Sunday, October 21, 2018

Shane Speal...

I featured some of Shane Speal's box guitars in the gallery section of my box guitars book, and now Shane has a book of his own. It is a lovely creation, telling of the history of box guitars and other folk made musical instruments. It also presents a wide array of creative options in making these instruments on your own.Some of the guitars featured are early instruments made by craftsmen of an earlier time. His book is called, "Making Poor Man's Guitars." It and some of Shane's music can be found here:

In my own shop, I've completed the process of inlaying 80 boxes to be used as Holiday gifts by a customer. I'll not mention the name so as to avoid spoiling any surprises.

Today I will sand the inside surfaces of the lids, so that they can have the first coat of finish applied before they are sent to an engraver for a logo to be laser engraved. I've found that applying the first coat of finish first enhances the laser's effect.

You will notice that I've done the inlaying in pairs for ease of handling. After the sanding is complete and the first coat of finish is applied, I'll cut the lids to preliminary lengths so that the laser engraver can accurately locate the logo on the inside of each lid. This may seem like a lot of boxes. I've made and sold thousands.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Flag poles...

As a project for my Kindergarten students yesterday afternoon, I came up with the idea of making flags and flagpoles. The project involved colored markers, a drill press, a Veritas tenoner, small scraps of thin plywood, and nails. Hammers, too, of course.

The project was a huge success. The kids loved what they'd made and were proud to take them home.

I had to make a model first to show them what they were to make. Making the model first allows me to anticipate the tools needed, the particular challenges the children will face, and to be prepared to help. Making a model first also helps by utilizing the principles of Educational Sloyd, moving from the known to the unknown and from the concrete to the abstract.

Have you ever seen such cute smiles?

Make, fix and create....

Friday, October 19, 2018

mad hatter

The Mad Hatter Ball in support of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts is tonight. Grab a hat or make one and head for the fun at the Crescent Hotel.

My Krenov inspired cabinet from my book Building Small Cabinets will be auctioned off to support ESSA. There will be a number of other art objects being sold to provide art classes and administrative support.

There are three things that are important to the future of our small town of Eureka Springs. One is that we are a "Tree City USA," a designation that requires us to protect our trees, thus preserving natural scenic beauty. Two, we have a designated historic district encompassing nearly the whole town, making certain that we act to preserve the contributions of earlier generations. The third point is that we are an arts community.

Being an arts community inspired our citizens to protect our trees and our historic buildings, streets and stone walls. In consequence, protecting these important qualities has made our citizenry appreciate the beauty with which we are surrounded. And you do not even have to be an artist to appreciate what we have here.

My upper elementary school students are building arched bridges as shown. They were particularly offended when tour buses crossed the historic bridge at Beaver Town. Not only did those buses surpass the weight limit, putting the historic bridge at risk, they put their own passengers at risk of death by drowning. You can see the stupidity of it here:

Having a citizenry attuned to the values of our natural and historic treasures can be an impediment to business as usual. So perhaps that's one reason schools would prefer to focus on standardized tests and not on the character of our youth. The drivers of those buses should be arrested for reckless driving and endangering their passengers. In all likelihood, they were not.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Archeological wood working

Yesterday my high school students began saving an old thread cabinet that had once been used in a drygoods store to sell thread, and that had then been stored in a barn. Unlike some that you can buy on eBay for a thousand dollars or more, this one is in desperate condition. Unlike those that you can buy for a thousand dollars or more, this one was owned by a family for many years and has family history attached.

Parts are missing. Other stray parts were stashed within. One thing we found was the steel key to a small safe. And the kids were captured by their imaginings as they began taking the cabinet apart where necessary and beginning the clean up. Fortunately the group of students is small, each can work on a part and none are left out.

Teaching is a complex exercise. Each pupil arrives at school with his or her own unique accumulation of prior knowledge. Each comes with a unique set of goals and parental expectations.

Each arrives with aspects of personality, firmly set. And the teacher's complex job is to foster the growth in each one. Of course, from the administrative standpoint (the perspective that drives most schools and American education at large) all kids are the same and are to be delivered the same packets of learning, timed to meet the administrative goals and methods established at the top.

And so, if that's the case, when do students have time to saw? When will students open the doorways to their own imaginations?

Make, fix, and create...

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rosie project day two.

Guided by the Monk's guide: The Art of Raising a Puppy, we have added Golden Doodle Rosie to our household.

She had one accident on the floor and has set up a mournful howl when I'm out of sight. All animal behavior is evolved from millions of years of development just as is our own. Folks would like to think that human beings are different, and particularly that human beings in the digital age are different from ever before.

We are, Rosie and the rest of us, constantly learning to cope, adapt and to get along with each other.

Make, fix and create...

an introduction.

The dog is Rosie and we pick her up this morning. She is an 8 1/2 week old golden doodle, joining our small family. We've been without a pet for years now and take the adoption and training of a pup very seriously.

I have been reading a great book on the subject of adopting a puppy by the Monks of New Skete. It seems dogs and children have a lot in common. Each is an individual. Each learns best through the gentleness of play. Occasionally stern measures are required. Each has to find his or her place in the pack and his or her role in the family and community. For dogs there are alpha males and alpha females and then more submissive roles. There is also a natural process of growth, development and group integration that, if disrupted can lead to difficulties requiring stern measures for correction.

In a community of humans, things are only a bit more complex. So if you want to learn a bit more about basic human psychology, read The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete. Handled gently from the beginning, in full recognition of the various patterns of individuality, children and pups can be steered toward constructive relationships.

Yesterday in wood shop at the Clear Spring School my first grade boys learned to make toy cars and super heroes. For most it was the first time to use a saw.

In the meantime, welcome Rosie!

Make, fix, and create.

Monday, October 15, 2018

A swivel lid box.

One important question about sharpening has to do with which method to use (waterstones, oil stones, diamond stones or sand paper.) I think we concluded that each would bring the tools to a useful edge.

On Saturday I mentioned David Pye to my students and then became distracted before telling them the important part.  Pye, wrestling with how to find value in a craftsman's work in the machine age, decided that craftsmanship of risk in which there is potential for the craftsman's growth was of greater value to society than machine made craftsmanship of certainty in which no immediate growth was certain in the character of the craftsman, and in which the man operating the machine became machine like in his actions and thoughts.

Yesterday I did home maintenance and am always pleased that I have a few tools at hand.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, my elementary school students will be making toys.

A friend in Oregon shared the box images in this post, based on a box design in my book Beautiful Boxes Design and Technique. Naturally he made some changes in the design, using mitered joints instead of the modified butt joint I used in the book. The spalted wood on the top has been strengthened and stabilized by a polymer process, so it will not decay any further. Nor will it expand and contract as does normal wood.

I take credit for the original design, but Bob Sokolow's craftsmanship is superb. It is a pleasure to see one of my boxes offered so beautifully through the hands of a friend.

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Yesterday at ESSA, I had 7 students who brought lots of various tools as I had requested. The tools ranged from spokeshaves, to drawknives, and regular knives. They included chisels, gouges, plane irons, axes and lathe tools. We sharpened them all. We used grinders, Japanese water stones, old fashioned Norton oil stones, hard Arkansas translucent oil stone, diamond stones, and a system using sand paper that makes tools "scary sharp."

I had fun. It was a class I'd never taught before, so I was uncertain, but hopeful that my students gained what they needed from it. My thought is that what folks may need most is the confidence to get started, and a bit of experience to help them make decisions as to what they need and what tools offer the best chance of them proceeding on their own. We gave them those things and they journeyed home with satchels of sharp tools.

Today I prepare for Monday's classes at the Clear Spring School, do some home maintenance and inlay the lids of boxes.

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Sharpening 101

Today I have a class in the ESSA wood shop, in which students will sharpen planes, chisels and other things they want to keep sharp. To join the class you will need to call first thing, 479-253-5384  or show up early at ESSA and register.

Yesterday in the Clear Spring School wood shop, my kindergarten students made "super heroes."

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

The language of play

Yesterday I began the process of inlaying walnut boxes with spalted woods and patterned wood inlays I fabricated in the days before. In the wood shop at Clear Spring School today, I'll have the kindergarten students working on a project they proposed last week, making toy airplanes.

The following is the American Council of Pediatric's attempt to define play: 
The definition of play is elusive. However, there is a growing consensus that it is an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery. Play is voluntary and often has no extrinsic goals; it is fun and often spontaneous. Children are often seen actively engaged in and passionately engrossed in play; this builds executive functioning skills and contributes to school readiness (bored children will not learn well). Play often creates an imaginative private reality, contains elements of make believe, and is nonliteral.
The American Council of Pediatrics stated this definition is true up to the age of two. I beg to differ. Play and the value of play applies to learning at all ages. What a dull and boring world this would be if all things were scripted for our distraction! Too many schools have become like that. My adult students know the value of play. Should it not be the basis for all education?

One small point. They state that play is non-literal. Have they not heard of wordplay? Even toddlers engage in it. Play is not actually nonliteral, it is transcendent of language. A language beyond language, so to speak.

The photo shows one of my adult students using the drill press to make wheels for toy cars. Even though I've made thousands of wheels myself, I address each one in a spirit of play, knowing the joy children will find in their use.

In my own wood shop, the spirit of play is at hand as I examine pieces of spalted wood for interesting visual properties that will make beautiful lids in walnut boxes. In fact, I think it is a sense of playfulness that attracts others to my work. I have seven students signed up for my sharpening class on Saturday at ESSA. Call 479-253-5384 if you want to join us.

I have been intrigued watching the students at Clear Spring School playing with our supersized Froebel Blocks. A couple days ago the middle school students had them arranged in a straight line so they could jump from one to another. Look again later and they're in a totally different arrangement.

Make, fix, craft and create...

Thursday, October 11, 2018

whittling in camp...

Yesterday I took our Swedish Sloyd knives and a freshly made supply of whittling sticks out to the campsite where our Clear Spring School elementary students were spending the night.  Whittling is a wonderful camp activity, and even though the students had practiced in the wood shop there was no reduction in enthusiasm for it.

For many of our students, this was a first time camping experience and it was a cold night. Each camping trip is different, and each becomes memorable. Last night will be remembered as a chilly night to be camping in the Ozarks.

In whittling we had four very minor injuries. Put a bandaid on and the child goes back to work.

Today in my wood shop I begin putting inlay in box lids, and preparing for an ESSA class on sharpening this coming Saturday. There are still openings for new students in that class. Go to to enroll, or call 479-253-5384.

Make, fix, and create...

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

making inlay

I have a large order of boxes to fill prior to the Xmas season, so have begun making inlay. What I made yesterday will make lots of inlaid boxes. I also received a copy of American Woodworker Magazine in the mail yesterday that includes my tip about making a banjo mounted dust collector.

I hope my tip is useful to woodturners. You can see how it works here:

Today I will join my elementary school students at their campsite for an afternoon of whittling.

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

shark teeth.

Yesterday in the Clear Spring School wood shop, students continued practicing their whittling in advance of the fall camping trip. On Wednesday I will join them at the camp site to oversee whittling activities.

One of the students decided to make his whittled wood into shark teeth. They look more like bear teeth to me. But that led to all the students making shark tooth necklaces of their own. They assured me that the red marker they carefully applied to the sharp points, was just red color and not blood. The boys were proud to wear the things they had made.

Making necklaces provided an opportunity to introduce another tool, and for the students to gain some practice in its use. What tool was that? The picture is worth a thousand words.

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

Monday, October 08, 2018

A+ plus, plus

I had a great weekend of engagement with A+ Schools, and feel inspired once again to push for our local public schools to join A+. Eureka Springs is, after all, an arts community. Here in this town of about 2,500 we have well over 100 professional artists, and Eureka Springs is known all over the US as a community of the arts.

That should prescribe the course of our public education. Schools should be a reflection of all that's great and noble from their communities. Joining A+ should put things on a better track, as the arts, just like the hands, touch everything. No subject area is immune to enrichment by the various arts.

Today in the wood  shop at the Clear Spring School, we will resume study of whittling in preparation for the elementary school camping trip on Wednesday.

The photo shows some of my students from the weekend class. As part of the weekend fun we were introduced to the shim sham. Try it.

Can it be useful in the classroom? I'm convinced that the eight count facilitates a comfort with mathematics.

Make, fix, create

Sunday, October 07, 2018

A+ plus

 Yesterday I led two groups of about 12 A+ Fellows through training in the wood shop. The idea was to introduce them with woodworking with kids. Each made four projects including sharp sticks, toy cars, super heroes and Sloyd Trivets from Gustaf Larsson's book elementary Sloyd and Whittling. I think they had as much fun as I did, and just like my younger students at Clear Spring School we were all reluctant to quit work when the time came to stop and clean up.

Adults definitely clean better and more thoroughly than small children, so the ESSA woodworking studio is back in good shape, but for me picking up the tools I'd supplied from home and from the Clear Spring School.

As A+ has the job of restoring and reintegrating the arts into Arkansas Public Schools, the Fellows are an important group with whom to share. I thank them for coming, and for ESSA having played host.

Two groups of Fellows and the objects they have made are shown in the photos.

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

Saturday, October 06, 2018


Today I'll have A+ training at ESSA, being given a chance to share woodworking in the ESSA wood  shop with A+ Fellows. I am excited. Perhaps I'll have photos to share tomorrow. Yesterday my 5th and 6th grade students experimented in building laminated arches for bridge building. We will test the strength of them on Monday.

Friend and master planemaker Larry Williams has been interviewed by Charles Brock and featured on the Highland Woodworker. He is a fellow Arkansas Living Treasure.

Make, fix, and create.

Friday, October 05, 2018

building bridges

Today my 5th and 6th grade students will begin a study of bridge building by using thin pieces of white oak to build bridge like forms. We will start with a day of experimentation, and then when they return from camping the week after next, they will be divided into teams to build models.

Yesterday I began setting up for my class with Fellows from A+ Schools. I'll have a variety of centers set up, so they can build toy cars, whittle sticks, and make Sloyd trivets like those in the book Elementary Sloyd and Whittling by Gustaf Larsson. I 'm also planning to introduce Educational Sloyd and the philosophy and history behind it.

I also plan to show Scott Bultman's History of Kindergarten trailer that includes a part of my interview, and some video showing Clear Spring School students at work. All that will begin on Saturday morning.

An interesting thing about wood shop is that children who  may not have concentration in other subjects will be able to apply themselves to great lengths when the process is real and demands concentration to get the results they desire. If the ability to focus is brought into focus, we discover it to be a skill. Once learned, it can be applied beyond the area of initial interest.

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

Thursday, October 04, 2018

whittling again...

Yesterday in wood shop at the Clear Spring School, students whittled. This was practice for safe whittling while they go on the fall camping trip next week. We discussed the rules. We made lots of sharpened sticks. Students colored them with markers, and no band aids were needed.

Note the small block of wood held in the vise. The block gives extra support to the wood as it is carved. It also directs the child's energy and attention into a single spot and keeps the child from wandering around the wood shop with a knife.

Today I will be getting ready for 24 A+ Fellows to visit the wood shop at ESSA on Saturday to learn to teach woodworking to kids. ESSA is hosting the A+ Fall Fellows Retreat which begins on Friday and will wrap up on Sunday morning.

Much of what I share will be based on the theory of Educational Sloyd. The principles are: Start with the interests of the child. Move in increments from the easy to more difficult, from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract.

Educational Sloyd also carries the recognition that "class" teaching is of little lasting effect. To really learn requires both hands-on experience and individualized instruction. Most administrators don't want to know about that last part. They want to cheap out.

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

Wednesday, October 03, 2018


The photo shows exquisitely crafted wooden models for the stainless steel manufactured pitchers in the background. I took the photo in the Helsinki Design Museum exhibit representing the work of Finnish designer Timo Sarpeneva.

In addition to the making of wooden things, wood is also useful for the design of other products. In Timo Sarpeneva's glass work, it was particularly interesting how molds for hot glass were made of wet wood and sharp wet sticks were used to form hollow spaces in hot glass sculptural forms.

Today our finished soccer goals were moved to the field next door to Clear Spring School that we acquired over the summer. Having a place for in town soccer (football) will be a great thing for the children of our community, and may also be a draw for new students to our school. For me to see the soccer goals in use offered a sense of pride.

Years ago, soccer first introduced to Eureka Springs and Carroll County through the Clear Spring School. We are poised for a rematch.

Today in the school wood shop, elementary school students will practice whittling in advance of their fall camping trip next week.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

toy cars and real boats...

Yesterday my students made toy flip cars, as shown. Decorating them is part of the fun.

In addition to teaching classes this week, I am also preparing for a class and presentation for A+ Schools to be held at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts on Saturday.

I have added a couple photos from our trip to the Baltic. One is a photo of me as tourist on the waterfront in Helsinki, and the other is of a classic Colin Archer designed sailboat, SV Vera Violetta, at dockside. All three of these photos will not show up on Facebook, so visit my blog, to see the full post.

Colin Archer boats are distinctive and recognizable as he had been the designer of the first Norwegian rescue ships like the one I had made a point of visiting in Oslo, RS Stavanger.

I had immediately recognized Vera Violetta as being a Colin Archer boat by the distinctive stem that it shares with RS Stavanger and other noted vessels of Archer design. Research upon returning home confirmed it. Vera Violetta was built in Norway, 1975 as a replica of Colin Archer's much beloved rescue boats and is owned by the Finnish Maritime Rescue Association. It is used for youth training.

The large vessels across the harbor beyond Vera Violetta are Helsinki's icebreakers. They are kept very busy during the winter months. The water between the islands of Helsinki, having a lower salinity than the Atlantic, freezes in winter.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, October 01, 2018

push blocks

I am working on an article proposal about making and using push blocks for use on the table saw, router table and jointer. I've made a few to show the editors as the start of the proposal process. Push blocks can be made in a variety of sizes and styles to fit the task at hand.

The push stick that probably came with your table saw is great for keeping your hands a foot or more from the blade, but not so good for keeping the wood safely under your control during the cut. The consequence of poor control can be an inaccurate cut, or a piece of wood that hurls back toward you at high speed.

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, my students will be learning to make their own envelopes, and will begin making wheels and toy cars.

Make, fix, and create.