Saturday, February 28, 2015

wrest and wry...

Readers will have noticed that I have a fascination with words, and the use of those words allows me to appear intellectual despite the number of hours I've spent isolated in the wood shop. It is surprising how many interesting words come from our use of our hands. Even though it appears that the academicians have the upper hand, the hands themselves are inescapable in that our language cannot remove itself completely from the physicality of our beings. The hands are the most instrumental part of human anatomy and thus take a sustaining role in all that human beings do and in how we think. George Lakoff has made a study of metaphor as a means of understanding our human perceptions, and it is absolutely true that without the hands supplying the metaphors, much of our literature would be diddly squat. That's why it's important to actually understand what a dovetail is, how it is used to join wood at cross grain and how it is formed in order to use the term dovetailed to its greatest effect.

Two other good hand words are wrest and wry and etymology online is my pal in the exploration of language and its interrelation with what we do.

I am not attempting to imply that to be a good writer, one must have done every possible thing in the book of human action, but simply that to have done real things brings greater depth to what is written and what is understood. In the case of fiction, to have done real things, rather than using second hand metaphors or third hand metaphorical frameworks, provides the tools necessary to bring your reader to a willing suspension of disbelief. In the case of non-fiction which is either based on having done real things, or upon thoroughly researching someone else having done real things, what one learns in the process of engaging deeply in real life, provides a necessary framework for both interpreting and sharing reality with readers.

The point I am trying to make here is that as long as we insist that schooling be the most important thing in children's lives, school should involve doing real things. The doing of real things is what provides the necessary framework for depth of understanding. So, if schooling is to be built upon a foundation of reading and writing, efficacy demands that the footings for the foundation be dug deep by doing real things.

I have a friend Bill, who retired from a career teaching philosophy at a major state institution. Bill was always the odd man out in the department due to the fact that he had supported himself throughout his education with jobs in construction and agriculture. Doing real things is the mine to which we must all return to dig narrative gold. It is the source of all metaphors, and to use them effectively, it is best that we wrest them from the soil through our own strength, that they be fresh and useful to us.

It is extremely odd that so much human effort would be directed toward releasing the hands from their labors, while the labors of the hands offer the greatest liberation, even for those who eschew labor.

Tim sent the following link to Comment Magazine, the work of our hands. Also, in that issue, you will find an interview with Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft and about his new book, the World Beyond Your head, Becoming an individual in the age of distraction. You will remember Crawford as the philosopher/motorcycle mechanic, who effectively connected the two.

Becoming an individual requires doing something upon which you can draw upon. Without being grounded in the work of the hands, things become wry, and much goes awry, as you can witness for yourself in this modern life.

It is snowing today in Arkansas. There is no better way to spend the day than in a warm wood shop, and there is no warmer image than the one above.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, February 27, 2015

symmetry and form

Our students at Clear Spring are studying ancient history, and are now working through the Greek and Roman empires. In art classes, the students were cutting the shapes of amphora from brown paper, and the masks representing comedy and tragedy, and placing them on a background page. These were excellent projects illustrating their study of civilizations, integrating them with art, and using folded paper to create symmetrical forms, much like those we discover in an examination of all life.

We put nearly all studies into the realm of reading, and as important as reading is, the arts, are also. In the arts, the eyes are led to examine, and the hands led to create.

Barbara has finished her first round in the translation of I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg. The last section  of Christian Jacobsen's book has to do with beauty, the attractiveness of form, how it is perceived and how it is made. This section comes as a bit of a surprise to me, as who in schools today would take an interest in such things outside of art classes?

And yet, in the training of the eye, to perceive, beauty is discovered and that process is important for all scholars.

I am reminded of the place where I was living when my wife and I first met, and married. I lived in a small log cabin with a waterfall outside my bedroom window. The hollow (valley) was deep with high ridges on each side, and the trees towered overhead. The patterns of the branches were arranged so that each tree gave space to the other and by looking up, I could sense the natural harmony between each one and its neighbors. In this case, as always, it could be said that beauty was in the eye of the beholder, but it could also be said that the the beauty was also a real thing available in that interrelationship of form for the eye to behold.

In the arts (and in wood shop) the student becomes an investigator of form and a participant in the interrelationship between form, beauty, and functionality. And in becoming so, the student adopts a more thorough role in life itself.

I on the other hand, have become a slave of the machine. The 3-D printer at school does not want to just print a simple hand. As it goes through the steps, one piece or another will become loose from the print platform, turning the whole of it into a snarl of spewed fiber. At first you will want to watch it at work, because it is fascinating. Then you will become bored with it, and when you are not watching, it will mess up and there will be nothing that you can do about it, except stop and start over.

We have, however, printed parts for a third hand, and I am training my students for the next steps.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

printing plastic stuff in our kitchens?

The idea in the 3-D printing community has been that we'll buy printers and then have them available to print out the things we need and want from plastic. Some in the industry are beginning to think that idea is "over-hyped." Today I'll resume 3-D printing of parts for prosthetic hands and my students will finish assembling the parts we've printed so far. The potential for screw-ups in the printing of parts is enormous. It seems small parts lift from the printing plate and after the thing has run for an hour or several hours what you may end up with is not what you might have had in mind. So other than personalized legos that take over an hour to make 6, tiny kitchen spatulas with a personalized emblem or family crest, or things we have downloaded from, what will we make?

The important question about any technology is not what to make, however, for the value of the object is not in the object itself, but in the transformation of self that comes when one is engaged in creative work. The question becomes, how did this process shift my understanding and my character? Did it bring me into closer union (or communion) with my companions in life?

Barbara has finished the last of her first round of translation of I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg. Now she will read the whole of it through, applying to the first what she had learned in the latter part of the book. And is it not the same with everything? We take the materials we are provided, whether it be wood, or plastic, or concepts, or metaphors, and bring them into refinement. Still, in this, it is important to go deep.

The name of this blog, Wisdom of the Hands, came from a radio interview with Stanley Kunich, former US Poet Laureate,  in which he referred to "the wisdom of the body." The further we get from that wisdom, whether we are creating in the wood shop, or writing in the attic, the more disembodied our work may become. The term, in the parlance of the hand, is "out of touch."

This morning, as I lay in bed, too soon to get up,  I was thinking of the metaphor that has become so commonplace, that things dovetail together. The term is used to describe a perfect fit, and yet we may know that dovetails are not always a perfect fit. Nor do they go together just-like-that. They take practice and care (at least the hand cut ones do), and for those with experience in real dovetails to say that these things dovetail (if one is to be honest in the reading and writing of such things) would be an acknowledgement of the work involved. Things don't dovetail, unless they've been carefully crafted to do so.

It is odd that human beings want all things to be easy, even though we know that all things are not as easy as they look, and that it is the hard work we put into learning things and using tools and materials in the best fashion that leads us on the journey in which we arise to higher levels of wisdom and responsibility. In the article linked above, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass suggests that once folks have bought cheap 3-D printers for their kitchens, our fascination with watching cheap plastic stuff arise before our very eyes will soon diminish and the stuff we've made will enter the waste stream, only to be followed later by the printers themselves. But it is telling in contrast, that my woodworking students have collections of their own work. Their parents, too, keep collections of these objects their children have made, as evidence of their growth.

While we look for ease, we may remember that the greatest growth comes from doing difficult and challenging things.And I think that's why my students treasure the things they've made. They worked hard to make them, learned something and managed to arise in the process.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

shaving horses and tool boxes

My first and second grade students have nearly completed their tool boxes and are excited about them. The odd thing is that they aren't in a hurry to take them home yet, as they want to make tools to go inside them first. Does this express a new level of maturity? Normally they are in a very big rush to take their work home. I think I have some skilled artisans in the making.

Yesterday I also finished two John Alexander styled shaving horses to introduce at school.

Today I am in Little Rock for a hearing before the Arkansas Court of Appeals, over a power line case.

Power companies use "piecemealing" to divide large projects into digestible chunks as a way of forcing projects through the regulatory process that would not be swallowed by the public if they were allowed to see the whole project in its entirety. This case involves the first part of the project that would have come through my community, and that had been approved before the general public was allowed to see what they had planned for us. At this point, the utility AEP/SWEPCO has a working power line to nowhere that should never have been built. It's one that we had not known was headed our way, and that we become aware of too late to help stop.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

defending the early years.

As we attempt to overly script and control child development, we narrow their opportunities for discovery. It is time (once again) to talk about the Greek word "heuristic". It's derived from Archimedes exclamation that became the name of my wonderful home town, "Eureka! Springs" Now, let's holler all together, "Heureka!" for it conveys the sense of discovery, and is what education should really be about in the first place. Now when educators talk about "heuristic," you will be able to exclaim, proclaim and explain what the heck they think they are talking about... a means through which to create an opportunity for hands-on direct personal discovery.  You may remember that Archimedes discovered while in the bath that he could measure the volume of his body by measuring the water that flowed from the side of the tub. He ran naked through the streets, so excited was he about his discovery. And yet, discovery is the vital ingredient we've managed to leave out of our plans for education. The following is from the Danish National Library Authority.
The Finnish brain researcher, Matti Bergström concentrates on the child’s inner life and its – as we see it – chaotic ’possibility space’. Professor Bergström maintains that it is not only a question of ’white games’. The white games are our pedagogical efforts trying to bring up children in our own image. But there must also be room for the ’black games’ where children test themselves and the world around them.They must be given space. At a recent conference, Matti Bergström posed the question: do children need a knowledge lift? His answer was no, they need a chaos lift. We must allow children space and opportunity for the black games which are created in the unorganised and unsupervised meeting with other children.

Very briefly, Matti Bergström’s reasoning can be boiled down to this: The core of culture is art. The core of art is creativity. The core of creativity is possibility. The core of possibility is play. The core of play is chaos. Therefore all culture is based on chaos. More than ever before do we wish to encourage each individual’s creativity and culture-creating ability. The skills of the agrarian and industrial society have long since become obsolete.
This afternoon, I plan to drive to Little Rock so I can be present at a hearing before the Arkansas Court of Appeals. A power line case related to our own SWEPCO debacle has been granted a hearing, and I'll be going to observe and learn.  Had SWEPCO not decided to abandon their unfortunate proposal, we would be attempting to take our own case before the court.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, February 23, 2015

folded up with a book...

The emphasis on reading in our current culture is strong. In fact, if you are not reading incessantly, there are those who may think there is something wrong with you. Certainly, if children aren't reading at an early age, we worry for them and pressure them to perform.

As I mentioned yesterday, reading fiction has been described as a transforming experience, but the odd thing is that you can watch an avid reader for years and years without perceiving any outward effect... Unless they are reading how-to materials, and testing in their own hands what they have learned. Several years ago I got an email from a man in Israel who said he slept with my books at his bedside. He wanted to think of his own creative engagement as he fell off to sleep each night. I felt honored to have had such an effect.

Open a really good book and fall in. You may fold yourself up in a corner of the house or nest under covers and feel as though you've partaken of transformation. Your emotions can rise and fall according to what the characters endure. But if you are truly unchanged when the book is folded shut, we can reasonably then question the "transforming power of fiction."

Today I proved the occasional merit of being a pack rat. Popular Woodworking books had asked to reprint my first two books in a new edition. That meant files were needed, but after signing the contract, they learned that they had tossed everything out, including the high resolution images and text files. Today I sent my slides off for scanning, along with a DVD that they had produced of .pdf files showing each page and containing all the text files necessary for the new volume. If I had not seen value in these slides and DVD, the new book could not be made.

It was more than just a stroke of good luck that I had saved the files. I had hoped that they would be of value at some point. Incidentally, those two books that helped my Israeli friend find sleep, are the two that will be compiled into a new edition.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

the fear of useful transformation...

Norwegian author Jan Kjærstad wrote about the fearful power of fiction:
”We know hardly anything about our strength and possibilities. Sometimes I see man as a creature all folded up. We walk upright, but we have not managed to raise thought. Mentally speaking we are cripples …. I further imagine that books, fiction is just about the best tool for making us unfold …. And that is precisely why I am worried; why am I not hunting in a more determined way those books which will make me rise, which will make me grow a few centimeters? Because I no longer wish to be changed? I admit it: because I am afraid”.
How many books can you read that leave you essentially unchanged? There is a danger in this blog, in that if you do nothing from what is offered in it, you may feel in some ways impotent and diminished. If Mr. Kjærstad or others think that reading may lead to a fearful transformation, they might try making things for awhile instead. The change will offer less and even more to be afraid of. One might worry, "Am I to become a tradesman because of this?" Don't despair. Your first efforts will not bring your whole life to such a point of risk. You would have to actually get good at something first, and by that time you will have discovered that what you've done is something noble that makes you of greater real value to others, easing your transition into a more meaningful life.

As a writer in my small town, I am seldom thought of as a writer. Folks are surprised to learn that I've written books and I am never invited to participate in the situations that writers put themselves in to promote their work. It's because I write about how-to-do real stuff. I've thought of presenting the following at a local writer's night, if I were ever invited to present at such things.
The How-to of How-to (and a bit of why-to thrown in for good measure)

We all know that life in the 21st century is busy. There are so many choices of entertainment and distraction that it is hard to get any work done. And of course there's the Internet. It's a powerful tool that provides a sense that the whole world is right at our fingertips. But when we go off-line, the same drippy faucet is dripping its drip, the deck is in dire need of refinishing, and there are countless other things that need fixing or making or are just about to break. Gotta either hire a handyman or become one.

There are great writers that we all know and love who have the power to whisp us away through time and space, distracting us from our concerns, and placing our consciousness outside our own bodies, into the lives of fictional characters far removed from the real situations of our own lives. We welcome diversion from our own drippy faucets. Those are the writers who get the big bucks… the ones who entertain and distract. Their words carry us into feeling states from which we ultimately reawaken to lives unchanged.

How-to writers are a bit different. We write about small things that empower others to cope, to fix, and to make. We inspire readers to get up, put down their books and remotes, head for their basements, garages and backyard sheds with eyes, hands and imaginations directed toward improvement, change, betterment and growth.

How-to really has to do with the hands, and here are three very important things that I’ve noticed. The first is that the use of the hands makes us smarter. This is an idea proven by modern research as well as it being observed by scientists and educators as long as there have been science and education. You can even test it for yourself but (warning) it requires actually doing something tactile, and of real substance.

Secondly, the use of the hands makes us feel better. You all remember Cinderella, the wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters, and you may recall in the Disney version, Cinderella sang joyously in the garden and kitchen as she served her unappreciative and demanding family. The simple untold story is that this is what happens when you are aligned through your hands with the creative and expressive bounty of the universe. Neurohormones triggered by engagement in creative activities bring forth a sense of joy. That joy is noticed by others. It may make them jealous, as was the case with the step-sisters. Or, it may make them suspicious you're on drugs.

You noticed that in the Disney version of the Cinderella story, there were magical things happening with fairy godmothers, pumpkins, mice and the like. We often use magical beings as a means through which to depict inexplicable phenomenon. The most important part of the Cinderella story is not something that is told in the story, but it's something you can discover for yourself, and I'm not just making this up. Check out Kelly Lambert's theory of "effort driven rewards," and you will find that joy arises from the simple tasks we might be twisted toward believing are beneath our dignity or beneath our intelligence... While the stepmother and stepsisters were poisoned by self-importance, and crippled by the evil clenched tightly within their idle hands, Cinderella worked opennly with her hands and expressed joy within herself and to those around her.

Here in Eureka Springs we live in a community of artists and craftsmen, and each and every one will tell you that they feel better when they are engaged in their work. But you won’t have to take their word for it. This is something you can test for yourself in the garden or in the kitchen, without loading up on new tools, and without even having a wood shop.

Third, working with your hands puts you in touch with the vast expanse of history and human culture. Can you imagine what a visitor to a museum would think if they had never had a chance to make anything? Would they look at the real Mona Lisa and marvel at brush strokes made by Da Vinci's human hand? If they’ve never held a brush, have only engaged the world through a mouse and keyboard, will they have the power in their own souls to connect with the vast human legacy that only clicks-in when there is texture, the warmth of the human touch, and a sense of one’s own power to create?

How-to writers carry a great deal of power in our own hands. We, more than most, know the small wonders of our own creativity. We, more than most know the forces and means inherent in the human soul to improve the reality of the day to day and the here and now. So, I want to point out the value of who we are and what we really do. We empower. In the face of a consumer culture with the masses driven to consume we inform and instruct: how-to, why-to, encouraging others to build and make better. Perhaps some of us may feel compelled by the unrelenting lure of fantasy to write the great novel instead, but perhaps we should remember there is no more important calling for today’s age than that of the how-to writer.

So, how to get started?

Being a how-to writer is very much like being any other kind of writer except for two very important things. First is that you have to have some level of non-literary skill and direct experience in what you are writing about. You don’t have to be the very best in the world at something, but you do need to know the processes well enough to explain things clearly. Unlike the fiction writer who just makes stuff up to challenge your readers' willing suspension of disbelief, what you write will be tested in the hands of those who follow your instructions step-by step.

Secondly, The how-to author is required to be completely honest. Other writers, of both fiction and non-fiction have the pleasure of making stuff up or distorting information to twist the readers opinions to their own perspective. But the lying how-to author gets himself and his or her readers in a peck of trouble and won’t last long in the market place.

The first thing the prospective how-to writer must do is begin watching and taking note of his or her own life. Every good writer uses personal experience to frame what he or she wants to share with others. This is like having an editor, except the editor is in your own head. And the editor will begin asking questions. Is this interesting? What story does it tell? And a good internal editor leads you into exploring more and more options in the ways through which things can be done.

I had an important realization that everything I do is narrative. In my case, I use a chisel to cut wood. The wood records the motions of the hand and arm, the shape and size of the chisel, the quality of its cutting edge and the amount of force applied. Once you come to the awareness that you, in everything you do, use a variety of tools and materials to tell the story your own life, then you find that it is easy to transition from narration in wood or whatever other material you've chosen, to documenting your work in photographs or video, and in written word.

Adding your own editorial component, you then ask, “Is what I do of compelling interest?” If you come up with the answer, “No.” Then it is time to make adjustments in what you make or even in how you live your life. In the selection of what to write about, ask, "Is there anything particularly interesting about this process." If the answer is yes, then gather the materials and tools and begin work.

Sometimes I’ll clear a project first with an editor from one of the magazines I work with before I begin. I take photos of each and every step, and for me, the photography is crucial for keeping my narrative in order and reminding me of each step as I am writing so that nothing is overlooked. I use a digital camera on a tripod and use the self-timer to control the shutter. For very best lighting, I have the studio well lit with daylight fluorescent bulbs, so that wherever I am shooting, I don’t have to bother setting up lights or use the harsh glare of flash.

When the project is finished, I’m left with the finished object and take beauty shots of it that can be used either for the first page of the chapter, or the opening page of an article. Then I go through my photos and put them in step-by-step order, selecting the ones that best illustrate the processes used. When I’ve finished organizing the photos I write the main text and photo captions, and create a materials list and scrap art that will give the illustrator all the necessary information required to do drawings.

So how to get really started? Where can you test and develop your how-to writing skills? Fortunately these days, you don’t have to be discovered by a national magazine. There are on-line newsgroups and forums where you can share your tips and processes and practice your writing skills.
Even if you are a fiction writer, getting grounded in the making of real stuff, can make sense. Just think of the Cinderella Story told above. Another Scandinavian writer, Vilhelm Moberg, had begun reading by stripping the layers of newspaper from his walls to follow a serial once printed and buried there. Following years of successful writing, he drowned himself in his backyard lake during a period of writer's block and depression. Had he just a knife and some encouragement to whittle, he might have lasted to better days. Instead, he wrote a note indicating the time of day, and telling his wife he could no longer cope.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

little free library...

I have been asked as an artist to design and make the first of several "Little Free Libraries" in my small town of Eureka Springs. Other artists will also be invited, my mine will be first. So, in addition to other things, the role of libraries is rattling in my brain. The following is from the keynote speech at the Scandinavian conference for children’s literature and libraries in Stavanger, Norway, February 2001. Published in Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly in 2001:
In one of my childhood textbooks there was a story about the boy Mathis who desperately wanted to read, but could not get hold of any books. Then a man in the neighbouring town promised to lend him a book. On a winter’s day he walked over to fetch it, and promised himself that he would not open it till he had reached home again. But on the way back the temptation became too great. The book was burning in his hand. He unwrapped it just to have a peep inside. It was a history of the world – and opening that book meant the introduction to a completely new world. He became totally engrossed in it – forgetting everything around him. But as it was a bitterly cold and frosty day the reading turned into sleep or unconsciousness. And only because his parents began to worry and went out to look for him was he saved!

The story seems to contain an ambivalence. On the one hand reading is presented as a kind of basic urge which has a magic power of attraction. On the other hand the exact opposite: reading can be dangerous, one might even call it a death urge, because it may swallow you up and devour you, or at any rate turn your attention away from essential realities.With this ambivalence the story reflects the paradoxical ambiguity in the attitude to reading which is apparent for so long in the industrial society.
On thing you will note about libraries is that they were established in the first place to make the world available to those who have been deprived of a the full sense of the larger world than what they might find at hand. And the important word in all this is free. For free represents a set of values that is in direct contrast to the measurable "economic" values that drive nations to destruction and the deliberate destruction of each other.

My young friend Devon who is currently serving as a one man mission to Moscow, noted that my own writings and philosophy are the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, who warned against the incessant drive for "improved means to unimproved ends." Otto Salomon warned that the true value of the object could be found in the maker's development, of skill and moral fiber rather than in the object itself. While some might seek the acquisition of wealth, we might move in the other direction, the acquisition of place within community.

Idle hands are indeed the devil's workshop. Without the engagement of the hands and hearts in service to usefulness and beauty as benefits to each other, we live detached the fabric of community.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, February 20, 2015

Efficiencies of learning...

Public school systems throughout the world are intended to efficiently educate as many kids as possible on a given set of available resources. And so the idea is that as many as 30-36 students will be put in a classroom to sit while teachers deliver lessons. At the center of the process is the student's reading. The following is from Peter Gray, PhD.:
For children in standard schools, it is very important to learn to read on schedule, by the timetable dictated by the school. If you fall behind you will be unable to keep up with the rest of the curriculum and may be labeled as a "failure," or as someone who should repeat a grade, or as a person with some sort of mental handicap. In standard schools learning to read is the key to all of the rest of learning. First you "learn to read" and then you "read to learn." Without knowing how to read you can't learn much of the rest of the curriculum, because so much of it is presented through the written word. There is even evidence that failure to learn to read on schedule predicts subsequent naughtiness in standard schools.
So the teacher's job is as follows: maintain discipline in the classroom (first priority) and secondly, deliver lessons and thirdly, measure student learning to be certain that the state's learning objectives have been met. The tragic irony of this is its utter inefficiency and waste of both the child's natural learning inclinations, and the state's resources.

Otto Salomon had discussed the serious limitations of classroom instruction compared to individualized instruction in his book, The Theory of Educational Sloyd. And while it might seem to some that giving individual attention to each child would be inefficient, when compared to delivering information and lessons to a large group, that efficiency can only be achieved if all in the group are equally attentive, and at an equal level of understanding.

The difficulties of class teaching are compounded when some students have fallen behind in their reading and are unable to keep up with out of classroom reading assignments.

Yesterday at CSS we assembled our second 3-D printed hand. We also discussed the vision statement of Clear Spring School with an eye toward clarifying the school's role in the larger community. So far, it's this (subject to board review): ‘Clear Spring School serves as a model for progressive education in which each child's unique gifts are recognized, encouraged and brought to fruition.’

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

the ornamentation of form

The artistic impulse, the following from Robert Keable Row, 1909:"When one comes to feel a conscious power over his materials, is aware of a degree of technical skill in working, realizes a degree of pleasure in manipulating the materials, the art impulse begins to assert itself. He wants to add decoration to his work. He wants to express his feelings of joy in his work as well as his intellectual interest in the problem solved." The artistic impulse is a part of the way through which a maker lays claim to ownership of the object.

The ownership impulse, also from Robert Keable Row: original piece of composition, produced because the writer has seen, thought and felt something worth telling, "though a puir thing, his ain," is always a source of pleasure to the author. The young bride rejoices with commendable pride, in the pie, or cake, or, if she be especially efficient, the loaf of bread, of "her own make." The prosperous business or professional man takes vastly more interest in the products of his own flower plot, or of the fruit tree he has landed and pruned, than in the best his wealth can buy. The marvelous development of machinery for manufacturing, with all its accompanying advantages, has had this disadvantage, that it has deprived the worker of a large part of the personal pride and joy he had in the work of his hand. It is not unreasonable to hope that shorter hours for the factory worker, cheaper and better transportation to suburban homes, training in manual occupations in the schools, growth of the arts and crafts idea, and development of an appreciation of the differences between machine made decoration and the work of the artist-artisan, may restore to civilized man in general, and to the city dweller especially, much of that joy in human production of which manner has deprived him.
The drawing above is one version of a new project I've had on the mental drawing board for years. I call it a "choiring of trees" in honor of Arkansas writer Donald Harrington, who wrote a lovely book by the same name about a man in death row in an Arkansas prison, and his relationship with the trees in his forested community. It is planned to contain 25 samples of Arkansas hardwoods, each a different species. I plan two versions, one wall hung and the other free-standing. Aa small door at the bottom is pushed opened to allow the fingers to pull open the two doors that cover the front of the small cabinet. Inside you find the "choir" of various species. It will be a small chapel in which to worship the diversity of our forests.

You can see that our second Clear Spring School 3-D printed hand is nearly complete. Two of my students cleaned it up, removing plastic waste and fitting the parts. They were proud of what they'd done, as it required some careful work.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

form and function

The following is a response to a high school student who had been asked by his teacher to raise questions about function and form.

Folks have ideas that form and functionality are in some ways at odds with each other. But function can be understood in a narrow sense, as in "what does it do?" or in a broader sense, "how does it serve." For instance a beautiful painting that you bought on your last trip to the Ozarks Mountains was imbued by the painter with meaning, and in feeling drawn to that painting, and buying it and carrying it home, and then keeping it on your wall as a reminder of an experience that you found meaningful and inspirational, you find enduring functionality in the painting which from a narrow sense could be regarded as a useless object but is instead functional in the broader sense.

 On the other hand, we may take delight in seeing how things work, particularly these days, when the workings of things are kept hidden from us, and we are not to be trusted with a view into the working parts of the object. In that case, the functionality of the object may become an expression of form in the less than material sense.

The Bauhaus movement in which form and function were to be closely aligned was a reaction against excessive ornamentation of form, and it is true that visual and textural ornamentation can be used to hide poor execution of form. Also, the movement should be put in context of the times. Before production became automated and industrialized, it was common for craftsmen to personalize their work through the use of ornamentation that gave it greater meaning. If you ever run across any of this work (and you will be lucky these days to do so,) you will find it invested with much greater soulfulness than mechanical production. Industrialization made the application of decorative techniques easy, repetitive, and sometimes oppressive. Simplicity of form was considered to express greater sophistication, particularly when compared to senseless ornamentation.

Make, fix, and create...

sorting through an explosion of plastic stuff...

Yesterday I was looking at the bag of 3-D printed plastic parts that will be chipped apart and assembled into a sample prosthetic hand. The fingers and wrist of this design are connected through a set of strings, that are pulled tight when the wrist is bent. The tension on the strings pulls the fingers and thumb into a closed position. These raptor hands are not the best hands one can imagine, but they are colorful and cool, and represent the best of intentions applied to solving a societal situation of need. The movement to make these hands deserves the applause of single hands clapping. (my reference to Zen)

In the woodshop, we've had all kinds of experience tying knots in string, and it's a thing my students often ask me to do for them. From shoe laces, to button toys and puppets, knots present challenges for young fingers. Then getting knots positioned in just the right spot to control the length of a cord can be an even greater challenge.

The raptor hand uses knots and screws to tension the fingers, and I wondered as I watched a connector box being printed, whether there might be a simpler approach using cable ties. A simple zip strip could be pulled to tighten a cord one handed, and could be easily fixed, and adjusted when the cord is stretched. I made the proposal to the enable development community and learned that the idea had already been proposed by a member but was still in the development stage. The cable tie approach offers the potential of easier and quicker assembly and adjustment, even for the one-handed, and may be mounted without screws at a lower profile.

What you see in the image above is my version of a simple zip together connector for cords on a 3-D printed prosthetic hand. I attempted to print it in two scales, being uncertain whether the resolution of the MakerBot can handle the 5 mm. size. My print job was an utter failure. No, it was a fiasco. The printer will not print at a high enough resolution to print what you can by at Walmart, one hundred for 2.97.

I can understand why the younger set is fascinated by 3-D printing. It is interesting watching it work. But we also need to keep in mind that the world is already overflowing with plastic junk. If we realize that in making things, we are in actuality making ourselves, then we must show ourselves as being responsible for the future of the planet. That means, essentially, using our varied crafts to aspire to the greatest heights of service and quality we can imagine.

Yesterday on the news I watched an interview with a man who hopes to travel to Mars as an astronaut, leaving his wife and young son behind, even though he knows he will die in space or on Mars. There are no provisions made for return. Think of life here as being like that. Select for nobility in the developmental adventures you choose for yourself. With woodworking and other crafts, and in sharing what you learn with others, you may not need to die in space in order to find fulfillment.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Heideger and Illich

I have so many things at a fierce rattle in my brain, that I hope to take a rest. There are two intelligent places for my readers/guests to visit while I take a snow day and do some writing on my current book: Martin Heidegger and Ivan Illich. For Illich, I will point readers to a previous blog essay on the manipulation and machinations of conservative politics made possible by the dearth of hands-on learning. Forgive me, this is long and deep. 

For Heidegger, I offer this quote:
There was once a time when it was not technology alone that bore the name technē. Once that revealing that brings forth truth into the beautiful was also called technē. Once there was a time when bringing-forth of the true into the beautiful was called technē. And the poiēsis of fine art was also called technē. In Greece, at the outset of the destining of the West, the arts soared to the supreme height of the revealing granted them. They brought the presence of the gods, brought the dialogue of divine and human destinings, to radiance. And art was simply called technē. It was a single manifold revealing. It was pious, promos, i.e., yielding to the holding-sway and the safekeeping of truth.
And so the importance of technology may not be in what it does for us, but in what it reveals about us, or reveals to us about ourselves.

The stock knife shown above was hammered from steel yesterday by my friend Bob Patrick. While a book might be fresh off the presses, this object containing volumes of experience and information could be described as fresh from the quench. My thanks to Bob for leading me on my way.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Again, the power of the open hand...

Just as some in the US regard Reagan as a hero, in Russia there are those who would regard Gorbachev as a traitor. Glasnost and Perestroika were Gorbachev's attempt to remove the heavy fist of imperialism. To bring things into perspective, there is nothing more powerful than the open hand.

My nephew Logan is traveling in Cambodia with his ukelele. His strings play upon the heart and have opened passages that are closed to most. Music is a disarming force. He sent me this video as evidence of the wisdom of the hands. He said that wherever he goes there are street musicians but these blind musical warriors had an arresting effect on him. I had not known that by simply placing open hands on braille, passages could be read (and felt). Where there is impairment of any of the senses, the open hand can take up the slack.

Make, fix and create...

the flight of the eye, and the grasp of the open hand...

Yesterday at our UU church, we had a skype conference call with our friend Devon in Moscow. He is 31 and has been visiting Russia for extended visits since the age of 14, and offered some interesting insight into the current state of apparent hostility between the US and Russia over the matters in Ukraine. Some of my readers will be old enough to remember Perestroika, and Glasnost, as being terms applied to the dissolution of the Soviet Empire leading to the current Russian state. Russians at the time perceived the dissolution of the empire as being a thing they did for the world. Americans, on the other hand, perceived the situation as the utter collapse of the Soviet Union resulting from their "defeat" in the Cold War. These two utterly different views of world events dating back to 1991, leave American and Russian leadership strutting upon the world stage like cocks on a walk.

Take a stick and wave it in the air like a teenaged boy. Imagine it to be a spear, or a sword, and you'll get the idea. But the greatest power is not in the sword or stick, but in the open hand. We have to wonder when we will get leadership that understands such things. In the meantime, our friend Devon is a one man ambassadorial mission to Moscow. And we may each be the same.

Barbara, in her ongoing translation  of Jacobsen's book, I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg, noted the following referring to how the eye follows and interprets a line:
Linjeflugt is the first word of the sentence, the last being flugte etter, literally to flee, escape, and written in scare quotes by author.

Norwegian "flugt" is flight (noun and verb; German: Flucht, fluechte, mid consonant shift which made learning Norwegian rather simple ).

Fly means both airplane and to fly. Near the airport we have the "fly museum" advertised in huge letters which never fails to tickle my mind.

And so, yes, the eye flies along lines while the hands may take a slower, more certain path. What the eyes perceive the hands trace to carefully ascertain.

Yesterday I was successful in printing a 3-D prosthetic hand. Of course at this point it's little more than useless disconnected parts.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Form, beauty and the forest...

By making certain that students are not educated in form, beauty, and the arts, developers and industrialists can do whatever they like to the landscape, because people will not have enough sensitivity to object. So putting a lot of pressure on reading at too early an age is an effective strategy because it keeps children from developing in ways that would allow them to arise in opposition to the industrialization of our landscape. When SWEPCO planned (for over 6 years) to force their new extra high voltage power line through what can most accurately be described as an "arts community," Eureka Springs, it only took 21 months for Save the Ozarks to force SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool to admit they had met their match. After they pulled the plug on the last day of December, 2014, we found reason to celebrate, and we do each day.

Save the Ozarks did a celebratory dance down Spring St. yesterday during the Mardi Gras Parade. While other participants were throwing beads at the fans, we gave away packets of wild flower seeds, and my tractor was decorated on the theme "Land that we love." The loader was full of fake flowers made from old Stop SWEPCO yard signs. It was fun hearing the cheers and seeing my trusty Kubota used for some lighter work.

I know more than a few of my readers will be interested in reading Barbara's translation of Jacobsen's book, I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg. It is interesting how Jacobsen addresses the movement of the eye in the assessment of form.
A line invites the eyes to make the fixation point glide along itself. When the fixation point is continually moved in this way, a continuous movement of the gaze arises. If the line is regular, for instance the straight line, the direction of the movements are subject to the same regularity and we notice both through the retina and the necessary movements of the eye whether digression to the side intervenes. The longer a regular movement of vision has been able to continue, the more according to the law of habit a divergence will be felt, if attention is maintained. Is such a motion initiated and the line thereafter broken (not concluded), the eye will fix in the same direction and seek the line’s continuation in it. Line induces the eye to follow after.

This occurs with curved lines and forms as well as with straight lines. Once a fixating movement is underway following a curve it will also continue following the same curve. A kink in the line gives rise to a deviation or a break in the initiated regularity. The general law of inertia applies and it is perceived in the same way as in touch when the finger after having been run along a smooth surface meets an unevenness; or in hearing when a false tone arises in music, which depends on a certain regularity of sound.

A regularly increasing or decreasing curvature is perceived according to the same law; therefore the steady deviation in curve has created a corresponding, even movement of the eye.
One thing that I try to tell my students is that when the eye's movement is unnecessarily jilted (thrown off track) in its assessment of form, the work is seen with less clarity as to the craftsman's intent. It may seem wishy-washy as though it is not a complete thought. But I have been most effective at getting this point across by discussing the work's technical merit. Try sanding a jagged turned shape, for instance. It is very difficult to effectively polish a shape that is poorly defined, or that may have imperfections from unskilled use of the tools.

The fortunate thing about wood working is that the material is bio-degradeable. In the 3-D print shop at school (consisting of one MakerBot) we are well on our way to having a working hand that can be offered to someone in need. In the meantime, the oceans are awash with plastic detritus. There are 8 million metric tons of plastic dumped or washed into the oceans each year. Certainly, nature, too has provided a huge volume of forest materials into the ocean each year. There is a difference between wood and plastic, in that wood is a natural material and will readily bio-degrade without harm to other living things.

In our makerbot, we're using PLA, which is a plastic made from plant material and bio-degrades. (a very good thing).

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

designing blocker

I am in the process of designing a blocker, or "stock knife" which was one of my objectives at the launch of the school year. The drawing shows the rough forged blank, and the finished shape of the knife above including the hook which attaches it to a large staple driven into a stump. The pointed part is where a turned handle will fit, making it comfortable for use.

A blacksmith friend has offered to help me with this project and believes it will be within my capacity with some careful coaching. I plan to make two or three for use at the Clear Spring School.

I acquired a truck spring as a source of steel, and will use the forge and power hammer at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. How could anyone be as lucky as I am?

I have also been trying to resolve problems with the makerbot 3-D printer at school. I sent an email to Makerbot support, and have come to the conclusion that part of the wiring harness is at fault. But so far, my email has been ignored. This is not a good sign.

There have been hopes that tools like 3-D printing as it becomes open source and widely available will become a democratizing force. But it is so complex and involves so many layers of unseen technology, that it may leave folks longing for creative work that can understood and made certain by hand and eye.

Simple tools allow us to create directly from the inner eye though the intellect of the skilled hand. The stock knife, or blocker can be one of the tools to facilitate the fulfillment of that process in ways that 3-D printing of plastic will not.  Working with real tools takes practice. On the other hand, you can set up a 3-D printer and right out of the box it will make more plastic until it quits and you are left scratching your head.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, February 13, 2015

cutting with blocker

I have been delighted with Barbara's ongoing translation of Christian Jacobsen's book on Sloyd. He offers an interesting discussion of form and the purpose of an education in perceiving and achieving elegance of form, and speaks of form in terms rarely heard:

That development of the sense of form gives a richer, more correct and developed general observation; that the sense of form developed through one’s acquisition of concrete forms puts more thoughtfulness in the viewing of so many things; that the person can have his sense of beauty awakened, and feel an urge to refine and beautify his home and experience the pleasure of beautiful forms – not purely as a consequence of his sense of form, though it is a condition, thus also a condition that likely gives rise to the development of the sense of form, not least in the practical exercise that sloyd comprises – entails an educational lift for life: that is the main thing.

But with respect to this the mathematical forms do not suffice, as so far mentioned: we also must have the freer forms. If we think just of hand craft, it is not the mathematical sense of form that helps the tailor to make beautiful clothes or the shoemaker beautifully formed shoes. In carpentry, construction, and machine trades it is different. This rests on the forms in these trades being mostly geometric and stereometric. But sloyd in primary school does not aim at being a pre-school for some simple trades education. Should anyone believe that it should be set up with this in mind, one would have to protest in the name of schooling and pedagogy. When one finally has chosen woodwork as the best, notwithstanding it too has its shortcomings as regards the general aims, it is not to make sloyd into a school of carpentry. It must rise above carpentry’s idea of straightness and beyond stiff, geometrical, curved forms; must not be dependent upon just the tools of carpentry, but create free doubly curved surfaces as the wood permits. If wood did not allow of such forms it would not be suitable or adequate for sloyd instruction, but in my opinion it is acceptable. This is one of the reasons that the knife is such an important tool, and partly the axe as well.
As you can see in the video above, the stock knife or blocker can do as well as an axe or a knife but with greater force.

Richard Bazeley sent this picture of his John Alexander style shaving horse. Mine are nearing completion.  

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

shaving horses...

 I continued work on my shaving horses yesterday and worked out an interesting way to direct the drill at the right angle for drilling holes for the tapered legs to fit. First make a "v" block, by removing a 45 degree channel from the center of a 2 x 4. Then make an angle cut (1 to 3 ratio) across it to form a guide block.Then mount that to what remains of the block. I used air nails to connect the two parts. Simple geometry drawn on the top of the bench guides the alignment of the jig.

After drilling, I used a taper to ream out the holes for tapered legs to fit.

The legs have a lathe turned taper at the top, to fit the tapered sockets. The bench is assembled without glue, so the legs could be popped from their sockets. Even with the jig, however, my holes in the top were not identical, and the legs are not interchangeable in where they fit. I'll have to mark and number them when they are put away.

My shaving horses are inspired by John Alexander's plans.
I still need to make the frame that you push with your feet to clamp the stock, and the adjustable work support.

These have bee on my list to make for a long time, so it will be good to finish this week.

On the 3-D printing front, I've had prints messed up by what may be loose screws on the print head. Members of eNable helped me to identify the problem. Once I tighten a few screws and until something like this happens again, the machine can go back to attention free fabrication.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

yesterday and this morning...

Yesterday, My first and second grade students continued work on their tool boxes, and I was pleased to see how much attention and effort they were willing to put in with planes to smooth the edges they had sawn. They wanted them to be perfectly smooth. One of the nice things about wood working is that it allows the student to self-assess progress and to directly measure his or her results in relation to the progress of peers. Woodworking provides a tactile response. I am also pleased that they are not always in a hurry to get things done, and seem willing to work to get things done right.

On the other hand, when they get near the end of a project, they are in a hurry to take it home. They are rightly proud of their work, and want to share it with their family and demonstrate possession of it in their own lives.

My middle school class has been challenging and I need to take a tighter rein. I asked them to fill out a brief survey yesterday. My hope is to begin the use of writing as a regular wood shop activity. It's not that I want to take over their writing as a duty in wood shop, but that they become more reflective and less impulsive in what they do on our time.

This morning I'll start the process of printing a raptor hand on the school's 3-D printer. I'll have to monitor it throughout the day so that the printer does not run out of filament. For those unfamiliar with 3-D printing, the filament takes the place of ink and is laid down layer by layer as a stream of melted plastic.

I'll also begin assembly of two shaving horses, and will spend some time writing about the revolution  that the introduction of Kindergarten brought to the world.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

technological personality disorder...

Yesterday I practiced with the 3D printer at school in an attempt to understand its limitations and potentials as a teaching tool. I also set to work making two shaving horses, and exploring simple ways to make block knives. So you can see I'm headed two directions at the same time, into the future but reaching back for a firm grip on the past. The block knife shown above is particularly intriguing. It is made from a stump, a wooden yoke, a bolt, a stick and a gouge.

It is a tool from Bill Coperthwaite's tool  shed, and is a thing you can make yourself.

Today in wood shop, my elementary school students will be working on their tool boxes. My middle school students are working on a variety of individual projects.

My second iteration of the hinge gauge is shown at left, and I've arrived at the conclusion that it can be made more effectively from real wood.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, February 09, 2015

hinging story stick

Yesterday, for practice, I used the MakerBot at Clear Spring School to make a "hinging story stick". This device is a form of story stick that I use to set up stops on the router table for installing hinges in small to medium sized boxes. The story stick technique will work for all kinds of hinges and all sizes of box.

After evaluating this first one, I have a second prototype designed in sketchup and ready to print.

Since it's my invention, I got to name it after myself. It's not likely to be broadly marketed any time soon, because you have to know the technique in order for it to be of any use to you. For those who have never made anything before in their lives, 3-D printers are amazing. You can sit back and watch it do its work. The results will be dependent on your understanding of the process. For example, to build the long slot for screws, I had to build a system of bridge supports to hold it up during forming.

Yesterday, in another technological realm entirely, I visited with a blacksmith friend about making a block knife. I was surprised to learn that he knew what block knife was, how it worked, and had even made one himself. In about an hour and a half and with some skill, (he suggests) a block knife can be made from an old truck spring. While my students are excited about 3D printing, which is very much like 2D printing through an ink jet, and where the only important thing you do with your hands is keep them out of the way, there is a vast universe of creative methods available that are being ignored and forgotten. So I find myself moving in two directions at once.

The photo above is one I took of Bill Coperthwaite demonstrating the use of one of his block knives.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, February 08, 2015

enable, ennoble...

Parts printed and assembled for talon hand
These are two simple words separated in meaning by a single vowel sound and with the addition of an extra "n."

Enable: early 15c., "to make fit;" mid-15c., "to make able to," from en- (1) "make, put in" + able. Related: Enabled; enabling. An enabling act (1684) is so called because it empowers a body or person to take certain action.

Ennoble: late 15c., "refine, impart a higher character to" (implied in ennobled), from Middle French ennoblir; see en- (1) + noble (adj.). Sense of "give noble rank to" is from 1590s. Related: Ennobler; ennobling.

These two words can be closely tied in education when projects are chosen to both elevate student learning and responsibility. One has to do with ability, and the other has to do with purpose.

I have printed my first hand as an experiment with the school's MakerBot, and now the question becomes that of student engagement. How are they to be engaged in this process. If they are bystanders as the machine does its work, that fails to meet my own objectives. If they are simply assembling parts from a machine, we must wonder what real preparation for the future there is in that. In addition, I have serious concerns about using the misfortunes of others to gain attention for ourselves. So, the question becomes, can we make a useful enough hand to be of real service? And will the students insist that we do so?

The first step will be to ask my students of their own interests, not to demand that they pay attention to mine. In schooling we play two games, black and white... with one being what adults demand of student learning, and the other being what students are ennobled to ask of themselves.

The hand shown above resembles a skeletal form. It is only a first step.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, February 07, 2015

What does plastic bring to mind?

Yesterday I test printed a 3-D hand, and now have parts to finish and assemble but for one part that came loose from the production platform and came out as a snarled mass of disconnected strands. There are little holes in the parts  through which strings can be run to allow the fingers to respond to flexing of the wrists. I printed this hand at 85% scale, so it will be a hand used only for the practice of making such a thing.

Don't we have to wonder what all this  making of stuff is about? An article in Time Magazine this week tells about the new sharing economy, in which the value inherent in things comes from your willingness to share them with others. It can be where you loan your car to a stranger for a certain exchange of cash, or where you take your ideas and share them on the internet simply for the reward of attention that you receive in return. Think instagram. Joel Stein suggests that you can only share your new carpet on instagram once and beyond that it is old news, and in the sharing economy may be of little further value except that it may keep your feet warm and cushion your step. The idea of a community of concerned makers sharing expertise for free in the making of free useful things seems to fit right in.

Wedding planners are now suggesting that as a gift, you give an experience rather than an object. Think Tahiti, for the value of an experience is greater than the monetary value of Aunt Esther's lamp.

Knowing this makes one wonder about the value of making stuff, particularly when the making of stuff comes through a 3-D printer, without any greater effort than loading the right colored plastic filament, and downloading someone else's plans from Thingiverse and then keeping your hands out of the way as the objects magically appear.

Henry David Thoreau may have been the first citizen of our new age. Joel Stein explains that Thoreau had been "horrified by the realization that he had to dust all his possessions." Thoreau had said, "I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the grass" and noted that  "Man is rich in proportion to the amount of things he can leave alone." Can the same be said of tools? Tools give us the power to create, but if the purpose of that creation is the creation of self, perhaps careful selection of tools and projects is required.

As we have all become students of life, and as life itself no longer falls within the former pattern having to do with the senseless acquisition of stuff, we may find even greater truth in Otto Salomon's saying that the value of the student's work is in the student. The object crafted by the student is evidence of learning and of character,  intelligence and service. (we hope).

As we become more purposefully experiential and less determined to corner the world's market of stuff, it makes greater sense to eschew the high-tech world of wonders and to enlist one's hands in the development of skill with simple tools. Perhaps that's why my students love woodworking.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, February 06, 2015


Today I began printing parts for a hand. As slow as the 3-D printing process is, the good thing is that once you start the process in motion, you can do other things while it works. I have lots of questions about this process.

The first is that technology is often deceiving and deceptive. We watch our children playing on their digital devices and may be fools to think that these things (as smart as they are) are making them smart, or at least not in the way that hands-on creativity has done in the past. After all, if monkeys can use iPads to entertain themselves and people can use iPads what's the dif? The following is from the end notes of Dr. Frank Wilson's book about the Hands:
The human hand is little better endowed, in a purely material sense, than that of any generalised primate in whom the thumb is present and specialised. In this connection Wood Jones (1941) wrote: “We shall look in vain if we seek for movements that man can do and a monkey cannot, but we shall find much if we seek for purposive actions that man can do and a monkey cannot.” The heart of the matter lies in the term“ purposive actions,” for it is in the elaboration of the central nervous system and not in the specialisation of the hand that we find the basis of human skill.
Printing the second batch of parts.
The world is not in need of more stuff, whether it entertains us or not, but it is in need of further growth in our humanity. We are made as makers. The inclination to take materials and make the best use of them can be illustrated with a stick. Many years ago, when I was working with emotionally disturbed children at Porter-Leath Children's Center in Memphis, one of my students, Sylvester, 8, stood at the top of the playground slide with a stick. He proclaimed it a cane, then a spear, then a sword, and then an umbrella, as he next launched himself down the slide. What we make of things and how we make them and why we make them is a reflection and a means of how and what we are attempting to make of ourselves. Shall we make of ourselves what monkeys cannot?

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, February 05, 2015

plunging in...

I have had readers ask how to get started in wood working with kids. I have entered a new online community in my curiosity as to how to make fruitful use of our 3-D printer at school. My students find 3-d printing to be a marvelous and engaging technology, and they can find all  kinds of things that other people have designed that they want to download and make. The thingiverse is chock full of stuff.

The point of education, however, is not to fill our lives with stuff, of which there is already too much, but to engage our curiosity and creativity so that the stuff that fills our lives is experiential and represents the growth of character and intelligence. Watching a 3-D printer at work is rather boring in comparison to the level of attention it takes to craft something in one's own hands. If you don't have a 3-D printer, just think of that tiny ball that rotates occasionally on your computer screen when the processing takes more memory or capacity than your computer has. So you will want other things to do while you are waiting for whatever object to print. For example, 6 legos can talke over an hour to print. Might I suggest a Sloyd knife? Even if you prefer plastic to wood, it is the perfect tool for whittling on parts, and will connect the user with Educational Sloyd and the much earlier experiment in putting the hands in service to learning.

Otto Salomon had said that the value of the carpenter's work may be in the service the crafted object offers its user. The value of the student's work,  on the other hand, making the same or similar object, is in the student.

When it comes to 3-D printing and e-Nable, and others who may want to join it, I am reminded of my Springer spaniel when she was a pup. We walked along the shore of a small lake, and the pup would stop and bark at the water. She was entranced by it. So I threw her in. From that point on, I could never keep her out of the water, even on the coldest of days. I hope when it comes to either joining the 3-D printing community or the ages-old one of wood working with kids, my readers are able to take the plunge.

The sloyd knives shown above are handcrafted by Blue Spruce Toolworks to the Nääs design preferred by Otto Salomon.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

drills and hands...

In this day, most Americans are overwhelmed by the objects that inhabit their lives, and what we own may have become more burden than joy. This seems to not be true of the things we have made. And it seems to not be true of the tools that enable us to create. In some cases, folks being overwhelmed by the stuff in their lives creates opportunities for those who make.

Lately I've bought some hand drills on eBay to add to those in use in my wisdom of the hands program at the Clear Spring School. You can buy a good one in perfect working order for $10-15.00 plus postage. These will last a lifetime and for generations. I like the drills where you can see how they work. You might be concerned about small fingers being pinched in open gear, but I've found that this is never the case. Both hands are required on the tool, safe from the meshing of the gears, and to see how it works is a treat that invites an an investigation of the secret workings of things.

The drills shown from back to front are Montgomery Ward, Craftsman and Stanley. The Stanley and Craftsman are in near new condition. The "Monkey Ward" is slightly worn, and made more lovely by it.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

today in the wood shop...

Yesterday in a staff meeting I brought up the idea of making a 3-d printed hand as a service project for our 3-D printer and students in middle school and high school. My fellow teachers are excited about the idea, so today in wood shop, I proposed the idea to my lower middle school students.  Some of the students rebelled at the idea of doing something other than woodworking in their wood shop class time. One student asked if she could make a hand to keep. So, that gave me a chance to talk about my own needs in wood shop. I explained that I want them to be able to use the 3-D printer, but not to make plastic squirrels they've downloaded from Thing-a-verse. Some of them would just love to do that. I explained that from my perspective there had to be one of two things at work... either they needed to design the work themselves so that the use of the printer was a way to provide evidence of learning, or that it is to be used for service to the community.

My first through 4th grade students worked on their tool boxes.

The following is from Ethel J. Alpenfels' "Anthropology and Social Significance of the Human Hand":
Because the human hand is an organ of performance, it is not surprising that the hand should "manipulate" ("to lead by the hand") the human vocabulary. The hand receives the "mandate" (from Latin "manus," for "hand,"plus "dare," "to give") from the brain, and to "manage" is to govern, direct, or control. Thus, man "commends" (which originally meant "to place in one's hands") and "commands," both words related to "mandate" and, therefore, to the Latin "manus," for "hand."
My contention is that to make things by hand is so essentially human, that we are wired for it, and to neglect it leaves us diminished in our humanity. The following article helps to explain: Making it Better.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, February 02, 2015


We know that the hands are marvelous sensing devices that have so far been impossible to perfectly replicate by artificial means. Just to be clear, the word artificial means of course, through the arts or by artifice, or by the makings of man. There is a difference between artifice and pretense and we know that humans tend to know the difference and are more deeply engaged when given the opportunity to do real things. Schooling can take on more of the character of pretense, or of being faked or staged, and thence loses student engagement and participation.

The term "hands-on," takes a broader meaning, as a description of one's overall physiological engagement in the process of learning. So, in other words, if your whole body is engaged, and you are physically engaged in doing real things, in real places, and for real purposes, the activity can be described as hands-on. Just in case you were wondering, it is possible to be hands-on even in the absence of real hands.

I bring this up because there are some people, who, due to circumstances, are missing a hand or hands, and the loss offers profound insight into these most instructional of devices.

One of my favorite reads in the realm of the hands is by Ethel J. Alpenfels in Artificial Limbs, May 1955, THE ANTHROPOLOGY AND SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HUMAN HAND.

There is a clear connection between the growth in understanding of the hand, and the humanitarian response to loss of these primary tools of human engagement in real things.

e-Nabling the Future is an organization of volunteer makers and research and development specialists engaged in the making of prosthetic hands for free distribution to those in need. At Clear Spring School, and in partnership with e-Nabling the Future, we are moving toward an experiment printing our first artificial hand.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, February 01, 2015

going Ga Ga

A story about our Clear Spring School ga ga court has been published on the National Association of Independent Schools Inspriation Lab website. It is a site set up for NAIS Independent Schools to share ideas between themselves and with the rest of the world.

 Independent schools share a long tradition of innovation and leadership in education. Going Ga Ga.

An interesting paper on the relationship between  Pestalozzi and the Oswego Normal School in the US is available on-line: Pestalozzi and the Oswego Movement. During the time Pestalozzi's philosophy and methods were having their greatest impact, a rival system of education and of teaching educators had been put forth by Joseph Lancaster. In the paper on Pestalozzi and Oswego, this was referred to as the Lancastrian model. That model involved recitation and peer-to-peer teaching, and in some cases, those who were less successful at it or had become disruptive in the classroom were beaten or hung at the head of the class in cages. On the plus (and minus) side of the method, it led to large class sizes and what might have appeared as efficiency at the expense of humanity. Still today, education seems torn between two extremes: The gentleness of Pestalozzi, and the harsher edge of the Lancastrian model.

Joseph Lancaster's model was not without some merit. His motto was Qui docet, discit -- "He who teaches, learns." But from whence does learning commence? With recitation passed along by others? Or through being connected to real life?

In Pestalozzi's school, teachers too, had occasionally become trapped in antiquarian methods. I am once again reminded of this story about Pestalozzi:
Back in the late 1700’s a child in Pestalozzi’s school challenged his teacher, “You want me to learn the word ladder, but you show me a picture. Wouldn’t it be better to go look at the real ladder in the shed?” The teacher was frustrated by the child’s interruption and explained that he would rather not take the whole class outside the building just to look at a ladder. Later, the same child was shown the picture of a window and again interrupted the teacher. “Wouldn’t it be better to talk about the real window that is right there? We don’t even have to go outside to look at it!” The teacher asked Pestalozzi about the incident and was informed that the child was right. Whenever possible children should learn from the real world and the experiences it offers.
Learning is best when it comes first hand.

I have begun receiving hand drills that I ordered last week through eBay. There are pages and pages of drills available on eBay and more coming up each day, so there are plenty left for you to equip your own shop and put into the hands of your own kids. While the Lancastrian model involved drill and recitation, at Clear Spring School, we drill into real wood and learn from the experience.

Make, fix and create...