Monday, August 31, 2015

virtuous reality?

Can you imagine sitting around in classrooms with each student's face glued to a digital device? Socrative works cross-platform, so students can use windows or mac or their iPhones or other digital devices as the teacher scores their performance real time. So, being glued to a digital device for even longer than kids are now, seems to be the future that many in Silicon Valley have in mind for our children.

Time magazine got in trouble with some of their readers (those who are propelling us into a virtual world) for using such a dorky image of virtual reality on its cover. Those proponents of VR like to think of their field as sexy in some way. Not what you see in the image above.

We are past due for a revolution in learning. But the gifts of the digital age are not all they are cracked up to be.

Education must be fully dimensional. What's called one-sided education is where children are systematically fed a collection of formulas and facts, whether by book, lecture or machine, and then measured through abstract testing to determine whether or not those formulas and facts have been successfully inculcated.  (Inculcate means to instill through persistent instruction, and is not be confused with real learning.) It should be noted that there is very little that's virtuous about the virtual world. Kids are often engaged in video gaming in which the moral structures of the real world are not in place. Then they may become addicted to distraction by their engagement in these devices and literally sequestered from engagement in real life, and of no real use, even to themselves.

One huge irony is the success of Montessori schools in Silicon Valley. Many who are closest to the development of the technologies sold to the rest of us, would prefer to send their children to schools where they learn hands-on with real materials rather than the virtual stuff.

Virtuous (in contrast to virtual) reality, develops both character and intellect through the making of useful beauty. I am experimenting today by laminating parts for bows so that our kids at school will be able to make their own archery sets.

Make, fix and create... see that others have the opportunity to do so, too.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ozarks Mini-maker faire...

A First robotics team from Camdenton
Yesterday I went with a friend to the Ozark Mini-Maker Faire in Springfield, Missouri and took advantage of the trip to swing by Grizzly Tool Company. My friend and I managed to buy two small drum sanders from the scratch and dent section of the store, so I've added a fresh tool to my woodworking adventure. 

Paper making with kids
The Maker Faire was well attended and had plenty of schools and small factories represented.  Kids and parents were excited. I consider it somewhat unfortunate that there was no woodworking offered at the fair.  It would have been a great opportunity for Grizzly Tools and others involved in woodworking to capture and lay claim to a fresh generation.

Kids who have had an opportunity to do woodworking may draw upon the experience for the rest of their lives.

Last night we wen to a concert by the Eroica Trio. Their performance was sublime, and an expression of joy. Should we not each find such pleasure in our work?

Make, fix, create, and incite others to engage in the quest for useful beauty.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

learning from the experimental

Vacuum tapering jig
Sometimes things work as we expect or hope, and we learn nothing from the situation. Other times we fail dismally, and we hit the books (literally) trying to find answers to what went wrong. Yesterday I tested my jig for ripping tapered veneers for archery bow limbs. It worked to perfection.

My experiment in using the vacuum bag to glue the veneers, on the other hand, was a disaster.  Since I am making these from greenwood, I learned from my mistakes that common wood glue is of no use with damp wood. So, I switched gears and methods. I went back to form and "C" clamps along with Gorilla Glue. I also learned that six flexible tapered strips is too many. The limb was too stiff for me to bend. With the next test, I'll try only three layers instead of six and see how that works. If any of the kids are strong enough for a more powerful bow, we'll try four.

Today I'm going to Springfield Missouri for the Ozarks Mini-Maker Faire.

Make, fix and create... assist others in doing likewise.

Friday, August 28, 2015

the schooled mind...

The interesting thing is that most folks know the truth of what follows, but neglect to do anything about it. Schooling appears out of control and too large a vessel to turn in such a narrow port.
Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags. ― Ivan Illich Deschooling Society
But had the Titanic arrived safely in port, small tugs would have maneuvered it to the dock where the passengers and freight would have disembarked in fine shape. Most of those who are past the age of 30 will know that they've learned far more out school than in it, and that real life and the experience it offers, beats artificiality hands down. In fact, I was at the dentist this morning, and my hygienist was explaining this to me.

And yet, we do little to make schooling  and the "education" it entails representative of real life. Children, like adults, learn best when they are challenged to do real things.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, I reworked my vacuum tapering jig to cut thin slices of wood for making bows. The laminations bend best when the individual strips are tapered, so I've set the jig to hold thin stock during the ripping process. One end will be 1/8 in. and the other 1/16 in. A shop vac supplies the vacuum to hold the stock against the jig.

The last time we made bows at Clear Spring School the laminated limbs were too stiff, so as an experiment and to enable the bows to be used by younger hands, we'll vary the number of strips used in the laminated limbs.

And so, what is the answer to schooling? If just a a small tug can turn a large vessel, the hands can tug upon schooling. Put the hands in play. Devise a strategy that is based on the understanding that the head, heart and hands must be engaged in order for schooling to reach the level of effectiveness that our children deserve.

Make, fix, create. Enable others to do likewise.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

finally getting somewhere...

I'd been at work on boxes that turned out to be overly complicated in design, and then made a slight change of course, turning this design into a "lift-lid" box. I had a very simple box in my Basic Box Making book that had a great deal of appeal to readers. Tell me, will this have the same appeal?

You will note that the turned walnut knob has not yet been installed, and I've ordered brass knobs from Lee Valley that will be used on some of them. The woods used are sycamore with its lace like quartersawn grain pattern in the body of the box, with spalted maple in the lid.

The idea (I hope) is that my readers will take to this box, and enjoy making them as much as I do.

In the school woodshop yesterday I began preparing materials for students to make bows and arrows.

"The University of Virginia announced a new five-year program that will award graduates both a bachelor's degree in engineering and a master's in teaching." Perhaps that is a sign of a growing recognition that making should be returned to k-12 education.

On the other, engineering implies an interest in having others make, and may not indicate the ability to actually make something of useful beauty with the skills at hand.

Froebel's distinction between gifts and occupations should be informing us in the decisions we make about education today. The gifts were used by the children then put back in their boxes unchanged. The idea of the gift was to change the understanding in the heart and mind of the child, to incite curiosity about learning, and observation of life. We should adopt that same understanding of technology. Kids can learn from their devices, but if they don't do anything tangible as a result of learning, then their learning is what educators once called, "one-sided".

The occupations were to give children creative, transforming power through which they, too, were transformed.  The distinction between Froebel's gifts and occupations was based on the recognition that education was not just what went into the child in the form of lessons and information, but must  also be  balanced by what comes out of the child in the form of tangible expression, in which each child discovered ways in which they could participate directly in community life.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to do likewise...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

first day of school at the Clear Spring School...

My own classes will not begin until September 14, so I have some time still to prepare for students, and to attend to my writing and box making. Yesterday I had materials delivered from a sawmill and had a large white oak log cut up into logs after it had fallen in the woods. Today I began cutting stock for making arrows from white oak, and I plan to have my students in middle and high school make their own bows and arrows. We will  begin whittling the arrows first and then laminate the bows using the vacuum press.

The students at CSS are very excited to be back, and as you can see, the wide planks of spalted sycamore delivered yesterday will make for some beautiful work in days to come. The planks are about 15 and a half feet long, 20 inches wide and consecutive.

The following is my rough paraphrase of a quote in Portuguese from Ivan Illich.
The modern university grants the privilege of dissent only to those who have been proven through testing to be trusted in the use of money and power for the preservation of the status quo. (Regardless of how utterly despicable that status quo may be.)
It would be wonderful if schools of education could lead us from the morass that they've been involved in creating. In Time Magazine their week they describe how Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook had given 100 million dollars to schools in Newark, and the results have proven once again that money given to the top does not trickle down to where the greatest need might be, even when that money is earmarked to fulfill that need. Taking an "academic approach" means the same as "look ma, no hands" except that usually when a child proclaims it, something of interest is being done. When schools, on the other hand, extract the hands from learning, no good will come. Make, fix, create, and help others to do likewise.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

investing close to home and the virtue of making real things

Yesterday was a stormy and chaotic day today in the world's stock markets.  I listened to reports on the decline of markets worldwide, and know that the effects are enormous on the world economy. But if your investments are close to home, you will likely feel little effect, and certainly not the fear and panic that drives tremendous loss. Those who have made their monetary investment in personal productive capacity and in the development of skill have a resilience that is not available to those who invest only in those things the value of which is determined by markets, which in themselves are abstract determinations of potential worth.

For instance, I can make a set of boxes to sell in galleries, or a table or two to sell to customers, and likely thrive as the market in general declines and until folks return to their senses.

That said, I spent the last two days working on a set of boxes that I've determined are too complex for my readers, and will be simplified before the chapter is considered complete. It's not that the method doesn't work, as you can see in the photo, but that the book is becoming overpopulated with complex projects, and I must vow to myself, that I keep some projects simple enough for readers my make their first tenuous steps into creativity.

An article in Education week asks "Why Ed Tech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach" and notes:
But a mountain of evidence indicates that teachers have been painfully slow to transform the ways they teach, despite that massive influx of new technology into their classrooms. The student-centered, hands-on, personalized instruction envisioned by ed-tech proponents remains the exception to the rule.
My readers my find it ironic that ed-tech proponents would consider digital technology to be "hands-on." There is surely a difference between the hands being involved in the creation of useful beauty, and the virtual world that lacks in the virtue of making real things. In my Frobelian fantasy world of joyful learning the computer would be merely a gift, the wood shop an occupation. Children need to be led to engagement in doing real things.

Make, fix, create. Teach others to do likewise.

Monday, August 24, 2015

molding boxes day 2

I spent most of the time available to me yesterday writing the text and captions for the 6th completed chapter of my tiny boxes book, and then turned my attention to what will become an 8th. I say "an 8th" because this chapter is an easier one that will fall more towards the beginning of the book. This particular box is a bit too ornate for my tastes but may appeal to others. Should I abandon it or proceed? I may try to find a simpler router pattern to make the box less visually complex.

In either case, the fun part is figuring out how to make a box, and then to share it with others, that they may engage in their own hands-on learning and creativity.

Programs about "how its made" are popular on TV. But watching something made in your own hands should be more popular as it is infinitely more rewarding. The following is from Woodrow Wilson in response tothe Philidelphia Centennial Exposition (1876) as quoted in Vandewalker's book, The Kindergarten in American Education:
"Throughout all the long hundred years in which they had been building a nation, Americans had shown themselves children of utility, not of beauty. Everything they used showed only the plain unstudied lines of practical serviceability. The things to be seen at Philadelphia, gathered from all the world, awakened them to a new sense of form and beauty. Men knew afterward that that had been the dawn of an artistic renaissance in America, which was to put her architects and artists alongside the modern masters of beauty, and redeem the life of the people from its ugly severity."
We have, it seems, struggled to balance the two sides of American education. Is it to serve ugly severity by crowding too many children into classrooms and making the lives of teachers and children unbearable and ineffective, or do we follow the Kindergarten, Frobelian solution, and seek beauty in all that we do?

Wilson was mistaken in thinking that the exposition was the awakening to beauty. The Shakers had successfully integrated, form, function, practicality and beauty long before the exposition.

The most interesting thing is that by paying attention to the needs of children, and by listening to and responding to what their natural interests and inclinations are, students learn faster, at greater depth and with longer retention, than will those who are restrained passively at desks. We learn from experience and experience, hands-on is the best master of education. And what better way can be found to engage hands-on than by shaping wood?
The wood is teaching you about itself, configuring your mind and muscles to the task required of them. To carve is to be shaped by the wood, even as you are shaping it. David Esterly, The Lost Carving.
Make, fix, create. Encourage others to do likewise.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

molding boxes

lovely, don't you think?
Box makers have often used various shaped moldings to make boxes, and while I'd stayed out of that game thus far, one of my students at Marc Adams School this summer was particularly interested in shaped boxes. One of the great ways to give a box an unusual shape is to alter the materials from which it is made through the use of molding cutters in the router table.

So I studied a vast array of available router bits, and came up with a pair that will work well for making tiny boxes. "But how does one cut the lid from the base?" you might ask. It is simple if you cut the stock where the separation is to fall ahead of time, and tape the parts back together, before routing the shape.

After running the stock through the process of turning it into molding, the box parts are then mitered and glued into the form of a box. The cut separating the lid from base will already have been made, and without the obvious loss of a saw kerf in its shape. In the photo above, you can see the line that will allow the lid to be lifted from the finished box. What's most important is that this will be a tiny box that my readers will love to make.

As was described by Vandewalker, the impact of Froebel's Kindergarten was enormous and instantaneous for those who had an opportunity to witness its effects on children. One young man who had been a student of Froebel had returned from Germany with his family, and that child was so precocious in his ways, that adults who met him were convinced. In response, some of the best families in America began trying to form Kindergartens, and having witnessed its positive effect, began visualizing Kindergarten as the engine that would drive societal change. Instead of  children being confined to desks for endless recitation, they were set free in activities that engaged their interests and resembled play. That it was revolutionary was not in doubt. And Froebel's Kindergarten became part of a wider movement that empowered women to vote, and to exercise greater authority in family and community life.

Perhaps of greatest interest here was Kindergarten's close association with Educational Sloyd, that Swedish and Finnish system of manual arts that recognized that the hand and brain were partners in the development of character and intellect in the whole child.

Children are best seen with tools, and heard with hammers in hand.

Make, fix, create... empower and train others to do likewise.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


The following from Nina C. Vandewalker's historical treatise The Kindergarten in American Education, 1907.
The kindergarten movement is one of the most significant movements in American education. In the fifty or more years that have passed since the first kindergarten was opened in the United States education has been transformed, and the kindergarten has been one of the agencies in the transformation. Although it came to this country when the educational ideal was still in the process of transformation, its aims and methods differed too radically from the prevailing ones to meet with immediate acceptance. The kindergarten is, however, the educational expression of the principles upon which American institutions are based, and as such it could not but live and grow upon American soil, if not in the school system, then out of it. Trusting to its inherent truth to win recognition and influence, it started on its educational mission as an independent institution, the embodiment of a new educational ideal. Its exponents proclaimed a new gospel — that of man as a creative being, and education as a process of self-expression. They substituted activity for the prevailing repression, and insisted upon the child's right to himself and to happiness during the educational process. They emphasized the importance of early childhood, and made the ideal mother the standard for the teacher. They recognized the value of beauty as a factor in education, and by means of music, plants, and pictures in the kindergarten they revealed the barrenness of the old-time schoolroom. By their sympathetic interpretation of childhood, their exaltation of motherhood, their enthusiasm for humanity, and their intense moral earnestness they carried conviction to the educational world. The kindergarten so won its way to the hearts of the people that the school at last opened its doors and bade it welcome. It has become the symbol of the new education.
 At this point, however, kindergarten has evolved as simply an earlier time in which to push reading., worksheets and standardized tests. Its role is no longer that which Froebel envisioned. And to restore our understanding of what Froebel envisioned is actually quite important to the life of our nation and the lives of our children. Kindergarten should not be made to be more like the humdrum experience of upper school disengagement. All schooling should become like that which Froebel exercised in the invention of Kindergarten.

Make, fix and create. Do so in a manner in which others of all ages may be encouraged to discover their own creative capacities.

Friday, August 21, 2015

sycamore planks...

Yesterday I went to pick up some lumber I had arranged to be milled from logs harvested in the forest around our house. When I had been at the sawyer's earlier in the summer, he had a log of spalted sycamore that I was interested in. I found upon my return that he had milled it into 2 in. planks, each over 16 feet long. The spalting is beautiful from one end to the other, and I managed to buy all 5 remaining planks with one having been sold to another customer.

 I would be able to make thousands of boxes using thin slices of the spalted wood as inlay. Or I could make 10 beautiful tables 8 foot long tables, each one of exceptional beauty. How I use these woods, may depend on what my customers want. Shall I take these beautiful planks and whittle them into thin strips shared widely, or shall I keep these beautiful planks in tact out of even greater reverence for the tree.

If you or someone you know would like to be a part of my creative process and end up with a piece of timeless (but expensive) beauty, email me to make arrangements.

Mario returned home from a week at Marc Adams School, having given his life the gift of wood carving with Mary May. I hope that he, as a regular blog reader discovers David Esterly's book, The Lost Carving. It would be the perfect contemplative companion to a week in the wood shop. Read then work, then read again.

I am in the thick of chapter reviews from my editor at Taunton press. Her comments and questions, and suggested corrections make me a better writer, and will make my tiny boxes book more useful to readers. The best work is always done in relation to others... what they will think, what they will notice, what they need to be informed about and what the writer hopes they will build in their own lives from the experience. And that being said, the best work is also done in collaboration with others. It involves listening, seeing, caring and having the intention of arising to one's best efforts.

make, fix, create, and do whatever you can to enable others to do likewise.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

the effect of Kindergarten...

When Friedrich Froebel invented kindergarten he recognized it as a flash of genius that could transform education world wide. And yet, within a short few years, the Prussian government insisted that all kindergartens be closed. The  dictatorial minions recognized kindergartens as subversive and thus prevented kindergarten's expansion into most of Germany. Froebel's nephew (one of Froebel's first students) had become an outspoken proponent of women's rights, and even though Froebel tried to disassociate the kindergarten movement from his nephew's political passion, the new kindergartens did recognize the important role of women as teachers in society. So it was almost completely impossible to completely disassociate Kindergarten from the other important democratic movement of the time.

As hard as Froebel worked to get the Prussian to lift the ban, his efforts were stonewalled, and for good reason. Kindergarten was revolutionary. It's potential was to change the entire fabric of human culture through a new form of education in which children's learning at an earlier age was deemed necessary, and in which mothers would be recognized for their role as teachers and empowered by that role. The ban was finally lifted in 1860, eight years after Froebel's death.

Over the next few days, as I prepare for woodworking classes at the Clear Spring School, I plan to focus on the kindergarten revolution, as it provided a strong rationale for the introduction of manual arts.

Make, fix and create... Teach others to do likewise, and most particularly in schools.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

development and math...

kindergarten occupations in Trondheim
Yesterday our staff orientation meeting was dedicated to our math-u-see program at Clear Spring School. As we know, kids can be all over the place in their development. For instance, a child may begin walking at 9 months, or as late as 19 months and still be within the range of normal development. And so, by the age at which a child is ready to enter formal education, the timing of certain areas of brain development can take quite a spread.

There are things that a young mother and father can do to stimulate counting, number recognition and pattern recognition as preparation for math, but there are some concepts that the child just won't get until the brain is ready to process the understanding. For instance board games can help a child as young as three or four to recognize patterns representing numbers on the dice, and can give both purpose and practice to counting exercises. Still, there are elements of math that won't be understood until the brain is more fully developed.

The approach taken by public education in the US is to put children on a developmental timeline based on the necessities of classroom  and staff management. If the child is not developmentally ready, the learning won't happen. The child becomes frustrated, decides he or she hates math, and the wonders of math are there by extracted from the child's range of discovery.

It surprises me that more people are not in a state of outrage over schooling that ignores children's developmental range in the process of learning.

Math-u-see is individualized with each student progressing at his or her own level, with no stigma attached to what that level is.

In the meantime, Scott Bultman's kickstarter campaign to create a film about Froebel is on track for fulfillment. I signed up to be one of the sponsors, and I hope you will, too.

Make, fix and create... help others to do likewise.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

make it real and for real...

Yesterday one of our teachers led us on an out-of-doors adventure in out door education. I was only able to stay for part of it, as I had my own work to do in the wood shop. In the meantime, it should become understood, that if it can be taught out of doors, it should be.

"Won't the sights and sounds of nature be distracting?"  you might ask. That depends of course on what your objectives might be. If you are trying to force feed a diet of information to prepare students for standardized testing, perhaps they should be kept penned up like animals in classrooms, just as they will be during the test.

On the other hand, if you are hoping that they are prepared to be life-long learners accepting adult responsibilities and seeing the interconnection of all things, get them out of the classroom at every available opportunity.

Children learn best when their hands and all their senses are engaged. There is no place better for that than out of doors, unless your school has a wood shop.

a lovely box
David sent a photo of his finished box from one of our summer classes at Marc Adams School. He said, "Learned a lot from making this one box."

Make, fix, create, and help others to do likewise.

Monday, August 17, 2015

each year...

Each and every year we start the school year at Clear Spring School with an outdoor education block. The tradition is driven in part by our teachers' enthusiasm for being outdoors, by the effectiveness of the outdoors at getting our students motivated for learning, and by our student's love of playful learning.

Today our Clear Spring School staff meeting will also be out of doors as we plan to go to Lake Leatherwood Park for talk and hike.

I have been remiss in failing to thank Roger Beaubien for sending me copies of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine. Published bimonthly and available for a subscription donation (nearly free for those with little money), it is an excellent resource for teachers and for parents who want their children to be engaged in something more than video games.

The July/August issue has a great article called, "How Big is That Tree?" describing how foresters do math out of doors, and children can, too.

Back in the late 19th century, those who began the spread of manual arts training in the US had recognized that as children were no longer engaged in hands-on learning in the fields and farms of our nation, they must become trained in school. Now as few parents take the time to purposefully engage their children in the outdoors, children are becoming less knowledgeable and less engaged in wilderness. Perhaps it should become part of the mission of each school in the US and in the world, to lead children regularly into fields and woodlands, along beaches and streams to learn more of the world they inhabit, and the world they will be responsible to preserve.

You can subscribe to Minnesota Conservation Volunteer for a small donation. Subscribe today.

Make, fix, create.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

catching up...

veneered panels for boxes
Teaching this summer has left me with a whole lot of catching up to do. My week long class at ESSA left me with veneered panels ready to affix to new boxes. My classes at Marc Adams School left me with boxes ready to finish. I have 4 chapters returned to me by my editor for review. I have orders for boxes that must be made, and I am in the middle of making the bases for Arkansas Governor's Awards for Quality as I usually do this time of year. I have a stack of correspondence to attend to, and I am preparing to begin a new year at the Clear Spring School.

Fortunately, things do get easier if you attend to them with some discipline, and I will be trying to apply myself to whittle things off my list.

You may note that the word "whittle" is carefully applied.  The word whittle means to take thin shavings with a knife. Readers will possibly enjoy a conversation about kid's use of knives here. Comments by parents weigh in on both sides of the issue.

The new keyed miter sled made for my class will help in the making of boxes, and as I keep teaching and learning I get better and faster at my work.

My friend Jerry has a signature on his email that reads, "If you want to be a better woodworker, do more of it."
New keyed miter sled

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to do likewise.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


I am finished with my 5 day class on making veneered boxes. In addition to making boxes with veneered tops, we finished off the week's classes with demonstrations in making finger joints, mitered finger joints, and shop made inlay. It was a great week.

Larry (at right) brought my students a partial pick-up truck load of catalpa, a local wood that is rarely found for sale.

Catalpa is described as a light wood with distinct grain, useful for fence posts, as it resists decay. Sometimes it is planted as a windbreak. In my own neighborhood, a large catalpa tree has kept a school bus and more than a few pickup trucks and cars from launching into the highway, when the steep hill ices and the drivers find they have no control from their brakes. The catalpa is somewhat battered from collisions, but grows strong, and serves as a bulwark against greater danger.

During my class, my students used my new keyed miter sled for cutting key slots, and we used my hinge mortising templates to install butt hinges. Overall, the class, though small, or because of it, was a great success.

One of the important ways that the wood shop connects us to the natural world is through the harvest of materials like catalpa from it. We use those materials to create useful beauty and find a direct connection to its origins in nature. Those who are choosing education through digital devices instead, leave their children in a tragic state of disconnect.

Make, fix, connect, create... accept responsibility to help others to do likewise.

Friday, August 14, 2015

day five of making veneered boxes...

My students nearly finished three boxes yesterday for our show at ESSA, and today will be able to put on a second coat of Danish oil and attend to linings. I am preparing some additional lessons in box making. Today we will make finger joints using my dedicated finger joint router table and I will demonstrate making a mitered finger joint. We will also make inlay of the type I use on my production boxes.

Make, fix and create... Make certain that others have the opportunity to do likewise.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

day 4.

 Wednesday, day 3 of my veneered boxes class was one of the quietest days I've spent in a classroom. My students were occupied in the depths of quiet labor, interrupted by brief comments, and the occasional sound of the laminate trimmer cutting mortises for hinges.

Today, day 4, we will have a visit to my shop  before lunch, and we have a show this afternoon in which we will exhibit what my students have made to other students from the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Each of my students has crafted 3 boxes, and each of those should be completed this afternoon,  thus leaving time for more demonstrations and more boxes before cleanup and the class ends on Friday.

I have had only three students in this class, and if any educator tells you ever, that class size does not matter, whap him (or her) on the head. (Knuckles or a flat stick will do, your choice.) Such nonsense should have been put forcefully to rest long ago, but is perpetrated by those who would rather give education on the cheap, and by those who care nothing for human culture.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others learn to do likewise.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

day 3...

This will be out 3rd day of making veneered boxes with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts in the Clear Spring School woodshop.

I have been playing some with veneered panels, some of which I like and some that will look better with some additional work. For instance, a border of thin veneer of a contrasting color might make some of the patterns more complete.

My students each have 3 or 4 boxes in process. Today we will install miter keys, cut the lids loose, and learn the process of installing butt hinges, and barbed hinges.

Karin, director of the Crescent Montessori School sent the following note:
I thought of your writings when I read this quote.

Poet, Mark Nepo, in the book Endless Practice, offers this meaning of authenticity ~

“It helps to remember that the word authentic means bearing the mark of the hands. Being authentic ~ being real and genuine ~ means touching and being touched, holding and being held. The living work of our hands is where being and becoming meet, where inner and outer, like two hands, part the veil of circumstance and reveal the aliveness at the center of everything. Through the life of authenticity, we trip into the heart of things and experience the interconnectedness of things again and again.”

Always enjoy reading your blog.
 Make, fix, create, and enable others to do likewise.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Yesterday I found myself so busy in class that I neglected to take any photos of my students at work. I have been playing right alongside. I set up the saw and taught them how to make box sides, and then demonstrated enough veneer work that they could commence on their own.

On another matter, I have begun working my way through David Esterly's book the Lost Carving. It is a book that others have recommended to me, but that a friend had been so insistent I read, that he put his copy in my hands and insisted I make a list on a back page of pages that interest me.

A problem is that when craftsmen write intelligently about the hands, another craftsman can open the book at any point and find depth. The bigger problem is that craftsmanship was the foundation of intellectualism which then proceeded on its own to get completely out of hand, laying claim to its own superiority. Philosophers began talking about the supremum bonum, or supreme good, as though it was unrelated to human life and human physicality.

My daughter will teach this next year in a school in New York City that resembles Clear Spring School in that it has a travel program and is particularly concerned with student involvement. Unlike Clear Spring School, it is in the upper story of a building in Greenwich Village with virtually no connection to the outdoors. It's mission statement makes the bold and reassuring assertion that all children are "intellectual." That statement is completely true if children are given a chance.

One of the ways intellectualism is launched in a more personal and less pretentious way is through craftsmanship, so what I would add is all children are inclined toward craftsmanship which then provides a stable foundation for intellectualism.

Even language (whichever language you speak) is haunted by the metaphors drawn from the making of real things.

This is from David Esterly:
Language was build out of metaphors taken from the world of handiwork, of bodily activity. Some expressions, like "against the grain," come down unmodified and flaunt their origins. But this was more than a matter of linguistic relics. When you write about carving, you enter a landscape haunted by symbols, where meanings flow together. You write about one thing only to find you are writing about something else.
The irony is that what started out in the hands, the development of human intellect, was lost in Platonic philosophy to notions that the hands are unclean and that intellectualism must escape from physicality into the purity of logic, while logic can only make meaning through reference to human physicality. Still, in that intellectualism, the only frame of actual reference comes from that which we are, makers. We make music, we make objects of useful beauty, we make meaning, we make life.

Today I will make boxes.

Make, fix, create, teach others to do likewise.

Monday, August 10, 2015

this morning

My class on making veneered boxes starts today at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. I only have three students and one is a returning student from other box making classes at ESSA. I may have some photos to share later in the day.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 08, 2015

hinge mortising jig...

This month Fine Woodworking introduced a "clever new jig" to guide the routing of mortises for butt hinges on small boxes.  I introduced the type of template and routing technique in an earlier issue of FWW,  but also in my books dating back to 2001, and in an article I wrote for Woodwork magazine while this century was quite young.

The jig they introduce is in fact pretty nice, but certainly not state of the art.  In order to do left then right, the jig needs to be taken apart and reassembled between steps. I have a similar jig (as shown) that does not need to be altered in use. In fact, you simply slide the jig left, clamp in place, then rout, then slide right to rout the matching hinge mortise. Blocks of wood along one edge and at each end make certain of its location on the box. So it is essentially fool proof. The photos show how it can be clamped on the left and right on the lid and body of a box.

This jig is useful for boxes up to 11 inches long and took less than 15 minutes to make. It can be just as quickly made for other sizes of hinge. I plan to make another one for even smaller boxes.

Last night I attended a performance of Chinese music and poetry at the Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library. A college professor in the audience noted the "unchallenged" assumption of the primacy of language in the evolution of human intelligence.

But we are makers first. We were makers in the earliest days of man. We make music. We make the instruments upon which we play, We craft poetry in an effort to bring dead words and language to life. The notion that language is supreme has been tested and proven false except among those who have nothing real to do.  Speaking of which, Time Magazine has a cover story about "virtual reality", claiming its wonders. But there is nothing truly virtuous about "virtual reality." As much fun as it may be, it allows people to be negligent of real life and inadvertently destructive of precious resources.

Make, fix and create... Teach others to do likewise.

always something...

The power to shape the world you live in to fit your own needs is rewarding. These days it's a power too few know first hand. For instance, my Grizzly planer has a bad habit (due to the massive weight of the handle on its adjustment wheel and the ease with which it moves) to go out of setting during planing operations.

When the wheel handle is at the top, it is cutting some variable at an even sixteenth. As it rotates down a quarter turn, the thickness of stock changes by 1/64th inch. If I want it to hold perfectly even as set and without having to over-tighten the table locks, an accessory lock of some kind is required. I reached this conclusion by talking to technical support at Grizzly and learning that they could offer no relief for my problem.

I made this simple wheel lock using Baltic birch plywood and rare earth magnets. The magnets hold it in place, but allow it to slide quickly and easily into (or out of) engagement with the wheel handle at the top. Because of the wheel spokes dividing it in 3rds, the new wheel lock also allows me to adjust the setting at 1/3 or 2/3rds a full turn.

What too many these days do not know is how much pleasure one can find in such simple accomplishments. Not only does it work, it's a small thing I invented myself. And while it may be impolite to boast or to gloat about such small things, unless you've done something of the kind you will not know the feelings involved.

Today I am working on preparation for my class on making veneered boxes. It starts on Monday morning.

Make, fix and please create... Teach others to do likewise.

Friday, August 07, 2015

class prep...

Today I begin preparing for my week long class in making veneered boxes. I regard class time as a time for experimentation, not simply sharing and instructing what I know and what I want my students to learn.

The teachers' job is to set up a laboratory and a challenge. It is the student's job to discover his or her own relationship to the tools, materials and concepts.

My editor at Fine Woodworking has taken my box hinging methods and given them a new twist, eliminating the story stick as shown in this video. I would make two jigs instead of one, so that the fence would not need to be reversed to rout the opposite side. When set up, it is just as easy to make two jigs, and to assemble as mirror images of each other, thus avoiding the complication of using a screwdriver to move the fence.

My nearly finished puzzle boxes are shown above.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 06, 2015

a first, but no fist

I just assembled my first Japanese puzzle box and found that by exactly duplicating the mechanism hidden away in the one I cut apart, I've been able to make puzzle boxes that work with almost the same level of precision as the original.

Of course, these deserve refinement in both quality and method, but my chapter on these boxes may serve as a starting point for those who've had an interest in them.

For me, making these has fulfilled a curiosity that was launched when we had an exchange student from Japan who wanted to learn to make them. My understanding at the time was insufficient to help.

In the meantime, Governor Chris Christie, running for President of the United States said the following in an interview broadcast Sunday,  said that teachers' unions "are the single most destructive force in public education in America," and deserve "a punch in the face."

The following is my response which I have sent to Governor Christie,
I am a teacher, my mother was a teacher, my sister and niece are teachers, and my daughter is a teacher. I don't know where you went to school, but its obvious there are lessons you failed to learn in school.

Schools have a socialization function in which children are taught to get along with each other, without the threat of violence.

Perhaps your teachers failed to teach you the niceties of human behavior. Perhaps they failed in directing you towards more a more effective means of communication. That you are such a bully and were able to skate through your education without learning manners more likely indicates some deeper failures in your socialization.

In any case, you owe an apology to our nation's teachers and to their union.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

3 classes...

I am now on the schedule to teach three classes this next summer at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. The first will be "pocket boxes", a weekend class on June 18 and 19, 2016. Next will be a weeklong box class, June 20-24, followed by a small decorative cabinet class on June 25 and 26.

To register for any of these classes, register for the Marc Adams School of Woodworking newsletter.

Registration will open around Thanksgiving and is open first to returning students. My classes tend to fill up fast, so do not delay. Sign up for the MASW newsletter to receive a reminder.

As you can see in the photo, my Japanese puzzle boxes are nearly complete.

I have also begun planning my next tiny boxes.
Each tiny box design offers new fun, and this one will be based on molding bits available from MLCS as shown in the screen shot at left. Imagine the molding turned upside down to use as box sides, but the molding being cut from stock that is already rip sawn and then taped together. After the stock is shaped, and the miters are cut, the tape is removed so that it will form both the lid and body of the box.

In the meantime, I've become interested in the various ways that machinists set up, and you may be curious about 123 blocks. First, let's attend to how they are made.

Make, fix and create...

an illusion upon which the school system rests...

In my woodshop, I've continued to work on Japanese puzzle boxes. With a few more steps, I'll be able to test them and see that they work. I've been gluing and shaping the last remaining parts, and the complexity of making these, tells me that the Japanese must have greatly simplified and refined their processes in order to sell their boxes at such a low price.

The first time you do something, there are inefficiencies involved. The second time, some unnecessary steps will be eliminated.In this case, these are my first and having been interrupted by teaching and by travel, they have taken far longer than I expected.

The image at the top shows the sliding lids having been cut to size. The image at left shows the dovetail slide having been milled into an end section and glued to the slider that allows the end to slide down and out of the way for the lid to be removed.
“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.” –– Ivan Illich, Deschooling.
I ask that each of my readers ask themselves about their own learning experiences, about how much has been learned in school vs. the amount out of school. I also ask my readers to examine the depth of that learning. If we arrive at the conclusion that more is learned outside of schooling and at greater depth, then we must also seek the efficiencies of real life learning, and avoid confinement of children in situations we know to be least efficient for attaining our goals.

Woodshop and the manual arts were a source of educational enthusiasm because they provided the opportunity to do real things directly related to the interests of the students.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Sustainable development and the whole child...

In my wood shop, I am continuing my exploration of Japanese puzzle boxes, as you can see in the photos at left and below.

In the early days of the progressive education movement and among those who promoted both Kindergarten and Educational Sloyd, it was suggested that most education was "one sided " and that schooling must instead concern itself with the "whole child."

I ran across the following in a book (Educationeering) by Pai Obanya, connecting sustainable development concerns with the necessity of sustainable education.
Since the human being has to be educated to maximize his capacity to function as the motor of sustainable development, his Education should also be sustainable. The question that we will therefore have to address is: what makes Education sustainable?

To answer the question would require reversing the ills that an over-emphasis on mere schooling, bookish learning, and regurgitative examinations has wrought on education systems over the ages. Thus, sustainable education for the human being will have to obey the following four imperatives.
  1. It must not be one-sided
  2. It must provide for the basics
  3. It must never be terminal
  4. It must stress both hard and soft skills.
One-sided education is one that fails to address the individual's three H's–– the head, the hands and the heart. That is, the type of education that has not assured the beneficiary's all-round development. It is also the form of education that promotes the disintegrated approach to knowledge; on that denies the learner a broad intellectual/affective base by over-emphasizing premature specialization. –– Educationeering, 2014 Pai Obanya
The point of  course is that education should lead each child to an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things. Quite sadly, schools as they are currently contrived are not the place in which that is designed to happen.
“Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being "with it," yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.”
Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
Make, fix and create... Teach others to do likewise.

Monday, August 03, 2015

death of shop class

That shop classes have been endangered in the US will not come as any surprise to most of my readers who are likely amazed that any remain at all. Early in the Spring, one of my friends who taught wood shop and tech ed at a small high school north of Springfield, Missouri, was told that his program was being eliminated. And so it goes... one program after another for years.

An article posted today in the Daily Kos addresses the "death of shop class," and a long thread of comments were posted in response. The very sad thing is that many with educational credentials do not know how children learn, and are unaware of the impact that the engagement of the hands can have on learning. The author of the article notes that:
Between the attacks on public education and the well-meaning emphasis on academics due to the federal No Child Left Behind initiative, which has induced high schools to shift resources toward core subject areas of math and reading, shop classes like machining, welding, and robotics are being crowded out. The very classes that allowed me to actually understand the Pythagorean theorem or Newton's Third Law are the very classes that are on the chopping block. We will always need people to be able to weld, fix cars, and other trades and these jobs should not be looked down upon, nor should they be looked at as second tier jobs.

Originally there were two motivating factors and two distinct models in the 1870's origins of the now nearly dead manual arts movement. The Russian system of Victor Della Vos was intended to train bodies to fill job openings in the rapidly growing industrial sectors in various nations. The other model from Sweden and Finland, Educational Sloyd, recognized the relationship between the hand and brain in learning and proposed manual training as a part of the general education for all students, and for all sectors of society. It recognized that both character and intellect were developed through the making of beautiful and useful things.

When the US decided that we would have a "service economy" in an "information age," and it was OK to surrender the trade wars to cheaply manufactured imported goods, and that people skilled in trades were no longer a necessary outcome of education we reached the pinnacle of educational stupidity.

We cannot count on any of the "smart" people in politics and academia to understand the role of the hands in learning, so we must take matters into our own hands.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to do likewise.

fitting back in the everyday scheme of things.

a play tray of parts for making boxes
Having been on vacation at a family reunion in Michigan for one week, and then teaching for 7 days at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, I am home in Arkansas attempting to fit back in the everyday scheme of things. My dreams have been filled with abstractions, as my mind attempts to put pieces back together in precise order. First you take this bus then the next correct bus to connect with the next seems to be the sequence as I reassemble a fresh pattern in my thoughts. I awaken from the struggle thinking, "I know this, and it's easy" and yet when I go back to sleep the struggle resumes, as without getting on each bus and actually arriving at each destination, and then traveling to the next there is no clear resolution of thought.

I have been asked by a child therapist if I will make "sand trays," which are used to help children describe what has happened to them and actual circumstances for which they have no words and no understanding. Just as child psychiatrists used the "house, tree, person test" to get a handle on what's going on in the mind of the child, and what cannot be put effectively in words, the sand tray is used to gain interpretive insight in Jungian psychology. You can read about it here.

While I may or may not find time to make sand trays, I find my own work to be a therapeutic means through which to integrate my conscious and subconscious minds. When I am wrestling in my dreams with concepts that seem to make little sense, I often find that in waking hours, the work of my hands helps my mind make sense of things. For instance, tomorrow I will continue work on my Japanese puzzle boxes and the assembly of concrete parts will reveal my success or failure at recreating a mechanism that works while hidden completely from view. Step-by-step engagement in the process of creating useful beauty helps us to find a secure place in the world while allowing us to be of some significance to others.

There are those who call woodworking "sawdust therapy", and therapy is needed not because there is something wrong with us that marks us as unworthy and that must be fixed, but because in a conflicted world, it gives us the power to set things right, not only for ourselves but for others also.

My own useful variation of a sand tray is shown above. It consists of a cardboard beer flat filled with wooden parts carefully prepared to assemble into Japanese puzzle boxes.

As we look at learning, we must banish the inclination to reside solely in that which can be spoken and/or in that which can be easily measured. Creative work demands the engagement of both the conscious and unconscious minds, and the intersection between the two can be most effectively addressed through visual thinking. Or as Einstein described:
The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be 'voluntarily' reproduced and combined. .... This combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others. ––Albert Einstein in a letter to Jacques Hadamard.
 Make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 02, 2015

home again...

I am home again in Arkansas and will spend the next week working on my tiny boxes book and preparing for my last adult class of the summer.

Teaching requires that I be extremely focused on the needs of my students and my plan for the class, which means that I get less sleep than would be good for me. I also plan to catch up on sleep during the week.

On the tiny boxes front, I am nearly ready to assemble my first Japanese puzzle box to see if it will work as intended.

My last summer class will be making veneered boxes. The use of veneers will allow us to bring in some additional color and interest to our work.

At the present time, I have only 3 students enrolled in this class. So each student will get my personal attention. To enroll, go to the ESSA website.

While this class will be on the subject of veneered boxes, anyone interested in basic box making or general woodworking will find value in the techniques offered.

Make, fix and create...