Tuesday, January 26, 2016

tools and jigs...

Yesterday two of my high school students came into the wood shop chatting about their love of tools. They look at them online in their spare time, and just as I have for almost 50 years, they look at them in catalogs to see what they are, what they do and what they can do with them. Of course from the simple stone tools of our ancestors to the most complex super computers, tools are technology, the application of material to extend the strength or accuracy of the body and the capacity of mind. Thomas Carlysle had said:
Man is a Tool-using Animal. Weak in himself, and of small stature, he stands on a basis, at most for the flattest-soled, of some half square foot, insecurely enough; has to straddle out his legs, lest the very wind supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three quintals are a crushing load for him; the steer of the meadow tosses him aloft, like a waste rag. Nevertheless he can use Tools, can devise Tools: with these the granite mountain melts into light dust before him; sea are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwarying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without Tools; without Tools he is nothing, with Tools he is all. –– Thomas Carlyle
Yesterday as I was trying to keep my students supplied with the right tools and right steps at the right time for their various projects, I assembled and tested a new design of bench hook or miter box that I hope will allow my youngest students an easier time in making square cuts in equal lengths. The bench-vise version of the device worked great, but I learned that for table top use, it requires a lip across the front to bring it tight and square to the front edge of the table in order to make the clamp as effective as it needs to be. I'll test a new version of the table top device today with my lower elementary school students. Richard Bazeley in Australia has also been experimenting with designs and perhaps in time some absolute perfection will emerge, or perhaps that's unlikely.

I see the bench hook/miter box jig as being a tool like any other tool. We design them to make things easier for us, and to require less attention and less skill. Just as Einstein noted that with his pencil he could note long equations without having to secure the full stream in his head, a bench hook can hold the saw just right, and the wood just right, to alleviate the attention of the hand and mind on the cut. And so when we begin to understand tools in the correct light, we begin to see that humanity is a broad continuum that should not be segregated into artificial classes. If the academic class  and the wealthy class were to acknowledge their own relationship to tools, they might be more curious about the world to which they have denied themselves access. If the working class was to see tools in their clearest light, they would not longer be under the thumb of those who would repress them.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the capacity to learn likewise.

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