Thursday, July 31, 2008

With one more day of ESSA box making class, we are starting to have some near finished boxes.

Joe has been using driftwood to make interesting pulls for his. The other photo shows drilling the holes for small dowels to lock the corners of finger-jointed boxes.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In the photo below, Ron is using a "story stick" for setting up a stop block on the miter key slot jig for the table saw. This could be done by measuring with a tape measure, but who needs that kind of measuring when you can use a stick. Today, I also taught the "flipping story stick" method for setting up the router table to cut hinge mortises. It is not completely fool proof, is one of those things that improve with experience and practice, but so far so good. Students have been surprising themselves with their success.
The soothing qualities of repetitive hand motions.

I have been reading an essay by Charles J. Doane in Sail Magazine called:

The Purity of Motion
Might there be something divine in the way a sailboat moves?

And I ask, might there also be something divine in the working of trained, skilled hands, that would be felt as a distinct loss or longing in the lives of those who have not been awakened to it? My students seem to enter that state when they are given a fresh sheet of sandpaper. The following is from Doane's essay:
For more empirical support I can point to the burgeoning science of neurotheology. Its major premise is that the human impulse to practice religion—most specifically, the urge to enjoy mystical unitary states of oneness with the larger cosmos—-is rooted in the basic biology of the human brain. A key stimulant to achieving such states, according to some experts, is repetitive physical rhythms that block neural flow to certain important orientation areas of the brain and so dislodge egoistic notions of self. This explains, so the theory goes, the emphasis on ecstatic rhythmic dances found in various primitive religions and more subtle forms of rhythmic prayer and chanting found in more-sophisticated religions. It also explains commonplace soothing and/or ecstatic rhythmic experiences, such as the rocking of babies and the cheering of rabid fans at major sports events.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My students began assembling their boxes today, gluing and taping the corners. Next came the fitting of miter keys to strengthen the joints. Tomorrow we will cut the lids from the base and the students are already beginning their 2nd boxes.
At left Bob is checking the glued corners of his box.

If you receive Fine Woodworking Magazine, look for the tools section of the next issue to arrive in your mail. In it I review a saw blade made by Forest Manufacturing that is a special grind intended for box making. It cuts a straight cornered 1/8" wide channels in hardwoods. We have found it perfect for cutting miter key slots in the corners of boxes. At ESSA this week, we are cutting miter key slots in ash, a wood notorious for tear-out. Guess what? No tear-out.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I had my first day of box making class with ESSA today and I was too busy teaching and demonstrating to take any photos. Today I demonstrated making sleds, re-sawing lumber, cutting perfect miters, making top panels, bottoms cut to fit, cutting and fitting miter keys, and cutting the lid from the base, in addition to covering a wide range of concepts in box design. Tomorrow will be just as full and busy. The students started working on their first boxes, and seem very pleased. Those who have done woodworking before were surprised at how easy it was to cut perfect miters using my simple techniques. Those who have never done woodworking don't know how challenging cutting perfect box corners can be.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The photo below is of a "log cabin" hinge jig for installing butt hinges in cabinets. I made this today for use installing hinges on the small cabinets I'm making. I know you probably won't know as yet how this is used. Stick around and I'll show you next week, or use your own imaginations and tell me! My email address is at right.
I made an inquiry about Educational Sloyd through the Woodwork Forums in Australia and found that Sloyd is still remembered there by some. Their thoughtful posts can be found Here!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fun with Chemistry... If you are making Rustic work, do you put on hinges that are shiny brass? No. You take some lacquer thinner to remove the thin protective coating, scrub them with steel wool, and then put the hinges in a plastic bag with common household ammonia. Don't breathe it and don't get it on your hands. But the ammonia wasn't the only fun I had with the hinges. I beat on them first with a waffle faced framing hammer. The results are much more interesting than what you see in the package.
Joe Barry sent me the following quote from a book he is reading, Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel by Julia Keller
...It was still a handcrafted world. There was an artisan quality to the population as well as the economic base: People, like things, were unique and distinctive, created one at a time, knowable as discrete entities. That would change, of course. As the population soared throughout the nineteenth century, and as products increasingly were made on assembly lines in factories, rather than by hand in barns and backyards, people and things became ubiquitous. They could be dealt with only in the aggregate. The land of the second chance would give way to a country of interchangeable parts, interchangeable people.
I happen to live in a small community that could be considered to have "an artisan quality." We have more artists and craftspeople than bankers, lawyers, insurance agents combined. Many of our professionals combine careers in the normal world with avocations in the arts. So what Ms. Keller describes can still be if we exercise our wisdom in the use of our time and resources. If we were to spend less money and time attempting to discover our identities in the acquisition of objects and spent time and money instead in the making of things expressing creativity, care, beauty and love, we would not only transform ourselves as creators rather than consumers, we would transform our society as well.

Mr Gatling (Gadding) is known for his having made guns with his creative energies. What had first been made and patented as a seed planter was re-engineered during the American Civil War to fire bullets and kill. What an interesting relationship we have with technologies: The tale of hammering swords into plowshares and then the reverse.

Someone yesterday told me that in the course of developing our current culture: "Intelligence overwhelmed wisdom, knowledge overwhelmed intelligence, and information overwhelmed knowledge." The journey back to wisdom will require the hands.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

This week I'm getting ready for my box making class with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts that starts on Monday. I have 10 students registered, so I have lots of materials to prepare and it looks like it will be an intense week. At Marc Adams School I had 18 students and 3 assistants, 4 table saws, lots of planers, and everything else one could imagine in the way of cast iron.

At ESSA, using the Clear Spring School wood shop, we will be more bare bones and will be required to spend more time sharing. But, as I explained to my students at Marc Adams, creativity doesn't come as much from having all the right stuff but from figuring out how to do without. We have a tendency to think we can buy our way out of every conceivable situation, and when we do our work looks like the work done by every other person who bought the same stuff. But what if we came to rely on our own creative imaginations instead? The rewards can be great! So at ESSA we will have a creative week and make boxes, and I'm getting ready!

Question? Do the tools make the man or does the man make the tools? You get to choose. Your work tends to become more interesting through one approach than the other.

In the meantime, I have been enjoying a woodworker's forum in Australia that you might like as well. Their spelling takes some getting used to, and they use some slang (strine) that may tizzy your beaner. But most of their punctuation is the same and they love working with wood. Check out Woodwork Forums - A home on the Net for Woodworkers and Allied Crafts.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The photos below show a bit of progress in making a rustic chest. I've been making feet, as you can see, and I've selected a very wide white oak board to serve as the lid. The other progress is to begin making a sliding tray for the inside. There will be a distinct difference in the quality of the texture and finish between the inside and out, so the interior tray is being planed and sanded smooth on all surfaces.

This month's Popular Science Magazine has an interview with New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt in which he says, "If you don't fund research, you don't generate new ideas." Rush Holt is a former Physics teacher from Princeton, and has been struggling against an administration that values fanciful ideology over science, and punishes scientists for the honesty of their explorations. Many are hopeful that the American presidential election will portend the raw beginnings of the end of American idiocy.

My own take is that if we don't encourage children to be making things and exploring the relationships between tools and materials and their own potentials for growth and creativity, we are creating a bargain basement society of twerps and morons.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Woodworking projects often have a momentum of their own. Things get carried away. I started a small rustic cabinet to demonstrate a technique. That turned to two cabinets, and then to two cabinets and a chest. It is starting to sound like the plot for a movie. The photo of what I'm up to is below.
Years ago, I had been asked by the owner of a furniture store if I would make a "partner's desk" for his home. That became the project that never seemed to cease growing, and I ended up doing an entire office in his home in oak: the desk, the entertainment center, the display wall/library with lateral files, working oak shutters on the windows, paneling, moldings, trim, pocket door into the next room and light switch plates and receptacle covers. A bit of it can be seen at the oak room and in the photo below.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

You have probably noticed that I love making things. The last week I spent writing and going over three edited chapters for the Rustic Furniture Basics book, so it is quite a pleasant change to get back to working wood. I am making an interesting cabinet that nagged at my sleep the other night. I tossed and turned with this thing running through my brain, as it introduces a new level of simplicity in making small cabinets. It uses varying lengths of wood glued together to form the joints at the corners, and evolved from some small boxes we did with my 5th and 6th grade students two years ago. I think you will see how utterly simple the concept is from the photo below, and you can see that by gluing up the assemblies with equal thickness of stock, a perfect fit of parts interlocking at the corners is inevitable. In the photo I am gluing up the parts for the top and bottom at the same time. The sides are in clamps below.

The results of this simple joint are shown below. In using this technique, the ends can be brought flush or left in the exaggerated overlap as shown depending on your design objectives. In order to add to the rustic quality of the materials, I plan to use a steel wool and vinegar mixture to artificially weather the wood as shown in the sample block at left.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Today ESSA finished a week of kid's classes, ages 8 through 11. They did some remarkable work like this metal work and the paintings below.
When we separate the hands from learning as we have done in American schools, the consequences are two fold. First we create an academic elite with little knowledge or confidence in the workings of the world, whether we are talking about complex technical devices, or simple household maintenance and repair. These weary souls are deprived of the confidence and motivation to apply their intelligence toward physical creativity while they steadfastly maintain delusions of intellectual and cultural superiority.

The other side of the equation is equally disastrous. We create a class of workers who have little or no confidence or curiosity for examining complex issues. Whether we are talking about politics, science, economics or world affairs, we have created a large social class incapable of taking part in meaningful discussion on subjects essential to the survival of human culture.

All this can be fixed. It is a do-it-yourself project.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Today former Vice President Al Gore presented a challenge to the American people... that we undertake the process of reversing global warming in the next 10 years. I wish it were so simple that we could awaken at the ringing of an alarm. But part of the challenge we face is that we have become so immobilized and complaisant due to our nation's failure in the education of our hands. We have exported our productive capacity, and created generations of helpless consumers and great masses addicted to passive entertainment.

I applaud Al Gore. He raises an alarm. I challenge all Americans to take your hands out of your pockets. Throw away the remote. Put your hands to work in learning to shape materials into beautiful and useful things. We can build the technologies required to bring change. As Al Gore tells us, we have the solutions in our own hands. But our hands must be trained, must become skillful, must take their rightful place in our schools and in our consciousness.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

When people ask me about whether I have statistical evidence on the value of the hands in learning, I wonder what the point might be. Statistics are for measuring those things we can't experience for ourselves first hand, and statistical evidence is generally ignored where it may require us to make changes in our daily habits. A good (and tragic) example of this is television. Recent studies indicate that just having the TV on in the room when children are present and not watching is damaging to their powers of attention. A recent ABC news report Turn off the TV for Toddler's Sake tells the story. More reading can be found at

Our persistent use of televisions in our homes, in the presence of children, is an example of what New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg calls ‘The Tragic Lag Between What We Know and What We Do’

At this point, with my daughter spending her summer in the Pacific doing seismic research on the R/V Langseth with the National Science Foundation and preparing for her sophomore year at Columbia University, I am grateful that my wife and I had the good sense to strictly limit TV use in our home. Even at high school age, having a television blaring in a household distracts from valuable homework and reading time, even when your child is in another room. If you have children or grandchildren, you can act in their behalf by raising this critical issue in your own family. While I can offer no conclusive evidence of the value of crafts in children's education, we know the alternatives are disastrous. So, for your children's sake, turn off the TV. Do something with your hands. You really won't be bored and you and your children will have a better life. The photo below is from this week's stained glass for kids class at The Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

This week at The Eureka Springs School of the Arts, we have kids classes. As you can see from the photos below, young women have been making their own dresses, students have been learning stained glass, drawing and air brush art. It is actually surprisingly easy to get kids started in the arts. And if you get them started, their lives will never be the same-old same-old ever again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

John Grossbohlin has been with his boys at scout camp and sent these photos of knot tying and building structures from poles and rope lashing.

John says that many of the fathers have never had the kind of opportunity that scout camp presents and are as excited as the scouts at the activities offered. Wouldn't you be, too?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Here's a quick photo of girls at work at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Donna has just finished a cut on the table saw intended to begin liberating the lid from the base of her box, and now she's making the final cut with a knife. She had been a bit shy around table saws before this class. "I noticed what you did," she said. "You showed me how to do it, and then walked away making sure I did it for myself." Thanks for the photo Verna.
Dave Albrektson sent me a note thanking Larry Martin of Woodworking for the Blind for his help in developing his woodworking skills. Larry arranges voice recordings taken from woodworking books and periodicals explaining woodworking techniques, making step-by-step procedures available and opening the doors for woodworkers to enjoy the making of things they cannot see.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

As an interesting and inspiring example of the "Wisdom of the Hands," I want to share some photos of work by Dave Albrektson. Dave is blind and operates by sense of touch. Below, you will see photos of his work and also a photo from Dave that may help you to "grasp" some of what we studied this last week at Marc Adams School.
I had my students doing measuring using exact feel of dimensions and using story sticks for tool set up and referencing left and right. While Dave is blind, most of us as we age lose some of our visual acuity and the sense of feel becomes of interest to us all in maintaining a desired level of precision. Thank you Dave for your inspiration.
I had my class yesterday at Marc Adams School on mentoring children in woodworking, and the question came up, "how can you prove the value of woodworking in children's learning?" I don't have the tools or resources for what he had in mind. But that doesn't lessen value of observed results and more localized forms of assessment.

I teach in an independent school where testing is not required and the curriculum is driven by the interests and needs of our children. Just because a child isn't being tested by corporations in Princeton or Iowa doesn't mean there is no validity in the assessment model. Other forms of local assessment are more accurate and can be adjusted toward recognition of the interests and goals of the specific child.

Standardized testing is an arcane science, subject to misuse and misunderstanding by those who most need to be involved in the assessment process.

Admiral Beaufort was head of the British Admiralty, and as a captain had done extensive surveying of coastlines, and kept meticulous charts to help in world wide navigation, and in the days of sail, much of the information he recorded had to do with wind direction and velocity. He developed the Beaufort Scale as a means to enable every British sailor to engage in the scientific exploration of the planet.

Through use of the simple 10 point scale, a common seaman could measure wind velocity and record it for use by other sailors to predict performance and risk. Through his simple scale Beaufort established an incredible world-wide meteorological observation capacity. As landlubbers, we can look at the land version of the Beaufort Scale to get a better understanding of how it worked. For instance, when the smoke rose straight up from a chimney or the leaves were perfectly still on the tree without flutter, the scale was 0.

From those days to this, most common people have been stripped of the confidence and inclination toward examination of their own lives. Most authority has been placed in the hands of experts and we have learned to distrust our own observations and the observations of the people around us.

The NEA came up with a plan to include joy in their assessment of programming. Can you imagine a Beaufort Scale that would allow any observer to walk into a classroom and accurately measure its success? One of those simple things that parents are perhaps the best able to observe and measure is the joy their children find in learning, and if they don't see it, something is wrong in their child's education.

There may be a small place in schools for some standardized testing, but much more of the process of school assessment needs to be clearly understood and relevant to the specific needs of children and their families. If we could come up with something as simple as the Beaufort Scale through which teachers and parents might be able to clearly assess American classrooms, we would find ourselves in the midst of an educational revolution.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I finished my 5 day class making boxes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. The photo below is Bob with one of his finished boxes, made of mahogany, curly maple and ebony. Tomorrow I begin my class on mentoring children in the woodshop.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another great day at Marc Adams School. Imagine about 40 men and women gathered to build skills in woodworking.

Above and at below are photos of beautiful and interesting boxes in progress.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Another great day at Marc Adams. In the photo below, one of my students is cutting slots in the corners of his irregularly shaped boxes for contrasting colored keys to fit. Great jig! I love having the opportunity to share what I have learned with others, and of course some things, or maybe most things are learned most throughly from our mistakes. For instance, one student's box wasn't pushed tightly together at the joints before the glue set. No amount of clamping pressure would move the parts into the right position. So I suggested the microwave in Susie's kitchen. After 35 seconds the student reapplied the clamps, the parts moved into perfect place, and the box will be great for the next 100 years or more. Did I say already that I had a great day?
The following is from Met School co-founder Elliot Washor:
What a block 44th Street is in Manhattan! The Harvard Club, The Algonquin Hotel…. and right across the street at 27 W 44th Street there is a building you would pass by, not because the architecture is not eye-catching but because it is the building that houses the apparently “low brow,” General Society for Mechanics and Trades People – Technical School and Library . It is ironic that these entities are on opposite sides of the street or is it? Why are the Harvard Club and the Algonquin across the street? What really was the thinking of putting these organizations so close together? Two are the bastions of meetings where the word is the order of business and then we have an organization with the motto – “By Hammer and Hand All Arts Do Stand.” On our way to meet my old friend Richie, Damian and I walked into this place and took a tour. To our amazement, it was a beautiful old small school with great stained glass and lots of art of people engaged in making things. Like the clubs across the street, it was still active. After I got home, I did a bit of research and found out that a free day school was established in 1820 “to provide free education for the children of the members of the Society and such other children whose parents were unable to pay.” Over 180,000 students have passed through the doors of this small school and to this day they graduate students for 2 and 3-year technical degrees in everything from plumbing to electrical to construction management all tuition free. This year their graduating class was 44 students. Not bad for sustainability and getting people from one place in life to another. Now the kicker, this school and its library were funded by Andrew Carnegie and other New Yorkers who from their own beginnings knew the power of working with your hands as well as understanding that the future of a great city hinged on the education and inventions of their young people. The takeaway is that they knew how important know-how was and perhaps choosing this location was leaving a message that the word better pay attention to the deed.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Today at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, my 18 students were all working on more than one box. In fact, one student was working on at least 6. All have been learning and growing more enthusiastic and confident in their woodworking. In the photo below, I am demonstrating making a jig for cutting miter key slots to strengthen mitered box corners.
Crazy ContraptionMore interesting marble machines can be found here.

Monday, July 07, 2008

I just finished my first day of box making class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.
If having rooms full of the finest power tool woodworking equipment, and rooms full of wonderful woodworking benches, and dozens of enthusiastic woodworkers isn't your idea of heaven, you may be reading the wrong blog and you might want to avoid this part of Indiana entirely. Anyway, my class of 18 students is off to a good start. Many of the students have prior box making experience, but all have been excited about the ease at which they were able to cut perfect miters using a table saw sled, and knowing the sequence used for cutting parts. More tomorrow!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

I've mentioned Norman Brosterman's Book, Inventing Kindergarten and there is a new on-line exhibit of Brosterman's collection at the Institute for Figuring Shown below is Froebel's gift No. 6.
I am in Indiana just north of the Marc Adams School of Woodworking where I begin my class on box making tomorrow. Also teaching this week are Alf Sharp, a friend from Furniture Society whose work is shown at left and Stephen Proctor an artist with incredible technical knowledge and abilities with whom I've taught at Marc Adams School before. I look forward to a great week.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

I was reading this morning about how the analogy of a waterfall is helping physicists explore the behavior of black holes.
Analogy is often used to help provide insight by comparing an unknown subject to one that is more familiar.
I am poised at the edge. The car is nearly packed for my trip to Marc Adams School where I will teach Box Making for a week and then a day class of Mentoring Children in Woodworking. Unlike molecules rushing from space into a black hole, my trip to Marc's won't be over a falls, but into the stream of companionship with students who love woodworking.

The interesting thing about analogy is that it paves the way for exploration. While I won't be dropping over the falls in the next few minutes, I will be in the Subaru traveling between wireless connections. Check back on Monday night and I'll have photos of students at work on boxes.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Joe Barry sent the following:
Random thoughts on Independence Day:
Many of our founding fathers got their hands dirty:

Franklin was a printer/publisher
Washington was a farmer and distiller
Jefferson was a farmer
Sam Adams was a brewer..... (I believe I'll have another with that hamburger, please).
Joe, It is interesting how the David Pye equation of certainty vs. risk is played out on the night of the 4th. Light the fuse and run like heck before something blows up in your face or hands. Then if you are lucky to make it back to your seat unscathed, you are rewarded by beauty in lights and sound and the oohs and aahs as your peers revel in delight. Parents want everything to be safe and children grow through the taking of risks. The search for dizziness. To be safe is mind numbing. To dwell constantly in the state of risk is intolerable. So we seek balance, and note that those who were wise were active in head, heart and hand. Happy 4th. If something is about to blow up, set it down and run like heck.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Craig Stevens at offers tips and projects to get kids busy in the woodshop. Way to go Craig!
The following is the description for my class Saturday July 12 at Marc Adams School of Woodworking

DATE: July 12
COST: $125
For those of us with a well-developed love of working with wood, sharing that love with others is a "no-brainer." It arises from our passion. Those who love children, whether their own or in their communities, may think that because children are quietly occupied with their hands-on video devices, they are in good hands and that your guidance and attention are not required. However, the evidence linking damage to children's attention to learning and capacity for learning to the amount of time spent watching television or engaged in computer gaming is strong. In fact, it is far stronger and more clearly documented than the evidence linking smoking to lung cancer and heart disease. In addition, there is a huge and growing amount of statistical data linking the effectiveness of learning and joy in learning to the engagement of the learner’s hands. So what's a woodworker to do? Isn't it obvious? But how do you get started? How can you keep your child safe? How can you encourage your child's confidence, creativity, and skill? Doug Stowe will help answer all these questions. He has been the director of a woodworking program at Clear Spring School in Northwest Arkansas for seven years and works with students of all ages. Articles about his program have been published in “Woodwork,” “Woodcraft,” “Cabinetmaker,” and on line at “Fine Woodworking” website. In addition to reaching woodworkers with this vital information (preaching to the choir), his articles have been published in “Independent School” and “Encounter” magazines.
This class is hands-on learning for adults with the purpose of providing an understanding of children's needs and the educational opportunities that woodworking can provide. Even more, this is about sharing with our kids, the most important part of our lives as creative and enthusiastic life-long learners.
Writing on Hands This is a website concerned with the historic view of the hands. Pay particular attention to the interactive images.
I have a new term that I like, Searching for Dizziness that describes the energy that one feels to push the envelope, to grow, to try new things, to test one's limits and test the waters. Also, Hand author Frank Wilson sent me a link to a sailing adventure. Boats are a repository of hand skill and hand knowledge. Zac's story on the website is an illustration of the concept below and you can follow his story on his blog:

This is from Play Culture in a changing World by Marjatta Kalliala
Matti Bergström(1996) is a brain researcher. The brain stem, the cortex and the limbic system are the parts of the brain that correspond to play acting. The brain stem feeds chaotic impulses to the limbic system whereas the cortex stands for order. Bergström discusses play dominated by impulses from the brain stem (black play) and from the cortex (white play.) It is clear that Bergström's black play corresponds to Cailois' ilinx whereas white educational play mainly corresponds to competition and imitation. According to Bergström black play does not last long because the brain does not work for a long time without any kind of order.

Searching for dizziness also occurs in an adult's life in the form of parachute jumps, slalom, rally racing or motor biking. Technical developments have expanded the role of ilinx by bringing to amusement parks different kinds of machines that allow people to experience increasing vertigo.
Ilynx is the sensation of dizziness and we all remember the need we had as children to ride the edge, losing the sense of control by spinning until the usual senses went awry. Kalliala points out that there are forms of mental dizziness as well as physical in which the balance between order and chaos are deliberately tested for amusement.

John Grossbohlin sent a link to a Colonial Williamsburg slide show of hands.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Today's culture stunts the inner qualities that good students need: concentration, patience, persistence. Unless schools take on character development, says GARY J. NIELS, their reform efforts are doomed. Forum: Why education 'reform' isn't working. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In order to experience academic achievement, students must possess inner qualities that enable them to perform academic work. Qualities such as concentration, attentiveness, patience, persistence, cooperation, responsibility and thoughtfulness are the foundations for academic achievement. No matter what new curriculum is composed or new educational configurations are devised, if children do not have the inner qualities that are essential for any academic success, they are doomed to fail.

Young people today are quick to feel frustrated and consequently intolerant of intellectual challenge. Their impatience makes them less willing to apply critical thinking to a difficult mathematics problem, savor the challenge of reading a complex novel, work through an intricate lab experiment or master the subtleties of grammar in English or a foreign language. Frustration curtails a young person's ability to listen, absorb, and process the details that constitute learning and knowledge.

Brain research confirms this phenomenon. Today children are raised in a culture that stunts the development of the qualities necessary for academic success. The Herculean challenge of schools is to reverse this trend.
Woodworking anyone? It develops all those skills now lacking in American education.
Jo Reincke in Germany sent the following link to an article about schools in Finland and their apparent success. Education reform: Top of the class One of the things that educators notice that is different about schools in Finland is their integration of academic and vocational education in a single comprehensive school plan. It took them years to accomplish and this is a system quite unlike American Schools in which career tracks divide the hands-on vocational learning from the academic/college track. So, perhaps when I've mentioned before that Sloyd is the key to Finland's educational success, I haven't just been whistling in the dark.
The rustic chair with a walnut Windsor chair style seat is almost done.
I may cut the lower back slats a bit shorter and will apply a coat of Danish oil. My wife gave her approval of the design, asking "Can I use that for Winnie the Pooh?"

Big kid's party coming next week to the Carnegie Public Library and Winnie the Pooh will be the special guest. I'll miss it due to my box making class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.
I've been reading the Ofsted Study from the UK, Education for a technologically advanced nation. One of their recommendations is:
consider how, in the long term, science, technology, engineering and mathematics research and development might be used to create modern design and technology projects, with mathematical and scientific content, to enable schools to keep pace with technological advances
I wonder how anyone can actually keep pace with the advances if they haven't begun with the basics. Kids tend to be much more easily proficient than adults in the use of new technology but have little or no curiosity to understand its inner works and processes. How can you feel competent in the areas of design and technology if you haven't had the actual experience of making things? How can you use materials effectively if you haven't explored their most subtle qualities?

Engagement in the process of making things arouses the curiosity of how things are made. Success in making things leads to confidence in design and manufacturing processes. Simple technologies give the best insight into the fundamental qualities of the materials and their potential use. And all the high tech devices used to advance manufacturing are simple tools writ fast, large and devoid of requirement for operator attention and skill. Is that the purpose of education? To learn to make things faster and without attention or skill?

While wearing our high-tech blinders, we have a temptation as adults to want to launch children into robotics and computer aided manufacturing when they might benefit first by using a saw and hammer and making simple useful things.

Ofsted is the official inspection agency in the UK which studies schools and sets standard for their effectiveness. They publish hundreds of inspection reports each week. This particular report also tells that expensive design technology in schools is often left idle due to lack of teachers trained in its use. But to put a kid at work in crafts is far more simple and direct. No high-tech trained teachers required... just a few old guys who love wood can do the job.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Getting kids started in woodworking is not rocket science. It is easy. I am reminded of when my wife brought home books on breast feeding, lots of them, and I wondered, how there could be so much to read about something that is so basic in human experience.

But, yes, as we have gotten farther out of touch with our basic human nature, as we have been shifted and shaped and molded to fit society, (Dylan called it "being bent out of shape by society's pliers,") we do need to read a few things. And reading about how to get a kid safely started in woodworking is one of them.

Last night my wife, director of our local Carnegie Public Library brought home a book she had ordered for the library called Woodworking for Kids. I asked, "Is that the one by John Kelsey?" I have been watching for it because John Kelsey was the first editor of Fine Woodworking from the black and white days, and he has become a friend over the years. He had told me he has a new book out and would send it in the mail.

But, no. The book my wife brought home is by Kevin McGuire and published by Lark. With the world's usual coincidence, John Kelsey's book arrived in today's mail, sent to me by John for review. So I will take a few moments to review both. Of course, there will never be a Kid's woodworking book to equal Richard Starr's book Woodworking With Kids. That doesn't mean new books can't actually be better, but for me, Starr's book threw the door wide open. So, I have an emotional connection with that book that may never be duplicated.

Both of these new books, McGuire's titled Woodworking for Kids, and Kelsey's titled Woodworking and in the Kid Craft Series of Fox Chapel Press offer lots of basics. Tools, check. Wood, check. Techniques, check. Projects, check. Both offer enough information to get kids busy... and get parents inspired and confident enough to allow it. Both offer hours of fun and potential for growth. Out of the absolutely amazing number of potential projects, there are some surprising project overlaps. Both offer birdhouses, of course. Both offer rubber band powered boats. Despite the overlap I would buy both. But then, you know I'm a woodworking fanatic.

On the other hand, if I were to buy just one, I would get the one that came in today's mail. Why? The projects in McGuire's book look like they were made by adults. The ones in Kelsey's book are made by kids. You see them at work and you see the kid work imperfections in the photos of the finished work, reminding us what all this is really about. Woodworking isn't about perfection, but it is about fun and it is about growth.

As a teacher I've seen a lot of kid work, and it doesn't need to be up to an adult level of design and crafted perfection to work in the educational best interests of the child. McGuire's book, unlike Kelsey's does a small disservice to kids when he builds and finishes things to a level of precision that kids would not. Parents, far too attuned to the world of manufactured work and lacking in educational discernment may see bent nails as failure, mis-cuts and poor joints as deficiencies. And believe me, they are not. They are the triumphant signs of sincere effort, learning and growth.

John told me he was hesitant to send me his book... that he knew I might have a more critical eye than most reviewers. John, I have to assure you that on this one, I have both thumbs up... a great book, hands down.
An understanding of fundamental disconnect. Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences came out in 1993, and there is hardly an educator in the US who hasn't heard of the idea, and yet very little has been done to put a multiple intelligences approach in practice. Project Zero was started at Harvard to help guide the effort, but how many educators have even heard of it? When I was at the first International Conference on Sloyd, Traditions in Transition in Umeå, Sweden, one of the attendees asked me, "What university are you from?" "What would I learn there?" I asked in return. I told her I teach in an independent school where I learn about teaching by teaching and teach teachers by example.

Richard Bazeley sent me a report from the UK on the state of Technical and design education in that country. Education for a technologically advanced nation which can be found at If you can get through the immediate mind numbing effects, you might find something of value in it. There was one small school, sounding like my own Clear Spring School held up in the report as an example of success amidst far reaching national failure.

Every so often, things come down from on high, how schools should be adapted to new standards and toward new objectives and these reports are offered with the very best of intentions. But the way of the craftsman is that when you have an idea, rather than direct others, you cut wood, acting directly to see the potentials within your idea. Sometimes things work, and sometimes you go to plan b. In order to overcome disconnect between the halls of academia and where the rubber meets the road, it seems those who would like to have influence on the future of education would best consider the craftsman's approach. Test things in your own woodshop or classroom before you direct nations to perform to your beck and call. Lead by example rather than push by edict.