Thursday, August 31, 2017


Today I am experimenting with Sam Maloof's formula for finishing boxes. I had used one particular brand of Danish oil for many years, but with it having been discontinued, I've been thrown back on my own resources. Either choose something else that's expensive, or make my own and have greater control.

Sam's formula is simple. One part polyurethane, one part mineral spirits, and one part boiled linseed oil. The second two parts are inexpensive, leading to a product that costs less than half what I would pay for a factory prepared finish.

The question remains. Will it give me what I want? It may take some further experiments to decide. The best things so far are are that the smell of the finish is tolerable and the environmental effects are manageable with adequate ventilation. It certainly brings figured walnut to life.

Today I prepare for classes on Friday, and meet with members of the North Eastern Wood Turning Association for a tour of the ESSA wood shop.

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

a small batch of boxes.

The photo shows a small batch of boxes. More of other sizes and colors of wood will be assembled later in the month as my inventory demands.

Woodworkers have wondered how I cut the angled shape and why. The hinges I use demand a certain thickness. If that thickness was reflected at the front edge of the lid, it would feel heavy and chunky. The angled shape, makes the box more visually interesting, but its origins are purely a practicality regarding the requirements of the hinge. Also, the angled lid allows two lids to be sawn from the same piece of 1 in. thick stock, saving material from waste. Is that not also an expression of reverence for the material?

Rather than cut the angled ends to shape prior to assembly, it is much easier to simply bandsaw them after assembly, and then sand the surfaces flush.

Yesterday a group of volunteers from Crystal Bridges came for a tour of ESSA and a lecture by guest artist Bethany Springer, Associate Professor of Sculpture from the University of Arkansas. We hope to have more events bringing ESSA to greater awareness in our region.

Today classes resume at the Clear Spring School, and woodworking classes resume on Friday. I am also preparing for the editor to arrive from Fine Woodworking on Sunday, and the photo shoot on Monday morning.

The boxes shown in the photo have now been coarse sanded, routed, and are ready for fine sanding.

Make, fix, create, and adjust all schooling so that others are empowered to learn likewise.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

showing a reverance for wood.

My editor at Fine Woodworking asked how I decide where to cut to remove the lid from the body of a finger jointed box. He noted that some craftsmen will remove two whole fingers width of stock to maintain an exact pattern at the corners of the box. Those makers plan the box to be two fingers taller than required to meet their design, so that the box is shortened, and the pattern of joints at the corners is precise.

That removes and thereby disrupts the grain pattern that was carefully arranged around all four sides of the box. The point of cutting the lid from the body of the box is so that respect for the grain as a design feature is expressed.

Instead of removing two fingers width, I simply plan my cut with a thin kerf blade to fall on the fine line between fingers. I think you can see in the photo that the pattern of fingers with a small amount of material removed is not seriously disrupted, and most importantly, the grain on all four sides is perfectly matched.

The point is that of showing some reverence for the wood, by making something beautiful from it that will last generations.

Today I will welcome guests from Crystal Bridges Museum on a tour of the ESSA campus, I'll prepare stock for students at the Clear Spring School, and I'll assemble boxes.

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

a great gift.

The University of Arkansas received a gift of 120 million dollars from the Walton Family Foundation to expand its art department. In the meantime, conservative Republican state legislator Bart Hester was critical of the state giving money to a local community college for the development of their arts and vocational program. His point is that there is "no demand for art in our current market."

The truth is that the arts are a driving force in our economy, and always have been. The side truth is that conservative Republicans are often frightened of the arts as the arts drive social consciousness in ways that the conservatives really, truly do not like.That's why conservative legislators are always trying to undermine funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. There's fear on one side and brains on the other.

The odd thing is that Bart Hester represents a district just outside the rapidly developing arts community of Bentonville, Arkansas, that's grown up with Walton Family support and their creation of the Crystal Bridges Museum. The thriving economy in the Bentonville area is all about the arts.

Today my newest book, The Box Maker's Guitar Book, goes to press. Copies will be available in about 45 days.

In the woodshop, I am completing my sample boxes for an article in Fine Woodworking on cutting box joints, and sanding boxes and small products to sell.

Make, fix, create, and improve the likelihood that others love learning likewise.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


Richard Bazeley, a retired shop teacher from Australia sent a link on the making of Mage-wappa, Japanese bentwood boxes that are used just as one would a lunchbox.

The video is corny at times. The craftsmanship is not. The history of Mage-wappa is told here:
and parallels that of Tiner, the Norwegian bentwood boxes that were originally made for the making of cheese. Mage-wappa and tiner were of humble origins, but as material craftsmanship has become scarce the products of craftsmanship in material form are are more noted and compelling.

Yesterday in the wood shop I began making sample boxes for an article in Fine Woodworking. I must have two boxes finished in advance just like the ones I'll make on camera while the editor is here on the 4th. What I will demonstrate has become easy for me. And that's the point. If I can make it easy for others, there's no telling where we might end up.

I offer sincere congratulations to my friend Dan Krotz who has made and sold his 500th table. He makes no claims of higher craftsmanship.  He has few tools. He works with the volition of the wood, meaning that he and the materials act in harmony and relationship to each other.

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

Saturday, August 26, 2017

talk about it...

I have been reading a book called Talking Shop: The Language of Craft in an Age of Consumption by Peter Betjemann and it's dense enough to convince me that actually doing shop is a far better proposition than talking about it.

My book, The Box Maker's Guitar Book goes to press on Monday after I review just a few pages to make certain all is right. In the shop I've been preparing stock for turning pens at school, and inlaying box lids and business card holders.

The photo shows the type of joint that I'll cut as a demonstration for Fine Woodworking magazine when an editor is here on Sept. 4. The miter at the top edge of a finger jointed box provides an easy way to use decorative bandings, and an easy way to install a floating panel lid. It is also a joint that requires mindfulness.

While the cutting of the finger joints can be a near mindless exercise, the miter is not. It is also a joint that can last well over a hundred years if cared for. Today I will select the material for the article, plane it and make two boxes that will serve as examples of the finished work.

We have friends and family in Houston and are braced in our thoughts as Hurricane Harvey hammers the Texas coast. There are times when people really need to know how to do things, and times as well when they really need the tools of real work. Recovery from this storm will be one of those times.

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

getting ready for school, making inlay.

Yesterday I spent some time in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, rearranging lathes to make more room, and repairing work benches. In my home shop, I spent some time making inlay for boxes. I will continue both activities today.

One of the interesting things about wood is that it is a narrative form. You may have to know something about its character in order to "read" what it has to say. You must take time to be observant of natural processes and the character in the wood in order to understand the story that the wood tells. The wood's story is always a story about integration of the tree into its landscape, and the circumstances within which it grew up. Where there's a knot, there had been a branch. And while that may be boring to some, it is a story that resonates throughout life in the natural world.

There is a human affinity for working with wood. Like wood, we also tell stories about our landscape (human, cultural and natural), and the circumstances within which we grew up.

So I describe for my students a see-saw upon which the craftsman may be out on one end, asserting (and insisting upon) his mastery over the material, and with the wood at the other. The conscious maker decides whether the object being made is to tell one story or the other... that of conquering material in the creation of form, or one expressing a collaboration in which the story of the tree told through the wood is also conveyed.

I choose the latter approach. While making inlay may seem to be an exercise of craftsmanship, the purpose in this case is to simply convey an understanding of the beauty and diversity of wood.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others have the opportunity to learn likewise.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

today in the wood shop.

Today I will be cleaning and making inlay in my wood shop, and preparing for classes at the Clear spring School. My book on box guitars goes off to the printer on Friday, I have orders to fill, and I am also preparing for a visit from an editor at Fine Woodworking in two weeks. My summer was busy, and the onset of the school year is making things more so.

Yesterday my wife and I took a few minutes out of our day to watch the solar eclipse. Here in Northwest Arkansas, the eclipse was only a partial one at 92 percent. But the image of the sun and moon made beautiful shadows on the deck. A colander held between the sun and white paper also cast interesting shadows of the eclipse. In the second photo, Jean holds the colander while I am taking the picture with the iPhone. The shadows tell the story, and remind me that all life in interconnected by light.

My friend Bob told me about waking up one morning in Guatemala, with the market outside  and all its activity projected on the wall of his room through a pinhole in the shutter that covered his window. The light passing through pinhole sized spaces between leaves has the same effect.

We had glasses for safe viewing, but standing under the trees and observing the effects was just as interesting as watching the moon gradually pass before the sun.

In 2024 Eureka Springs will be directly in the path of totality, so that eclipse will be even more dramatic than this one and we'll not have to drive any distance to see it.

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

box ends

I have been routing small mortises in the ends of boxes. The photo shows some complete and some with only two of the routed grooves cut.  Each end takes three steps.

The grooves fit tenoned parts and the floating panel bottom, that allows for expansion and contraction to take place for a hundred years or more without effecting the integrity of the box. My object is making a box that can last generations. The parts fitted carefully to each other give lasting strength.

On Friday night my wife and I went to the birthday party of a friend, and the hostess suggested that I would like to see their bathroom, and most particularly her jewelry box that had been given to her on her 16th birthday. It was one I had made, just like the ones I'm making this week, using parts just like these.

I did not tell my friend that her box was only one of thousands I've made. Hers is one that was given in love, that she has cared for and that she has kept selected things inside and so it has been made precious and unique. It has taken a life of its own beyond what I was able to impart.
"Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing for long years.

And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them."— D. H. Lawrence
The craftsman is but a spark. Craftsmanship lingers in an object only because others care for what they have found in it.

Happy eclipse day, 2017. It will grow dark here in Arkansas as the moon moves in front of the sun. Here we are in the 92 percent zone and many of my friends are on their way north to experience totality. It will pass.

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

milling parts.

I am in the process of milling parts for making small boxes as is usual for me this time of year. I have a four position router table that contains 4 routers, each set up for a different operation.

One router forms the tenons on the ends of pieces of wood and also forms the tongues around the edges of parts that will become the bottom panels.

At this point, all the tenoning and panel forming operations are complete, so I will switch to another position on the router table where another router is set up and ready to rout tiny mortises where the tenons on the front and back and the ends of the bottom panels will fit.

When the mortises are routed, I can turn my attention to the inlaid lids.

I have published this technique in my books, and yet, reading with accompanying photographs is often insufficient  for those wanting to learn the how to make boxes of this type. People want to see it, and ask questions about it and test it in their own hands. For me, at this point, it is all quite simple. The routers are already set up and my hands know the process.

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

a reader asked

A reader asked where to find plans for my minimalist router table that has been featured in my books and articles over the years. It can be downloaded from the Fine Woodworking website here:

While many woodworkers work days to make the perfect router table, mine, which has been in use for over 30 years was made in minutes, allowing me to get right to work.

As with many aspects of my work, I'd not set out to make something different. I was simply trying to do something with what I had at hand. Yesterday I met with the elementary school teachers at Clear Spring School to begin planning our woodshop activities with first through sixth grades. Today I will go shopping for walnut.

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

my work returning to Crystal Bridges

Yesterday I delivered work to the Crystal Bridges Museum's Gift store, making it once again available for sale to museum guests. I'm pleased when my friends tell me they are pleased to find it there. I also met with staff at the Clear Spring School to begin planning for the coming year and continued preparing stock for making small boxes.

Sawstop, the safer saw manufacturer is once again in the news ( ) as the Consumer Products Safety Administration, once again considers a technology that makes table saws much safer and has a proven track record of protecting thousands of hands from tragic injury each year.

The technology is not perfect. I had my own sawstop saw triggered this last week, while cutting into the end of a basswood board, and with my hands safely positioned well back from the blade. I sent the cartridge and scrap of wood that the blade just barely touched to them for analysis, as the situation was clearly not the kind of cut the Sawstop saw was intended to prevent. My good ripping blade was destroyed. But still, the idea of preventing thousands of injuries and returning woodworking to schools, makes the occasional misfire well worth that small risk.

I would rather lose an occasional blade and cartridge due to the thing stopping at the wrong time, than have others face serious injuries to their hands.

In Connecticut, one of my students asked me whether I thought he should buy a sawstop saw. I suggested yes, but that he should also ask his wife. Sometime wives worry about their husbands spending money on their hobbies. But that seems to not be the case when it comes to safety. He learned that his wife fully supports the purchase of a Sawstop saw. The photo of the toy truck above is of the type he makes and assembles with a pre-kindergarten class. His new Sawstop saw will keep him productive even into his advanced years, even when he may not have so many wits about him.

The point is not that conventional saws cannot be operated safely, but that if all saws can be made safer, they should be. The point about safety is that not only the operator of a saw is affected by injury. The whole of society is harmed, including the wives and families of those injured.

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

returning to school

Yesterday we began staff meetings at the Clear Spring School and that gives me the opportunity to begin planning for the coming school year. Today we will go over Teacher Effectiveness Training as we do every year, and discuss conflict resolution, which is part of the educational agenda at Clear Spring School. It should play a larger part in American education at large. If it did, and students were taught to show love and respect for each other, and to resolve their differences with each other we would not be in the situation we are in.

We have a president who is utterly devoid of human compassion, and a ruling party that's cowardly when it comes to standing up for what's right. Those are not the qualities that one would learn at the Clear Spring School where children learn to work through their interpersonal problems.

In the meantime, I've students to teach and boxes to make.

The illustration is one I composed using some elements available in the sketchup parts warehouse. It shows a simple set-up for forming finger joints on the table saw. It uses a table saw miter gauge to carry the box sides through successive cuts.

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

catching up on production.

Yesterday I got an order from Appalachian Spring Galleries in Washington, DC and on Thursday I have a meeting with the regional craft buyer at Crystal Bridges Museum.

Those things set me in motion, checking inventory and beginning to mill stock for a fresh production run of boxes. My box making has been put on the back burner all summer as I've been teaching, working on the ESSA wood studios, and writing articles for Woodcraft and Fine Woodworking.

The first steps in making boxes is to mill stock to thickness and width. The steps are as follows:
  • Rip rough lumber to about 1/4 in. over desired width.
  • Resaw the rough width stock into thinner strips, roughly 3/16 in. over final dimension.
  • Plane resawn stock to finished thickness.
  • Square one edge of planed stock.
  • Rip stock to intended width.
Meetings at Clear Spring School for the beginning of the school year are also underway.

This afternoon I'll pick up a fresh supply of walnut lumber to make into boxes.

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

back to school, back to work.

Today I will go to Clear Spring School to clean shop and begin preparing for the school year. I am finished with my summer adult classes, except for occasional weekend visits to woodworking clubs during the coming school year.

My students are often interested in the barbed hinges I use on some of my boxes. These hinges are primarily intended for large production runs, and it takes some time and specialized equipment to set up for their use. While in Connecticut, I made the jig shown in the photo to cut grooves for their installation using the drill press.  The grooves must be cut using a tiny saw blade with a kerf of only 3/64 in. Someone with a milling machine can use these hinges, but they are not well suited to the every day wood shop.

This is the second one of these jigs that I've made with the first being made and tested at home. In any case, I've proven that they can be successfully used in a home shop if a craftsman is willing to make an investment in their use.

In addition to preparing for school, I am hoping to resume normal production in my wood shop, and I'm preparing for a visit by an editor from Fine Woodworking in September.

In the light of current events, I cannot stress enough, the moral dimension of craftsmanship. To make something lovely and useful in service to  community confers nobility, humility and humanity upon the wayward spirit. Those who create beauty know power and control without having to slap others to find it.

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

building to teach

I am back from teaching in Connecticut and found a book from Joe Youcha waiting for me. Joe is the founder of the Building to Teach program through Alexandria Seaport Museum in Virginia that assists schools throughout the US in building boats to teach math.

Joe's new book, simply titled Framing Square Math addresses the common carpenter's square and just as one might discover and be surprised by new things google might do for you, the common framing or carpenter's square is a tool that demands a great deal of investigation.

Joe starts the book with an examination of the tool, leads the reader through exercises in its use, explores how it can perform calculations that one might not think possible, and then teaches you how to make your own. It is amazing that a tool as simple as this, can offer such power to the expansion of mind. Einstein had said that his pencil and he were smarter than he was, and so one must wonder about the lovely Framing Square.

Yesterday as I was waiting for my flight to Atlanta, a young couple was there with their toddler. The child had tiny headphones, on, mom's iPhone in hand, and the mother was trying to put almonds into her mouth to be consumed. My temptation (strongly resisted) was to say something about the destructive effects of technology. That children needed to be engaged in the real world, and that the introduction and sustained use of digital technologies can disrupt more natural and necessary development. Fortunately, the headphones kept falling off, and the mother's best efforts at keeping the child engaged and distracted by digital technologies were disrupted by gravity itself. And certainly, our concerns at this point should be grave.

The following is from Matt Crawford's book on the world outside your head, discussing the quote from me with which he opened his first book.
As Stowe's use of the word "undeserving" suggests, at the heart of education is the fact that we are evaluative beings. Our rational capacities are intimately tied into our emotional equipment of admiration and contempt, those evaluative responses that are inadmissible under the flattening. A young boy, let us say, admires the skill and courage of racecar drivers. This kind of human greatness may not be available to him realistically, but is perfectly intelligible to him. If he learns trigonometry, he can put himself in the service of it, for example by becoming a fabricator in the world of motor sports. He can at least imagine such a future for himself, and this is what keeps him going to school. At some point, the pleasures of pure mathematics may begin to make themselves felt and give his life a different shape. Or not. He may instead become enthralled with the beauty of a well-laid weld bead on a perfectly coped tubing joint‐like a stack of shiny dimes that has fallen over and draped itself around a curve‐and devote himself to this art.
The point here is that tools, in the concrete, even as simple as a carpenter's framing square, have a way of bringing education to hand, and where the hands are engaged, real learning and the engagement of hearts follow.

This is not rocket science, but it might lead to some. It is not what they discuss in the educational policy think tanks that are disrupting the natural learning lives of children throughout the US, and the world. But it is true. And it is real. When the hands and minds of children are put in real service to beauty, utility and community, excellence of learning follows.

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

headed home...

My students at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking made a variety of boxes during the week.

Scott Bultman sent a link to a new Kindergarten trailer with a wood shop teacher at the 52 second mark.

I am headed home to Arkansas with an early morning flight.

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

day 5

I am wrapping up a five day class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. One of my students mentioned his grandchild's preschool warning parents that their children needed to be prepared for school by being given experience in the basics like scissors, drawing on real paper, play with real blocks and the other exercises common to the development of humanity. It seems that children playing with iPhones is preventing necessary developmental play in the real world, putting the future of our entire society at risk.

My friend Mario, right on cue, sent the following: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

Common sense may not be as common as it once was. I call urgently for all hands on deck. We may not be able to turn the whole tide of humanity, but we can make sure that the chidlren in our own lives have the creative and developmental experiences they must have.

In the meantime, my students have been doing very good work.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others discover the joy of learning likewise.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Day 4 at CVSofW

I am ready for day four of my box making class. All my students have a number of boxes in the works. One of my students asked, "Tomorrow, may I start another?" "Of course," I replied. Today I will complete patterned inlay I started making yesterday. Some students are making mitered finger joint boxes. We are all learning the way we learn best, by doing, and there is absolutely no difference between the way adults learn and children learn.

We play and can be trusted to learn the things we want most to know, as learning is one of the most fundamental exercises of human nature, when the confidence of learning is not squelched by trivialized schooling. We should set up schools so children learn likewise.

Music, the arts, laboratory science and crafts through which children can make things of benefit to their families and community.

Make, fix, create, and assist others to learn through play.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

A friend sent this about testing

We have a system of education based on standardized testing but standardized testing is a very poor way to measure what children know. This link comes from a retired science teacher friend and fellow box maker:
Whether you’re trying to measure proficiency or growth, standardized tests are not the answer.
I am ready for my third day of teaching at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking and am beginning to spell Connecticut without spell check. It's a state whose spelling gets a bit of getting used to. But just as I'm spelling Connecticut with greater certainty, human beings are constantly engaged in a process of applying certainty to uncertain things.

 My students have their first boxes hinged. Mistakes have been made. Lessons have been learned and we've been enjoying being together in a creative process. That should serve as a model for American education.

The following is from Charles H. Hamm, Mind and Hand, 1886:
It is the most astounding fact of history that education has been confined to abstractions. The schools have taught history, mathematics, language and literature and the sciences to the utter exclusion of the arts, not withstanding the obvious fact that it is through the arts alone that other branches of learning touch human life... In a word, public education stops at the exact point where it should begin to apply the theories it has imparted... At this point the school of mental and manual training combined--the Ideal School--begins; not only books but tools are put in to the hands of the pupil, with this injunction of Comenius; "Let those things that have to be done be learned by doing them."
Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Connecticut Valley box making day 1

Yesterday at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking we cut and assembled boxes that are gluing over night. In the meantime, schools have been cutting recess time to allow for more preparation time for standardized tests. But given the pressures of modern schooling it is recess that children need most. This article from the New York Times helps to explain:

One of the great ironies is that in Finland where students have more recess time than anywhere else in the world, students excel over their American peers.

The amount of recess time is not the only way Finnish Schools differ from those in the US. In Finland, students begin reading in school at age 8, thus beating American readers by a significant margin in 30% less time. They take a relaxed tone, allowing for the variations in the developmental process of the individual child. This does not mean that they are relaxed about learning, but that they are smarter about it.

Otto Salomon distinguished between two purposes of education. One was economic, as the child was prepared to take on some specific skills with economic value. The other benefit was formative, as the child was to become a fully actualized human being through the process of schooling. If we were to dwell just a bit more on the latter than on the former, we would design schooling that would focus more on child development and less on administrative concerns. Students would be more deeply involved in wood shop, music, the arts, and  recess.

Make, fix, and create...

Monday, August 07, 2017

In Connecticut for day one

It is fascinating how children all want to be alike, and yet stand apart. They want to fit in,  but they also choose, if given a chance, to stand apart from each other in ways that demonstrate strength, intelligence and expertise. This happens in individual families as children choose their individual interests. One may choose sports, another science, and yet another, the arts, music or the culinary arts. And then when it comes to the design of American education, all animals must jump through and be measured by the same hoops.

When the National Endowment for the Arts attempted to come up with a means to measure their effectiveness, joy was suggested as a means of measuring student engagement and learning. If expressed joy was to become the primary means of assessing educational progress(both individual and collective) in the US, we would have schools much different from what we have now. Let's aim in that direction.

Today I am in Connecticut for day one of a week-long class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. For adults and children alike, learning is a joy, or can be if given a chance.

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

Sunday, August 06, 2017

admiration or contempt.

This video: shows how cut nails are made in an old machine kept running for generations. 

Nails were originally forged one at a time by blacksmiths and were precious. Old houses would be burned down just to reclaim them for reuse. Cut nails made by machines like this were the predecessors to the wire nails of today.

For years, Fine Woodworking and adherents to its philosophy have had the idea that ideal furniture contained neither nails nor screws. And yes, wonderful works can be done with fine cut joints alone. An article in Fine Woodworking online suggests that perhaps nails are not so bad after all. As some of the more difficult to master woodworking skills are neglected perhaps nails will get things going again.

I am packed and ready for my trip to Connecticut where I'll make boxes. As I return from making boxes, my attention will return to  the Clear the Clear Spring School and teaching wood shop grades 1-12. Children are actually emotional as well as cognitive beings they may be lured into learning by the things they want to accomplish. They can be forced to learn under great pressure, those things that they care nothing about. How about developing education that earns their admiration rather than their contempt?

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

Saturday, August 05, 2017

bridges and nuts...

Photo by Danielle Atkins
I have been continuing to review my new book as a .pdf file, and am pleased with the photos taken to illustrate the beginnings of the chapters. The photo at left is for the chapter on making bridges and nuts, which are the parts that define string length and support the strings on their journey over the frets and down the neck. One of the things I found in my most recent read through was two paragraphs of "overflow text." That means there were more words than could be fit into the allocated space.

The options are two. Cut the text and leave the reader hanging, or find another place for it to fit. I found a nice empty place  in the chapter where a short sidebar will fit  right and where the content will be most useful to the reader.

Part of the challenge in any book is to make sure that necessary content is retained throughout the editorial process, and yet fitted into the design and page layout of the book. No book can provide everyone with all they need. How-to books come to life when you test what has been written in your own hands. This is no different than any other book you might read. Things have greater meaning when they are touched by your own experience.

Yesterday I made a new jig for cutting slots in boxes for barbed hinges to fit. The new jig fits on the drill press and you can see photos and a drawing in my blog or by going to my instagram account. Go to and search for douglasstowe.

Today I finalize my packing for my box making trip to Connecticut.

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

Friday, August 04, 2017

Sagamore of the Wabash

a sassafras and maple table by Brent at ESSA
This week Marc Adams at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking was presented an award from the Indiana governor naming him a "Sagamore of the Wabash." The Wabash is a river that runs through the state, and Sagamore is a native American term meaning great chief.

A few years back when I was named an Arkansas Living Treasure, Marc, impressed by my award, began wondering if there was a similar award in his state. They have no awards specific to crafts and crafts education, but they have an even higher award that recognizes important cultural and economic contributions to their state. Marc submitted the name of an amazing Indiana craftsman to receive that award, and when that award had been granted,  my great friend Jerry Forshee, submitted Marc's name and accomplishments for consideration for the same award.

I was honored to be asked to write a letter to be read as Marc was to be surprised with having been named a "Sagamore of the Wabash." That letter is as follows:
To whom it may concern,

When we are engaged in making something that is beautiful, useful, or both, there is a whole lot more going on than meets the eye. Character is forged in the heart of the developing craftsman. Intelligence is formed through the coordination of hands and mind in service to the making of beautiful things. If you want to learn something and learn it well, try teaching it to someone else. I have felt honored to share my own skills with others at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I have become a better woodworker through participating in this school.

In 2009, I was honored in my home state by being named an Arkansas Living Treasure. That particular award is given by the Arkansas Department of Humanities and Arkansas Arts Council to persons who have had some effect in transferring their own skills in traditional crafts to others. I may have gotten that award without having been a teacher at MASW, but I doubt it. If you change one small thing in a world in which all things appear to be interconnected, the whole world follows suit.

What Marc has done in building this school has had profound influence on the lives of others, here in Indiana, and around the world. The experience of being here, whether as student or teacher has given us each new dimensions, empowering us to give more to our families and communities.

And so, what can I say, but thanks? Thanks a million and forever. MASW changes lives. The students from MASW change lives. And Marc stands at the apex of an incredible thing.— Doug Stowe
Jerry reports that they'd kept the secret of the award right up to the last minute. Marc was blown away and received a long standing ovation.  I will spend the day continuing to get ready for my class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking that begins Monday, August 7, 2017.

Students in Steve Palmer's furniture class at ESSA are finishing up, and showed tables they have in progress during yesterday's studio stroll.

Make, fix, create and provide for others to learn likewise.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

almost ready to print.

Last night I received a digital review copy of my box guitar book so I will be reading and making notes at various times most of the day.  I will read through looking for errors in the text and will check that photos are in sequence and that captions are properly placed. The project and detail photography by Danielle Atkins is superb and the guitars I made are made to look great.

I took all the step-by-step photographs in the book and wrote the text and captions. Then everything was turned over to my editor, and then the book designer. A good book is a team effort. Sitting at the computer, however, reading over and over again what I wrote several months ago, looking for errors is mind numbing, so to keep fresh, I'll journey back and forth to and from the woodshop.

In addition, I'll work on finishing the text for an article in Fine Woodworking about cutting finger joints on the table saw. With a few days of attention my wood shop is beginning to emerge from chaos.

Make, fix, create and insist that others be given the opportunity to love learning likewise

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

hook, line and sinker.

A few years back I was cleaning and arranging in the school wood shop when a young family came by. They had seen the school sign, and stopped as they were curious (as most parents are) about the options for their kid. They seemed intrigued with the school as I gave them a brief tour and were amazed by the wood shop. But then the big question came up as the mother asked, "What are your test scores?" It was a question I could not answer, but one that rests at the heart of the American educational calamity.

I propose a war against the standardized testing industry. The reductionary tactic of turning young children into a purely statistical analytical shadows of their themselves should be regarded as a criminal enterprise. Standardized testing only monitors and measures certain areas of intelligence and while it was once used as a tool and kept mum by educators, it became a club used inexpertly to batter and divide, those who were or were not going to college, and to predict and sort students into piles. The worst part is that parents, out of their own insecurity, bought in to the over entanglement between education and the standardized testing industry, hook, line and sinker.

The phase "hook, line and sinker," has become commonplace, and can be said without the reader visualizing what it means. But if you have ever reeled in your Zebco with a line that had been left unattended during lunch, and attempted to extract a swallowed hook from an entangled fish, you will know that catch and release is no longer an option. If as a young child, you had to pull the guts from a fish, you may know what we are up against.

I had a lovely conversation this week with a young educator challenged with proving the results and efficacy of her teaching efforts, with kids who have already been damaged both by society and by the distortions inherent in classroom management. I wish I had more to offer her than to decry the stupidity of our situation.

Yesterday I had the delight of assisting students in Steve Palmer's furniture class at ESSA. It is a lovely thing to see people create, and to assist them in seeing their own industrial aspirations bear fruit.

Make, fix, and create...

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

telling the story of ourselves.

Oak shrink pot by Richard Law
Richard Bazeley in Australia sent me a scanned page from a book Storymen by Hannah Rachel Bell with the following explanation:
"It's a book largely about David Mowaljarlai an aboriginal elder of the Kimberly region in the north of Western Australia and his efforts to explain through story his people's knowledge and ways of learning. Aboriginal culture and knowledge... 60,000 to 65,000 years old, is passed on by oral and experiential learning (hands on learning). I think that this extract makes an interesting point about the difference between our two cultures and the impact of learning methods on culture."
I will quote from only a portion that may give you the point.
"For those cultures that developed settlements, civilizations and empires the evolution of written languages enabled the development, control and operation of religious, political, social and economic institutions. While access was initially restricted to the élites, reading and writing systems eventually became the means by which people explored the mind and the universe, and communicated story. However these abstract symbolic codes also served to progressively detach human populations from direct, literal connection with the natural world."
Richard Bazeley as he is moving into retirement from teaching wood shop is exploring green woodworking and currently the making of small shrink-pot boxes, a technique dating at least to the Viking era. The idea is that you hollow the form from green wood, make and fit a bottom from dry wood and then allow the sides to shrink, locking the bottom firmly in place. There's a tutorial about the technique here:

The point is that while language can be ignorant of nature to the point that human culture puts itself at dire risk, understanding other non-linguistic means of finding and sharing meaning offer the key to human survival.

As I shared with my class last week and with many of my students throughout the years, story telling is not unique to human beings. The story of the life of the tree is written in its grain. Where there's a knot, there had been a branch. And using woodworking to tell our own story of growth and development is a great fit. Unlike a lot of things these days, it's natural.

Some lovely shrink pots can be found here:

Make, fix, create, and increase in others a love of learning likewise.