Friday, May 31, 2013

St. Mary's

I told my class about my attending St. Mary's Kindergarten, which to my recollection had an inside play ground including a slide. I compared Marc Adams School to St. Mary's. Marc's School is like an inside playground for adults.

In my classroom, there are 4 SawStop saws ready for student use, and at times we have all four going at the same time in addition to two box joint jigs for the router. So needless to say, we are making lots of boxes. Do you remember standing at the top of the slide with both a sense of fear and a sense of coming exhilaration? That was St. Mary's and that too, is Marc Adams School. That, too, could be every school in the US, and yet, we've chosen to cheap out. We crowd too many children into classes. We swap kids between teachers, reassigning them to new ones as they "progress." We design schools based on the efficiency of handling kids, rather than to meet the interests of each child. And students soon learn that they must mold themselves to fit in or struggle to escape. My mother would tell about one of her first Kindergarten students, Dougie Denker. Her classroom was partly in the basement with windows that were at ground level on the outside of the building. So when she found herself missing Dougie, the other students informed her, "Oh, Miss Bye, he escaped out the window." And how many of us can remember that urge to escape?

This morning is the 4th day of class. My students have no doubt awakened early as have I. We are excited for what the day will bring, and for what we will witness of our own growth, measured partly in what we've made, and partly in what we've attempted to achieve, and most clearly in what we have shared freely with each other.

 Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day three of box making...

This was the third day of my box making class at Marc Adams School and I was so busy helping students that I forgot to take any photos. The students have so many boxes in the works, it's amazing. I am making four myself as demonstration boxes. As always, I am impressed by my students, their progress, and the amazing staff at Marc Adams School. Beyond that and at the moment, I'm too tired to even describe my day. Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day two of box making

We completed day two of box making and most students have at least two boxes in the works and some have more. I was reminded of attending Kindergarten in a private school in Memphis where they had an inside playground complete with slide and merry-go-round. Marc Adams School of wood working is just like that kindergarten but it's for grown up wood workers attempting to get back to their creative roots.

A reader, Jeff, suggested an interesting article about the hands with the attached note:
I'm a long-time reader of your blog Wisdom of the Hands, via the UUpdates Unitarian Universalist blogs aggregator. I'm editing a collection of essays by the major 20th century Japanese Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki. One short essay from 1953 always reminds me of your blog, so I thought I'd pass it along to you. I'm attaching the essay in pdf form.

I'm not certain what the copyright laws are on this piece (it is 60 years old, the magazine is long defunct, and the author has been dead nearly 50 years), so while you could quote from it, you shouldn't actually post the whole thing online, just to be on the safe side. The citation is D.T. Suzuki, "The Hands," Gentry, vol. 6 (1953): 44-47."
I really don't need to quote the whole thing. If you don't get the whole message from the following you probably don't do woodworking or take part in any other creative craft. Suzuki states:
"The illness of modern man comes mostly from his forgetting the loving, and inspiring and creative use of the hands." –– Daisetz Tataro Suzuki
The whole of this article cannot be found online, and perhaps it should be. The content is beautifully expressed. Thanks, Jeff, for sharing it with me.

The photo above is of my demo box and one more finger jointed box in the works behind.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

day one of box making

I have 14 students at Marc Adams School this week, only 4 less than the full class. We've begun making mitered corner boxes, and this afternoon I demonstrated making finger joints. We will all have several boxes in the works in no time. The students are doing well, and I enjoy watching them learn.

Imagine miters so accurately cut they can be held together with masking tape.

 Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 27, 2013

before students arrive...

My bench room for this week's class.
This afternoon I unloaded a few things at Marc Adams School of Woodworking and got things set up for class to begin at 8 AM tomorrow morning. Anyone who's not been to Marc's School would be amazed at this facility. I'll have 14 students and three assistants for the course of the week, Tuesday through Saturday.

I always start my classes with a discussion of design and have an exercise through which I get my students to think creatively about box making. My students normally make several boxes during the week.

I took these photos above and below so you can see things before the students arrive. Tomorrow we'll be busy.

One of two large machine rooms.

Make, fix and create...

spoons, kinesthesia, proprioception and sense of self...

Richard Bazeley, shop teacher extraordinaire from down under sent the video from BBC and a couple examples of his own spoons as he's introduced a spoon carving project in his school.

In another he sent this quote:
".....the unconscious kinaesthesia by which the chisel in your hands works the object..." The Lost Carving - David Esterly
Kinaesthesia is related to proprioception but is perhaps a more poetic term as it calls to mind synesthesia in which sounds and colors are entwined in the perceptions of those who have that gift. Part of what happens when one crafts something from wood is the creation, through the exercise of muscular structure and neural network, a sense of self.

I will arrive at Marc Adams School this afternoon to prepare for my box making class that will start tomorrow.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Let us not be bothered by that?

It is good to know how to fix things and yet many folks were not raised with the confidence to know that they have the ability to do so. There is an inclination among those who've not been encouraged to take a hands-on relationship in making and fixing things to think that even the examination of things to determine problems is not in their realm.

I have begun reading Knife Work in the School Room by George B. Kilbon, published in 1890 and claiming to be an American alternative to Educational Sloyd. It is all arranged as abstract lessons like, "how to make a square board," "how to make a conoid," or "how to make a sphere," using your pocket knife. Gone from the proposed method is the idea of making objects that might connect the family with what goes on in school or to engage the child's inclination to produce useful and beautiful things. Even in the early days of manual arts training, the theory of Educational Sloyd was met with incomplete understanding. Still, this book shows some useful techniques and it says a few good things:
"Owing to the changed conditions of society in all our cities the children who fill our schools have more mental education than they relish, and are hungry for any manual education which circumstances happen to throw within their reach. It is impossible for either the rich or ;the poor children to get this much-needed education at one, therefore the school is their only hope. Many parents are coming to realize this fact and to demand that manual training shall have a recognized place in the public school course."
Sadly, that is no longer true. Times have changed. Most kids don't get woodworking in school. Most kids don't have tools in the home that would allow them to engage in creative after school pursuits. We can continue to take a hands-off approach to all things. When it comes to fixing things, we can choose, "let me not be bothered with that..." When it comes to empowering our kids, we may choose not to be bothered with that either. But we will most certainly become a nation of idiots if we continue to leave our children's hands idle when their hands might be put to work crafting their intelligence.

I am driving to Marc Adams School and will arrive tomorrow to set up for my box making class which begins on Tuesday.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

a man and his tools...

I went to a house out by the lake yesterday to pick up some tools. The wife had had called about tools that her husband would no longer need. He's at that age where a bad knee and faulty balance from an ear infection make it difficult for him to work or to walk. I did not know what kinds of tools to expect. My hopes were for a few woodworking tools, but the collection contained many assorted wrenches and very few tools for woodworking. C clamps, however are a welcome addition to any shop. He had tried to get his son-in-law to take tools, but none of it was of interest to him.

My apprentice Greg loaded small hand tools in the truck as the gentleman would assess whether or not they would ever be useful to him again, "Do you want this?" he would ask. And while many of the tools would not be useful to me, (I've got more than enough) I offered to put what I took in the hands of those who will put them to use.

It is amazing how much of a man's soul is invested in the tools that he's used, and that he owns, even though they've been collected on shelves in a crowded garage and not touched in years. He looked carefully for a hammer that had been his dad's as he sorted through tool boxes and placed wrenches in my hands.

Tools are a reflection of our power to control our environment. They can be the means through which we can create beauty. They can connect us with our ancestors in ways that make them present as memories and potentialities in our own lives. Tools are symbols of our human empowerment. They can become clutter. They can become useless to us as we age. And yet, to see one's own life arrive at that point in which they may be no longer necessary to us can be a sad thing.

That is why we each must make a great effort to put tools into the hands of kids. Tools can be an expression of human cultural immortality when they are passed along with knowledge of their use into the hands and minds of kids. I'm sad for the son-in-law who seemed to have missed something that could have been passed along to his own kids. Wrenches that their grandfather might have used to work on an old Volkswagen would have been good for cultivating a bit of lefty loosey, righty tighty understanding of the way our universe is assembled and give them a sense of their own potential.

The following video is a teaser about a documentary film to be made about famous Swedish carver Wille Sundqvist by his son Jogge.

You can support the making of this film at

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 24, 2013

how nuts and bolts work...

Rudy, at my local ACE hardware store was telling me yesterday that folks are getting dumber all the time. He's had customers who've not known how nuts and bolts work... not known that they must to be aligned and turned in a particular direction in order for them to fit together. He has observed customers (more than one) in states of obvious frustration trying to push nuts and bolts together and offered, "Here, let me help with that." He says that they are then amazed at what he's accomplished. Intellectual incompetence has become a subject of conversation among clerks at the store.

"Lefty loosey and righty tighty," is a thing some folks have been taught to help them remember how nuts and bolts go together.  I had never heard that until a couple years ago, but it is a way for those who did not have the opportunity growing up with tools and with making and fixing things to gain a rudimentary verbal understanding of the way the majority of nuts and bolts works. I never needed words to explain how nuts and blots work, as I had been taking things apart and putting things together since before I could talk.

A lack of understanding of how things are made and how to fix things has ramifications far beyond just how things fit together. For instance there was the man who wanted to take his family on a float trip on our local river. He asked, "Let me get this straight. We get in the canoes here, and (pointing upstream) come out there?" "No," local guide Ernie assured him. "This is a real river.  I have to take you five miles by road, you'll get in canoes, and after following the river for several hours you will arrive here." The man thought the real river was like an amusement ride at Silver Dollar City or some such. Should a man as dumb and out of touch from a practical understanding of real life as that be allowed to take his family in a canoe? Perhaps not.

How have we have become so technologically proficient and technologically stupid at the very same time?

Part of the problem has to do with education and part has to do with parenting. Parents can hardly wait to put their iPhones and iPads and other such devices in the hands of their kids. This violates a basic premise of Educational Sloyd, that learning move from the simple to the more complex. We get kids involved with fancified technology before they've mastered a simple and fundamental understanding of reality. Complex things can distract and entertain and we mistake that for learning. Having misinterpreted children's ease of engagement with technology as being a leg up on things, we neglect the need that children have to begin their understanding of the universe with their own hands-on exploration of it. Making and fixing things can play a big part in that.

In schools we violate another principle of Sloyd. Learning should start with the concrete and move to the abstract. If you look at the syllabus for any given course, at nearly any school, at nearly every grade level you will find that it begins with broad understanding and only later attempts to lead students into deeper levels. Try to become a teacher and you'll be tested by boring classes long before you stand in front of one on your own. In contrast, when you begin with the concrete and advance toward the abstract, children are led on a path of discovery. Even when they discover that which is already known, the mapping of that discovery in actual experiences recorded in their  bodies, minds and brains, anchors the understanding of abstract principles so that they can be used in even deeper and more abstract understanding.

Joe sent this link to a book on Knife Work in the School Room by George Baldwin. Can you imagine putting knives in the hands of kids? At Clear Spring School, kids have been carving with knives safely for years.

Today in the wood shop I'll be helping my apprentice and working on boxes. I leave on Sunday for Marc Adams School for my class in box making.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

celebration of the child...

Today at the Clear Spring School we held our annual Celebration of the Child, which is our closing school program. The kids do skits, and the teachers present certificates of achievement that acknowledge special qualities of character that the children have worked on and express that bring benefit to their classmates. It is a thoroughly heart-felt celebration. Awards were given for curiosity, for listening, for compassion and teamwork. The long list of valuable character traits is just as important as anything else we could recognize in education.

At the close of the program, the high school students performed the Pete Seeger song, Little Boxes, on the guitars they had made in wood shop. They held up a sign thanking me for helping them to make their guitars. But for me it was thanks enough hearing them played. A tool is not complete until it is put to use in learning. An instrument must play music, and so to hear them perform on the instruments we'd spent so many weeks to make was like graduation day for me.  I don't know how many have the opportunity to feel what I felt today. Various parents offered to send photos. So perhaps I'll post one later in the day.

On Sunday, my cousin Anne's grandson Gabe passed away following a very long illness. That night I dreamed about my uncle Newt, Anne's father who had died over 10 years ago. Newt was standing behind my brother in law, Mike, as some of us took turns asking, "Has anyone seen Uncle Newt?" Mike looking forward kept saying, "No, I haven't seen him." Uncle Newt smiled in delight.

And so it is. There is no coming or going in life when it is understood that all things are interconnected and thoroughly bound together as one. Teachers learn that when they step aside in awe of their students' growth. We each become our own versions of my uncle Newt.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


It seems summer is here in the Ozarks. I had my last day of woodshop for the school year and all projects are finished by the kids. Looking back it was a good year and if you've been following along you may have some high points of your own.

I have had encounters with interesting wild life wandering between the house and shop. The Green June Beetle is one. They seem to be everywhere around here. At first I suspected I was seeing the same one over and over again, but not so. There are lots of them, and they are large enough that you can't miss them.
The baby box turtle was a more unexpected and delightful surprise. He was not pleased with being picked up and photographed. Turtles can live almost as long as a person if they are allowed an undisturbed ecosystem, and to see a young one like this is promising for the future.

 My kids at school have also been showing promise. They seem undeterred in their creativity. Several have asked if I'll be around during the summer, as they would like to keep in touch with the wood shop. Instead, I'll be home working on my book or off to Marc Adams School of Woodworking for my box making classes. The first starts on Tuesday, and then after a week off, my second class will begin on June 10.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

every thing can be folded...

Researchers in folding and geometry have moved a great distance beyond the paper crane. One lesson that can be learned from those who work by hand with real materials in contrast to those who design on computers or drawings is that everything has thickness. An article, Folding Frontier is about the new science in folding materials into new forms. It is an exquisite art, at the same time as being engineering at its best. If you like origami, you will likely love what folks are doing now with new foldable materials. A claim in the article is that everything can be folded. By making cut to remove thickness on the inside of each bend even wood can be folded.  That said, one inventor has even created a folding origami based plastic kayak that fits in a carrying case.

Today in my wood shop, I am continuing work on my Chapter 5 box. School is wrapping up quickly for the year. I have some repairs and clean up to do in getting ready for ESSA woodworking classes and on Sunday I leave for Marc Adams School of Woodworking to teach box making.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 20, 2013


What impacts do aesthetic qualities have on the quality of our lives and creative experiences? Architect Will Price, founder of the Rose Valley art colony in suburban Philadelphia said,
"Not so many things, but better, must be the cry of the consumer, and things good enough to be a joy in the making must be the demand of the worker, and until these demands become peremptory we shall hope in vain for a civilization that shall be worth while."
Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, we'll be finishing last projects for the school year and cleaning. In fact, we will be cleaning all week so the classroom will be ready for wood working classes with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

I have been reading a book by Eileen Boris published in 1986 on the relationship between the arts and crafts movement, Ruskin and Morris on labor, organized labor, socialism, and the development of an American aesthetic. Sadly, In an American culture dominated by a complete capitulation to capitalism, such things are no longer discussed. The book is Art and Labor, Ruskin, Morris and the Craftsman Ideal in America. It reminds me that most of what I think has been thought of and discussed before. And yet, still, there is an inescapable human compulsion to –

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 18, 2013


carve (v.)
Old English ceorfan (class III strong verb; past tense cearf, past participle corfen) "to cut, cut down, slay; to carve, cut out, engrave," from West Germanic *kerfan (cf. Old Frisian kerva, Middle Dutch and Dutch kerven, German kerben "to cut, notch"), from PIE root *gerbh- "to scratch," making carve the English cognate of Greek graphein "to write," originally "to scratch" on clay tablets with a stylus.
In that mix, you will find the word kerf... another wood working term. scarf (n.2)
"connecting joint," late 13c., probably from Old Norse skarfr "nail for fastening a joint." A general North Sea Germanic ship-building word (cf. Dutch scherf, Swedish skarf, Norwegian skarv), the exact relationship of all these is unclear. Also borrowed into Romanic (cf. French écart, Spanish escarba); perhaps ultimately from Proto-Germanic *skerf-, *skarf- (cf. Old English sceorfan "to gnaw, bite").
I've ben told that escarvar in Portuguese is a verb referring to the process of connecting two pieces of wood into a continuous piece, while the verb escavar means "to paw,"as would a dog or a lover. The language of the hands touches nearly every aspect of our human verbal expression. And then there is the rest of what the hands do, connecting us with everything else.

Today on the radio, I listened to an interview with Jill Bolt Taylor in which she described an unbelieveable sense of bliss and connectedness that came as her capacity to speak and think in words was stripped away due to a stroke. I believe her experience was what Pestalozzi described as Anschuaang, a pre-intellectualized recognition of the wonders of reality that is often lost in formalized education.

Last night's White St. Art Walk was a booming success if one looked only at the number of folks attending. For me, sales were down, but with White St. out of the way, I begin preparing for my classes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking that begin on May 28. I heard there may still be spaces available in this class if you have time available to attend and learn box making.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

LA guerilla gardens

"Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do."

Ron Finley notes that kids need to be doing things that give them a sense of purpose and that have real value. Can folks not see that kids isolated from becoming providers will not receive the earliest and best possible guidance in becoming responsible adults? I am reminded of my friend Tom, who at the age of 12 was told to go out with his 22 rifle and secure dinner. If he did not, his mother informed him, they would not eat. Tom regarded that moment as a life changing experience. He had been asked to make a real contribution meeting to his family's real needs. Gardening is a thing that can happen nearly anyplace. We are not what we think, or what we know. We are what we do. And most sadly, schools these days offer little chance to do real things that are of consequence to family and community. Schools are about someday. Someday this, someday that. And what about now?

Make, fix and create.

"creative" day...

Carving a wooden bowl
Yesterday in the CSS wood shop, I had "creative" day in which the kids could do anything they wanted provided it was done safely, and that I had sufficient materials available. The kids prefer to call it "free day." But my own term is to describe what I hope is going on in their hands and heads as they wrestle with ideas and making them come forth in physical form. It is a great time to introduce tools they've not used before. Gouges, mallets and drawknives were introduced to various students and safely used.

One 2nd grade girl wanted to make a bowl. So I provided a block of soft wood, a gouge and mallet along with safety glasses. With the wood safely held in the vise, she worked carefully and quietly for almost an hour. Her bowl would not meet Pottery Barn standards. But I would have been proud to have made anything like that myself in second grade, and she was too. Each woodworking scholar made works from their own imaginations.

7th, 8th and 9th grade wood turners
My 7th, 8th and 9th grade students also had "creative day". Some turned pens, and it was a pleasure to see all of our school lathes in operation at the same time.

Today in the school wood shop my 4th, 5th and 6th grade students will also have "creative day." I'm also getting ready for White St. Art Walk on Friday where I'll show my work and perhaps sell a few boxes. Sunday is the annual Books in Bloom Literary Festival on the grounds of the Crescent Hotel. My wife is co-founder and co-director of the annual event which brings authors and their readers together for a lovely spring day.

Make, fix and create..

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

the persona of the maker...

This film is one pointed out to me in Robin Wood's blog.

Today in the woodshop at Clear Spring School we are finishing up the school year. Next week is the last for the year. My first, second and third grade students will have a "creative day" in which I'll be challenged to keep up. My 6th, 7th and 8th grade students will be turning pens. If we are lucky, they might even become engaged in beautiful hand writing.

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


On Sunday, I found that my truck wouldn't start without jumper cables and a boost from the Subaru. So after getting it started, I drove to Walmart, the only place to have a battery installed on Sunday. I decided to have the oil changed at the same time. After about 30 minutes I checked in at the service department and found that there was a group of Walmart administrators gathered about my truck, scratching their heads. The terminal end had come apart in some place that it shouldn't have. First one administrator had been called in, then another and another as they tried to figure out what to do. Finally an automotive expert was called in from his day off to examine the situation.

During all that time, I was left waiting. Because I was not a Walmart employee, I was not allowed to even see what was wrong with my own truck.

The truly odd thing is that it was a problem I could have fixed myself. Instead, my truck was kept overnight. I went without its use for the balance of the day and the next. They wouldn't release it to me due to their concerns that a temporary fix to get it running would lead to my truck catching fire and they would be sued.

Yesterday, I spent an extended time on the phone. I learned that everything any mechanic at Walmart does to your car is recorded on DVD so they can review it in case they get sued. In the meantime, having fallen into a bureaucratic quagmire, my truck sat in their parking lot until 4 PM and I was stuck without its use as they waited for a tow truck to take it to another local mechanic so he could order the needed part. For most of the day yesterday the mechanic, under the impression that the entire wiring harness was destroyed led me to believe that it would take 3 or 4 days to get the correct parts. From Webster's:
Kafkaesque : of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially : having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality – Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays.
I should get my truck back today. With the truck finally delivered to an experienced mechanic, the trouble was found less complex and expensive than presumed, and the part was located for installation this morning.  In celebration of better days in American history, the following is from the Knickerbocker, Volume 39
The Yankee boy, before he's sent to school,
Well knows the mysteries of that magic tool.
The pocket-knife. To that his wistful eye
Turns, while he hears his mother's lullaby;
His hoarded cents be gladly gives to get it,
Then leaves no stone unturned till he can whet it;
And, in the education of the lad,
No little part that implement hath had.
His pocket-knife to the young whittler brings
A growing knowledge of material things.
Projectiles, music, and the sculptor's art,
His chestnut whistle, and his shingle dart,
His elder pop-gun, with its hickory rod,
Its sharp explosion and rebounding wad,
His corn-stalk fiddle, and the deeper tone
That murmurs from his pumpkin-leaf trombone,
Conspire to teach the boy. To these succeed
His bow, his arrow of a feathered reed,
His wind-mill, raised the passing breeze to win,
His water-wheel, that turns upon a pin;
Or if his father lives upon the shore,
You'll see his ship, 'beam-ends upon the floor,'
Full rigged, with raking masts and timbers staunch,
And waiting, near the wash-tub, for a launch.
Thus, by his genius and his jack-knife driven,
E'er long he 'll solve you any problem given;
Make any gim-crack, musical or mute,
A plough, a coach, an organ, or a flute;
Make you a locomotive or a clock,
Cut a canal, or build a floating dock,
Or lead forth beauty from a marble block;
Make any thing, in short, for sea or shore,
From a child's rattle to a seventy-four.
Make it, said I? Ay, when he undertakes it,
He'll make the thing, and the machine that makes it.
And, when the thing is made, whether it be
To move on earth, in air, or on the sea,
Whether on water, o'er the waves to glide,
Or, upon land, to roll, revolve, or slide;
Whether to whirl or jar, to strike or ring,
Whether it be a piston or a spring,
Wheel, pulley, lube sonorous, wood or brass,
The thing designed shall surely come to pass;
For, when his hand's upon it, you may know
That there's go in it, and he 'll make it go.'
Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 13, 2013

100 acts of sewing...

One of 100 dresses by Sonja Phillip
Sonja Phillip, craft artist, decided to make 100 dresses in 365 days. That might be seen as an ambitious project, but if you had been in the building that collapsed in Bangladesh or in the fire that recently killed 8 in that same nation, more than 100 sewn garments would have been only part of your daily work. It is odd that the simple act of making something to wear can be an expression of humanity, or can be distorted as a means of human exploitation.

Sonja Phillip says:
"It may be unrealistic for everyone to make their own clothes, but everyone should know how to sew. At one time students did learn in home economics. I went to an international school overseas where all students – male and female – took needlework and cooking, as well as woodwork and metalwork classes. Maybe it was this experience that informs my thinking – that even if a person doesn't make their own clothes, knowing how to sew leads to appreciation of skill and recognition of quality. It also enables people to mend or modify the clothes they purchase, helping extend the life of the garments.

"The act of making anything by hand comes from a place of contradiction. It will probably always be cheaper, faster, easier to buy a mass-produced item. It's the way the market functions, economies of scale.

"To go counter to that comes from a place of concentrated attention. Can we begin to see labor and craftsmanship as valuable? Can we go beyond labels and logos? Can we determine value in the context of provenance, memory or lineage?

"We need to fill our lives with meaningful objects and not simply quantities of stuff."
The point of "making your own stuff" is not always about the "stuff." When we become engaged in making something, developing skills, growing in understanding of materials and techniques, we are engaged in the construction of self. What we do in the making of self, effects our own lives, and reshapes our relationships with all those whose lives we touch.

As you can see in the photo at left, I continue to make boxes. These will be chapter 5 in the new book and will have drawers. The top panels are basswood, that has been textured and painted, either with spray paint (black) or milk paints. A similar sized box will be made with dovetails.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

No true wealth but life...

John Ruskin 1850s
The Hillside Club in Berkeley, CA will host a one-day symposium on John Ruskin, No Wealth But Life, on July 13. I am constantly amazed by those who have so little sense of cultural integration that they see only the dollar as their measure of success.

Neurophysiologist Matti Bergstöm named a sociological and cultural syndrome, "finger blindness" referring to those who have not learned their sense of self from a true connection with reality...  like that acquired through the making of beautiful and useful things. He refers to those folks as being "values damaged," in that their values are restricted and narrowed to a single measure of reality. Bergstöm said, "Just as the blind man cannot see the the shape of a physical object, the finger blind cannot perceive its intrinsic worth." Rather than understanding the diverse cooperative values associated with craftsmanship, the only measure for the finger blind is that of competitive financial success. And some of the richest folks in our society suffer from it.

We see the effects of this all the time, from the SWEPCo plans to put a huge superhighway of electric power through my back yard, destroying 48 miles of Arkansas forests in the process, to schools in which the administrators overlook the interests of each child in order to foist schemes of greater profit and short term cost-effectiveness, on our kids.
"Ruskin attacked the insufficiency of nineteenth century notions of 'value' and 'wealth,' insisting instead that 'There Is No Wealth But Life.' For Ruskin, as for us today, the great challenge was to teach people and nations "to desire and labour for the things that lead to life." As an antidote to the gospel of greed, Ruskin taught "the first law of the universe" the law of help which governs all healthy biological and social systems."
Ruskin's law of help is as follows: "Government and cooperation are in all things and eternally the laws of life. Anarchy and competition, eternally, and in all things, the laws of death.[98]"

Today in the wood shop, I'm cleaning and getting ready for the week. This is my next to the last week of classes for the year at Clear Spring School. I'm also getting ready for the White St. Art Walk here in Eureka Springs next Friday night, and I am preparing for my trip to Marc Adams School of Woodworking in two weeks. Class there will begin on May 28, and there are still openings for students to sign up. Go to for details.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

china DIY

The US has long had an edge in technology due to the DIY culture that is currently making a resurgence.   Make Magazine, and the huge array of junk available to us play roles in this. I remember a few years ago when my friend Roger found a man at his door who had moved from Chicago and in that move, he wasn't allowed to carry his huge pile of junk. The pile of junk in Roger's back yard was just what he was hoping for. He needed a place where he could scavenge for bits and pieces of old metal to use in whatever he wanted to make. He asked, "Will you sell me your junk pile?" Roger, a tinkerer in his own right, and knowing that he had more than enough to go around offered to share.

Many of us find it necessary be creatively engaged in some fashion, and if there is an ongoing American Success Story, it is that of the backyard inventor. Orville and Wilbur Wright come to mind.

An article in the Atlantic offers photos from the Chinese DIY movement. I don't share this as a cautionary tale. Who cares whether or not they are catching up to American ingenuity? Regardless of culture, or nation, the exercise of hands-on creativity is essential to healthy human moral values, and I applaud all those who make things... the more beautiful and well crafted, the better, but even the junk is better than nothing.

John Ruskin declared:
"It is only by labor that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labor can be made happy, and the two cannot be separated with impunity. It would be well if all of us were good handicraftmen in some kind, and the dishonour of manual labor done away with altogether."
Today I'll be working on chapter 5, making jewelry boxes of a simple design.

My readers may also see some beauty in this...

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 10, 2013

more pens...

Today the CSS high school students spent their time in wood shop to finish projects while those who were finished with things began turning wooden pens. They are studying civics in their current block, so the pens fit in with such things as the Declaration of Independence. No one these days write with old fashioned ink pens. Few are engaged in any kind of thoughtful deliberation that would have such consequences. It is far easier to make a pen than to write in cursive and it is harder to write well than many other things in life.

We grow from our strengths. But we also grow from our failures. Sam broke 4 pens before he got one finished. And the important thing is not that he broke a few, but that he kept trying until he found success. And now that he knows that formula, and with some practice, he will get better yet.

I used a hand saw to resaw wood that was too wide to pass through my band saw as you can see in the photo above.I first made cuts as deep as the table saw could go into each edge and then finished the cut with a hand saw. Who needs to work out at the gym if you have lumber and a saw?

You can find a simple tutorial in how to make turned fountain pens in yesterday's post.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 09, 2013

turned pens

Here is a quick tutorial on setting up to turn pens on the lathe. This is a good exercise to lead students beyond turning simple spindles where some degree of success is almost certain. To turn something as thin as a pen takes much greater skill. All of my 7th, 8th and 9th grade students broke one or more turning blanks before they successfully made a pen. Expecting some failures, I made lots of blanks from walnut and cherry so they could experience a choice of woods. Ripped from 4/4 hardwood stock the pen blanks are extremely cheap to make using a table saw to re-saw the stock.

Drill into the block on the face plate.
First, mount a piece of wood on a face plate, then drill into the center with a 3/8 in. drill. I shape the block of wood on the lathe to prevent it from having any sharp corners that would injure the hands. Drill in about 1/2 in. or more so the pen blank will be held securely.
Chisel the hole square to fit the turning stock.

After the hole is drilled, use a small chisel to cut the corners of the hole square, and remove the waste. You will want to get a tight fit on the turning stock, which in this case is made 3/8 in. square and 9 in. long.

Use a 7/32 in. bit to drill the end hole.
Use a drilling guide on the drill press to drill the holes for the nib to fit. The correct size drill bit is 7/32 in. Drill to a depth of about 3/4 in. so that some length can be trimmed off while on the lathe.

The end hole nests in the tail center.

Use a ball bearing tail center that has a center point sized to fit inside the hole drilled in the last step. The other end is placed in the square hole in the face plate. When the pen is sanded and finished, we glue a short piece of 3/16 in. dowel inside the hole with hot melt glue and then push the standard sized nib in place.

Nibs are no longer available in stationery stores like they once were, as no one seems to write with a pen, let alone one that requires real ink. I buy my nibs from old stock available on eBay. The kids love trying their hand at real writing, and you may, too. It is actually much easier to make a pen than to learn penmanship.

My students now plan to practice their cursive.
The kids learn that things are worth trying again and again as they refine their technique and get better results. How often does that happen in purely academic pursuits?

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

teaching computers by hand....

Programming computers is usually a keyboard operation requiring an understanding of a programming language. A Hands-on learning group member posted a link to an article showing how computers involved in controlling robots, can be programmed by hand positioning of the robot's tool. The article, How to Coordinate Multiple Axis Movements for a Robotic Welder, includes the short video above, showing the hands-on programming in action and illustrates the work of Robotiq, a company that makes various kinds of hand-like grippers for the robotics industry.

This leaves me with a question for my readers. Guiding the robotic tool and arm by hand to sense various positions so the computer can guide replication of the process seems a far cry from actually having hand-skills and conveying those to a robot, or using those skills yourself to make something. And if you have hand skills, and take pleasure in making beautiful and useful objects with those skills, would you want to train a robot to take your place?

What the hands actually do (and that took us years to learn) is so much more complex than what  we are able to teach even the most complex robotic hands to do. And the ability to spew products easily and at low cost takes a toll on the environment while producing goods of ever decreasing value and meaning. Whereas objects that require skilled hands in their making are becoming rare.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, May 06, 2013

boxes... the old fashioned way...

I am back from Phoenix and had a somewhat trying day at school this morning. Being tired, I was not at my best, and the kids knew it. They are far smarter than anyone but a good teacher would give them credit for. The kids grades 1 through 6 leave in the morning for their spring camping trip and today my fourth, fifth and sixth grade students helped to sharpen all the whittling knives so they will be ready to go to work once they arrive at the campground.

In my wood shop, I'm starting chapter 5 of my new box making book. John Grossbohlin sent the video shown above, showing a wonderful film about box making of an older style. Please click on the video so you can see the wonderful machinery full screen. Another reader, Randall, sent the video below, on deep learning.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, May 04, 2013

making use of the child's desire to please...

I have written before in the blog about maximizing the use of our best resources in the education of our children and one of the things inherent in the nature of the child is that of wanting to gain the approval of his or her family, and community. When my mother was a kindergarten teacher, one of the things she knew and used to be more effective as a teacher was that the children really wanted her approval and recognition. Children want to please. It is not because they are innately wired to be competitive, but because they are wired by genetics to be cooperative. That is different from the assumption that too many make concerning the education of our children.

Lothar Schäfer, in his book Infinite Potential which takes the lessons of quantum physics and applies them to material and emotional human life noted the following:
... the discovery, in physics, of a transcendent cosmic order is of the utmost significance: It offers a way out of a "robber's life" as Plato called it. In his book For a Civil Society, Hans-Peter Dürr describes how the awareness of quantum reality can help us build a kinder world and a society whose order is based on community, not adversity; on cooperation, not competition. "We are not 'stuck' with an innate viciously competitive nature," writes Bruce Lipton in his book The Biology of Belief. Instead, "survival of the most loving is the only ethic that will ensure not only a healthy personal life but also a healthy planet."
So how do we make schools so that they foster the most loving? You can see that our schools have gotten off track. Educational Sloyd recognized the child's inclination to gain the respect of his or her family, community and peers through the making of beautiful and useful things. That is no an adult craftsman's inclination to make something beautiful for his or her own home. To know that this inclination arises from our own quantum nature may help us to understand the importance of encouraging our children to understand the relationship between  craftsmanship and community.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, May 03, 2013

what we learn from children about reality...

Jean Piaget had noted that children often take up to a year to develop a sense of object permanence, through which they are aware that objects continue to exist when they are out of sight. This explains why children are so delighted in games of peekaboo.

I am reading about this and other things in a book by a friend, Lothar Schäfer, Infinite Potential, What Quantum Physics Reveals About How We Should Live. You can perhaps guess by the title that it may not be light reading. But it explains, or attempts to explain how modern physics lays out a course through which we can actually live more meaningful lives.

I had asked Lothar to explain a subtle bit of physics to me, concerning a thing that I had read and heard on the news some time in the past... If you introduce two atoms to each other then separate them on different sides of the known universe, what happens to one simultaneously affects the other. I quickly realized that the subject was too complex to be explained in a simple conversation, so I bought the book. I'm not sure of the science in how they discovered such an interesting thing, but it points to profound truths about the universe. Materiality, space, time and energy are not what we have been taught to assume and most certainly what we might be led to assume from our experience playing peekaboo. Reality may be more akin at all levels to the experience we have of it before we develop a sense of object permanence. Lothar uses a term potentiality to address the quantum potential within things when they get to the sub-atomic level and notes that these same rules of potentiality apply to human life.

Most children learn quickly about the manipulation of objects and they soon learn that despite the apparent permanence of things, they are always in the process of decline. Toys are damaged, worn, broken or lost, and from that they learn to trust the principle of causality, which in turn also reinforces our sense of the materiality of our existence. That sense of materiality can override other important things like the sense of potentiality, which I think of as the sense of relationship. All things and all minds are connected, and we are best in touch with that universal connectivity when we are engaged creatively as was or is the creator in making beautiful and useful things. If you watch a child at play, she's engaged in the discovery of relationships. Put tools in the hands of kids, and real materials for them to shape, and they discover so much more of real life.

In his book, Lothar proclaims,
"Segregation is the passion of the mechanistic mind. Eventually the passion led to a somatic system affecting all aspects of life, including moral, public and economic order. In the same way in which molecules of biology ate taken outside of the realm of other molecules, there is a disconnectedness of the arts form the natural sciences; of philosophy from the practical life. There is a constant conflict between science and religion; between our rational nature and spiritual nature. All of these phenomena are expressions of a mechanistic mind-set; They re in conflict with the wholeness of the world, and, for that matter, with a wholesome life."
This may seem unrelated to the subject at hand. Let me assure you it is not.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, May 02, 2013

sensitive hands...

I am in Phoenix for a few days to visit my sister who is having health problems. This morning I went with her to visit her acupuncturist. I was intrigued as he placed his needles in her skin. I watched closely as he first looked for the spot of placement on one of her meridians, and then used his fingers   to ascertain its exact position before sticking the needle under the skin.

I asked him to explain what he was feeling for. He said that there are slight depressions in the exact spot, that are not visible to the naked eye. I asked how a person trains to attain such sensitivity. He said that if you put a hair under a page of a phone book and feel for it, you can begin your training. Then turn another page over the hair and see if you can feel it. By the time you can feel it under 10 or 11 pages, you will have the necessary sensitivity to feel the body's meridians that appear to the touch as a slight dimple or depression. That's a trick I'll have to try myself.

He explained that some students of acupuncture are better at developing finger sensitivity than others.

I was reminded that the hands are instruments for both sensing and creating and that healing hands must do both.

On another subject not so far removed from the hands, I have an editorial in this week's Eureka Springs Independent newspaper. Disruptive landlines. It describes the danger of Utility corporations like SWEPCO getting out of touch with the needs of consumers.

Make, fix and create...