Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Handling a chisel

Saw and plane the handle to shape
Yesterday, I put a new handle on a chisel from the Sloyd School at Nääs, using an illustration from Otto Salomon's Teacher's Hand-book of Slöjd as my guide.

You can see the steps above and below. First was to select a piece of beech and cut it to an approximate size and shape and then plane and sand the sides flat and edges round. It is designed to have a taper from the butt to the steel on four sides, and "to be greater in breadth than in thickness."

Next, I drilled a series of stepped holes for the tang to fit. I started with a 3/16 in. drill bit and drilled a hole deep enough for the the full length of the tang. Then I drilled a shallower hole of 5/16 in. diameter, and finally one 3/8 in. diameter going only about 3/4 in. deep.

Drill for the tang to fit. Two larger stepped holes to follow

Two more larger holes will follow
These stepped holes allow the tang to fit tightly but without splitting the handle, and without making it subject to splitting during use.

I finished the handle with a coat of paste wax.

The handle feels great in my hand, and unlike some turned handles, will not roll off the workbench.

It is now an exact representation of the firmer chisel illustrated in the book and is exactly as was described in the text. Thanks, again, Jonas Jensen for a wonderful gift. It is ready for another 100 year's use.

Make, fix, create, and lure others to learn likewise.
Even with the stepped holes, some force is required to drive tang to full depth

With a coat of wax, the Nääs chisel is ready for another century of use.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

arrowmont fire...

The wood studio at Arrowmont
Parts of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts were destroyed by a wildfire that engulfed Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Arts and crafts enthusiasts all over the world have been terrified over the possible loss of this school. Fortunately, it appears that the studio buildings survived with little damage. The following is from twitter at about 7:30 AM:
Phones were not working at Arrowmont this morning, and there was limited power. But Arrowmont General Manager Bill May posted an update on his Facebook page to worried supporters. May wrote just before 7:30 a.m. that “All buildings except Hughes Hall and Wild Wing survived with what appears to be little damage.”
Arrowmont has a special place in the hearts of woodworkers from all over the world. It was the place where the American Association of Woodturners (AAW) first gathered and was formed. It was the first craft school in which I taught classes, and it was the inspiration and model for our own founding of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. The following link tells a bit about my own teaching experience at Arrowmont, Turning left at the Hard Rock Cafe.

I've not taught at Arrowmont for a number of years, but it remains dear to my heart.

In my own shop, I've selected a piece of beech to shape into a Nääs style handle for my Nääs firmer chisel, and will do so today, using Salomon's Teacher's Hand-book of Slöjd as my guide. In the meantime, my thoughts are of Arrowmont, and the joy of creativity I hope it will be able to offer for many years to come.

Make, fix, create, and use your own life to suggest that others may learn likewise.

Monday, November 28, 2016

handles at Nääs

I have begun the restoration of the Nääs Firmer chisel and replacement of handle by reading the following from Otto Salomon's book, The Teacher's Hand-book of Slöjd:

V. –– Chisels, Gouges, Carving Tools etc.
These terms include a whole group of tools which are used in wood-slöjd for the removal of small pieces of wood, in cases where the knife, the saw, or the plane could not advantageously be used.

They consist of a flat or concave blade made of steel, the cutting end of which is cut straight across and sharpened to an edge, and the other wrought into a four-sided tang, which is set into a wooden handle. The tool in working is driven into the wood either by the pressure of the hand, or by blows from a mallet. In order that the handle may not slip or twist round when grasped, it is generally made with four sides, greater in breadth and in thickness, and with the broader sides rounded. To keep the handle from splitting under violent pressure, the base of the tang is furnished with a shoulder, on which the handle rests.

These tools vary greatly in size both as regards length and breadth. The latter dimensions determined by the dimensions of the edge. The broadest tools are generally also the longest. In order to be able to execute all the different kinds of exercises which occur, it is necessary to have a complete set of each description of tools. There are usually 12 to a set, all of different breadths.
The first step was the removal of the handle, allowing the blade to be more easily "handled" in honing the face side flat. What appears as brown discoloration is actually rust, and small rust pits must be removed in order to be able to hone the angled side flat. The rust pitting is the result of the chisel being stored under improper conditions over its very long life. Honing the face side perfectly flat can take over an hour or more, depending on how deep the rust pits have become.

Woodworkers often spend a great deal of time honing the beveled side to perfection, but the actual sharpness of the cutting edge will only be as good as the surface developed on both sides of it. Once the face side of an old chisel has been honed to a mirror like finish and if it is stored under proper conditions, keeping the edge sharp will be easy, and accomplished by honing the beveled side with only minor attention to the face.

Later, I will made a simple handle in the Nääs design.

Make, fix, create, and suggest by your example that others learn likewise.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

footballs and chisels.

Hans Thorjbörnsson, historian at Nääs, sent me a list of tools purchased at Nääs between 1900 and 1920, pointing out that my E.A. Berg chisel would be found someplace upon it, and it may be surprising to some that tools and equipment would include the following:
Buys 24 footballs No. 4 and No. 5 soccer balls 24 through Aug. Abrahamson & Co.
There are a couple important lessons in this simple quote. The first is to re-emphasize the role of physical fitness at Nääs. The school was not just about woodworking education, but considered the whole child and the teaching of the whole child in its training of teachers. The second point is to re-illustrate the role of August Abrahamson's business in Sweden of the time. August Abrahamson was one of the most successful businessmen in Sweden in the latter part of the 19th century, and it was his generosity that fueled the expansion of Educational Sloyd to every part of the world including the US, Cuba, and Japan. His business sold everything from wax paper, to sports equipment, and he spent his resources generously to support the growth of character and intellect of children throughout the world.

Hans ended his note to me with a note of serious concern. How could Americans, and particularly American women, have voted for Donald Trump? It is a question I ask myself. It is certainly distressing to me and most of the world that they did so.

In the meantime, I am headed home from Colorado, and will be back in my wood shop and familiar stomping grounds this afternoon.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the likelihood of learning likewise.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

chisels and Nääs

I heard from my friend Hans Thorjbörnsson, historian at Nääs about chisels, as I had sent him images of the chisel that Jonas Jensen sent me.
He wrote:
The steel blade of the chisel is of course the original one, probably from the period 1900-1920. The tools sold by Naas were mostly bought in parts from different producers in Sweden, Germany, England and perhaps more countries. But the wooden parts were often manufactured at Naas by craftsmen living in the neighbourhood. (sloydbenches, planes, handles etc.)

The very robust handle we discuss is definitely a replacement from the second half of the twentieth century. It has an elegant shape, it has the two strengthening metal rings. The handles of the Salomon era, were entirely made by wood resting upon the shoulder of the metal blade. No strengthening metal rings as far as I have seen in pictures and from what I remember from the tool-collection at Naas.

My grandfather was a rather skilful sloyder in his leisure time during these same years. I have inherited his chisels and their handles are of the same Naas type, just wood, no strengthening metal, rather angular, simple design.
Jonas Jensen had suggested that the handle was one made to fit a file, that was then added as a ready replacement. I've decided that it is far more robust than would be required for sloyd work. So the question arises, should I replace it with one more delicately crafted and fitting the type of work done at Nääs?

Make, fix, create, and show others how to learn likewise.

Friday, November 25, 2016

practice lesson

Froebel's gifts in the Trondelag-Sverresborg Folk Museum
Last night I dreamed that I was required to present a practice lesson before a group of adult observers. My point was to show an integrated lesson that gave the opportunity for cross disciplinary engagement. So I had some materials prepared that would be used in the course of my presentation, but I began by instructing the observers in my own philosophy of education. I have some doubts as to how much good that can do. But the teacher must consider how a lesson might fit the child (or adult learner). Even when a lesson is likely to be absorbed at only a cursory level, it is good to prepare for it to run broad and to run deep.

On Wednesday we went to the Denver Nature and Science museum, and among the many activities they had to do for kids, was a discovery/play room filled with blocks with which to build structures of various kinds. There were many high-tech exhibits, but interest in the simple blocks was high. Some of the children and adults were stacking blocks as high as they could. That's one of the  things that we humans do. To then knock them down is another. Some blocks were made from tree limbs, carefully sanded. These had the bark intact, but  would have been so much more lovely and interesting if the names of the species had been included in each piece. It would have been obvious to most that these special blocks came more directly from the natural world, and an important point was missed when they neglected to lead the users into a multi-disciplinary discovery and engagement. If they had labeled these blocks, children and adults would have been led more deeply into their use.

In the photo above from the Trondelag/Sverresborg Folk Museum in Trondheim, the gift blocks are mixed up. The number 4 blocks are in the number 3 boxes, a thing you might not notice if you are unfamiliar with their use.

This is black Friday in the US and I'm being bombarded by those trying to sell me things I do not want and do not need. We would be a better nation, if we were to learn to make things for ourselves, and the gifts we gave to each other would be more meaningful expressions of our own character, and development.

Make, fix, create and suggest by your example, that others learn likewise.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

pages 9 and 15 Happy Thanksgiving!

An article about my 40th year celebration can be found in the Lovely County Citizen and be read here. Look for pages 9 and 15.

The photo at left is of my wife and I following her introduction of me to the guests, so many of whom I've known for 40 years and more.

I am in Denver with my wife's family for Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving. I have a huge amount to be thankful for. I enjoy my work, and have a wonderful family. I have those simple wishes for you, as well.

Make, fix, create, and offer others your example to learn likewise.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

finding the confidence to begin...

Imagine you are standing along a trout stream for the very first time, there are small trees along side and you have your fly rod in hand. You must do some things you've never done before in order to "present" your fly at just the right point in the stream. Imagine also that there are other fly fishing enthusiasts up and down stream, and your first thought, may be related to concerns that you not embarrass yourself with an inept performance.

I've been woodworking for many years now, and have made enough mistakes in the process to have embarrassed myself many times in a field just as arcane as fly fishing and in which I've learned it best to not take myself too seriously.

I heard a radio interview with Nick Offerman last week. He is an American comedian, general all around goofball, and woodworker. He reminded his listeners (particularly those who want to do woodworking) that we all make mistakes.

I have been contacted by many people over the years, who have wondered how to start woodworking programs. I am reminded of my own hesitancy to take the plunge with regards to entangling my lines in brush, and in neighbor's lines and the embarrassment that might ensue. The thing a person has to do whether beginning to fly fish for the first time, or do woodworking, is to simply begin. Either can launched (if you prefer) as a solitary adventure. Try fishing in your back yard first. Try woodworking in your basement with the fewest possible tools. Then seek guidance. Friends can help.

Yesterday I got a phone call from a doctor in Nebraska, asking for a bit of guidance on gluing up a box. The best I could actually accomplish over the phone was to remind him that this whole thing cannot be taken too seriously. Learning must not be that way. When we remember that learning is the most natural thing a human being can do, aside from eating, and sleeping, and most things in which we find joy had to be learned for the first time.

Launch yourself. Then when you have learned a few things, share them, share the techniques through which you, yourself have learned, and launch others. Doing it yourself first will bring what seemed abstract into the concrete, in your life and in the lives of others. Gaining some small level of confidence as  a woodworker will help a great deal when it becomes time to teach others.

Tomorrow I will offer a link to the Taunton Press website, giving a 20% discount on my new book, Tiny Boxes.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

pictures at an exhibition (not Mussorgsky)

These are a couple pictures from my Sunday event. Shown from left, are Peggy Kjelgaard, director of ESSA, me, my wife, Jean, and an old friend Jan who volunteered to cut the cake.

Over the weekend, I had interesting conversations with guests from out of town. One was a retired school superintendent with her PhD in curriculum and development. We talked about the challenges in education,  and the necessity of eliminating the contrived aspects of it.

Most educators recognize the value to integrating lessons to transcend the boundaries between various disciplines. One approach would be to make up artificial situations in which connections are made by the teacher, demonstrating "this is related to that." But there is no real substitute for engagement in real life. Woodshop is one of many great ways that connections between fields and that children can discover those connections for themselves. Artificiality and contrivance needs not apply.

We shared the idea that teachers are under extreme stress and face unreasonable expectations, even though learning is normally an irrepressible inclination, innate to our human species. Schools too often take all the fun out of it.

Make, fix, create, and extend the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Monday, November 21, 2016

a party...

Yesterday we celebrated my 40th year of woodworking with an event at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. The largest space available on campus was our blacksmithing studio. We fired up the forges to take the chill off, but the weather warmed during the day, allowing us to  shut down the heat, open the studio doors and enjoy a very beautiful day. We had about 140-150 guests, buying my work, and getting a preview of the new ESSA woodworking studio, now under construction. Many of our guests had never been to ESSA before, so it was a great introduction to what we offer to the community. Many were surprised at our lovely campus.

We also raised money to buy tools and equipment in our new wood shop. It was an extremely successful event, thanks to my wife's organizational skills and friends who helped with the preparation of food, the dispersal of beverages, and the sale of my work. I was kept busy visiting with guests and signing books.

After going for weeks with no feral hogs in our around out trap, we were visited by three hogs recorded by the game camera. Once we begin to get confident we've made a dent in their population, there are more that appear, so we are convinced the problem will go on for decades unless the state of Arkansas steps up to the plate and makes a major effort at eradication.

The image above is of objects from my new book, Making Classic Toys that Teach.

Make, fix, create, and offer others a pathway, by your example, to learn likewise

Sunday, November 20, 2016

a mystery and a celebration.

I will be at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts today for a book signing, sale and celebration of my 40 years of woodworking in Eureka Springs.

The invitation is included in Friday's blog post. and you are welcome to attend.

In yesterday's mail, I received a gift from Jonas Jensen in Denmark. Jonas writes the very interesting blog, and does many of his interesting woodworking projects while on-board ship. What Jonas sent me is a chisel, the blade of which came from Otto Salomon's sloyd school at Nääs.

A part of the story of this chisel is that Jonas' father travels to Sweden each summer and buys old tools on occasion, some of which he sharpens and sells to make a bit of money to provide the excuse to buy more.

This particular chisel caught Jonas eye when he found the marking NÄÄS shown in the photo above.

The handle is unusual for a Erik Anton Berg chisel, and may either be a replacement handle or possibly one custom made for the school at Nääs. The handle is more robust than is usually required on a firmer chisel.

In any case, I am honored to receive such an appropriate gift... a chisel that has a story attached and that requires further research.

During the latter part of the 20th century, and after the sloyd school had closed, a huge bonfire of educational sloyd models was built and most of the work of former students and teachers was burned. Tools? Who knows where they all ended up. This one has a story to tell, that we may never know. 

Make, fix, create, and extend the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

This day...

This day, I continue to prepare for my 40th year of woodworking celebration and clean the house to welcome guests. Being a part of ESSA is a remarkable experience and to see its growth in our community is even more than I had hoped it might be.

A number of years ago, even before ESSA was born, I was invited to the Chamber of Commerce "Vision Committee," so that I could explain what a school of the arts would be and how it would perform in our community and what its effects would be. The business community then largely ignored us as we put things in place and began building what we have built. But we are now at the point that even they are beginning to understand.

I read an article that laid the results of our recent presidential election at the foot of foolishness in schooling. It has long been recognized that schools have two primary functions, that of preparing students for the economy (to make a living), and of socializing them to perform as meaningful persons in democracy (to make a life). The article said we've focused on one and not the other. Otto Salomon said that schools have both a "Formell"  (or formative) purpose and an economic one, with the word formell referring to the school's role in forming the individual to meet the non-economic responsibilities of citizenry, community and humanity (to which I'll add, the responsibility of stewardship of planetary resources).

The way Salomon proposed to meet both goals was to foster a sense of understanding of the dignity of all labor, so that all within the culture would have deep respect for each other. Woodworking for all in school was his essential tool for this.

In the meantime, over the past 50 years in the US, the educational and political elite decided that all children must go to college, whether they were actually interested or not, and so manual arts programs were extraneous to their plans, and could be safely eliminated. And so millions of students took on unnecessary college debt, taking courses they would never have use for, and those who were successful in business and in their university educations did not garner the sense of the dignity of all labor that Salomon proposed. So what happened was that schools failed to perform either of their traditional functions well. Students were burdened by unnecessary debt, and the formative goals of education that would have integrated all levels of society in a united citizenry were not met.

The highly polarize election we just endured is an example of what happens when children in schools are not helped to get along with each other, are not given the skills to work out their disagreements by talking to each other, fail to recognize the greater things they have in common, and do not put those things first.

As you might be able to tell, I am gathering and refining my comments for a brief talk at tomorrow's event. Your invitation is in yesterday's blog post.

The photo at the top shows one of my high school students sanding his freshly made shaker box.

Make, fix, create, and offer others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Friday, November 18, 2016

setting up...

Today, I have high school students in the morning and begin setting up for my 40th celebration in the afternoon. The event held at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, ESSA, on Sunday, November 20 from 2-5 pm in the metals building. Rising alongside now is the framing of the new woodworking studio which will be ready for classes beginning the summer of 2017.

We will have music, refreshments, new books to be sold and signed, and some of my work to sell with a portion of the proceeds going toward the purchase of equipment in the wood shop.

In addition, we will have a preview showing and tour of the new studio.

I realize that most of my readers are from far away, but I have a few close by. Join us if you can.

It appears that throughout the US, folks are awakening to the idea that not all scholars want to go to college. Some it seems would rather learn from their hands and from actual experience rather than become indebted to colleges and public institutions. Here in Arkansas, the newly passed medical marijuana law proceeds will be targeted in part to a renewal of career and technical education.

That is all well and good, but accompanying a renewal of interest in the trades and in the arts, must come also, a renewal of respect, and a rising of the sense of dignity that must accompany all labor. When a man (or woman) puts his hands an heart toward a rising sense of public good, we all rise likewise, and the blessings of community are widely shared.

Make, fix, create and inspire others to learn likewise

Thursday, November 17, 2016

direct connection to the natural world.

University of Helsinki's secret museum of needlework
Yesterday after school I had an interview with the editor of one of our local news papers about my 40 years of woodworking in Eureka Springs which we will celebrate on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. The editor asked me a variety of questions and wanted to know what things I thought were important for her readers to know.

One thing that is crystal clear to me is that working with wood is a very special gift. You can go directly from what you find in nature to your own act of creating useful beauty, and do so in a manner through which the entire creative process is known and made clear.

There are some distinct differences between wood shop and the Maker movement's methodology of using pre-programmed digital devices. In the wood shop you are reliant on learning the simplest of technologies and can go entirely from rough wood to finished product. In a maker space, on the other hand, you are reliant primarily on technologies that most students may never understand and need not master.

The production strategies are abstract and complex, ignoring two principles from Educational Sloyd which had been formulated on careful observation of how we learn: Moving from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. How many students delve deeply enough into the workings of a laptop or desktop or iPhone to understand how it works? Even if a child is adept enough to do programming or understand programming, the abstraction of it, means that the basic understanding of the material world and particularly the world of nature are commonly ignored. The use of digital devices simply connects to the world of man, and the much needed connection between man and nature is neglected. The results may be that human beings, disconnected from nature, are prone to damage it through ignorance and neglect.

The preceding should not be considered an attack on the maker movement. Kids and adults need to be included in the creative process and having access to creative technologies of any kind beats having nothing. The point is that more basic tools and technologies give a better foundation for further unbound creativity.

I have been engaged in a conversation with Frank Wilson, author of the Hand, and Elliot Washor, co-founder of the Met Schools, about education in Finland. Elliot had been interviewed by Finnish broadcasters who themselves unfamiliar with their own educational traditions, were surprised by Elliot's familiarity with Sloyd... a thing that came from Frank having sent Elliot my articles about sloyd written from about 2006-2008, in which I described the use of the hands as the engagement and furtherance of mind. Those articles can be found in the resource file in the column of links at right "Doug Stowe's WOH articles and papers" and through this link.

The Finnish broadcasters not realizing the impact of their own traditional methods could be used as an illustration of tacit knowing. The Finnish school system was built upon the system of folk schools of Uno Cygnaeus, the inventor of sloyd. Naturally they would take all of that knowing for granted, as it would have moved over the last century and a half into a foundational subconscious knowledge base. There were several features built into Cygnaeus' folk school. One was the Kindergarten learning style promoted by Cygnaeus. Another was the purposeful integration between home and school through the making of useful objects. In order for any of this to be grasped, even by those brought up in Finnish schools, it's effect would need to be brought to their attention.

In Finland now, they’ve gotten away form the making of useful objects and are more interested now in expressing creativity through the tactile arts. But hidden away at the University of Helsinki, is a room unseen by all but a very few that is full of the finest tatting, and lacework done by students that you could find nowhere else in the world. Just because something has moved to the unconscious does not mean it is completely gone and with no effect.

One of my first graders yesterday made what he called "organic wood,"  simply a slender stick of pine with a nail driven all the way in at each end. Could I understand it? No, not in full. But what I did understand was a child working through his own creative process and attempting to come to a better understanding of the culture in which we live. He gave it to me as a gift that he knew I would treasure. That's wood shop for you.

Make, fix, create, and demonstrate for others the joy of learning likewise

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

collaboration and knowledge...

One of the tasks in the wood shop that I have students do together is drilling holes in the center of wooden disks to make wheels. The point, of course is that collaboration with others is an essential skill. It also makes sense that students communicate their skills with each other in both tacit and not-tacit means.

Tacit knowledge consists of those things that we know instinctively or that have been learned or communicated to us or through us by example, experience or observation without having ever been stated or communicated in a purely academic or intellectualized form.
As Michael Polanyi wrote in The Tacit Dimension, we should start from the fact that ‘we can know more than we can tell‘. He termed this pre-logical phase of knowing as ‘tacit knowledge’. Tacit knowledge comprises a range of conceptual and sensory information and images that can be brought to bear in an attempt to make sense of something (see Hodgkin 1991). Many bits of tacit knowledge can be brought together to help form a new model or theory. This inevitably led him to explore connoisseurship and the process of discovery (rather than with the validation or refutation of theories and models – in contrast with Popper, for example).—
In educational sloyd one was to proceed from the known to the unknown, but at that time, most children started with a similar tacit knowledge. Most children in Sweden at the time were at least familiar with the use of a knife. Even if they had not whittled wood on their own, they would have at least cut their own meat, or helped in various forms of chores that required the use of sharp instruments. These days, kids are all over the place even within a single age group, in that many parents do not trust their children to use tools, and they will not have gained the tacit knowledge that comes from having done so.

Exploring the sloyd precept of moving from the known to the unknown is made rather complex when and if you consider that much of what a child knows cannot be easily shared without them being in a position to actually do real things.

Teaming children to work together allows them to use tacit knowledge, but also converts tacit knowledge into forms that can be verbally shared. When a child becomes a teacher for other children, what had been tacit, becomes reflective knowledge, and thus gains greater significance and power.

Make, fix, create, and provide others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

der tischler

Yesterday I had a new student in wood shop, and it was exciting for him and for me to see his creative energies unleashed, and to see the eagerness of my more experienced students to help.

I received word this morning that wood is ready for me to pickup to build a large dining table. So I'll be a "tischler" for a time, a table maker in German. Froebel's poem to der tischler that accompanied the illustration above was translated as follows by Nora Archibald Smith
The joiner.

Plane, plane, plane——
Joiner follow the grain!
Smooth as silk the table grows;
Not a brake the fiber shows.
Plane, plane, plane——
Joiner, follow the grain!

Strong, strong, strong,
Push the plane along!
Make the bench all glossy white;
Not a splinter leave in sight,
Strong, strong, strong,
Push the plane along!
Please note the hands at the top of the image, and the small girl below at work on her own table. Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words. The joiner's garb expresses the classic nobility of labor. The hand gestures at the top were what they children would do with their own hands as the poem would be recited. The small child at the bottom tells that even girls would be ennobled and empowered by the woodworker's craft.

My sister Sue loves to promote my books and decided to contact a friend involved in promoting Montessori schools about doing a review of Making Classic Toys that Teach on her blog. In response, the friend confessed that her own family was completely "unhandy" including her children and that the book would be of little interest to her or her readers. To which I once again quote Maria Montessori, that the hands are the path to the mind.

Last night my wife and I watched Michael Moore's movie, "who should we invade next?" And I was surprised that it had so little to do with war, and so much to do with how our American government and American society fail the American people. A particularly telling episode visited the schools of Finland, and provided very clear lessons in what we could do to improve American education. No specific mention was made of sloyd, but there were scenes showing children making things from wood.

What we have done by making school in the US so abstract and unrelated to the lives of kids is one of the lingering tragedies that must be addressed to really make America Great Again. In the movie, Michael Moore "invaded" countries to take the best of what he could from them. The great irony was that the ideas he found were American ideas and ideals that had first arisen in the American experiment, but that had been discarded by those greedy for money and power.

Make, fix, create, and suggest to others that we learn holistically by doing real things.

Monday, November 14, 2016


a reliquary of woods
A number of years back, I made my first "reliquary of wood," a simple case, or box, for samples of 25 different Arkansas hardwoods. As you can see, it is a simple thing made of maple. This one won best of show in a 4-state regional exhibit at the Springfield Art Museum along with a cash prize.

It was first made for an exhibit of shrines at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, and when I was invited to participate in that show along with a number of other local artists the suggestion was to create a shrine to some of those things that were most important in my life. This photo was taken for the UU World Magazine where my reliquary of wood was featured as religious "art".

What could be more important to a woodworker than the beautiful woods that are found in and around his home state? This piece is also based on the child's finger play, "here's the church, here's the steeple, open the doors and see all the people." The turned hardwood samples are the "people" of this church, and for some, God is as much likely to be found in the forest as anywhere else.

Thanks to my friend Barbara and her mother, I learned that:
a "schreiner is the box maker, a joiner. Schreiner comes from schrinaere, the Middle High German and old English similar, a little chest or box. In Norwegian the same word for chest or box,  is 'skrin' or 'skrine'. To write is 'skrive', the latin scrinium, a writing box or chest.
Barbara notes that it is "Always interesting to follow words around." And I learn that I am a schreiner who made a shrine. Along those same lines, I looked up the etymology for the word case, and found that it in turn equaled reliquary, a word associated with the small chapel shaped boxes that the Catholic Church once used to house  important religious relics. A small tin reliquary served as the inspiration for my own reliquary of wood. Can you see the way words and things are interrelated in ways that both defy and inspire the imagination?

I learned from a blog reader that he was greatly distressed (angered and insulted) by my opposition to Donald Trump's election as President of the US. I pray that he and others find no further cause for remorse and that Trump, a man who conducted a campaign as mean spirited as his, based so strongly on generating fear and insulting others,  and infused with such outrageous proposals can rise to the responsibilities of guiding our nation toward greater justice for all, and most particularly for those he insulted and threatened during his campaign.

In any case, when we begin to realize the overwhelming interrelationship of all things, we begin to realize that even the most minuscule act when performed for the right reasons can lead in some way toward the goal of the good even in the face of outrageous behaviors.

I learned from a parent that her daughter being in her first year of wood shop at the Clear Spring School, had been terrified at the prospect of tools. Thinking of them in the abstract, they, for her, presented the risk of sharp and dangerous edges. Using tools, has helped her to overcome her fear. May the same happen for each of us, that as we learn more about each other, we find less to fear and that those who have successfully used fear against us, will lose all their power.

Woodworking, done with right mind, can be an act of devotion that can change the world, admittedly only a very little bit at a time, and while that may never seem quite enough, persistence helps.

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, children will be making toys.

Make, fix, create, and offer others the chance of learning, and growing likewise to find connection in the vast interconnectedness of all things.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

seeing is not enough

I have been working through my email contacts to promote my new book Making Classic Toys that Teach, and Frank Wilson, author of The Hand reminded me of Albrecht Dürer's classic woodcut illustration, Doubting Thomas, in which Thomas probed Christ's wounds with his hand in an impulse to ascertain their truth.

This illustration shows the classic relationship between hand and mind, in that the mind may seek the truth, but it's the hand that finds it.

Some might think Thomas to be burdened by doubt, whereas his explorations of Christ's wound's might have been considered heroic instead, as an example of the kind of healthy skepticism  required of our humanity.

One of the risks inherent in manual arts training is that students may learn to think for themselves and to be confident to actually test what they are told.

I spend a lot of time on the blog telling why the hands must be engaged in learning. And perhaps not enough time actually setting my readers in motion. It is through doing woodworking, and teaching wood working, poking your hand in Christ's wounds so to speak, that truth will become clear.

If you have a shop, get busy and reflect on what you have done. Invite children to your shop if you have one, and simply reflect on the process and what you and they have done together. If you have no shop, but have kids, start with scissors, paper and string and let your own experience lead you forward.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others an understanding that we must all learn likewise.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


A preview of my new book, Making Classic Toys that Teach is now offered as a flip book. Click the link to read parts of the book, and share  it with anyone you think might be interested the full version of the book. It is targeted to parents, teachers and grandparents who may have an interest in developing woodworking skill AND increasing the intelligence and creativity of their kids.

If you wish to order go to or to the publisher's website. Some time in the next few days, I hope to offer a discount code for those who want to order direct from the publisher and receive a discount.

I have learned that the book will be offered soon in many of the usual woodworking stores and online shops.

I am almost ready to launch a new website, so I have been taking additional photos for it, like the one below, showing 8 of my 11 books, and not counting my two books translated into German. Not shown also are my 3 DVDs.

You can now join my facebook page. 

Today I have a board meeting for Clear Spring School and in the wood shop, will begin forming large mortise and tenon joints in walnut.

Make, fix, create, and suggest to others that they might benefit from learning likewise.

Friday, November 11, 2016

teach what you want to learn and do first what you wish to teach.

Yesterday in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, I began attending to the final details in making shaker boxes, so I could demonstrate for my middle school students what would come next in their own steps. The point, of course, is that it is best to test things in your own hands before you bother to instruct others. An experienced woodworker will test what works and define his or her steps to guarantee a better success rate for students.

One thing I love demonstrating is how a person can simply hold a pencil, and with one finger trailing the edge, mark an even line all the way around a box or other object. This is required for marking where the holes are to be drilled to fit toothpicks that secure the bottom of the box, and the top panel in the lid. It is also a demonstration of the wisdom of the hands, as no other measuring instrument is required but the fingers themselves.
Over a period of time, a teacher learns the general capabilities of each student: where they can be encouraged to do better, where to relax standards because they've already done their best, when a new tool can be introduced, and whether or not an individual student can be trusted in its use. Otto Salomon called that sensitivity, "the teacher's tact." The problem in many teaching situations is that no two children are exactly alike, and tact is a requirement. We think that teaching is about knowledge. It is also about relationship.

I have begun work on a dining table for a friend, and the 4" x 8" walnut had a twist (wind) over it's 40 in. length. If you try to pass twisted wood through the planer, the wood simply follows twists all the way through from one end to the other without becoming straight. Without a very wide jointer, it is difficult to remove twist in heavy stock. But by using a carry board and shimming under the stock to make it stable, you can remove twist, making one side perfectly flat, before turning the stock over to plane the other side. The photo above shows how it works. Simply insert shims in one end and the other until the plank rests without rocking.  Screw those shims in place so they don't move. Then screw blocking in place to make certain the plank stays in position on the board as you plane.

I received my author copies of Making Classic Toys that Teach, as you can see in the photo at left.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn the value of learning likewise.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

making wheels

As you can see in the photo, my new drill press is working well in the making of wheels. Shifting more of the making process to the kids, making my life easier, and their lives smarter and more fun. Older students are allowed to simply make them on their own (following instruction). Younger ones, in first, second and third grades I ask to work in teams, with one locking the wheel blank in place while the other turns on the drill and and turns the handle to lower the bit to form the hole.

One thing that makes this drilling process relatively safe is that if the wheel were to lift up from the clamp and spin, it would simply be a round object spinning with the drill and not something that could hit small knuckles.

As Elizabeth said, "This is fun, can I do more?" In the past, I would have to make hundreds of wheels at a time so that I could leave the big drill press free to drill axle holes in the bodies of the toy cars and trucks they make. This small drill press made in China costs less delivered than a cordless drill.

The small chuck used in the drill table to hold the wheel blanks is shown in the image below, and is available here and from other sources. The three jaws reverse to hold wheels centered under the drill.

Today in the wood shop, my middle schools students will be fitting top panels on their shaker boxes.

Make, fix, create and offer others the encouragement to learn likewise.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

a night of anguish

I could barely sleep last night after watching the American people elect a liar, bully and misogynist president over a well informed and capable woman. Much of the world is reeling in dismay, with the exception of Vladimir Putin, who called immediately to congratulate.

I have prayed in the past that I might be wrong about American Presidents. For instance, when George W. Bush invaded Iraq and I knew it was an utterly dumb idea, I prayed that I might be mistaken. Quite sadly, I was not.

Fortunately, I have work to do, and can do good things, despite the apparent darkness that has descended upon our land. I can pray for some kind of miracle, as I know many people throughout the world are praying right now.

In the Clear Spring School wood shop today, we will be making toy cars and trucks, and Jenga games that will become a useful way to encourage our students to learn their math facts.

The bright spot in all this election stuff, is that the world is much kinder when shaped in and through our own hands and through the encouragement we offer directly to each other. We are each empowered to make the world a better place when we take matters into our own hands.

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

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

going for kind and gentle

This is election day in the US, and I did my early voting last week, as I am in Little Rock this morning for a minor medical exam. I hope people get out and vote. This has been the the most difficult American Presidential election in modern times and most of us are ready for it to be over, provided the right party wins.

There is a great book that has been out for many years, written by a Unitarian Universalist minister, called "Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten." Part of the book is about putting away your toys, and fulfilling your responsibilities to others. Part of it is about being kind to others in what you do and in what you say. Things to think about as we build a kinder nation.

During my weekend open house and studio tour, several women noted that they wished they had woodworking when they were in school. If they had been of an earlier generation they might have. Gender is no limitation on capacity to serve others in a meaningful way. And I vote for a kinder nation, in which the people and our government help others to be their best. That should include woodworking in schools, grade 1 through 12 so that children might engage in the creation of useful beauty.

Make, fix, create, and offer all others the chance of learning likewise.

Monday, November 07, 2016


I got a fine email from Richard Bazeley in Australia, blog reader and woodworking teacher, bringing up the importance of "connectivity" –– that what children learn in one subject area should connect them with what they had learned in others. Freidrich Froebel used the German term verbundenheit which has been translated as conscious connection or "connectedness." The following is from my new book Making Classic Toys that Teach.
The Third Principle: Connectedness
Froebel’s third principle was "connectedness." While one could focus attention on facts and things in isolation, those facts and things are also deeply connected through myriad means; the child, too, should learn to see himself or herself as a part of the larger unbound world. As outlined by Froebel in The Education of Man, “Education should be one connected whole, and should advance with an orderly and continuous growth—as orderly, continuous and natural as the growth of a plant.”
One thing that Froebel did not mention directly is where the connections should be made. There is a risk of creating contrived rather than discovered connections, when the teacher creates the connectiveness or connectedness and lays it before the child, rather than allowing the child to discover connections on his or her own. So connectedness should take place within the child, in relation to his or her own experience, not be purposely laid out as one more fact to be taken in that was laid out and arranged by teachers. Just as the artificial boundaries between fields of study make school studies artificial, artifice used to stitch fields of study back into an integrated whole, sustain a disconnection between the child and the real world.

I had three days of studio tour, which meant that I spent three days explaining my work, from both a technical and design perspective, and one of the points that I tried to make is that work must surprise, and thereby touch upon the sense of personal discovery that brings us to a state of educational preparedness in the form of physical, emotional an intellectual alert. (See Jerome Bruner's discussion of Effective Surprise.") It was good that my visitors were able to be surprised by various elements of my work before I offered explanation of effective surprise. The image above is a shape that Froebel called "the doll," that was left for the child to discover on his or her own through play with Gift number 2.

Throughout the literature by and about the teaching of Froebel's kindergarten, the doll receives no further mention or illustration, as it was to be deliberately left for the child to discover without the form of interference in learning we often call "instruction."

So the question must arise for each of us, "how do we make learning as natural as the opening of petals on a flower?"

The most simple  and precise answer is to:

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

Sunday, November 06, 2016

open house, open mind

I have had two days of being on the local artist studio tour and have been working on table designs between guests.

The idea of the table is that it seats 10, that it be easy to cozy up around during Thanksgiving dinners, that it be wheel chair accessible in old age, and that it be lovely. I may still work on the leg units to make them more graceful.

We have had a number of delightful guests over the last two days and have planned for more today.

I want to talk just a bit about models and their use, both in Sloyd and in the Clear Spring School wood shop. Educational Sloyd placed an emphasis on the development of skill, so models were arranged  in exacting sequence to help shape the student's growing abilities to shape conventional household items from wood. Instead of creativity being a point of emphasis, students were encouraged to work toward close adherence to the model's design and craftsmanship. Sanding was discouraged, and decoration, too, was to be avoided. You can see the effects of educational sloyd in modern day Swedish and Danish design, and see it reflected in the practical simplicity of Ikea,  the impeccable craftsmanship of James Krenov and and the turned forms of Rude Osolnik. The emphasis was on craftsmanship and form.

I also use models at the Clear Spring School, but as a launching point for student creativity. I keep old examples of previous projects as a way to suggest ideas about how things can be made, and also to suggest how they can be creatively modified to meet the student's own design goals.

Both of these approaches have value, with that value being more or less related to the goals that the teacher or school may have. Is the program objective to impart measurable skill and design sense, or is it to sustain student creativity, experimental attitude, artistic sense, and student interest?

For those thinking of building a program in schools or in after school learning, program goals are good things to reflect upon.

Make, fix, create, and hope that others develop a love for learning likewise.

Saturday, November 05, 2016


I want to thank those who have taken the time to comment on yesterday's post. I am in the midst of hosting a studio tour and will try to provide a simple projects list, some guidance in materials prep, a list of age appropriate tools, and some guidance for woodworking preparedness later when I have more time.

Teaching woodworking can be complex, but it can also be simple. I had the advantage of beginning to do woodworking with kids after having spent years in my own shop, observing my own hands as they did  work with wood.

It can be a bit daunting I know for those who have recognized the need for woodworking  with kids but may not be so well prepared.

Today, I'll offer a brief note about materials, but will need to expand it at a later date. Children are best able to work with the simple approach of a carpenter, using soft woods like white pine, fir, or spruce, and in the early days of woodworking in schools and homes, vegetable crates would supply all a child or a classroom of children would need to craft wonderful things. Since vegetables and fruits now come in cardboard boxes instead, I resaw many 2 x 4's into working stock, depending on the size and thickness of the materials required.

The advantage of soft woods is that they can be nailed together, can be more easily sawn, and easily drilled, whereas hardwoods offer much greater resistance, and cannot be nailed. I offer woods in various thicknesses with the nails to be driven through the grain of thinner woods into the end grain of thicker stock. Another advantage of softwoods is that they are easier to obtain from local lumber yards and from building sites in the form of scrap.

I have both hardwoods and soft woods in our school shop, and in a variety of species so that kids learn the difference, not only in how they look and work, but so that they learn their best and most appropriate use. To become familiar with the woods they use in wood shop, is a direct link to their nature studies. The downside is that I'm always telling kids, "That's oak," or "That's cherry or walnut," and I explain that nailing may be difficult or even impossible without pre-drilling. (The test me, however, to see that I'm right.)

I also want to point out some vital information that is embedded in the photograph above. Can you see the collaboration between the father and his children? That kind of thing cannot be well managed in a large classroom of kids, but should be the objective. Schooling should always be about managing and encouraging relationships, between peers, between generations, between the individual and community, and between the individual and the natural world.

Make, fix, create, and suggest through your own efforts that others learn likewise.

Friday, November 04, 2016

knife, chisel plane

I promised to help describe what could be called a curriculum for elementary woodworking education by using the principles of educational sloyd, and my illustration at left helps to show the difficulties involved.

Otto Salomon developed a series of models (the model series) which was to be changed and adapted to the needs (and interests) of children in various communities. The model series was not to be set in stone, as children were different in different nations, and there were different customs and different things they might be inspired to make. Behind the series was a carefully crafted set of exercises in the use of various tools. These were the basic exercises of craftsmanship and were to be used in the selection of models, and were arranged, and introduced through the making of models based on the principles of sloyd: moving from known to unknown,  from easy to more difficult, from simple to complex, and from concrete to abstract. You can find these exercises on P. 80 of Otto Salomon's book, The Theory of Educational Sloyd.

In the illustration of the knife, the chisel and plane you can see that the cutting edge of each tool is similar in purpose, but that the use is more clearly prescribed and limited as technology moves from simple to complex. And yet, the knife was the introductory tool in educational sloyd (particularly in Norway, Finland and Sweden) because the students were already familiar with and comfortable with its use, and the knife offered a far greater range of possible forms. It also offered an invitation to the investigation and understanding of the material that the other similar tools did not.

While a plane would be a safer introduction than either the chisel or knife, it was of more limited use, and the children of Scandinavia were already prepared for safe use. In Denmark, and in the UK, educators argued against the knife, considering it too risky to use in schools, and unrelated to the carpenter's trade.

My own situation at Clear Spring School is unique and I'm not sure how to directly help those who would like to develop programs of their own. On way would be to take the projects that have worked for us, and to describe them and the preparation work required. So a woodworking curriculum can be described from a project base. Another way to establish a curriculum would be to base it on the introduction of various tools, as to age appropriateness, and increasing complexity. A third, more free wheeling approach is to simply follow the interests of the child and require reflection.

You can see that I'm struggling a bit here to do what I said I would do. Ask questions if you like.

Today is the first day of the Artist Studio Tour. My shop, finish room and office are cleaned and ready for guests.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others a chance of learning likewise

Thursday, November 03, 2016

it's biology...

Frank Wilson, author of the hand, sent me an article in the New York Times about men leaving the new digital economy to do manual labor of various kinds. Frank noted that to work with the hands is not just something we might choose to do on a whim, but that it's part of our biology. The hands and brain co-evolved as a learning system, and that they operate  most effectively in direct relationship to the other.

Elliot Washor, Co-Founder of the Big Picture Schools. sent me an article from the Atlantic about how the insistence that college is required by all is a waste of time and money for some. So reading these two, one must ask what happens when someone goes into massive debt at college and then goes on to decide they want to want to work with their hands but were left totally unprepared for it? What if what you really wanted to do was go into the drapery business, but then cannot due to burdensome debt?

We've become a nation of idiots, largely because we've overlooked, diminished and disparaged the value of the relationship between hands and mind. But the relationship between head and hands is simple biology that must not be ignored.

Yesterday I promised to simplify and review the basics of woodworking in school (or in after school programs) (or introducing woodworking in a grandparent's garage).

We start (as in educational sloyd) with the interests of the child.  And one of the very best reasons that woodworking should be in schools or at the center of after school activities is that it directly attracts the interests of most children. There is a natural curiosity about the use of tools and the way they mark and shape the wood.  Plus, there are feelings of power and control over the physical world, a sense of physical agency, that one cannot get through digital devices. Even 3 D printers do not provide the same sense of agency as does skilled use of a saw.

In Educational Sloyd and Whittling, by Gustaf Larsson you can read the projects as they are presented and see a gradual expansion of the number of tools required for the project, that their introduction is arranged upon their complexity and difficulty of use, and that the projects themselves increase in difficulty and complexity throughout the course.

In Sweden and Norway, the first tool to be introduced was the knife. It is the simplest of tools, and met the need for progression from the known to the unknown as every child in those countries would already be familiar with its use.

These days, most children are already experienced in the use of digital technology, but I hesitate to call these digital objects tools, in that they do very little to actually shape physical reality and they provide little insight into the workings of fundamental realities. They violate the principle of educational sloyd that suggests moving from the concrete to the abstract. They work in exactly the opposite direction, which then makes the introduction and use of simple tools even more important.

Today I continue to clean my shop, office and finish room for a weekend open house. Go to for details.

Make, fix, create, and offer others to chance of learning likewise

Wednesday, November 02, 2016


I was contacted by someone wanting me to offer a woodworking curriculum for children grades k-8. As I've mentioned before, the idea of a curriculum may actually stifle the child's growth as an independent learner. "First kids are to do this, and then kids are to do that" may be overly prescriptive and trample on the interests of the teacher and child.

So what children need most is a supply of tools, a supply of materials, examples to stimulate investigation, advice on how things can be best made, someone with eagle eyes and ears to oversee safe work (but without an overbearing manner), and a challenge offered for their growth (in both skill and character development). To be clear I'll put these same points as a list and address these points one by one over the next few days:
  • Tools
  • Materials
  • Examples or models
  • Ready advice
  • Oversight for safety
  • To be challenged in skill and character development
  • To be encouraged to reflect
I regard philosophy as the starting point for program development, rather than curriculum. For what it may be worth, best selling author Matthew Crawford called me "a first class thinker about education," but I'll not let that go to my head, as doing is much better than thinking on its own.

As far as philosophy is concerned, there is none better than the principles of educational sloyd, which I repeat again for the umpteenth time.
  • Start with the interests of the child.
  • Move from the known to the unknown
  • From the easy to more difficult
  • From the simple to the complex and 
  • From the concrete to the abstract.
Each of the two sets of bullet points above are also related to each other and will be addressed in the next few days.

Yesterday I did a thorough cleaning of my wood shop (with the help of a friend, Greg), and I received my advance copies of my new book Tiny Boxes.

Make, fix, create, and suggest that others may love learning likewise.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

yesterday and today.

Yesterday I spent most of the day going through my wood storage in the shop removing wood that will be used for making workbenches at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. I plan to invite area woodworkers to join me in April to make work benches for the bench room. Sorting through my lumber supply also gives me the opportunity to do deep cleaning in my wood shop in preparation for artist studio tours happening this coming weekend, November 4, 5 and 6.

At Clear Spring School today we have a new lathe arriving by truck that I'll move into the shop and get set up for bowl turning. I am also working on table designs.

Make, fix, create, and suggest others learn likewise.