Tuesday, March 31, 2009

today in the wood shop

The third and 4th grade students finished their project of making pinwheels for the pre-school. We followed patterns and directions from Ednah Anne Rich's book Paper Sloyd, having used the earlier models to perfect the students' skills at measuring and cutting.

The first and second grade students began making toy kangaroos for their study of Australia. It is a challenging project with lots of cutting. We will finish the project next week.

Monday, March 30, 2009

tomorrow in the woodshop

Today I have been finishing a coffee table with rocks as shown in the photo above, and getting ready for tomorrow's classes. The first and second grade students will be making wooden kangaroos for their study of Australia, and the 3rd and 4th grade students will be finishing pinwheels to give to students in our pre-school. I have a lot of work to do in the morning, as I still don't know how to make a kangaroo. Wish me luck.

The walnut table as you can see from the snap-shot in my crowded finish room has a contemporary white oak base, dyed black. It should harmonize with the colors of the natural stones inlaid in the top and the lead bullet inlaid by a hunter's blast in the edge. If you look closely you can see it a few inches up on the right edge.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

G.K. Chesteron and capitalism

A friend, Dan Krotz, sent me the following from G. K. Chesterton:
"The mark of the modern industrial state as it now exists is precisely that its workmen do not possess capital. I call it capitalism when property is so unequal that the small man cannot live on his own property, but must hire himself out as a servant to work another man's property... I call it capitalism when the small farmer is forced to become a farm-labourer to the big farmer..The real problem of the present civilisation, which is not property but the disproportion of property, and, for most people, the absence of property... It is not the Conservatives who have defended property; they have hardly succeeded in discovering property..."

G. K. Chesterton
Illustrated London News
We are able to own homes if we are very lucky, and whether we own or rent, our lives may be filled with meaningless consumer goods, but how many in America now possess the means through which to produce real goods? I am one of the very lucky ones. I have tools. I also got an order this afternoon via email... so I even have a small market for the things I produce. Is it luck, or related to application of energy to a specific cause over a distinct period of time?

do others see beauty?

Yesterday it snowed all day and we would have had significant accumulation if the ground had been cold enough for the snow to have stuck. It was beautiful and set off a round of panic buying at our local grocery store. This morning I saw our barred owl neighbor in the woods. It was caught by surprise when I stepped out the door and it flew from its favorite perch about 40 feet from the wood shop door.

Do you think the beauty of a snowy day or a bright morning of sun that follows is something that is ours alone, unshared by the other species that share our planet and inhabit what's left of our wilderness?

Human beings have ways of categorizing with the purpose of marginalizing the experience of others. In our American thirteen colonies as we embarked on our journey to independence, it was decided that a slave was 3/5th a man, being lesser in intelligence and potential for joy. When Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Hughes Act, creating federal funding for separate schools for industrial arts, he was acting on the idea that some of us should be trained in service of the select group of liberally educated, but detached from reality scholars from the Ivies.

Some would say there is danger in Anthropomorphism, and I would say there is far greater danger in our failure to understand the common thread of life, beauty and wonder that connects us all.

When an owl takes wing on a sunny morning following a long day of falling snow, I cannot help but think that it and I are connected through the sense of beauty that surrounds us.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

more fund raisers!

We have more local fund raisers in the next few days in Eureka Springs, and I believe that the economic times will make people more aware of the needs in our own communities.

Tomorrow is a Friends of the Library luncheon and I have given up my ticket to allow another to attend since it is already sold out. As you can see from the poster above, our Eureka Springs School of the Arts has our nearly annual ReArt fundraiser this week. One of the auction items will be a spoon I made, along with a spoon carving knife and one hour of spoon carving instruction, all materials supplied. Unlike the Friends of the Library luncheon, ReArt is open to the public without buying tickets in advance. It should be a fun event. Bring money. Go home with a fresh supply of art. Support the growth of ESSA and the personal growth of artists at the same time.

old work and new

One of the things that you learn as a craftsman is that you are not in it alone. And you will also learn that those who are most supportive of your work will quite likely be those who have some sense of the creative capacities of their own hands. You remove crafts education from schools, and you also remove an understanding of the patronage that is required to sustain the great works of human culture, period. My very best customers have been people who are creatively engaged in their own work. I can name names, and I am completely surprised that we don't have a clear and widely held understanding that when you commission work, you also commission growth, and the objects that serve as the foundation of human culture don't arise on their own from the blue, but arrive through the encouragement of others.

Jim Nelson is an example of an artist who understands his own role in the nurturing and sustenance of the arts within his own community and the first photo at the top of the page shows the entry hall of his home. The bench is the one I did with help from the students at Clear Spring School, and the wall sculpture is one of Jim's creations.

Following below are some photos of the works that I did for Jim and Susan Nelson over a period of years as I developed (with their encouragement) as a craftsman. The last photo below is a piece of Jim Nelson's most recent work.

table with rocks

This is Saturday, so once again, I am competing with the Chinese. They make things, but generally speaking, Americans do not. We have been hungry consumers passing things through our lives from storefront to landfill, caring little for the quality or cultural connections of the objects that smother our sensibilities.

So, you may ask, how can one compete with the Chinese? You do it by making things that last and that tell the more interesting stories of our civilization. Everything in a sense is storytelling, but we have to be careful editors of the stories we tell. Are they meaningful? Do they connect us more deeply with the important issues facing us and the survival of our planet? You can tell the story of what you saw on TV last night. It may have been oh, so funny at the time, and it may have successfully diverted your attention from reality for long enough to fall off to a good night sleep. But are human beings destined to be only the retellers and retailers of the stories made up by others, or are we to engage in real reality, guide our own lives toward significance and telling the significant stories of our own making?

Wood is a great way to tell our own stories... it can record our growth for others to see and share. The photo above is just one more table with rocks. This one was started at a weekend class I taught at Mia Hall's furniture design program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and after some distraction and delay, I am nearly done.

Also, I posted photos of my Crystal Bridges bench on the Fine Woodworking Gallery pages. It can be found here and the first piece in this series can be found here.

I see how this works!

Richard Bazeley in Australia sent the photo above of his students working on small tables using mortise and tenon joints. You can see the student's thoughts, "I see how this works!" as he assembles the half-lap joint between stretchers in the base. Theirs is not an easy project, and it will be one long remembered both in the making and in the physical form.

We had a wonderful evening fundraiser at the home of art patrons Jim and Susan Nelson. The food was fantastic, the guests loved the walnut bench, and we raised money in support of the Wisdom of the Hands program. Jane Tucker, mother of three former Clear Spring School students made the chocolate cake with tools and hands. The hand shaped cookies were made by Donna Doss and the shapes were those of real Clear Spring School students,collected by tracing hands on paper. The real saw in the photo? Jane Tucker used it to cut the cake.

The food prepared by Jane and Donna was on an Asian theme and you can see the beautiful table set for guests in the photo below.

Friday, March 27, 2009

that was then and this is now

Today I am preparing for a small exhibition of the Wisdom of the Hands program, including the bench for Crystal Bridges. It will be from 6-8 PM at the home of my good friends, Susan and Jim Nelson. A bit of fundraising will take place and my readers are welcome to contribute to the Wisdom of the Hands by sending a check to Clear Spring School. PO Box 511 Eureka Springs, AR USA. Please make note on the check that it is for Wisdom of the Hands. We are a 501-3C charitable organization and all contributions are tax exempt.

Today in Time magazine there is an article about the advantages of our current recession... that it will lead us to a new era of practicality and creativity. It is the official end of the idiocy of the Reagan era and an end to thoughtless consumerism (I hope).

I was explaining yesterday to my students, the advantages of self-employment. First is that you can keep on learning with no limits, and secondly, because you do everything yourself, you can diversify or contract at a moment's notice to fit yourself to the marketplace.

According to the article in Time, "It's time now to be more artisan-enterpriser and less prospector-speculator, to return from Oz to Kansas." Welcome to the world that I have been discussing in the Wisdom of the Hands for years now. I told my students that when I started my business over 30 years ago, that I made a sales trip to Dallas, Texas, and found that nearly everyone was selling something, but no one was making a cotton-picking thing. Now, after a 30 year Reagan induced coma and lapse into laziness and destructive consumerism, it is time to rediscover Kansas. I hear Toto barking at the dead wizard. Click your heals for the wonderful journey home.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

today in the woodshop...

The photos show progress on the chess sets and boat. We've made pawns, and are adding ribs to the boat, using the ribs already in place to guide the making of more. this afternoon I will have the 11th and 12th grade economics class visiting my home workshop as part of their hands-on investigation of economics.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

three things...

These are all proven by research and centuries of observation and the three together form a compelling rationale for revolution in education. (If you are new to the blog, read deeper for confirmation.)

First, the use of the hands in learning provides greater intelligence and retention of learning.

Second, the use of the hands creates emotional resiliency by alleviating symptoms of depression, allowing greater energy for engagement in learning.

Third, hands-on learning creates a sense of the dignity of all labor and brings the student into a moral framework in which effort and skill are recognized as important building blocks of culture and civilization. Hands-on learning invites each student to take a creative and responsible role in human culture.

So, we are left holding the bag. But reach in. What you will find in your exploration of the empty bag are your own hands, and with hands you have power to bring change.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

problems in wood...

Dr. Belfield, Chicago Manual Training School Association, June 19, 1884:
"The young workman is engaged on a problem in wood, just as, a few hours earlier, he was engaged on a problem in algebra. He has before him a drawing made to a scale. The problem is this: He must gain a clear conception of the object represented by the drawing; he must imagine it; he must select or cut a block of wood of the proper dimensions and of the right quality. It must not be too large, for he must guard against waste of material and waste of time. It must be large enough, for there must be no incompleteness about the finished product of his labor. Observe him as the work grows under his hand; observe the selecting of the proper tools for the different parts of the process; observe the careful measuring, the watchful eye upon the position of the chisel, the speed of the lathe, the gradual approach of the once rectangular block to the model which exists in his brain--and you must admit that this work demands and develops, not manual dexterity alone, but attention, observation, imagination, judgment, reasoning..."

"My own opinion is that an hour in the shop of a well-conducted manual training school develops as much mental strength as an hour devoted to Virgil or Legendre..."
Or more?

from Felix Adler, 1880

Is the education of the hand education necessary to preservation of democracy? Felix Adler and many other early advocates of manual training believed so.
The English nobility have deliberately adopted hunting as their favorite pastime. They follow as a matter of physical exercise, in order to keep up their physical strength, a pursuit which the savage man followed from necessity. The introduction of athletics in colleges is a move in the same direction. But it is not sufficient to maintain our physical strength, our brute strength, the strength of limb and muscle. We must also preserve that spiritualized strength which we call skill--the tool-using faculty, the power of impressing on matter the stamp of mind. And the more machinery takes the place of human labor, the more necessary will it be to resort to manual training as a means of keeping up skill, precisely as we have resorted to athletics as a means of keeping up strength.

There is one word more I have to say in closing. Twenty-five years ago, as the recent memories of Gettysburg recall to us, we fought to keep this people a united nation. Then was State arrayed against State. Today class is beginning to be arrayed against class. The danger is not yet imminent, but it is sufficiently great to give us thought. The chief source of the danger, I think, lies in this, that the two classes of society have become so widely separated by difference of interest and pursuits that they no longer fully understand one another, and misunderstanding is the fruitful source of hatred and dissension. This must not continue. The manual laborer must have time and opportunity for intellectual improvement. The intellectual classes, on the other hand, must learn manual labor; and this they can best do in early youth in the school, before the differentiation of pursuits has begun... Let manual training, therefore, be introduced into the common schools; let the son of the rich man learn, side by side with the son of the poor man, to labor with his hands; let him thus practically learn to respect labor; let him learn to understand what the dignity of manual labor really means, and the two classes of society, united at the root, will never thereafter entirely grow asunder.
If you think about our current crisis, the greed amongst highly educated individuals who brought it on through arrogance and irresponsibility, you can begin to understand what happened. We have created educational systems in which students are kept completely out of touch.

Monday, March 23, 2009

completed bench

These are photos of the finished walnut bench.

Today in the Clear Spring School Wood Shop

I have been working on the bench over spring break and have made a mess of the Clear Spring School wood shop, so today I will be cleaning and preparing for tomorrow's classes. I am also trying to find out whether my glass drill will drill holes in rocks which will allow me to add a bit stronger connection in attaching the rocks in the bench. At this point on the bench all that remains to be done is a thin spray of urethane satin finish to harden the surface for longer wear, and gluing the rocks.

Artists and craftspeople have a growing function in today's economy. Some in Michigan are buying abandoned homes and turning them into studios. In the next few days, the Hand Made Toy Alliance will present their case to the US Congress, advocating more reasonable regulation, providing some exemptions for American made wooden toys, from the oppressive regulations designed to protect our children from lead and other dangerous additives in foreign made toys.

Something that most people just don't get (because we are no longer a nation of makers) is that craftsmen are non-religious proponents of civility and moral values, as the making of things involves important distinctions between choices. So we've stripped craftsmanship from our schools at every level, preschool through university. Are the current moral meltdown, excessive greed, destructive corporate policies and the resultant economic collapse of our economy the result of anything other than the loss of emphasis on making things to last generations? I doubt it.

Just in the nick of time, we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the CCC and WPA, two government programs that built a legacy of craftsmanship on behalf of the American public. It is interesting, that through craftsmanship, two things are formed. The object and the simultaneously created craftsman, a person of moral standing within his community.

You want to get a strong economy back? It has to be crafted.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

woodworker's showcase

All across eastern and central New York State, woodworkers are busy getting ready for the Woodworker's Showcase. Hundreds of woodworkers, members of the Northeastern Woodworker's Association will have works ready to exhibit and compete. Last year I was one of the judges and was amazed at the volume and quality of work. John Grossbohlin is working on a knitting chest of white oak and walnut as shown in the photo below and that should be finished just in the nick of time. The Showcase is probably the largest woodworking club function in the world, drawing a very large crowd for two days. There will be demonstrations, lectures, vendors selling tools, hands-on opportunities for kids and a huge assortment of fine work on display. March 28th & 29th, 2009 Saratoga Springs City Center, Saratoga Springs, NY.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

look what I found in the barn

I walked out to my lumber storage barn and picked up the first board I saw, with the intention of making a table or two. It was a bit harder to dig for the walnut to make the legs. The sense of discovery that one "discovers" in working with wood is gratifying. The maple boards shown are "spalted," meaning that they are softened and colored by the process of decay, which makes them even more beautiful. You can see the delicate patterns of curl formed in the grain, called "fiddle back". The meandering line cut through the middle of the board has practical as well as decorative purposes. It allows the wide board to pass through my planer and will allow some room for expansion and contraction when the table is fully assembled. This technique was described in my table design article for Fine Woodworking, "A Fresh Take on Table Tops," issue number 187.

Now it is time to go back to the shop and work on legs.

These are intended for placement (and sale) in galleries in Eureka Springs and Little Rock, unless customers see them on-line first and want to buy them direct.

danish oil, dovetails and rocks...

And of course walnut. Today I applied the first coat of Danish Oil to the walnut bench, and I am beginning some simple tables combining walnut with natural edged spalted maple. I brought the wood in from the barn and look forward to making the first cuts. There are certain advantages that come with experience. At one time I might have agonized over design before starting. Now I plunge in. And the results are more creative and spontaneous. Stay tuned for the results.

Friday, March 20, 2009

rocks in bench top.

You can see what I've been doing today, fitting the rocks into the bench top.

All that red stuff on the rock in the photo above is lip stick. You rub the lip stick on the rock, then nestle the rock into a recess cut in the top. The lip stick rubs off onto the wood in spots that need shaving in order for the rock to fit.

Now the bench is ready for final sanding and the application of the oil finish. I will be careful to avoid getting Danish oil in the recesses where the rocks fit, so it will not interfere with the bond of the epoxy glue.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

house, tree and person drawings.

I have been thinking about the narrative quality inherent in wood as I work on my artist statement for an exhibit:
We love the spoken and written word, and yet the objects crafted by the human hand tell stories too, often with even greater sincerity and meaning. One does need to understand the language, and that requires some attention.

Each piece of wood tells the story of the tree from which it came. Where there’s a knot, there had been a branch. Where the grain is wide and straight, the tree had grown quickly, straight and tall. Where the grain is crooked or dense, the tree had grown in defiance of harsh circumstances.

I have come to view my own work as framing and illuminating the story told by wood. A craftsman might choose to wrestle it to submission, making it do things to satisfy his or her sense of mastery and accomplishment. I am curious about more gentle relationships, in which the full range of textures, colors and narrative qualities of the woods might emerge and find greater voice.

Much of what I do is inspired by my concerns for the environment and I adhere to these thoughts:

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,
and 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.
I am reminded of an old Freudian child psychiatrist I worked with many years ago. He had his child clients do what he called the "house, tree and person test" which involved three drawings since children were rarely able to verbalize their relationships, particularly for an old Jewish man with a German accent. The house told about their personal state. A disproportionately large attic space described an over-sized imagination and the size of windows and doors revealed their relative openness or guardedness toward the outside. The tree described their growth and history. I particularly recall him pointing out knot holes drawn in trees. The knot hole symbolized trauma in childhood, even as the loss of a major limb was a trauma in the life of the tree. Certainly, as a woodworker, I am not in the business of story telling on my own. It is a collaboration in which I find a great deal of pleasure. Today, I was passing my hands along the well sanded walnut bench and feeling pleasure in its touch. I do not believe there will be many people who when confronted by the finished bench will not feel the same.

plugs and stones

Today I made small walnut plugs to cover the lag bolts used to assemble portions of the bench, and have begun the process of inlaying the stones on the top.

from a reader, a spoon

The spoon in the photo above is by Will Simpson. His comment was made to the post below as follows:
After reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, I set for my self the goal of carving 400 spoons. I figure that by that time I'll have something meaningful to say with my spoon carving. Currently I'm just starting number 26.
His comment reminds me of my college days. I had a professor who urged me to go to graduate school in creative writing. I decided that writing would be much more meaningful if I had something I wanted to say. What I realized later was that all the great books, great poems, and great works have a single thing at the heart, regardless of length and regardless of the experience on which they are based.

It is the urge that human beings have to share something of themselves with others. They may differ only in the depth of their sincerity. Check out the link to Will's spoons. In their simple sincerity, they say a lot already.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

table and spoon

There are always a number of things going on in my wood shop, allowing me to shift from one thing to another. In addition to my work at school on the walnut bench, I have been making a small walnut table to surround a pre-made chessboard top. While waiting for the oil to dry, there is spoon carving to do with my Sloyd knife. There is so much pleasure in learning new things, feelings one's powers of attention grow, and then seeing the physical results of one's labor and skill. The spoon is almost ready for sanding. My level of skill has not quite reached the point at which it can be done beautifully by knife work alone, and the curves designed in the handle make dealing with grain particularly difficult. But practice is what leads to greater skill.

working on the bench again...

As you can see from the photos I am finishing the assembly of the walnut bench. I used 5/16 in. lag bolts to attach the under structure to the top and ends. In the photo below you can see the relationship between the model and the full sized bench. And you can also see what comes next. Inlaying rocks.

maya, illusion, reality and craftsmanship

A friend of mine, in response to a conversation about our worsening economic times, said,"It's not real. It's maya." So I gently explained that the concept of maya doesn't mean that the world is not real, that real people are not being thrown out of real homes and losing real jobs in this recession, but that our perceived distinctions between things is illusory. The concept of narrowly defined self that drives our economy is illusion. There are no real boundaries between us as you can see from where ever you are sitting and reading this text.

There was an old Jackson Browne song that explained it, "From the time we've known that we each are a part of one another, we've lost as much as we have won." Our economy and culture have been built on the concepts of winning and losing and we are at the time of reconciliation, understanding of reality.

The misunderstanding of the meaning of Maya is hazardous. It allows individuals to disregard, diminish and disparage the reality of each other.

In life, we are given a choice of dwelling either in our separation from each other through close examination of boundaries, or by uniting with each other through examining the extended relationships that form the framework of greater self. It is the narrow definition of self that is the lie, the gross mis-perception.

There are things about craftsmanship that lead one beyond him or herself. The immersion in creative process, taking raw materials, reshaping them toward the objective of creating greater utility and beauty for the lives of others is a process through which we transcend the boundaries of self. The other side of the process is the difficult one, that tends to challenge me. It is where I must take personal gain from the process. I have to make money. It is required by existence on the physical plane in very real physical reality. It is no illusion when the bills arrive in the mail and must be paid. The challenge is in perception of balance.

No, life is not an illusion. Life IS profound and very real. We are deeply interconnected with each other in ways that defy understanding. And it's not just the hardwires and software of the internet that make it so for it has always been. We are inextricably a part of one another.

These times are interesting. The irrational greed of those from AIG and Wall St. juxtaposed to the incredible generosity of the common people. The difference between Maya and reality is brilliantly illuminated. When we connect with each other either in craftsmanship, or in service, we enter the real world. And it is no illusion

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

bench support

As you can see in the photo, the bracing for the underside of the bench is nearly complete and I am marking for the hidden lag screws that will attach the ends to the under-structure. The holes that you see in the bracing are for attachment to the top and will be filled with 1 in. diameter walnut dowels. It is fun to see the project at this point of completion, and I expect to be busy inlaying rocks in the top by the weekend. I generally work with minimal sketches, leaving many of the important details to be resolved during the process of making the piece.

Today I have been hearing the news of widespread outrage over the AIG bonuses and it seems the term most commonly used in reference to the situation is "out of touch." Can you see how all the important considerations of human life are best described through reference to the hands? The hands are a no-brainer in the very best sense of the term. When you truly understand something, you know it in your whole being, brains need not apply.

take over AIG

It is growing obvious to many of us that AIG is at the center of the worldwide financial melt down, and it is ridiculous that they still haven't come to terms with what they have done. There are lots of places you can go to research this.

The latest round of bonuses being paid to executives and the misspending of tax dollars for those bonuses provides a clear rationale for a complete government takeover of AIG. If the insurance industry is so important that we must pour billions of dollars into saving it, then it should be nationalized and its employees's salaries be based on civil service pay scale.

There are hundreds of thousands of public employees that do a much better job of serving the American people each day.

There are things that happen when the world is taken from our children's hands. We learn basic moral values in the making of real things. If everything we present in school is just words, numbers and abstractions, we offer them a world in which nothing has real significance. Even receiving bonuses of millions of dollars for abysmal failure may make sense to those completely divorced from the physical reality of crafting things from real materials. And here is my answer... It is simple, but sorry, it will take awhile... cook with our children, make things with our children, plant and harvest with our children, and take time for the scientific exploration of our environment, hand in hand with our children. Here, I quote a good friend... "there is a real world out there."

Our success and failure are dependent on imparting an understanding of it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Make a wooden shoe

And another from Sweden which has a shoemaker, a spoon carver and chair maker. Both are interesting views into old time craftsmanship.

working on the bench

Today I am working on the Crystal Bridges walnut bench, adding the structure underneath. A photo is above. I have also played around with spoons, practicing to carve one from the cherry tree that was my daughter's climbing tree when she was young. It will be nice to save something from it.

Providence Business News has an article about the Met School, the first of the Big Picture Schools founded and co-directed by my friend Eliot Washor.
the article says:
"If there was a simple formula for success that The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center could share with other high schools, it would be the practice of taking a holistic approach to the physical, mental and intellectual welfare of each student.

That is no easy task for an inner-city school, with campuses in South Providence and Newport, whose student population in general is strained by poverty and other potentially crippling societal ills.

But then again, The Met is no ordinary high school."
The Full text of the article can be read here. The Big Picture Schools are now global with some having started in Australia.

For those interested in spoon carving knives, the photo below shows the proper use for making the first cut. Beginners tend to try to cut too much, too deep, but a few shallow strokes makes short work of cutting the bowl shape for the working end of a spoon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

How to make a spoon kinfe

I have decided to create a knol... a unit of knowledge, as an experiment. How to make a spoon knife.

I am uncertain where all this is going. As a how-to writer, I am normally paid to produce this kind of content. One of the dangers is that when you have seen things so simply and easily presented you get the impression that it is easy. Then when you actually try something, you realize that their are subtle principles. Even the challenge of getting your hands to do what you see presents a big challenge for some.

The danger is that some when they find out that things are harder than they expect may give up too soon, thinking they may have no aptitude for such things. I always hear, "I have no patience for that." But the truth may be "I've not cared enough to invest time or effort in what you do."

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Google is working with a site called "dummies.com" where you can post how-to information and articles in discrete units called "knols". Check it out. They have a contest. Most of it is at a very low level of expertise, apparently.

There was an article some time back questioning, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" and perhaps this is their effort to change their image. One can hope that the idea of dummies is intended to be irony. Use the search box for Woodworking and see what comes up.

more on gesture

More research on gesture from the Susan Goldin-Meadow Gesture Laboratory at the University of Chicago illustrates the close relationship between hand and mind and the use of the hands in the demonstration and development of intelligence. According to the article in Science News, Kids' Gestures foretell Better Vocabularies Children's use of gestures at an early age is is an important building block in later academic success. First is gesture, then comes higher vocabularies and then greater success in schools. If the case for hands in schools were a 5-board bench, we could see that each board is cut and sanded to perfection and the nails are driven home. But of course, getting real changes in place requires that every teacher and school administrator in America rethink their profession to allow for total engagement of the hands.

I have called for an affirmative action program for the hands, allowing hands-on thinkers to the top of the academic world, and changes to core curricula in the major universities to engage all students in work with their hands.

OK, so I'm a dreamer. In the words of John Lennon, I know I'm not the only one.
Research from Goldin-Meadow's team also suggests that gesturing may encourage children to think more creatively by bringing out new ideas and improving clarity. By manipulating how much children gestured, researchers gauged the influence of gesturing. Older children told to gesture while solving math problems on a chalkboard got the answer right more frequently than children who were told not to gesture. “These gestures are not mere hand waving. Kids are extracting meaning from gestures,” says Goldin-Meadow. “The educational relevance could be fabulous."
Thanks Joe Barry for alerting me to the article.

Friday, March 13, 2009


The big dovetails are now complete but for sanding, and the student's table of elements is complete, for now. A later class will improve the labeling of the elements and put finish on the lids and frame. Our table uses different woods to designate the families of elements within the collection, and of course many elements are not included as they are impossible to collect. The important part of this process has been the enthusiasm it helped to generate for the students and staff. And without educational enthusiasm, where are we? In a situation that bores students and teachers and leads to high drop out rates, poor performance at all levels and declining interest in education.

I will remind you of the Purdue study that tells that students learn science better hands-on, and that what they learn hands-on is retained longer. The matter is expressed in an old saying, use it or lose it. I was fortunate yesterday to observe the chemistry student's demonstration to the first and second grade class. It was exciting. The students were wonderful teachers, and the very young ones filled with wonder.

Today I am also reviewing the galley proofs of my new book, Rustic Furniture Basics, a black and white version that shows the text, sidebars, photos and illustrations in place. It is exciting to see the book brought to this point in its journey toward publication.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Big dovetails fitted

Today I assembled the dovetails for the bench. You can see the results. Next the surfaces will be sanded level and smooth. We finished the chemistry project, making a display for the periodic table of elements, and I will get a photo of it tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

vacuum lamination of chess boards

Today the 5th and 6th grade worked on their chess boards, adding cherry borders of thin solid stock and using chisels to miter the corners. Then we began the process of vacuum laminating the assembled veneers onto a birch plywood backing material. You can see the results below. This one is my own demonstration piece and the kid's work is not quite so neat. But in the end, they will have made some useful and beautiful chess boards. After spring break we will begin making the chess men to go with their chess boards.