photos at left and above, to simply show my lovely walnut workbench.

Make, fix, create and offer the opportunity to others that they may learn to love learning likewise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

shaker boxes and guitars...

Yesterday morning my high school students worked on their Shaker boxes and are nearing the finish of the project. Their work is not perfect, but what is? It takes doing the same thing over again and sometimes again to refine one's work. Despite having made thousands of boxes, I've still room for growth.

I received a nice note from a gentleman in the UK dying of cancer, who asked that I send a signed photo to his caregiver friend who is a fan of my work and an avid box maker. I am sending a book instead. The note was so thoughtful, and I am choosing to live my life in a counter-trumpian universe, unfettered by xenophobia, racism and divisiveness, and in which people speak kindly of each other.

Donald trump, it appears, was elected at least in part by those seeking an unfettered right to be ugly in speech and deed toward those who may be slightly different in some way from themselves.

Where some build walls, you and I must build bridges instead. It's not a matter of being politically correct. It is a simply a matter of being purposefully kind and respectful toward each other in order to build a better nation.

I am also finishing my guitars so that they can be shipped to the publisher for taking cover photographs. I figure I'll have to ship about 12-15 of them in a very large box.

This morning, my middle school students will work on the lathe.

If you are on facebook, you can find me there, too. If you've not visited my new website, Check it out. 

Make, fix, create, and delight in helping others learn likewise.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Unseasonably warm

It is unseasonably warm here in Arkansas. We've had little in the way of winter. My supply of firewood for the wood stove is largely untouched. In the meantime, the incoming trump administration promises to limit the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency, dispense with clean energy regulations, and thereby promise much more of the global warming that threatens the whole world.

One of the basic purposes of incorporation is to limit liability to investors allowing the corporations in which they invest to do massive damage without the investors being held accountable beyond the value of their investments. So when corporations do bad things with enormous effect, the burden falls on the poor, the environment, and the tax payer. Despite what Republicans claim, governmental regulations are a very good and necessary thing that should be strengthened, not made lax.

My wife suggests that I keep the blog non-political. On the other hand, part of my mission here is to promote hands-on learning AND the protection of the natural environment in which trees play such a huge role in protecting life. Global warming has disastrous effects on our forests and deliberate efforts to lie about it, and reverse progress in combating it must be addressed.

I can not sit by while an illegitimately elected president pushes an agenda that is directly destructive of our forests and our trees. It appears to my friends outside the US that Americans went crazy in electing donald trump. I concur. A majority of persons in our nation oppose the man, and will continue to do so. A friend from Norway expressed his concern as follows: "Commiserations on your new president. What can I say, I am still 'gobsmacked' that he was elected, but then, was he, really?" And there's the rub. The man was elected by the slimmest of margins with the head of the FBI's thumb pressed on the scale, and with interference by Russia, a power hostile to the US.

And yet life goes on. Today at the Clear Spring School, my high school students will begin working to stabilize the garden fence under my instruction. Some will be finishing their Shaker boxes.

Make, fix, create, and extend toward others the proclivity to learn likewise.

Monday, January 16, 2017

holiday challenge...

Entry 1. Alan Johnson
This year at Marc Adams School of Woodworking I announced the second holiday challenge in which students were to attempt to earn prizes by submitting photos of boxes they made after the class and using what they had learned in the class.

Eighteen students were invited to compete, and three submitted entries. That's convenient, because there are three prizes, and each entry is a winner.

Entry 2. David Hoffman
We decided to make the contest this year a non-trumpian equal opportunity affair in which the winners would be selected by drawing. This helps me to avoid judgment and simply appreciate and reward those who carry on and use what they have learned. In any case, however, each did excellent work that each may be proud of, with or without external rewards.

David Hoffman (open)
Robin Mistry
Robin certainly deserves an award for most productive, if I were to award one.

The actual assignment of awards will be made by random number generator later in the day. The selection could be made by putting three numbers in a box.

Today I am off from school as we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday.

Make, fix, create, and delight in observing others learn likewise.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

we continue

Yesterday I stacked several hundred square feet of 3/8 in. thick cherry that a friend gave me for use at school. It is freshly cut but should dry quickly. The rule of thumb is to dry wood at least one year per inch, so in about 4 months it can be re-stacked and used to make who knows what.

What can one make from such thin wood? I have no idea yet. Boxes, perhaps? It will plane smooth on both sides at 1/4 in. if I can keep it drying flat. Wide thin boards tend to curl and cup.

The box above is one I just finished as a wedding gift.

I have been having regular visits from feral hogs, caught on camera but not in the trap. The boar shown in the photo above, taken last night, is about 32 inches high and would weigh about 250 lbs. I can tell the height by counting the squares in the fence each of which are 4 in. These creatures are incredibly destructive and reproduce at a frantic pace.

This is an unpleasant process and at this point we've trapped and killed 35. We will likely be forced to continue to trap hogs for years to come or allow them to overrun our home and destroy our forest.

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

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Home schooling...

I got a very nice letter from a home schooled boy, Benjamin, who showed me photos of his work on the lathe, and of him using a face mask as I suggested. He took a turn toward woodworking and because he has the support of his parents and grandparents is able to pursue his passion. In addition to turning he has also begun making his own inlay as I showed in one of my books.

While public schools obsess over test scores, what children really need is to be encouraged to follow their interests. This can be done in a simple way. First give them the tools necessary to learn. Then sustain a nurturing environment, in which children are questioned about what they have learned, observed to see that safe practices are followed, and are then encouraged to learn more. The questioning serves in three ways. It causes them to reflect. It shows your interest in their growth. And it provides assurance that they are moving in a direction fruitful to the student's growth, and meaningful to them.

So what's the point in woodworking in a world obsessed with other things?
  • It builds character. 
  • It builds intellect. 
  • It provides a concrete framework in which student learning can be witnessed and assessed both by that student and others. 
  • It connects the student in the real world, inviting an expanding range of additional interests. 
  • And more.

or this.
I saw a friend of mine yesterday morning that I’d not seen in a while. He’s about 10 years older than me but had been my “apprentice,” telling me all the while, that he dreamed of having a wood shop of his own. Finally he has what he had dreamed about, a small shop he built himself with every tool he ever wanted. He is proud of his work and of his tools and the pleasure the gets from making things and sharing them with others.

I’ve been telling my students at the Clear Spring School, that their practice of craftsmanship, the paying of attention, application of will, and care for the outcome of their work are the same skills required for being anything they want in future years, be they doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists, inventors, mothers, fathers or whatever. Even politicians and religious leaders benefit from having the opportunity to work with wood and become grounded in reality by the process of creating useful and beautiful things.

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

My teaching calendar...

These are my teaching dates for 2017. Other dates may be added for woodworking clubs, or special events at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.
Woodworking works for all ages. We each develop in both character and intellect when we learn hands-on. Plus, when our learning is driven by a personal interest in the subject area, there is pleasure as we move toward mastery that primes us to seek more.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

care and repair in the school woodshop

At Clear Spring School today, I tackled a situation that had come up when students were climbing on a picnic table and broke it. High school students have a way of testing limits and a student weighing 200 pounds jumping down from the top to the the seat was more that the picnic table could take. I gathered the materials needed to fix it, had one student rout the edges of the replacement board and the student who broke it spent the hour of wood shop with our maintenance man putting the table back together and strengthening it to be at least as good as new. Having take part in fixing it, he will surely now regard it with greater care. He may also have come to regard himself in a different manner.

Along with that, I was able to explain to the kids why taking care of things matters. Sure it is fun to fix things, but breaking things has real consequences and it may be best to exercise some judgement  and care in the first place. The great thing was that the incident brought us all closer together.

My high school students are finishing their Shaker boxes, and while not all express the same level of enthusiasm for woodworking, all seem to appreciate what they've made. One student screwed up his box today by not paying attention to the placement of the bottom in the sides as he drove tooth picks into place. I assured him that it takes less time to do make the bottom over and get it right than it took in the first place to screw up. And is that not the case with most things?

I plan to have talks with all students about the development of craftsmanship, the relationship between cause an effect through which we make the world a better place.

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

let's play

We live in a world that's incredibly complex. Even the objects that we use each day are complex beyond what we could imagine making for ourselves. For example, this morning I went out to retrieve the SD cards from the game cameras that inform me of the activity around our feral hog trap. On the SD cards were deer and coons, not pigs, but in order to see what was on them I used a card reader attached to this computer, which responds to my touch now as I write these words. And of course I could have made none of these things in this life by myself.

So what's the point in having children make real things when machines can be set up to spew complex objects into the waiting arms of consumers? Is the making of individual objects no longer of use to society?

There are those who are quite happy inhabiting a dream world of artificial reality constructed of bits and bytes of data placed on screens. And perhaps if we make much more of a mess of our environment, killing or letting die whole species as our planet warms, our forests burn and our seas become cesspools, the world we make up will become more important to us than the real world we've destroyed.

On Monday we had a substitute teacher who had taught at Clear Spring School for a number of years, but had taken this year off. She is particularly good at mobilizing the kids to play outside, all regardless of age, running and playing the same game while our newer teachers have developed the habit of checking their smart phones at lunch and at recess. It was wonderful to watch the kids and teacher run and play, all together as I had seen so many times before.

To run and to play in the real world is exciting for kids, just as is the making of real things, regardless of complexity. It may be called play, but play is the essence of effective learning, a rule that applies at all ages.

A class of kids in the wood shop is best experienced for oneself. I can describe how they apply themselves, how they encourage each other, and the pride they take in their work. I can tell you how the children play together at recess and at lunch, and the importance of the adult playing with them to draw every child in. But some things you just need to see for yourself.

I spent most of the day yesterday at my desk paying taxes and preparing for tax season. It is an odious task. And yes, not all in life is wonderful, and we all must face and conquer on a routine basis, things that are not fun.The consequences of not doing so are also real, just as is the sun streaming through the branches of a tree. But does that mean we must through schooling groom children for a life of drudgery? Or may we lift their spirits through play? I hope for the latter.

Make, fix, create, and offer others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When an object is carefully and lovingly crafted

A sailboat with minecraft blocks
When an object is carefully and lovingly crafted, it is empowered to express the concerns and character of its maker in a voice that can resonate for generations.

Woodworkers have a unique opportunity to reveal the beauty and value of our native woods in a way that encourages understanding and preservation of our trees and forests.
At one time, the trees of our forests were so well known that the common man, standing at a distance could tell the species being cut by the sound of the axe. His knowledge of each species and its uses was an important factor in his life and even his survival.

It is ironic that now with our survival linked so closely to the fate of our forests we have become so ignorant of our trees.

As I began my career in 1976, I was fortunate to discover the wealth presented by the wide variety of woods, and learned that to protect them, we must know their value. Sharing an understanding of this value is the objective of my work.
Making a battleship
With those words, I opened my old website first designed and coded  20 years ago in 1997 and now close it and open a new one that can be found at my old address: DougStowe.com

The old one served well, as long as you were looking at it on your computer. The new one has much of the same information, can be read on a wide range of devices  and I hope it serves just as well.

A boat and a tiny house
Yesterday in wood shop, my first, second and third grade students made wooden boats to carry them on their study of the oceans. An ocean, studied from Northwest Arkansas is an abstract subject. Woodworking is not and the small boats add an element of the concrete necessary for enthusiastic learning to take place. As I mentioned, children have an enormous capacity for the abstract as long as it comes at least in part from their own imaginations.

A chocolate chip rainbow boat!
If you want real engagement in learning, nothing beats engagement in the real world and the opportunity to do real things. That is why my students love wood shop and is why woodworking should be included in all schools from grades 1-12.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.
Jingle bells? Why not?

Monday, January 09, 2017

today in the wood shop...

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop my middle school students will be turning on the lathe. My lower elementary school students who are beginning to study the oceans will begin making toy boats. My upper elementary students will be making tiny houses from wood.

I can give some guidance to their growth through my introduction of tools, techniques, and materials. So total chaos, it is not.

I have been contacting suppliers for the tools necessary for the new wood studio we're building at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, and since I've no books to write other than the guitar book which enters its editorial phase soon, I've been going through my magazine  article proposals to re-energize that side of life.

Yesterday my wife and I went to two programs at our local UU church. The first was a presentation by a Viet Nam war vet who had gone with his wife and grand daughter to the protests at Standing Rock. It was a moving and emotional experience in which unarmed citizen went up against governmental and corporate thugs. We will see more of that, and must. One of the basic purposes of incorporation is to shield investors from liability, and as the incoming president has promised to eliminate regulations and put corporate interests first, we will watch as corporate malfeasance increases, and the burden falls inevitably on the environment and the poor. Investors without regulation skate away with their expected profits, amassed from the degradation of the earth.

The other program was with Khentrul Rinpoche from Tibet. His talk to a standing room only crowd gathered in the small UU church explored the nature of mind, and offered guidance in turning the mind toward happiness. That can be like turning the Titanic, as the mind  is composed of judgement that separates us from each other and desire centered on things we want that are incapable of offering true and lasting happiness.

The lesson I take is to be of service to others. Desire only that.

Make, fix, create, and provide others with an example that they may learn likewise.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

concrete and abstract...

It is fascinating that children even at an early age, have the ability to use metaphor and yet not understand metaphor when it is used by others. To do that requires a foundation for language that's found in an ever expanding realm of doing real things. In other words, the abstract must rest on a concrete foundation.

I have written on this subject many times before, and this is one example.

There are all kinds of classic examples of children using words metaphorically to express things they are not yet equipped to express otherwise. For example, my daughter Lucy  at two years old would say "got some," in place of the less meaningful words, "thank you." To say "got some" acknowledged the receipt of something from others. We would try to encourage her to say thank you, but her response was  still consistently "got some," which to her meant the same thing.  Those words would not be immediately recognized even by adults as meaning the same thing as "thank you."  I think you can understand that the word "got" is less abstract than the word, "thank," and children will use words from their concrete experience in place of abstractions thus making up their own abstract concepts when necessary to communicate. In essence,  even adults rarely fully understand metaphor created by others unless they are prepared for that understanding by experience and reflection.

The key, I think, to building the capacity to use and understand metaphor comes from being engaged in reality, not estranged from it, as is the case for too many children in too many schools.

On Wednesday last week, one of my first grade students wanted to make a house. Did it matter that it had no walls? She came up with the way in which it would be built, using her  own imagination. She took slender dowels to form the upright structure and then asked for help on the drill press to drill holes in thin stock that she selected to form the ceiling and floor.

Then it needed to be furnished. It is a house. Could you tell it is one? The three legged stool, which she designed and made would offer a clue, as would her self-portrait in the form of a block of wood with smiling face sitting on the stool. Now all my other students, even some in high school, want to make tiny houses. Is it something in the air?

Some have also wondered how do you teach something as abstract as literature or history, hands-on. To them I raise the question, how do you effectively teach those subjects without some foundation in reality and real experience and what better way is there to attain that than to engage students hands-on?

Years ago I had an interesting conversation with my old friend Donald Harington, author of countless wonderful novels about Arkansas and long time professor of Art History at the U of A. He urged me to observe the number of metaphors used in his book that made reference to tools and woodworking.

Woodworking must have been one of his favorite subjects at least in life if not in schooling.

Make, fix, create, and allow others to love learning likewise.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

table base.

As you can see the trestle table is coming along well, and is ready for the top to be put in place and receive final finish.

Yesterday in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, my high school students worked on Shaker boxes, and learned to sharpen planes. I taught them about primary and secondary bevels, and the reason for them.This lesson should help in the overall care for our tools.

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

Friday, January 06, 2017

nearly complete.

Leg units shown upside down with Danish oil finish
I am nearly finished with the trestle table. The legs, shown upside down have had the first application of Danish oil. When the base has been finished with two more coats, I'll assemble it here in my shop, put the table top in place and finish it with a protective urethane finish for long life.

Today my high school students will be finishing their Shaker boxes, and those who have finished will have the opportunity to turn wood on the lathe. Others will be given instruction in sharpening tools so they can help prepare our new planes for successful use.

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

Thursday, January 05, 2017

hand tools

We received a gift of tools yesterday from a school in New York. These were old planes, chisels, rasps and more, still unused and in original packaging. Of the 5 boxes, one was full of old hammers, and two more boxes containing saws and miscellaneous tools will be shipped soon.

A school had these tools including over a dozen and a half planes for nearly 25 years, put away in a closet and their program had moved away long ago from hand-tool woodworking.  As we opened packages, we put the tools to immediate use. Tools demand use.

The school in New York had learned of our woodworking program at Clear Spring School through an article in the New York Times. We will use some of these tools at Clear Spring School, and any excess will be passed on to the Eureka Springs School of the Arts where they will be kept sharp and put to use.

Is there still a place in education for hand-tool woodworking? Or must things be sped up to fit a faster, less patient generation? If there is value in slowing down for more considerate learning, hand tools may still have a place in the scheme of things.

Chaucer had said of craftsmanship,  "The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne, the' assay so hard, so sharp the conqueryinge." If things are made too easy, how will young people draw satisfaction at the deepest levels.

A friend sent a link to a video Millenials and the risk of social media addiction. 
It is an interesting lesson presented by a millenial to millenials, and raises some of the same concerns that I've expressed in this blog and that I have for our children. We try to make education sexy for them, by adding layers of technology that do the hard work.

In addition to receiving tools yesterday, My first, second and third grade students had a practice day in tool use, but also managed to make a few things. Joe made a fishing pole and coded game controller. Clare made a house, and other girls made tiny stools for their dolls.

Today in my home woodshop, I'll be finishing the walnut base for a trestle table.

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

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

my readers...

I had cleaned my shop and burned some old templates in the woodstove, but found this one as I was trying to help one of my readers face the installation of quadrant hinges. It is not my latest technique for installing quadrant hinges, as now I do it on the router table using a story stick technique. The pencil markings on the template are to help my reader understand the dimensions and making of the jig.

Readers are a ource of inspiration for me. They call on occasion with questions and fresh challenges, that lead me to scratch my head, rethink my processes and attempt to clarify my techniques. Sometimes reader questions suggest articles that need to be written, or things that need to be added when I teach. The point is that we grow together.

Quadrant hinges are complex, interesting and daunting, as my box making readers will attest.

Today students return from holiday break to the Clear Spring School. They will be excited to be in wood shop.

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

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Ed Stilley Exhibit of instruments and process.

Ed Stilley's guitars are on display at the Old Statehouse Museum in Little Rock through March as described in this article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Along with his guitars, his workbench is set up onsite with some of the tools and bending jigs he used to make his outlandish guitars.

His guitars are noted for their weight, their inventiveness and the challenge they are to play. The strings are often too high off the neck to form a reasonable chord, and the frets are so irregularly placed that each instrument is unique in sound and appearance. On the other hand, they are an excellent example of creative spirit. Human beings may be driven to create, even if untrained, poorly equipped, and without the necessary materials.

I am lucky in comparison. I have a shop full of tools, beautiful hardwoods, and experience in the making of useful things. The photos shown here are of some of Ed's guitars set up during a concert in Ed's honor by Still on the Hill.

Today in the woodshop, I'll be assembling and finishing the trestle base and preparing for classes to resume at the Clear Spring School.

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

Monday, January 02, 2017

the snowflake is the mother of the avalanche

A blog reader Kevin sent the photo at left from a display of Froebel's gifts at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.  It is nice to see a renewed interest in Froebel!!!

A long-time friend and blog reader (friend first) commented that if we just keep at it, bit by bit, consciousness about the role of the hands in learning, and a return to sanity in education will be inevitable. There was a saying at Nääs ( my thanks to David Whittaker writing of it in his book), that "the snowflake is the mother of the avalanche." Otto Salomon kept up a prodigious correspondence with Sloyd enthusiasts from all over the world. It probably helped that he spoke so many different languages, and that many of his correspondents had attended his school at Nääs and had at least a bit of Swedish under their belts.

A snowflake is a very small thing indeed, and what's needed is an avalanche of understanding to give confidence to teachers to sweep aside all that has nothing to do with the hands. This is not to say that abstract ideas are not important, but simply that all things need to be touched upon in the most tactile manner in order to awaken student passion for learning.

Ideally, schools would assess student interest each year (not student ability.) The purpose of the assessment would be to identify areas of special interest. Once those areas of special interest have been identified, efforts would be made to help the student outline an area of study that answers student questions, identifies areas of potential exploration, identifies resources that the school can bring to bear to facilitate learning and establishes a means through which student performance can be measured in a manner relevant to both teacher and student.

Last semester at Clear Spring School, the high school students were required to name areas of particular interest and develop projects that met their own learning goals. Some did solo work and others chose to work in small teams. Their displays of their work at Xmas time were well done, as though they really cared about their work and about how others perceived their work.

Today in the wood shop, I'll do additional sanding and shaping on the base of the trestle table.

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

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Happy New Year...

Anaxagoras. The world is in our hands
Happy New Year. This is the first day of 2017.
In some ways, 2016 was good for me. I had three books come out.  I have been in good health, and have had the opportunity to do some lovely woodwork.

2017 promises to also be good on the personal front. I have one more book coming out, teaching to do, and family and friends to share my interests and my life.

Forbes has a great article on why we need to bring vocational training back to schools. The article points out the history of failed understanding about the role of manual arts in school. It was thought that every one needed the manual arts, then those classes became the dumping grounds for the lower class and when that didn't work out so well the powers that be decided that all children should be pushed to college whether they were ready to go, needing to go, wanting to go, or not. In order to attain that ridiculous goal, they removed all the wonderful things from schooling that students loved and that allowed them to  choose meaningful learning for themselves and to become self-directed at it..

The simple point is that abstract learning only works for very few students, and the largest number of them need (desperately need) the opportunity to do real things. Students need diverse ways to measure and mark their success, and to differentiate themselves from their peers. An academics only approach allows only certain students of a particular type to gain success.

Because the all-kids-go-to-college model won in the quest to make education as cheap and uniformly boring as possible, standardized testing became the only means to measure student, teacher and school success, once again, building a layer of abstraction between students and their finding true passion for learning.

When students do real things, whether in history, social studies, music, the sciences, and the arts, they are drawn into real life.

Several years back, I had written a note to Matthew Crawford about the dangers of abstraction in schooling. He used that quote as the opening lines in his first book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, and then as the closing argument in his third book, The World Outside Your Head.
“In schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”
If we want students to succeed in school and in life, schools must offer them REAL things to succeed at.

Happy New Year to all.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others find passion learning likewise.