Saturday, June 28, 2014

wooden boat

I am in awe of the bi-monthly publication Wooden Boat. As I've mentioned before, it is one of the only American publications that makes a significant and consistent statement of the value of hands-on learning. This month's issue makes a point of highlighting programs that put kids into the process of boat building, and it is truly learned best, that which is learned hands-on. The wooden boat building community knows that and tells it like it is, though not, perhaps in language as direct as my own.

What we learn hands-on is learned to greatest lasting effect, and so is therefore much more efficacious than that idle classroom learning.

One article this month describes the work of boat builder/designer Louis Sauzedde. Sauzedde is well known among boat builders for is innovative tools and processes including a worm-drive saw with a control to bevel blanks to varying degrees as they are cut, and without the traditional ship-wright's tilting band saw. Sauzedde, in the article is described as being both left and right brained at the same time and his work shows it. He also speaks clearly when it comes to what we do wrong by overly sheltering our kids. "I can understand wanting to protect your children, but today they're sheltered from work. Without work, you can't learn."

And yes, we learn best by doing real things. to make something useful and beautiful is the best of all learning experiences and the necessary foundation of greater things. What could be more beautiful and useful than a wooden boat? The image above is the Hestøy in Oslo, a Colin Archer design built in 1951.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, June 27, 2014

back to the wood shop...

I worked in the wood shop for a couple hours yesterday and a bit longer time today but have kept a slower pace due to jet lag. One must be alert and jet lag can have an adverse effect on one's ability to hold a clear focus. I have begun making 70 inlaid boxes for a corporate gifts order.

Yesterday we were invited to a meeting called by two of our local elected legislators to share ideas about our SWEPCO power line threat. The legislators were shocked by the number of people who showed up, and concerned that they might be overwhelmed, asked me to help moderate the meeting. What a thing to ask of someone who had just returned from Europe in the last 36 hours. I heard after the fact that I did a good job of things and was more coherent than one would expect to be having so recently arrived from Paris. Unfortunately this fight  against the power line must go on until either AEP/SWEPCO withdraws their application or the Arkansas Public Service Commission rejects it. Due to the range of their violations of state law, the best course would be for them to stop it now, before they do further damage to their reputations.

I saw so much inspiring work in the museums of Norway. The model ships in the National Maritime Museum were amazing as were the Viking Ships. I took about 1800 photographs while in Paris and Norway, and could thereby bore you for months. Here are a couple photos of the Viking Ships preserved in the Viking Ships Museum. These were buried in mounds as grave ships and contained skeletal remains as well as the objects needed for new lives in Valhalla.

When you make something from real wood, it can last hundreds of years if either cared for, or buried in the right soil.

If folks understood this, would they seek their immortality through craftsmanship? The attempt to achieve useful beauty is the first step.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

under a green tarp...

The final voyage of STAVANGER from WoodenBoat on Vimeo.

High on my list for visiting in Norway was the RS 14 Stavanger, a Norwegian rescue boat featured in Wooden Boat Magazine in 2009.  I was sad to learn that she was not in the best of shape.  Funds to build a boat hall at the National Maritime Museum for the preservation of Stavanger have not materialized and she was standing on the shore under a green tarp. It was not at all what I had hoped for.  I would have preferred to find her still in the water or undergoing restoration.

The RS 14 Stavanger was one of several redningskøyte designed  and built by Colin Archer.

When boats like Stavanger are finally retired, some human knowledge is retired as well, as boats are not just repositories of material culture, but of human skill, character, intelligence and emotion. I wish the Stavanger well and hope to visit her again under more auspicious circumstances.

Today I am recovering from jet-lag and hope to get into the shop for a short time as my attention allows. I have a large order for boxes to fill and a deadline, so a rapid recovery from jet lag is required.

Tonight we have a meeting in town arranged by a state senator and representative to discuss the SWEPCO power line project. I plan to deliver information on the shortcomings of the regulatory agency's review of the project. We should never have been subjected to such malfeasance, and with a properly functioning regulatory agency, we would not have.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


"Selfie" taken for British Woodworking
I am home in Arkansas, having spent nearly 3 weeks traveling to Paris and various parts of Norway. I feel out of touch at the moment, but arrived home to find a copy of British Woodworking in the mail, with a short article mentioning the Arkansas Living Treasures mini-documentary films that the Arkansas Historic Museum made about Larry Williams and me. It is nice to see the word getting out about craftsmanship, and as editor Nick Gibbs notes, Arkansas has set an example that others might do well to follow. Recognize the values of craftsmanship, or we will lose them and observe a serious decline in human culture. (Has that happened already?)

My wife and I were impressed on our trip to Europe by a number of things. The folks of Norway were extremely nice, and most were able to communicate in English. That made things easier and less awkward for us. The landscape was beautiful.

People in both Paris and Norway seemed to be less stressed out about their children than we are in the US, and kids were everywhere, taking part in real life rather than being sheltered and chauffeured as they are in the US. Streams of kids in Paris were going to the Eiffel Tower on buses, the Metro and on boats, and it was the same in Norway. It was obvious in Norway that children traveling safely with teachers through crowds was routine. Teachers in Trondheim had a rope with paired rings on opposite sides so that the kids could grab hold and be led through crowded bus stops without getting lost from the group.

Of all the art I saw in Paris and Norway, nothing could surpass Vigelandsparken. In Paris people stood in long lines to see paintings kept at arms length. In Vigelandsparken, folks of all ages were allowed to engage directly with the works of Gustav Vigeland. Touch it, climb upon it. Take the experience of it into your own soul as shown in the photo above. One of the most famous of Vigeland's sculptures is that of an angry boy child. His bronze left hand is polished shiny by touch, and people from all over the world gather around him for the opportunity to grasp and console his angry fist.

I learned that Kindergarten in Norway compared to that in the US is both pre-school and preparation for school and lasts years instead of just one year. That was what Froebel intended. I also learned from conversations that parents are worried there, just as they are here, that their children are spending too much time with digital devices and too little engaged in real life. That's a thing I hope we can fix. The message is simple. We know that we learn best and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands on, and yet we treat children as though they are exceptions and unlike the rest of us. They are not. They deserve the opportunity to do real things and to learn from the experience.

I have arrived home to a mountain of work. I have to make 70 inlaid boxes for delivery in July, and plan for my class with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, June 23, 2014


I spent the day yesterday visiting various museums in Oslo, including the National Maritime Museum where I hoped to see the RS Stavanger. It is in a rather sad state and residing under a green tarp while it awaits fund raising for restoration and a building to house it. The Viking Ships Museum is fabulous and one that we enjoyed. The biggest surprise for me came at the Norwegian Folk Museum, where I found a tine nearly identical to the one carried by my great grandmother from Norway in 1864. The one in the photo above is from the museum and the one below is my great grandmother's box.
As you can see, the box that had inspired some of my own work is lacking it's handle and latches.

The rosemaling pattern was obviously painted by different craft artists. Both are beautiful examples of Norwegian craftsmanship. Both came from near Voss. My great grandmother's box made the sea voyage between Bergen and the US and carried all her most precious things from Norway. So while it may not be as pristine an example as what is shown in the Folk Museum, it has a clear history attached.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, June 21, 2014


No one should visit Oslo for the first time without also visiting Vigelandsparken, the sculpture park built by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. The park and the work within it is of unimaginable scale. I'm not sure what else to say about it. It left me speechless. One small point that I can safely make is that no man is an island unto himself, and for some reason or another, Gustav Vigeland gained the confidence of Oslo to build one of the most dramatic expressions of humanity that could ever be imagined, having been designed and made by one man. If you think one man can make a difference in the lives of others, Vigelandsparken should not be missed. While my wife and I were there, we could see how many other lives were also being touched. Each statue invites touch and direct physical engagement. The sculptures shown below are of over 200 cast in bronze or carved from granite to last centuries.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, June 20, 2014

In a nutshell...

Today my wife and I traveled from Bergen to Oslo and spent the day on the tour, "Norway in a Nutshell." Ideally, visitors would take two days for that journey, but we wanted to get to Oslo and visit museums for our last few days out of the US. The image above is the largest waterfall along the train excursion up from Flåm.

I may have more to say about our visit to Norway in the days, weeks and months to come.

In a nutshell, Norway is expensive. But it is also beautiful and culturally rich. I have been a bit disappointed that I don't find more tiner (cheese boxes) for sale. It seems as though small industries could cover the interesting and culturally significant objects which were once produced in every small Norwegian village. One of the only tiner I've seen here so far was at Kjerringøy, north of Bodø and as shown below.

Make, fix and  create...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Froebel in Norway...

Norway, it seems is full of surprises. We said our good byes the day before yesterday to three friends who were taking the Hurtegruten from Bodø to Bergen. We took the overnight train to Trondheim, and while we were waiting by our hotel for the airport bus, our friends walked up on their way to the Cathedral. It was a one-in-a million chance encounter. If our bus had arrived a minute earlier, or we had stayed at any one of a dozen other hotels or they had taken the correct route to the Cathedral, we would not have met.

While Froebel's Kindergarten is on the decline in the US and Kindergartens are coming to use his methods less and less, his impact here in Norway is remembered. I was pleased to discover Froebel's blocks and method on display at the Sverreesbord Trondelag Folkemuseum.  Friedrich Froebel's method was also remembered in spirit by Kindergarten students and their teachers streaming through the museum and throughout the grounds.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

another view of education...

I am in Norway and learning a very small bit about Norwegian education. Every place you look these days, Norwegian school children are out of doors on field trips. Yesterday there was a large group of middle school age children gathered with teachers and bikes in the park behind the house. Outdoor education is important at Clear Spring School and it seems also to be important to the children of Norway. Here, even when the weather is lousy outside, children are there, playing anyway.

Kindergarten here is much more like what Froebel intended, beginning just as children were ready to leave their mothers arms, up until the age when they are ready to start school. One gets the sense here that children are very important to all.

I have also noticed that while Americans have a sense that we are world leaders in all things, the rest of the world has a lot to offer and that folks from the US can benefit greatly from seeing how the rest of the world lives.

Regular readers will know that I have an interest in wooden boats. The one shown above is in the boat house at Kjerringøy.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, June 16, 2014

tourist in Norway

Yesterday and today I've been playing tourist in the Nordlands near Bodø.

The Saltstrumen is the largest tidal maelstrom in the world and I was able to observe it with the tide going in during the afternoon, and then from the air much later in the day with the tide going out.

Today we went to a folk museum called Kjerringgøy, where I got to see many things made in the century before last. To this place, every child in the 4th grade from every school in the district comes to make flat bread during the school year. It was a trading center where fishermen and farmers would trade their catch and their produce for manufactured goods.

Every good trading post would have a blacksmith shop as is shown in the photo at left.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, June 15, 2014


A traditional Norwegian cake
My wife and I are in Bodo, Norway for the marriage of a friend. The wedding and reception were yesterday, and were beautiful and fun. We are so pleased to be here and were also pleased that our daughter was able to join us as a bridesmaid from New York.

I sat last night on the deck of our host's home, drinking fine Cuban rum at 2 AM with the sun not having set.

This is a lovely place. Most of the buildings were built following destruction in a Luftwaffe attack in 1940 that nearly leveled the old city of Bodo. Its setting is strategic, having a huge tidal estuary, and being close to shipping in the North Atlantic from around the Murmansk peninsula. I look forward to spending some time walking along the water front and looking at old wooden boats.

My host, Hans Christian (in his 50's), took Sloyd in school, as was required for all children in school, and as is still the practice here, today. He says things have changed somewhat. Students in Sloyd now find much more emphasis on design, and personal creativity than in building models and developing skill, but still, they have retained the idea that the development of hand, eye and mind are concurrent and mutually reinforcing and that doing real things establishes relevance in academic learning.

I have said nearly everything I  could possibly say on the subject, but I repeat myself, in the hopes that new readers will let their thoughts travel from the beating of their hearts, up from their chests into their shoulders, down arms and elbows to the marvelous instruments attached at the wrists. We are as Anaxagoras had said, the wisest of all animals because we have hands, and when we design educational processes that forget the essential relationship between hand and mind, we create cripples in our society and at both ends of the economic spectrum. Citizens who have lost touch.

Last night I was telling a friend about the concept of finger blindness... that if we fail to educate children in the creative use of their hands, we leave their moral imperative less than fully developed. It's  a new concept that most people have not thought about. But craftsmanship is a moral exercise, and when we create useful beauty as an external form, we too are shaped in the process. It is something the early practitioners of Educational Sloyd understood, but a thing that too many educational policy makers have forgotten.

Make, fix and for god's sake, create...

Friday, June 13, 2014

the origins of art...

Inside view Church of St. Roch
No one can spend any time at all in Paris without some sense of it having been crafted by earlier hands. Here is what John Dewey said about the origins of art:
"I think everybody who has not a purely literary view of the subject recognizes that genuine art grows out of the work of the artisan. The art of the Renaissance was great, because it grew out of the manual arts of life. It did not spring up in a separate atmosphere, however ideal, but carried on to their spiritual meaning processes found in homely and everyday forms of life. The school should observe this relationship. The merely artisan side is narrow, but the mere art, taken by itself, and grafted on from without, tends to become forced, empty, sentimental. I do not mean, of course, that all art work must be correlated in detail to the other work of the school, but simply that a spirit of union gives vitality to the art, and depth and richness to the other work. All art involves physical organs, the eye and hand, the ear and voice; and yet it is something more than the mere technical skill required by the organs of expression. It involves an idea, a thought, a spiritual rendering of things; and yet it is other than any number of ideas by themselves. It is a living union of thought and the instrument of expression. This union is symbolized by saying that in the ideal school the art work might be considered to be that of the shops, passed through the alembic of library and museum into action again." John Dewey, The School and Society, 1899
Paris, while we've been here, has been alive with children on field trips from school. There were streams of them climbing the stairs up to the Eiffel Tower from boats at the River Seine. If you can imagine a group of 30 or more students and teachers crowding onto the Metro at a single time and through a single door, you get the idea of what it takes to infuse children with an understanding of the arts. It can be a messy operation and one that is not without some small risks. I heard of no child being left behind, and taking students on the metro gives a different understanding of the phrase that George W. Bush used to terrorize American education.

Make, fix, and please create...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

whittling at Tuileries...

My wife and I are one half block from Tuileries, and one of the things I planned to do while in Paris was simply whittle one of the Froebel balls for gift number 2.

So in addition to visiting the Church of St. Roche down the street, Musée des arts et métiers, and Les Arts Decoratifs as the Louvre, I sat in a green chair for about 45 minutes and whittled this ball as shown above. Pourquoi, s'il vows plaît? Why not. Someone in this large world of Paris needs to be making something. In 1867, the director of the training college at Cluny in France, said the following:
"The introduction of manual work into an educational establishment can have two ends in view--either to prepare the pupils for a special calling, or to put into play their physical faculties. the prevision of the eye, the dexterity and suppleness of the hand, and to oblige the pupils to reason and reflect, whilst at the same time it causes them to know the application of theory to practice, as well as the advantages of both."
The device shown at left is a spring lathe, of the kind that you can make, and that is on display at the Musée des arts et métiers. If Friedrich Froebel turned a sphere on the lathe, it would have been on one simpler than this.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

make paris...

My wife and I are in Paris, one half block from Tuileries and have been doing all the things tourists do in Paris.We've eaten at small curbside restaurants. We've stood in line for museums. Even the passes that promise "no standing in lines" left us standing in line, as there is a great deal of enthusiasm for people from all over the world to visit the great paintings here. Going to museums is a lot like shopping except that you are not allowed to touch anything, and can't buy anything except in designated areas... the gift shops where at last you get to pick things up and buy them if you like. This morning we discovered a huge shopping mall underneath the Louvre that I had known nothing about.

This wood worker from the US was blown away by the craftsmanship invested in furniture on display from various eras and it can be safely noted that things made of wood are of much less interest than paintings from the Impressionist era. Yesterday we took the Batobus along the Seine and enjoyed it so much we took the trip twice. The day before we visited the Island upon which sits Notre Dame Cathedral, and we are getting to know the small area in which we are ensconced.

If you are in Paris, or can be on the weekend of June 21-22, please consider the MakerFaire to be held here. While most folks wander through museums buying little or shopping malls and discount stores, buying lots, the inclination to make is what's happening now among the young. And a good museum to visit in Paris if you are interested in making things is the Musée des arts et métiers, celebrating the inventive spirit of man. It is not as heavily attended as the Louvre, or the other museums dedicated to the arts. So you can wander through at your leisure, and see how many things were made before the dawning of the digital black age in which the hands have been perceived as an avoidable nuisance. I brought some whittling supplies and plan to head for the park.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

a small victory in our struggle

Some readers will recall that I and members of our small community of Eureka Springs have been involved in a fight to prevent a huge 345 kV power line from being built through our properties. It got my attention in April, 2013 when my wife and I received a certified letter informing us that an alternate proposed route would pass within 75 feet of our deck and decimate our 11 acre woods from one end to the other. The enormity of the project clearly indicated that it was not for local reliability as they falsely claimed.

We fought the proposal at the Arkansas Public Service Commission but the project was approved and we applied for a rehearing. That rehearing was approved in a commission ruling yesterday that admitted that the power company AEP/SWEPCO had failed to adequately address whether the massive extra high voltage power line is needed in the first place. You can read about it here, but as this is big news in Arkansas, more will be published throughout the day.

This is a victory for my small environmental defense organization "Save the Ozarks." Granting a rehearing is only a small first step and we have a long ways to go, still in the fight. My hope now is that the power company recognizes that their proposal was overly destructive and unworthy of  consideration. They should immediately withdraw their application.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Froebel teaching handiwork...

Froebel's second and first gifts.
The Paradise of Childhood told of Froebel's second wife's relationship with the Froebel family. She was only 18 months old when she first met Froebel and he was already an adult at the time. As a five year old she remembered her brothers going to visit one of Froebel's early schools and her story  includes the following:
"... her brothers were allowed an outing at Keilhau, and on their return they were constantly talking about the happy life of the boys who were at school there, and of the kindness of "Uncle Froebel," meaning Friedrich, to them. They also brought back with them many things which the pupils there had given them as samples of their own handiwork, models of toys, furniture and machines, cut out from wood or cardboard and pasted together."
As you can see, even in the early days of Froebel's school, students were busy crafting objects of interest to their learning. The multicolored gift balls in the photo above were made in Nepal and available from Etsy. Felting offers a simpler approach to making a ball than crochet, and if a person chooses not to create on his own, buying objects crafted by others is the next best thing.

On a completely different subject, the Arkansas Public Service Commission has given itself until Monday to make a ruling in AEP/SWEPCO' Shipe Road to Kings River  extra high voltage power line application. Their decision in favor of this project would give the power company the right to use eminent domain to take and destroy property across the Eureka Springs area for a power line of enormous proportions, and with a vast clear cut right of way, making the place ugly for the millions of visitors that come here for beauty. My fingers are crossed that all our opposition and sound argument against the stupidity of SWEPCO's project will sway the commission and stop the power company from building it.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, June 07, 2014

the art of focus...

EUREKA! The Art of Being (Trailer) from Quiet Center Films, LLC. on Vimeo.

This is the weekend for the premier of Eureka! The Art of Being. A number of Eureka Springs Artists and I are featured in the production. The premier showing will be in the Eureka Springs Auditorium tonight at 7 PM.

David Brooks wrote an editorial in the New York Times on the Art of Focus. There are infinite sources for distraction. And we are marginalized by our attention to them. If we look up occasionally from our iPhone as we wander, we find there is a real world out there, awaiting our attention.  And there are real things to be done that require the ability to apply our attention over a period of time much longer than a nanosecond. In fact when we apply ourselves to doing things that we've come to love and that demand our presence. Time becomes irrelevant.

I have gone from carving spheres to attempting to whittle the perfect cylinder. If you are whittling, object in one hand and knife in the other you'd best not lose your focus, or you better be ready with band aids for a quick repair to damaged skin.

Brooks concludes:
The information universe tempts you with mildly pleasant but ultimately numbing diversions. The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep. Down there it’s possible to make progress toward fulfilling your terrifying longing, which is the experience that produces the joy.
On another subject, my Taunton book Making Small Cabinets was translated into German under the title Kleine Schränke 8 faszinierende Modelle. and I received a hardbound copy in the mail today. You can find it at Amazon in Germany. This is my second book published by HolzWerken.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, June 06, 2014

cover shot...

When I was in DesMoines a couple weeks ago for Weekend with Wood Magazine, I lined up with all the other participants to have my photo taken for the cover. Hundreds of participants had the same opportunity.

No, please don't look for this magazine on your newsstand. It's fake and fun. Click on the image to enjoy the joke in a larger size. You can imagine woodworker's all across the US getting their cover shots framed for their wood shop walls.

Richard Bazeley made a simple sanding ring lined with sandpaper to finish his sphere. I'm not sure that's what Froebel would have done, but it is a creative solution for a near perfect sphere.

A good approach to making a sphere on the lathe is shown below.

A good friend of mine, Bob, made his grandson Max his first work bench as shown below. It is designed to grow with Max, as the legs are designed to be adjustable in height.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, June 05, 2014

more spheres

Richard Bazeley sent another image of his carved sphere, this time sanded.  Richard is using the  holesaw as a guide for sizing and to compare the roundness of various surfaces as he sands.  I've wondered what a handful of sand would do to a carved ball. Would it even all the surfaces just as one can make a ball from a piece of clay?

This is all what Froebel would have called "self-activity..." learning by doing and learning that arises naturally from curiosity and self interest. All my readers would know something about this or you would not have found your way to this blog. If you think of how a gardener tends her plants, you will know about Kindergarten and how a kindergartner tends children. You carefully build the garden bed. You make certain proper nutrients are in the soil. You plant the seeds carefully, and then watch closely as the new growth comes forth. You are attentive to every new shoot, and remove weeds before they deter growth in your precious crop. You take nothing for granted and you protect your tender shoots from damage and disruption from any number of garden pests. You make sure that water is provided at just the right time. And you trust the innate qualities of the plants to bear fruit at just the right time. These same rules apply to wood shop.

I've been chipping away at my own sphere number 3 which has been a bit more labor than the others as it was less perfectly marked.

At Clear Spring School this week teachers are planning for next year, and we are working to tighten ship. In the Wood shop, Les Brandt is teaching adult wood turning, and the floor is littered with shavings of walnut, pear, and other interesting woods.

My own floor is littered with tiny wood chips from my own carving.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

common core standards in drawing and the arts...

The common corp standards have been shaking things up in American education, along with the standardized testing that was designed (in some cases poorly) to measure whether or not the standards have been met. Overall the idea of the common core is a good one. Students entering college or a career need to have attained certain knowledge and skill in order to advance. And adopting the common core ads to the teacher's level of professionalism. The jury is still out on whether or not we can test our way to an American schools success story. This page, Common Core and the Arts has some interesting discussion with regards to how the common core curriculum addresses the arts. Aside from the arts which are basically ignored by the existing core, some mention is made of drawing when it comes to assessing and measuring shapes in geometry. In other words, drawing is not completely ignored by the common core. Nor are some of the other skills that kids can best acquire through participation in the arts.

It is my belief that educational reform should be led by a resurgence in the arts. Music, dance, drama, wood shop, painting, pottery and the like, bring real life into the classroom, and carry students interests in the rest of learning forward. When students have a use for what they must learn, then what they learn will be kept and used again because it was tied to experience that they hope to repeat. Is that so hard for educational policy makers to grasp?

Richard Bazeley from Australia, has joined me in carving wooden spheres. His is shown in the image above. I can imagine Friedrich Froebel having left a trail of wood chips where ever he went.

Yesterday I went by the Clear Spring School wood shop to see the wood turning class in action. It was lovely to see so many wood chips and so much enthusiasm for turning.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, June 03, 2014


A friend sent this article, Why Drawing Needs to be a Curriculum Essential. If you study what's happening in American schools, you will find it unlikely that students are given tasks of communicating ideas through the use of drawing. And it would be unlikely that students would know the importance of using drawing as a tool for the development of ideas either. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what have left out of schooling?

Every day in wood shop, whether working to develop formal design skills or not, I am called to ask, "will you draw that for me?" Then as schools abandon cursive for iPads and texting devices, the natural movement of pen and pencil on paper are displaced by the poking of fingertips.

In this, I'm not trying to be a whiner or curmudgeon. But as we look toward the future we should do at least a bit to remember the past, when hand skills, art, woodworking and other forms of creativity took center stage in education. The rise of Kindergarten played a role in all that.

I've hand-carved a second Froebel ball in my spare time. I have a simple means of marking a cube to become a ball. It involves a thin piece of Baltic birch plywood cut to the same dimensions as the cube, and with a tack poking through at the exact center. I drilled a hole for the tip of a pencil or pen to scribe a circle. As a flat compass, it is far easier to use on a small object than a standard compass would be. The point of the tack serving as one leg of the compass becomes aligned at the center of the cube without careful marking. Just align the edges of the template with the edges of the cube, tap the tack to get it to enter the surface of the cube, then use the pencil or pen to mark each side of the cube as you spin the template on its surface.

The opportunity to develop and exercise creativity should not be limited to those taking art classes. Drawing has practical applications. From the article linked above:
"As a primary visual language, essential for communication and expression, drawing is as important as the development of written and verbal skills. The need to understand the world through visual means would seem more acute than ever; images transcend the barriers of language, and enhance communications in an increasingly globalized world."
Make, fix and create...

Monday, June 02, 2014

lay a good foundation

To hand carve a sphere, follow the advice of Otto Salomon from the theory of Educational Sloyd, "lay a good foundation."

Of course he was not talking about wood carving but rather about getting students off to a good start. It is the same however, in carving a sphere. Using a knife, it is difficult to carve a sphere unless you do some careful layout first, and even then, at some point all your markings will be cut away, and you will be forming by the rack of the eye and by touch. The markings serve as a starting point. I am carving this ball from basswood. It would be easier if it was green basswood rather than fully dry, but dry wood holds its shape while wet wood will shrink across the grain and distort the final shape.

You can see the progression in the photos above. A hand carved sphere will not have the same surface qualities as one done on the lathe. In a way hand carved spheres are more interesting, as each facet is cut with a sharp knife. It leaves no doubt that it was hand made, and I suspect that when Friedrich Froebel made balls for gift number 2, that they looked something like what I've carved, though of better quality. He would likely have had more practice than I. He may have sanded the finished ball to develop a smoother surface.

After a time in the carving of a ball like this, what you see is of little value, and what you feel in its shape becomes all important. You will feel the sphere's irregularities. When you feel high spots take note of the location and remove that stock in small chips with a sharp knife.

To make this sphere was about 1 hour labor, but it could have been done more quickly and easily using green wood. I may try walnut.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, Les Brandt will be teaching day one of wood turning. I will be attending teacher meetings to plan for next year.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, June 01, 2014

take a cube... Froebel, holzschnitzer

Many men carry knives that may serve as dead weight in the pockets, or may be used to scrape  dirt from under fingernails.  We like pulling them out and offering, "let me cut that."

I am in the process of investigating Froebel's second gift. In the kindergarten product marketing extravaganza that came about after Froebel's death, his simple gifts became rather complex, both in their design and in how they were made.

In thinking WWFFD? (What would Friedrich Froebel do?)  and as a starting point, one comes up with different answers than one would arrive at if one were to ask, "How did Milton Bradley manufacture such wonderful products to sale to the Kindergarten market?" My own first thought as to how Herr Froebel would have made a ball would be that he turned it on the lathe. Being an experienced woodworker, my thoughts gravitate toward the more complex tools that I might use.  Froebel, having been a forester's apprentice in his early years, would undoubtedly have been acquainted with the use of a spring pole lathe from having watched bodgers at work. But we have no direct evidence of his having used a lathe. Instead, we do have evidence that he was skilled in the use of the knife. The law of parsimony applies to the discovery of truth in that principles based on the fewest assumptions may indeed be the closest depiction of reality. To assume that Froebel used a lathe, when it is  proven that he was skilled with a knife may lead us away from the simplicity in which the gifts were created.
Oc′cam's ra′zor
the principle in philosophy and science that assumptions introduced to explain a thing must not be multiplied beyond necessity, and hence the simplest of several hypotheses is always the best in accounting for unexplained facts.
Also called law of parsimony.
 Here are simple instructions for whittling a ball with a knife. First start with wood that is easy to carve and cut it into a cube only slightly larger than the size of the ball you hope to cut. Use a pen and straight edge to mark corner to corner, finding the center of each side. Subsequent marking will have to do with the overall size of the intended sphere, but marking as shown in the illustration will provide a clear starting point. Use a small 45 degree combination square to mark caddy corner lines intersecting each radius at the corners. These lines will help guide the removal of stock and turn the cube into a 14 sided object. If you are unconcerned, however, with the final size, just begin with a knife and start cutting corners. Keep turning and removing material until you are satisfied with its shape.

A small template, cut to the intended radius of the sphere, made from cardboard, thin plywood or Masonite will help guide your whittling and gradual removal of stock. At one time men had regular use for their pocket knives. By being engaged in thoughtful, creative working meditations, they found greater peace in their lives. Carving a small ball for the fascination of a child can work wonders, bringing joy to the child and peace to the elder.

Make, fix and create...