Sunday, November 30, 2014

the value of manual arts and industries...

The following is the conclusion reached by Robert Keable Row in 1909.
"If the tentative conclusions reached in this study are in the main right, the meaning of manual arts and industries in education is most significant and far reaching. It means that we must thoroughly reorganize our school curricula, elementary, secondary, collegiate; that, instead of spending nearly all of their time sitting at desks, working over books, pupils will spend about half their of their time in some kind of work room, or in gardens or fields; that after pupils have attained a certain maturity, the education system will provide that they may work for pay half the time and pursue academic studies during the other half; that the vast majority will continue in school years longer than they do now; that among the masses of the people in industrial and commercial life there will be a constant rise in intelligence, in physical vigor, in economic efficiency, in prosperity, in moral stamina, in aesthetic interest, and in joy and satisfaction in life."
The change that he proposed never came in full measure. The notion of keeping children confined at desks never lost its appeal to those academicians and power brokers who kept them slavishly at it. But there is value still in doing real things, with real outcomes providing real meaning in children's lives.

Turning the tide of American education is a gargantuan task. In the New York City school system alone, there are 1 million students and over 1 million desks to fill. Watching over those 1,000,000 students there are 89,000 "pedagogical positions". Add the custodial staff and administration, and there are 134,000 people to nudge toward a renewed vision of learning in one city alone.

To have students doing real things instead of sitting at desks would require huge changes. It would take more trained staff, conversions of classrooms to work shops, the addition of equipment and new educational model in which the hands are given greater purpose. So, how does one accomplish a gargantuan task?

Start small. We can start with the simple understanding that we learn to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands on. If we can agree on that we can, over time, create more meaningful education.

 Make, fix and create...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

rightly conducted...

This from Robert Keable Row, 1909, the addition in bold parenthesis is mine:
Rightly conducted, manual arts and industries furnish abundant exercise for all forms of intellectual activity, under conditions most favorable to mental (and moral) development.

If the purpose of education is that of creating situations of dependency, in which people are enchained as consumers and left without the where-with-all and without the initiative or power to create change in their own lives, we've made the right schools for it. Put 30 or more students in a classroom, stuffed to the point that teachers have no choice but to invest the greater part of their attention in maintaining control, rather than in the delivery of meaningful content, and you've placed both the teachers and students in an untenable situation. After years of dependency, and idleness students may turn to crime simply to have some control over their own lives.

Would it not be better that they be offered craftsmanship instead? It lies within the scope of the child's most natural inclinations. As proposed by Comenius, and as shared so many times before in this blog that I feel redundant in bringing it up,
"Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do."
Instead, we leave them restrained in seats, losing thereby, our most powerful educational resource, their attention. The following is from David Henry Feldman's paper, the Child as Craftsman:
To see a child as a craftsman means to see him as a person who wants to be good at something. It also suggests that the child continually takes pride in accomplishment and has a sense of integrity about his work, regardless of the actual level of the work produced. The notion is somewhat akin to Robert White's competence motivation, except that White's notion implies more of a need to feel mastery over uncontrolled forces in the environment. The child as craftsman no doubt is moved by what White refers to as "effectance motivation," but the metaphor is intended to go beyond this to include a more direct link to specific fields of endeavor and to suggest why some activities are so much more compelling to a given child than others...

Perhaps the most important implication of the metaphor is to suggest that it may well be the main purpose of education to provide conditions under which each child will identify and find satisfaction through a chosen field or fields of work.
The price we pay for for failing to engage children in craftsmanship is enormous. Think of the waste of lives of those young men and women who turn to crime, or spend their early years incarcerated, instead of becoming productively and creatively engaged. Think of the loss of dignity, that comes from our failing to enlist them in craftsmanship.

I know this blog won't be one that gains the attention necessary to turn the tide, change the direction in American education. So we must take matters into our own hands.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, November 28, 2014


Protests over the events of Ferguson, Missouri have spread throughout the world, with protests now taking place in London and other cities. Ferguson is not an isolated problem, but rather one with deep roots in the moral culture. A boy steals, a cop kills him dead with twelve shots. A protest erupts and the cops and local administration leave the dead boy lying in the streets for hours. Further protests are completely mishandled by the police who respond to citizens' concerns by bringing in tear gas, troops in full body armor and armored personnel carriers. After a time of relative quiet as folks wait for justice, a trial is held in which the grand jury found the cop innocent of wrongdoing. Further protests erupted, just as one would expect. And finger pointers on both sides explode in the media and on the web.

The following is from Robert Keable Row in The Educational Meaning of Manual Arts and Industries, 1909.
A very large number of children now have but little in the way of manual occupation or responsibility, still less of systematic training (in doing real things), in the home. Out of school hours they play, read, practice music (all of which is good), but they do not learn to work with their hands. There can be no question that a training that gives a boy or girl a sense of ability to control material things, that leads to frequent experience of satisfaction through producing something worth while is a great moral force. The new industrial and social conditions demand that this training be given in schools.
...If pupils are trained to use good materials, to measure and weigh accurately, to do work that will bear inspection inside and out; if the training leads them to see and appreciate the difference between sincerity and sham, it cannot fail to develop moral fibers of genuine integrity. This is the more certain because, while pretence in a recitation is elusive, in handwork the product stands with more or less permanence to commend or condemn.
In the 60's it was decided that creative hand work would only be offered to those not going to college. Then it was decided by powers that be that every child must be destined to college, and pushed there whether he or she was interested in further academic work or not. And so we faced a huge drop-out rate in American high schools. Gradually, shop classes and home economics were phased out as being unnecessary to our nation's kids. Machines and foreign workers would take on all aspects of production, so skilled hands were no longer of vital interest to our nation's leaders. Wood shops and auto shops were considered high risk, too high a risk even for those kids who were designated as "high risk." And so by these days, we have virtually eliminated the manual arts from our schools, even in those places where they are needed most.

Can you begin to grasp the stupidity of all that? Woodworking in schools was originally promoted for two reasons. One was that our nation needed skilled hands (and we still need those hands.) The other was that our students needed moral fiber, that came through the exercise of their hands in the crafting of beautiful and useful things. The real value of the student's work, as described by Otto Salomon was not in the object made but in the students. The true product of craftsmanship lies within the moral fiber of our citizenry. And so we come back to Ferguson, Missouri.

I would simply remind my readers that craftsmanship is a moral force that self-replicates when it is nurtured. Children are drawn to exercise it when given the opportunity to nourish themselves through it. If we want to improve society and remove the risk of the destructive forces of misunderstanding and contempt, we must empower our children's creative capacities. Robert Keable Row had noted that
"The movement to make training in certain industries part of school work is at least 400 years old. Martin Luther advocated it as a means of moral reform, pointing out that skill and industrious habits conduce self-respect, self-reliance, and self-support, and that inefficiency leads to idleness, and idleness to vice and crime. This view was urged by many moral and religious reformers in different countries for many years."
But less than a generation of educational "reform" removed those opportunities for manual arts training from most schools.

We have Shiva, the god of destructive transformation on one hand, and human creativity on the other. We choose what we get, one or the other.

History shows the value of manual arts and industries as means of human development. -Robert Keable Row, 1909

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, November 27, 2014


New work at Lucy's craft table
In the US, this is our Thanksgiving holiday, a time to gather with family and friends and remember to be thankful for our many gifts. I am thankful each day to have a wood shop and the opportunity to share skill and creative capacity with a new generation. Yesterday I invited my great niece from South Florida to join me in the wood shop to make tops, button toys and flip cars.

As a four year old, it was her first time to work with wood, her first time to play with a button toy and her first time to spin a top. I asked if she had any toy cars, but in a world of Barbie princesses, there have been no toy cars in sight. I'm not pointing out anything that is unusual in this. The artificial world is becoming a predominant feature on the cultural landscape, and unless we take some pleasure in introducing the making of real things, we will lose the human craftsmanship that built our civilization.

This last week was a difficult one. Ferguson, Missouri exploded in violence, and I am reminded of the essential role that craftsmanship plays in the human scheme of things. Many religions, including Hinduism, recognize the fine line between human constructive capacity and the power to destroy.  They call that capacity, Shiva. Black Elk had a vision of it, that led him on his path as a great teacher of the Sioux nation.

We fail our own nation by failing to engage children in fixing, making and their own creative inclinations, and the pent up frustration that comes from the failure to be involved in the basic functions of our humanity can build up to explosive levels. The craftsman and the destroyer are two edges of the same sword.

When we are engaged in craftsmanship, we invest ourselves in the making of beautiful and useful things, but also in the development of self.

It may be difficult for some, those who are academically or politically encumbered, to understand such things. But craftsmen may understand such things in ways that much of our world cannot, and it is our duty to explain a few things.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

today in my woodshop...

I am ready to apply finish to more boxes to fill holes in my inventory due to filling orders for the Historic Arkansas and Crystal Bridges Museum stores. I have a small Christmas show next week and will need boxes.

We have Thanksgiving guests, and I've prepared lessons in woodworking for my 4 year old great niece. It will  be her first experience making her own toys, and this kind of experience can have profound effect. Memories are most strongly reinforced when activities take place in our own hands and tangible evidence learning is the outcome.

You don't need to have your PhD in psychology to understand the principles involved. But schools in general aspire to lower standards of participation in learning than what we all know works best.

The image above is the cover of the Marc Adams School of Woodworking 2015 catalog. I complimented Marc on his design and learned that the photo was taken of him and his son 21 years ago. Craftsmanship is a thing that must be encouraged, one generation to the next.

Enrollment is now open for those who have not taken classes before at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I have 4 adult classes available there and will have 3 classes in the coming year at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Using Froebel blocks, I laid out the simple example used to illustrate the Pythagorean Theorem. You can read about the Pythagorean theorem in The Duplication of the Square in Plato's Meno (An Appendix to Glenn Rawson's translation).

In the photo above, the sum of the area of the two squares laid upon a and b equals the area of the larger square of the hypotenuse. a2 + b2 = c2 or this animation may help.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

aside from a lovely well crafted box

Aside from a lovely well crafted box, the blocks of each of Froebel's  gifts, 2-6 present the child with a sense that the universe is ordered and stable for his manipulation and unlimited exploration. A cube is discovered within a cube. The cube comes apart for imaginative play and arrangement, and then goes back, restored to its original form.

To return gift number 6 to the box, simply arrange squares as shown in yesterday's photo, stack the assembled squares on top of each other to form the cube, and then slide the box (with lid removed) over the top. Then hold the lid up to the edge of the table and  slide the box and contents off the table and onto the lid. Use the lid to hold the blocks inside as you turn it over. When right side up, the lid slides in place, and the blocks are ready to put away that their mystery may be enjoyed another day. Children can take delight in keeping their blocks neat and in their original form. Parents and teachers can take delight that when the play is over the blocks are put away.

Make, fix and please create...

Monday, November 24, 2014

into the woods.

Froebel's gift number 6
Froebel gift set number 6 consists of 36 blocks, 1/2 in. thick. There are 18 blocks just as used in Gift number 4, 1 in.  wide x 2 inches long. In addition there are 12 square half blocks, and 6 column half blocks. With these few blocks wonderful things can be built. These stack to form a 6 layer cube that can be stored neatly in the box.

We are off this coming week at Clear Spring School due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but I need to say just a few words about last week. Each year when the ticks and other biting insects are killed by our first freezing days of winter, the woods surrounding the Clear Spring School campus are opened for play. This happened last week, just as it does each year with an official ceremony called "opening the woods."

The children are given specific rules to follow. One of these is that they must respond to the bell and come immediately back to the school grounds. There are very clear boundaries set for their exploration. The tradition is for them to form non-exclusive groups and for them to organize forts. When my daughter was in Clear Spring School, she came home each day with stories about "Double Tree" and about the competition with rival groups for sticks and other building supplies. Building forts and organizing play in the woods remains one of the most memorable of her experiences at the Clear Spring School. In the school wood shop on Thursday, the kids all wanted to make tools to work on their forts and signs to mark them out and with the woods having just opened for the season, there was genuine excitement in the air.

There are two very good reasons for children to play in the woods. The first is that the children need to be engaged in direct investigation in the outdoors. We accomplish this in part through extensive outdoor education, field trips and camping, but they also need to establish personal relationships to the outdoors. The second has to do with what Matti Bergström has called the "black white game." What parents and teachers want children to do he calls the white game. What children want to do of their own inclinations he calls the black game. In the latter, children explore and establish their own relationships with others and with material reality. He said in discussion of this game that human culture must arise new within each generation. And so it will. Children from Clear Spring School are equipped for that. We call it "play" and it happens at recess, but it is educational. And when you see students at Clear Spring running excitedly through the woods, there is a reason for it.

Tim Holton sent two related links from KQED: Forest Kindergartens Push Back Against Academic Focus For Young Kids and Let ‘Em Out! The Many Benefits of Outdoor Play In Kindergarten. At Clear Spring School, outdoor education is nothing new and starts in pre-primary school. Thanks, Tim.

In my own shop today, I will be making sets of Froebel blocks, taking a few photos and writing about it.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

rabbeted bottoms

I am working on gifts 5, 5b and 6.

One of the easiest ways to install a plywood bottom in a box is by using a router table and rabbeting bit to route the space for it to fit. Unfortunately, most rabbeting bits are large and while they can be adjusted to cut a small rabbet for small boxes, that requires adding a large bearing which keeps it from routing into the corners.

Amana has made a small rabbeting bit that is perfect for making small boxes. It has a bearing diameter of 3/16 in. and routes a 1/8 in. rabbet, which makes it perfect for use with the Froebel boxes I'm making for gifts, 5, 5b and 6.

In the photos above and below, you can see it in use.  When the rabbet has been cut, simply measure the inside space, cut the bottom to the same size and then round the corners.

For a single box, shaping each corner with a disk sander makes sense as it can be quickly done. In a production setting, many can be routed at the same time on the router table by standing them on edge and using a round over bit of the required radius.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Pythagorean theorem

The image below shows the use of Freobel's gift number 5 to demonstrate the validity of the Pythagorean Theorem, one of the foundational principles of mathematics. Most students are required to memorize it as
a^2 + b^2 = c^2\!\,  but without being taught its relationship to geometry as shown above. B squared is not just a number multiplied by itself but represents a shape.

In accounting, facility in the addition, subtraction and application of numbers is important. That is one side of math. In engineering, facility with shape is important. That is the side of mathematics that we tend to ignore in school but that can be applied in wood shop.

When I was taught the Pythagorean theorem, it was presented in a purely numeric form, completely divorced from the concept so well illustrated both above and below. Squared and cubed numbers as well as their roots were left dead for me, just as they are too often left for dead in today's math.

Froebel's gift number 5 as used to represent the Pythagorean theorem is shown below.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, November 21, 2014

5, 5b and 6

I have been working on gifts 5, 5b and 6 and the chapter that includes these gifts. This photo shows the set of blocks that Froebel designed as set number 5. This was the set of blocks used by older children to understand the Pythagorean theorem.

How many children were able to understand the Pythagorean theorem through the use of these blocks, I don't know. But facility for math is not only the use and understanding of numbers. It involves "spatial sense," such as one might develop through manipulation of blocks. Choosing points along a number line is an important skill, as is judging relative proportions and scale.

Even G. Stanley Hall, recognized that learning through the hands touched the unconscious mind in ways that conscious recitation based learning could not. I repeat a quote from my blog post of two days ago:
Where work that the boy has made himself with his own hands goes, there his interest follows. His reading is stimulated; the inner eye back of the retina is opened, and that priceless though semi-conscious education, which is by hints and suggestions and which is far more rapid and indelible than anything in the memorized and examinable region of the soul, goes on by leaps and bounds. Thus skill with the fingers is harnessed to development of the cerebral neurons, as it should be, and we are working in the depths and not the shallows of the soul. - G. Stanley Hall.
Make, fix and create...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

the impulse for action and work...

"The impulse for action and work makes the child hammer and knead, scrawl and cut whatever falls into his hands. It is the office of education to come to the assistance of this natural striving which is the child's work of development." - Education by Work 1876 by Bertha Von Marenholtz-Buelow
Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, the first grade students worked on puppets and were disappointed that they were not able to finish them in a single class period. My fourth grade students wanted to make things from their own imaginations. One used sketchup to draw 3-D creepers and zombies from Minecraft. A new student wanted to make a box so that he would (like the other students) have a place for his desk items. Another wanted to make a birthday present for her mother. All could be done in woodshop, but the activity kept me too busy to take any photos of the children at their work.

This afternoon my middle school students wanted to make their own tools to use in the woods. After the first below freezing days of the winter season, the bugs die down, and the snakes are in hibernation, we open the woods surrounding the campus for play. Children join non-exclusive groups and build forts. Suitable sticks are always at a premium and serve as currency. This year, for the first time, they decided they need tools, and asked that they be able to make the tools themselves. So as some made signs and tool racks, another made a wooden mallet. More will come a week from Tuesday when we return from Thanksgiving break.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

homeschool class 2

Today I held my second home school woodworking class in a 4 week series of once a week classes. The students are working on toy trains based on a model wooden locomotive I had available as an example. Each student is working out their own ideas, building upon what was shown to them.

One student also made tops, another button toy, and s pinning Froebel cylinder and base. Another student also made an airplane.

I was out of school yesterday due to a cold, and my lower elementary school students were excited to see me back at school. I'll make up their missed class time tomorrow. I know that other teachers may also find joy in their relationship with students. To walk into a classroom of first graders and to be greeted with unbridled joy is an amazing thing.

One of the great things about this homeschool class is that it fits with the philosophy expressed by Dr. Waldemar Goetze in Leipsig, 1883.
"We must be on our guard not to confound the interest which grownup people take in these things with that of children. Experience shows that boys work with the same pleasure at objects taken from school life as they do at those for home use. The point is to avoid setting work which they cannot comprehend, and to enter the circle of their ideas. The pleasure of seeing misconceptions born of word teaching cleared up by the contemplation of real things and by personal experience, and the happiness of being able to follow instruction with more intelligent understanding, are as great as the satisfaction of making objects for daily use."
Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

in the depths not the shadows of the soul...

The following is from the Pedagogical Seminary volume IX, an article written by G. Stanley Hall,
Where work that the boy has made himself with his own hands goes, there his interest follows. His reading is stimulated; the inner eye back of the retina is opened, and that priceless though semi-conscious education, which is by hints and suggestions and which is far more rapid and indelible than anything in the memorized and examinable region of the soul, goes on by leaps and bounds. Thus skill with the fingers is harnessed to development of the cerebral neurons, as it should be, and we are working in the depths and not the shallows of the soul.
Make, fix and create...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Quentin Hogg

Yesterday a friend of mine who teaches in the social sciences at the University of Arkansas mentioned the difficulty he has in interesting his students in history. It seems that with the rapid changes in technology the good old days were just prior to whatever model iPhone you have, be it 3, 4 or 5. But history can be a source of courage and inspiration, if only kids were made aware to take advantage of it. The following story is from Charles A. Bennett's History of Manual and Industrial Arts, 1870-1917.
On leaving Eton in 1863, Quentin Hogg, (1845-1903), an athletic young man of eighteen, accepted a position with a firm of tea merchants. As he went about the city, he came across many poor and homeless boys and his heart cried out in pity for them. But he was wise enough to know that, if he were to help them, he must first get acquainted with them and, to do that, he must first be one of them. So he bought a second-hand suit of clothes, such as was worn by shoeblacks, and a shoeblacking outfit. After office hours, he would “sally forth to earn a few pence by holding horses, blacking boots, or performing any odd jobs that came his way.” “He used to get home in time for breakfast, and, for some time, Sir James (his father) knew nothing of the two or three nights a week when his son supped on ‘pigs trotters’ or ‘tripe and onions’ off a barrow, and spent the night curled up in a barrel, under a tarpaulin or on a ledge in the Adelphi Arches, learning to know the boys he meant to rescue, making their life his life, their language his language, in the hopes of changing their lives.”
Hogg went on to found one of the first Polytechnic institutes based upon his experience earned as a shoeblack, part time of course as he also became wealthy in the tea trade.

In the shop  I have 120 boxes packed and ready to be shipped by UPS.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, November 16, 2014


This morning I was reading in Charles A. Bennett's History of Manual and Industrial Arts, 1870-1917 about the manual arts training movement in Germany. My reading in that direction was inspired by hearing from a manual arts (woodworking) teacher in New Zealand, who grew up in Leipzig and was familiar with some Sloyd models and with Froebel's Gifts. Leipzig was ground zero for the manual arts movement in Germany. But it was also a destination for British and American bombers during WWII so it is unlikely that the Training College for Teachers as shown in the photo above still exists.

Much of the movement at Leipzig revolved around Waldemar Goetze, and Der deusche Verein für Knabenhandarbeit, the German Association for Boy's Handwork. We need something similar today in the US, but for all children, not just boys.

I have been nursing a head cold (a thing that seems to have swept through school) and packing boxes for shipment to Little Rock prior to a big event that requires corporate gifts. (I will reveal no surprises before the time comes.)

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Gift 5 B

I am working on Froebel's gift 5 B. It involves half rounds (12) and cove cut blocks (8) used to form Romanesque architectural forms, columns and arches, in addition to  12 cubes and 12 quarter cubes. You can see that gifts in the 5 and 6 series are larger and more complex. This particular chapter will have 3 different sets of blocks, gifts 5, 5b and 6, each of which can be made either with hand tools as made by Froebel or with power tools, as were made by Milton Bradley and other kindergarten supply manufacturers. The cove cut block in the photo above was cut with a gouge and the half-round formed with a router, though it, too, would have been made with simpler tools in Froebel's day.

In either case, the idea here is that parents and grandparents might make the gifts for their own children, and that they, knowing the benefits of Froebel's Kindergarten would begin to expect much more from public education. Knowing where Kindergarten once fit in the education of our nation's children, educators and parents also are led to understand where manual arts fit in, and why they remain important to our kids. At Clear Spring School kids love wood shop.

If our preference is to develop a society of mindless consumers, by all means we are on the right track. But if we hope that our nation might be something more than that and that our children get the benefits of mind and character that engagement in creating useful beauty can provide, perhaps going back to Kindergarten would be the coarse we would choose for ourselves and our kids. A truly meaningful educational experience would start with what we can learn in Kindergarten and build from progressively following the theory of educational Sloyd: from the known to the unknown, from the easy to more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract, and all starting with the interests of the child.

According to the essay "Kindergarten Culture" in the Paradise of Childhood,
"Definite ideas are to originate as abstractions from perceptions. (Anshauungen, as the Germans say, meaning literally the looking at or into things.) If they do not originate in such manner they are not the product of one's own mental activity, but simply the consent of the understanding to the ideas of others. By far the greatest part of all acquired knowledge with the mass of the people, is of this kind. Everyone, however, even the least gifted, may acquire a stock of fundamental perceptions, which shall serve as points of relation in the process of thinking."
So what is truly involved when a child is engrossed in the process of making a beautiful and useful object, or an adult, for that matter, spends time in the wood shop? Are we not aligning ourselves (even if unconsciously) with the most basic human impulse? that to:

Make, fix and create...

Friday, November 14, 2014

amazing dunderheads

As some of you may remember, I have been trying to stop a 345 kV extra high voltage power line from being built through our scenic village in the Ozarks. The application by SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool has been delayed for months due to our opposition and to us having proved that they failed in proving need. The power company must be granted what is called a CECPN, or Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need in order to be awarded the power of eminent domain to destroy our lands.

Despite the delay, AEP, the corporate mother ship of SWEPCO is now claiming on their website that the CECPN has been granted by the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Either they are lying to impress investors, or they are true and most amazing dunderheads. In order to witness their stupidity, go to this site, and click where it says "Shipe Road - Kings River Transmission Project." The ill-conceived project is intended as a means to carry windpower eastward to the TVA, but is being rationalized as providing "reliability" to the local area, even though it would provide 4 times the power we currently use.

In the meantime, I am preparing to ship orders, cleaning the wood shop, and returning to my work making, photographing and writing about making Froebel's Gifts.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, November 13, 2014


At the Clear Spring School, students are studying weather and meteorology. In science lab they have been making various instruments and testing various soils, sand, water, and soil covered by fake snow to record the amount of solar radiation they absorb from heat lamps.

In wood shop, we've been making hygrometers based on the difference in expansion and contraction of wood, long-grain vs. cross-grained. The idea is that if you glue cross grained wood to a strip of thinner long grained wood, it will flex as it expands and contracts, acting like a needle on a dial. The woods used (elm and walnut) are very responsive to changes in relative humidity. One of my students noted, "mine's all bent." "It is supposed to be," I assured her.

As the relative humidity climbs, the assembled piece straightens or may even curve upwards. As the humidity falls due to changes of weather, or due to heating or AC, the  "needle" will curve downward. By using a professional level hygrometer to do our calibration, we will have made some useful instruments and will have demonstrated a property of wood: that it expands and contracts in response to changes in relative humidity across the grain, but not in length. That is a crucial thing to remember when designing furniture or even boxes from solid wood.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Home school class

I started my class for home schooled students at Clear Spring School today,  and the students, aged 8 though 13, started out making button toys from wood. They were amazed at how much fun they could have with such a simple device, and making your own toys, rather than being dependent on the imagination of toy manufacturers, is empowering.

The button toy is so easy to make, but we added a special feature to it, an extra large hole drilled through. We discovered that the hole not only increased the sound the button toy makes as it spins, it also allowed us to see through it. That was an added feature that we didn't expect.

Sticky sandpaper forms a sanding station
Those things that we "discover" trigger exceptional brain activity, forming patterns in the memory that are far superior in strength, and longevity than the information we have had administered to us by others.

The term for this is heuristic, meaning: enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves. "a “hands-on” or interactive heuristic approach to learning."

I have a new sanding method in which sticky sandpaper is simply adhered to the surface of the work bench. This is far simpler than having sanding blocks to get out and replenish.

In addition to button toys the students also began making flip cars and experimenting with their own designs.

Make, fix and create...

Eureopean style apprenticeships...

One of my blog readers, Reuben, sent this link to an NPR story about European style apprenticeships in South Carolina.

Adults and children learn best by doing real things, which shouldn't come as any great surprise, except to those who've kept sheltered within the upper echelons of business, politics and academia.

In the meantime, in Arkansas, I'm in the process of applying finish to 120 inlaid boxes for my corporate gifts order, and will start a class for homeschool kids at the Clear Spring School wood shop today. The class will run every Wednesday for 4 weeks and the plan is for toy making, though we will also cover basic tool safety and use. I have five students registered, and the idea is that of helping home school parents become more familiar with the program offered at the Clear Spring School.

Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine and Maker Faires was keynote speaker at the ISACS conference this year, and our board members who  attended the conference were excited to bring back copies of Make Magazine to share with me. They were not aware that I had written for the magazine in the past.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

manual training and Kindergarten

The following is from the Paradise of Childhood, Quarter Century Edition, 1896, editor's notes, page 165,
"The natural foundation for a mathematical and scientific education which the kindergarten lays is an important element to aid in the production of more expert and accurate workmen in any manual occupation, and will tend to cultivate a more accurate and practical conception of everyday experiences. The manual training exhibit sent from Russia to Philadelphia in 1876 began the evolution of a practical system of manual training in this country, and the corresponding exhibition of the kindergarten work and material, with the first practical kindergarten guide in the the English language, was equally a forerunner in of the kindergarten in America, which today stands well in advance of the work in all other parts of the world, while its possibilities can as yet be only imagined. Twenty years ago America was at a great industrial disadvantage in comparison with older nations, because her artisans lacked the scientific and art education which was afforded the workmen of other countries. This defect is rapidly being overcome in the establishment of industrial schools, through the liberal donations of some of our capitalists and the general progress of our public school officials along the same lines."
I believe that while the full developmental powers of kindergarten were never realized in the US due to having cut the Kindergarten period from three years down to one, and having crowded far too many children into a classrooms with a single teacher at the same time, the rise of kindergartens in America had a profound effect. The manipulation of objects in kindergarten classes may have built the body and soul of craftsmanship and design in America, enabling us to win WWII and proceed to become an industrialized power.

Today in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, our elementary school students will be making angels for a Christmas display in the city parks. Our middle school students are so deeply engrossed in our new sloyd knives, they cannot be pulled away.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, November 10, 2014

the challenges of Judging

I spent the weekend in Texas, as one of three judges at the Texas Furniture Maker's Show.  First, I want to thank the craftsmen for having invested so much in their caring workmanship and exploration of design. And I want to apologize if  I offended anyone by my critique or by overlooking the qualities of their work in the competition. With a limited amount of time to review work, and with a limited number of awards to give in distinct categories, we faced challenges.

Much of the work was amazing, but judging such an exhibit is likely not something I will ever do again. The problem, is much like what we see in public education. There are no real clear assessments for quality of design, and when it comes to technical qualities and various levels of craftsmanship, it is hard to find an objective measure to rank one distinctively different piece against another.

In public education, standardized testing has become their answer for assessing results, and at the furniture show, we judges often fell back on surface effects, to attempt to find an objective measure to achieve a ranking, one fine piece vs. the next, just as in education where standardized testing looks primarily at surface effect.  For instance it is relatively easy to run your hand across a finish and discover that it was not given as much care as the finish in another piece. In education, you can test for some things easily, like comprehension in reading and math, but those tests never reveal the more important qualities that lead to success.

Yesterday we had a critique in which judges and makers walked through the exhibit and discussed the features that led us to choose or ignore each one, and that may have been informative to most, but it was also awkward being put into a situation in which we had to explain our choices and rationalize our oversights of particular works.

Participating in such shows requires a bit of perspective. Participation should be based on the desire to learn, not on the desire to win, and most of the participants in the critique wanted greater insight into how to make their own work better.

Some of the work simply displayed excellence in the making of traditional designs, and those were the ones that gathered our higher marks. When an artist does something purposefully different in an effort to stand out, it is also at the risk of wowing one judge and leaving others scratching their heads. That was a situation we faced with some of the more innovative work.

My own suggestion is that craftsmen take judges and the process of judging philosophically. There is an inevitable arbitrariness to the process. One year in a show, my work was awarded best of show, and the next year, I wasn't let in at all, and so we must not take a panel of judges too seriously or allow their comments to detract us from our creative paths.

In public education, finding a way to rank children seems inevitably cruel and short-sighted. Individual craftsmen may have the opportunity to enter next year. Children are marched unceremonious into life based on no clearer standard than their ability to test well.

On the flight home to Arkansas, a young couple with their child, Ellen, were in the seats across the isle. I had noticed Ellen at the airport earlier as her mother and father took turns trying to keep her in check. She was young enough to toddle like a drunken sailor. She was bright, active, and her parents were lovingly engaged. Would I need a standardized test to determine her future or to sort her, one child against another?

Would it not be best that we simply love the work, and love the children and not spend too much time attempting to measure one piece against another, or one child against the next?

Today I have work to do at school preparing for classes.

I want to thank the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center for allowing me to participate as judge and for hosting my presentation on furniture design. They and the craftsmen of Texas put on a first class show.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Texas Furniture Maker's Show

The awards ceremony was well attended!
Texas Governor's Table.
Yesterday I helped to judge the Texas Furniture Maker's Show at the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center in Kerrville, Texas and was thankful to not do it alone. The work is at a high level of style and craftsmanship. I also made a presentation on furniture design and sold copies of my books.

Today my fellow jurors will make ourselves available to offer individual critiques, and then I'll travel home to Northwest Arkansas... Tired, but after having made new friends.

Make, fix, and create...

More comfortable than it looks

"Midnight writer"

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Kerr Arts and Cultural Center

Today I will be at the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center for the Texas Furniture Maker's show. I will join two other judges in reviewing the work, and make a presentation on design. Judging work is a difficult and awkward task.

The golden mean detector wand is intended as a bit of a joke, in that it is used to determine whether or not the golden mean was used in the design of a piece. Whenever I've taught furniture design, the subject of the Golden Mean comes up, and I would like for my students to be able to investigate for themselves. You can print this out and make your own.  I use a hollow chisel mortiser to make the cut and if you want to make lots of them for student use, simply stack them, or cut the mortise in thicker stock and rip it into thin strips.

To use it, simply hold it at the right distance so that the edges of the small window align with the edges of the object. If the edges align, you are looking at an object of the proportion prescribed by the golden mean, a ratio of sides 1:1.618...

In my review of hundreds of photos of beautiful and useful furniture, very few are intentionally designed according to the golden mean, leading me to suggest that there are other useful schemes of proportion.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, November 07, 2014

An example of financial stupidity

Can you believe they would put this on TV? If Ms Hobson's point is simply to tout the importance of "financial literacy" she need not have disparaged the value of shop classes and home economics to do so.

I could tell Ms. Hobson about the time my truck broke down at the side of the road and I overhauled the carburetor with my Swiss Army knife. But then she probably wouldn't have known what a carburetor is. That's something she would have learned in auto shop. I could have waited for the highway patrol to show up, and then hired a tow-truck to fix what took me less than 20 minutes. Add the cost of a carburetor overhaul, the 40 minutes of wasted time waiting for a tow truck. Add the cost of the tow truck. Add the fact that I was an hour from home and would have been incredibly inconvenienced by not being home and left waiting in a garage when I could have been in the wood shop.

That's a bit of financial news she should respond to, but they have closed down comments on the site.

She says she has a "very, very poignant point to make," but she's dead wrong. Kids may need financial literacy as she describes, but they also need wood shop.

As I said last night, I am headed to Texas to judge finely crafted furniture made by smart people.

I have a few more pointers that might be of some actual use to someone. Become skilled at many things, including the kinds of things you might learn in shop class and Home Economics. Perhaps you would rather be smart in one narrow field and stupid in the rest of life. The interesting thing about being unskilled in the practical arts is that you may be able to afford to have servants fulfill your every whim. I would also tell Ms. Hobson, that the spirit of American and its competitiveness was built upon the kinds of rugged individuals who built all the many things she takes for granted.

Of course, I acknowledge the contributions of the Swiss for making such a handy knife. The use of it was mine. The truck was made in Japan and the highway had been laid by American craftsmen. It is important to acknowledge the contributions of others, but we must also be prepared to act tangibly in our own behalf. Shop classes and home economics classes are an important part of the big picture.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Texas Furniture Maker's Show

I'm going to be at the Texas Furniture Maker's Show November 7th and 8th returning on Sunday. I'll be one of 3 judges in the competition and make a presentation on the subject of design.

This afternoon, I made an introduction of Sloyd knives to my 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade students and allowed them to practice their whittling with the new knives. I made copies of my article from Woodwork magazine, hoping they would take an interest in reading it. They insisted that I read it to them as they began work. What could be more pleasant than being read to as you whittled with a sharp knife. They liked the part of the article in which I mentioned camping at Clear Spring School, as they had all experienced exactly what was described in the article.

At each class period, I had to chase the kids out of the classroom. They would not leave, insisting that they had to do just a bit more to the pens they were carving. It is wonderful when students are so focused on what they are learning that all other things fall aside.

On the subject of Froebel, I've discovered a few things more from my own further experimentation in whittling Froebel's gifts. For instance, while the gouge is perfect for cutting blocks that have a corner cut away in a 1/2 in. radius (gift 5 b), the gouge is relatively useless in cutting the outside shape of a 1/2 round block. The knife is a much better tool for that. So, while I can't say with absolute precision how a particular thing was done in the midst of the 19th century, the nature of the wood and tools involved have not changed. The knife was an important tool for Froebel, and he left a long trail of woodchips behind him.  It is just a shame that he and his having invented kindergarten has been ignored and forgotten. The following is from Norwegian author Christian Jacobsen in his book I Slöidsagen. Et Indlaeg (Oslo,1892):
“The knife demands total attention and permits no mechanical work. Furthermore, the knife can produce—unlike the plane, asan example—curved surfaces in form work. This makes the knife superior when it comes to the development of a sense of form and beauty.” [summarized by Hans Thorbjörnsson]
 Make, fix and create...


Yesterday I sanded over 120 boxes, preparing them for signature and finish next week. I've refined my technique by using a 1/2 sheet sander turned upside down in a wooden box that confines its vibration on the benchtop, and also allows for a vacuum to remove sanding dust. It makes what would be an odious task, much more pleasant, and nearly dust free. The box rattles when the sander is turned on, but overall the sandeer is no noisier than normal and the small gap around the pad allows for the vacuum to maintain a constant stream of air pulling dust away.

I am also working on chapter four of my book on making Froebel's gifts. This chapter will include gifts number 5, 5b and 6, and I had been puzzling over how Friedrich Froebel would have whittled certain shaped blocks with simple hand tools. We have no evidence that he had power tools of any kind, and we do have evidence that he whittled and did basic carpentry.
A simple gouge provides the answer. While at first I had thought perhaps Freobel might have had molding planes to make these cuts, I learned yesterday in my experiments that a gouge is far more effective, provided your wood has a straight grain. This does require a modicum of skill in the use of a gouge, but no more than a craftsman might acquire easily by use of a chisel.

Those of us living in a highly technological society, presume solutions to come only from high tech, rather than low, uncomplicated and skilled means of production. Efficiency in manufacture of small items may require machinery, but craftsmanship does not.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

rain gauges (and Mora Knives)

Yesterday when I got to school, our science teacher and kids were making anemometers from paper cups, and thermometers from soda straws, alcohol and colored water. So our making rain gauges and hygrometers in wood shop fit right in. Our science teacher mentioned the importance of science, and I reminded her that without crafts there would be no science. Early weather instruments and exploratory apparatus of all kinds were made from wood or used finely crafted wood as a component, and all the early scientists relied upon crafts as the basis of their experimentation.

The simple rain gauge requires a 1 in. diameter pill bottle, and a 26 mm. drill bit.
In addition, we received an order for Mora Sloyd knives from Lee Valley Tool Company. I have been wanting to get a set of these knives for our Clear Spring School wood shop. They have laminated steel blades with steel in the center carefully formulated to hold a perfect edge. The softer steel on the outside provides strength and flexibility.

Knives from Mora, Sweden were the tools of choice for Educational Sloyd as it made its way around the world in the late 1800's. Is there a relationship between these fine knives and the study of science? You can't successfully whittle a stick without formulating and acting upon simple hypotheses, whether they are written or spoken or not.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, November 03, 2014

weather instruments...

Students at the Clear Spring School have finished their study of ornithology and are beginning to study weather. There are at least three easy instruments that we can make in wood shop.

In years past we made weather vanes, and we may do that again with the younger kids. Tomorrow we will make rain gauges and wooden hygrometers. The wooden hygrometer is based on the differential expansion of wood, along and across its grain. Wood expands and contracts in response to the humidity in the environment, so we will take some wood that is cut across the width of a wide board and glue it to a strip of wood with the grain running at a right angle. As the cross grained wood expands and contracts, the long grain wood bends, and various humidity levels can be recorded to correspond with readings from a more accurate hygrometer.

We will also print our last set of student designed legos.™

In my wood shop, I have begun sanding the 120 boxes for my special corporate gifts order.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, November 02, 2014

More student boxes...

a simple miter jig guide and saw.
Students use tape to assemble and glue.
Simply lovely.
Richard Bazeley, in Australia has been making boxes with his 7th year woodworking students using a simple miter fence to guide in cutting parts to length. I like the simplicity of his guide. It would be relatively easy to make. I would have a longer fence so that a stop block could be used to control the length of the miter cuts, for as we know there are two ways that miter joints can be off. Either the angle or the length of the part.

In any case this will lead to more experimentation in the Clear Spring School wood shop.

It is my belief that no student should graduate from high school without making something beautiful, useful and that would last their whole lives long. What could be better to meet that goal than a wooden box? If that goal can be met without the use of power tools, then fewer excuses can be offered by school administrators who use student safety as their excuse and keep children in a bubble of inexperience.

Of course the true value of the student work is not in the object made, but in the student having made it. To have achieved success in making something beautiful and lasting would transform a young man or woman from being an idle consumer to a contributor of societal value. 

In my own wood shop, I have been making boxes, and yesterday I hinged and assembled 85 of the 120 boxes for my special gifts order.

My thanks to Richard, for sharing box making from down under.

Make, fix and create.