Friday, May 24, 2024

Links: Making Classic Toys that Teach

BeaverCraft Detail carving knife.


Elon Musk is claiming that AI will take all our jobs, thus allowing us to twiddle our thumbs and order up from computers all that we want or need (if anyone can afford it)... this while the world is overrun with meaningless stuff and while social media sucks the lifeblood from our mental health and the lives or our kids.

He also warns that social media is addicting our kids to algorithm supplied dopamines, likely turning them to dopes.

The one remaining occupation that's not a hobby will likely be that of psychological therapist who will be needed for our children as well as for ourselves.

In the meantime, if just one job is lost to AI, perhaps it should be his own.

Yesterday I finished assembly of a third toddler sized rocking chair. I can assure you that it was not made by AI, and the wood used actually grew as a tree. The carving, although simple, was done by hand, with far less perfection than Elon Musk's vision of the world could offer, and with more joy.

My essay on AI, Misinformation and Manual Arts Training can still be found and read free on Front Porch Republic.

Make, fix and create. Our very lives depend upon it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

If you haven't done it, how will you know?

An interesting graph from shows what students consider to be the important factors in choosing a career. You'll note that the two largest factors "I'm good at this" (22%) and "I enjoy doing this"(28%) require  students  to have actually done something. You will not know if you're good at something or that you enjoy doing it, without the reality of having done it. 

I remember an experience in junior high woodshop in which I noticed that I was having difficulty keeping my coping saw cut on the marked like. For just a brief second I looked over at my neighbor's work and realized that perhaps my own work was not so bad after all. His saw cut had wandered far from the line and his work was very much worse.

The very simple graph should illuminate the failure of American education. While it might be focused on students doing real things, it is focused on keeping kids at desks instead.

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The way it works

Everything that can be taught, can be taught to deeper effect if taught hands-on. For instance various aspects of history and culture that are normally taught only through books and lecture can be examined by using various tools from various countries and that tool use can offer insight into human history and cultural development from different nations.

The Japanese woodworking tools can serve as examples. While western handsaws made stiff and heavy through an abundance of steel, Japanese saws were made thin and light because steel was a more precious commodity. Japanese hand saws, because they are made so thin and light are operated in the pull rather than the push stroke. Trying to push  a Japanese saw through a cut will cause the blade to bind and bend, whereas on the pull stroke they work fast and efficiently, so the way of working is shifted by such a simple thing. Even a simple, subtle thing can have broad implications on all aspects of development.

We've used Japanese style saws at the Clear Spring School for many years as they are light enough for kids to use, and still effective as the child grows toward high school age. Working on the pull rather than push gives a different slant to Asian culture and history, and the examination and use of Japanese saws offers a simple way to begin a deeper exploration. Use of real tools and their history and effects provides an opportunity for all students to become more deeply engaged, even those who are choosing to go to college, or may be in college at the present time.  This is just one small example of how crafts can be useful to deepen an understanding of a particular subject. has excellently crafted Japanese saws on sale right now at 30% off. The dozuki saw is the one I use for cutting dovetails.

Another example of the more sparing use of steel can be found in the typical Japanese rasp. Instead of having a heavy steel body with raised cutting edges, the Japanese rasp is made of much thinner materials, reflecting again the reduced availability of steel. Both the Japanese saws and rasps surprise western users with how easy and effective they are to use. also has these on sale. 

If you teach a subject normally taught by reading or lecture alone, use your imagination. Look for opportunities to bring the hands into learning.

Make, fix and create...

getting real

The greatest problems in modern education can be summarized as the 3 Ds: Disengagement, disinterest and disruption. Schools often fail to engage children's innate capacities for learning. In worst cases, students become disruptive of the educational interests and needs of others. At a very early age, children are instructed, "don't touch!" "Keep your hands to yourself!” 

But the hands and brain comprise an integrated learning/creating system that must be engaged in order to secure the passions and "heart" of our youth. It is the opportunity to be engaged through the hands that brings the seen and known to concrete reality in human experience. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged. 

When the passions ARE engaged and supportive systems (teachers, community resources, technology etc) are in place, students find no mountain is too high, and no concept too complex to withstand the assault of their sustained interest and attention. You don’t have to take my word for this. You can see it in action, and while I can describe my own observations, I know that you, the reader of this material can reflect on times when your passions have been engaged in your own lives and your own learning has been at its height. So what is the answer to the challenge of engaging the heart in education? a

Get real. Real life engages the intellect and the imagination. Crafts are an excellent way to bring the real world into the classroom. Real tools, real materials, real work, making real objects with real use. The purpose of the woodshop at Clear Spring is to help all the other subjects become real and engage the hearts and the passions or our students in education. You know what? It really works.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

When the hands are engaged...

When one's hands are engaged in seemingly repetitive tasks, the mind is neither numbed nor silent. Folks at work with their hands are often engaged in thought and thoughtfulness unapparent to the observer. Just as students in a lecture hall can be surreptitiously engaged in checking their face book pages and the professor will not know whether they're listening, the casual observer of a craftsman at work will know nothing of the inner workings of a craftsman's mind, unless he or she has taken time to make an investment in the development of skill, and knows by extension the depths and complexities of a craftsman's thoughts. Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

An onslaught

Artificial intelligence is going to take most of the fun out of the internet if there's any left. I became (without my permission) subscribed to a substack on artificial intelligence due to my having used the term in an article and post and its use of an AI tool for mining the internet for email advertising targets. The subscription was not voluntary. The substack about AI was promoting a subscription service to greatly multiply your number of sales contacts, which it had used to vastly increase its subscriber base. It bragged about how they'd greatly increased their subscriber base using a tool called Scop. Give Scop a keyword and it will scan the whole of the internet for related contacts, and put them in a format that you can use to blast others without their permission.

The powers of AI may bring a few good things in medical research, but to casual use of the internet, forget it. We'll soon be overwhelmed by junk if that's not already the case.

All that reminds me that there is a real world to attend to in which people do real things... attempting to create useful beauty in service to family, community and self. 

Today I'm getting ready for the White St. Art Walk here in Eureka. It is an annual event and I'll have a few pieces of work set up for sales.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, May 13, 2024

better off?


After a wonderful three day class at ESSA, and with a five day class coming up in just over 2 weeks, and while we're in the midst of a presidential election campaign, I'm reminded of the question asked every four years, "Are we better off now than we were four years ago?"

Four years ago, Clear Spring School where I taught woodworking K-12 had been closed down but for on-line classes. ESSA was trying to move its classes online as well. My class making Viking Chests with forged hardware had been cancelled.

At home we'd buy groceries to be picked up and then would carefully wash the outsides of packages before things would be put away, as we were all fearful of catching and passing it on to family or friends. My daughter, soon to be son-in-law, his brother, his cat and their dog had joined us here in Arkansas, as Covid had run amuck in New York City and their healthcare system was on the brink of collapse. Unemployment was spiking out of control as folks could no longer work.  

A bipartisan economic rescue plan was put in place to prevent a total economic collapse. We knew people in our own community that were dying or on the edge of death.

We had a president that claimed that Covid would just magically disappear and that maybe just injecting a disinfectant like bleach in our veins would provide a cure. Some folks tried and died.

That president won twice in Arkansas and will likely do so again in our state. 

Have folks become so tribal in world view that they're willing to put themselves, our communities, and others at risk of death? In my home state of Arkansas this presidential election that will likely be the case. Candidate Trump claimed that one or the first things he'll do if elected will be to eliminate the CDC Office of Preparedness and Response. And if he's not elected, he'll claim fraud and proceed to take over by force.

In the meantime, I received a near final full cover design for my new book Designing Boxes, showing both the front and back and a review PDF for an article in Popular Woodworking that goes to print today... their next issue.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

box making jigs

Today we finished a 3 day class at ESSA making various jigs for box making. We made sleds for crosscut and miter cuts, keyed miter sleds, finger joint sleds and router setups, and  a few other miscellaneous devices to make box making safer and more accurate.

It was great to hang out with friends.

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