Thursday, November 30, 2017

the assumption of stupidity

I have been reading the guidelines written for school board members. Apart from those guidelines are told we need charter schools as an official state sponsored means to shake things up. (Because it is widely agreed that public education is not measuring up to expectations).  In the meantime, local school boards and schools where some meaningful shaking up could be most easily accomplished, are strictly held to the dotted i and crossed t. Evidently, among governmental policy makers, shaking things up is OK if done in a corporate board room, or by a major private foundation but not OK if done on the local level where it is probably true that people care about real kids.

After 13 years of schooling or more people are well trained to look beyond themselves and their own common sense for “expertise.”

This following is a description of the duties and responsibilities of a local school board in Arkansas.
Education as a State and Local Partnership:
Maintaining and operating a school district is, in a very real sense, a partnership between the state as parent and the local school board as offspring (or child?) Throughout the nation, this arrangement has proved its merits: It keeps schools close to the people, stimulates wholesome and creative flexibility within schools, allows for adaptability to local needs, and promotes working toward equitable opportunity without imposing uniformity that could stifle creativity and experimentation.
In my view, the constraints placed upon school boards, allowing them only to manage the financial concerns of the district, and whose only accepted duty is to hire and fire the superintendent is the cause of the situation than then provides justification for the charter school movement, which then takes public education out of the control of local school boards and puts it in corporate hands (that then do a very poor job of it). The key phrase above states that the local board is the "offspring" of the state.

Malcolm Gladwell and others have written about the 10,000 hour rule that proposes that it takes 10,000 hours to develop a particular level of expertise, whether in music, the  crafts or computer programming as was the case with Bill Gates. By the time students have been sequestered from the real world outside for over 10,000 hours of instruction, most will have become good at nothing. Nada, Zip, etc. unless they have been lucky enough to have become engaged in school sponsored athletics or in a school that breaks all the rules that must be adhered to in most public schools. Is it any surprise that when it comes to comparing high school basket ball games to conference night we find that parents show up for one and not the other?

I call for greater control at the much more local level over such things as curriculum development and measure of school success, allowing schools to be more flexibly responsible to the needs of each and every child. The Parent/child relationship should become more like when your child goes off to College… In which a responsible state steps back and asks only of local boards, “What can we do to help?” Instead, we have a educational system that assumes the local folks are unqualified to make educational decisions that affect the lives of their own kids.

Make, fix, and create...

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

stem and sides

Yesterday I attached the stem and sides of the Bevins Skiffs in order to be ready to proceed with students on Monday morning, the first day of a boat building block. Up to this point, there were so many things that required my thinking through. Now with this preparation work done, many hands will make light work.

On Saturday I'll be at Eleanor Lux Weaving Studio for a Christmas sale of my work.

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Yesterday I prepared enough materials for students to make about 50 tops, and laid out small dowels for them to use to apply paint. My students exhausted my supply and I had to rush between classes to make more. The idea was to make tops as toys for children at the food bank, but with each child making one to keep and then needing gifts for family, most were taken home. What remained are shown in the photo.

The tiny Singer machine is being put to use in the lower elementary school classroom with the students making tiny pillows.

In the meantime, the world is drowning in garbage. It is the consequence of a world-wide consumer culture in which we buy meaningless stuff we think we need instead of being able to make what we need for ourselves. In the making of things greater meaning is found.  When we make beautiful, useful and lasting things, we have a better understanding of the value of the materials and effort required. We then make things to last and for which we take care and find lasting meaning and value.

Make, fix, and create...

Monday, November 27, 2017

A slide show...

I am home in Eureka Springs after a quick Thanksgiving trip to Denver. In addition to Thanksgiving dinner with family, we visited the Denver Art Museum n Denver Public Library and were most impressed by their attention to activities for kids. If we are not providing interesting real things for our kids to do and to learn from, we are failing our future. Too much time is spent sequestered from reality, which brings me to the subject of school and where woodworking can fit in.

Everyone these days is interested in virtual reality (which is not at all virtuous)  and artificial intelligence (which is actually quite artificial and no one seems concerned about it). In the meantime, we get the big picture of things on the small screens of our iPhones, and know far too little about the actual real world that surrounds us.

Coming home across Kansas yesterday morning early with the sun yet to rise it seemed as if we were in a magical paradise of earth and sky. My wife asked me more than once, to "take a picture of that." The beauty was breathtaking. The land was flat enough, that it seemed we could observe the curvature of the earth, and that we were surrounded by a golden valley of earth and sky, but that we might never really know which was which. Of course, no phone could ever take a picture of that.

The point, of course is that in schools, children need to do real things that pertain to real life. Woodworking connects the child to a deep heritage of human development and culture. The fact that the materials come from the forests of our own communities give the child insight into nature that will not be gained from the manipulation of on screen data.

The world seems to have become addicted to tiny screens, when we need most to become more closely attuned to the real world that surrounds us.

I am working on a slide show to bring my high school students up to date on my preparation for building Bevins Skiffs. The slide show is just a glimpse of the making. The iPhone photo of the Kansas sunrise is not the real sunrise, and schooling in general  is too often a means of sequestering children from reality not preparing students for real life. Today I have a full day of classes.

Make, fix, and create...

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Alfredo Bosi

As a special Thanksgiving weekend message, I refer my readers to a translation of Alfredo Bosi's essay, the Work of the Hands, translated at my request by Rose Ann Reeser  in 2012 from the original Portuguese. It can be found here:

Included in the translation are Rose Ann's notes regarding the meaning of certain words and their relationship to english. Watch for the word scarf, as that is what I've done to join the pieces of plywood in preparing to assemble Bevins Skiffs.

Amidst the litany of what the hands do, it is important to realize that they also shape the way we think and who we are.

Make, fix, and create...

back to the land...

A growing number of young folks are attempting to go back to the land as described in the Washington Post:

Perhaps as this movement happens, it will also carry with it a resurgence of interest in crafts and craftsmanship just as it did in the 1970's when it carried young college graduates like me to places like Eureka Springs to fulfill the intention of building more meaningful lives.

Make, fix, and create...

Friday, November 24, 2017

what makes a genius?

An article in this last week's Time Magazine asks the question "What makes a genius?" as it explores the lives of Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo Da Vinci. Believe me, or believe the article, they did not become geniuses due to their schooling, but in spite of it.

In every case:
"Being a genius is different than merely being supersmart. Smart people are a dime a dozen, and many of them don’t amount to much. What matters is creativity, the ability to apply imagination to almost any situation."
The article describes Da Vinci's insatiable curiosity. It also told how the answers to persistent questions often result from a willingness to ignore conventional wisdom and to look directly at reality as it presents itself.
"So it was that da Vinci learned to challenge conventional wisdom, ignoring the dusty scholasticism and medieval dogmas that had accumulated in the millennia since the decline of classical science. He was, by his own words, a disciple of experience and experiment–“Leonardo da Vinci, disscepolo della sperientia,” he once signed himself."
Just this brief article should open eyes in education. If we want our children to be creative problem solvers, we could do something about it. Music, laboratory science, wood shop, field trips, internships and more should be added to the public school plan. That which is learned hands on, is learned at a deeper level, having holistic effect.

It is black Friday and a good day to stay away from the shopping frenzy. It is a good day to hang out in the shop, planning gifts that you can make.

Make, fix, create...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Moxon Table Vise

Happy Thanksgiving. You may have noticed that I've been working on gifts for you in the form of designs for safely holding wood.

For someone with both welding and woodworking skills, this vise would be useful for attaching to table or desktop, and hold wood safely for being cut. This style of vice is named after Joseph Moxon who wrote the Book of Trades, a classic from the 17th Century.

Woodworking can be done safely in school and at little cost in comparison to the amount spent on other things of lesser value.

Black Friday is starting early, as many stores have extended it into the Thanksgiving holiday. Folks will be walking away stuffed from Turkey tables to go out and attempt to satisfy other cravings. We are a consumer culture and pay a price for it. Loss of creativity, loss of self. Our endless consumption of meaningless things, leaves us craving more and destroying the planet in the process.

This year, instead of heading for the mall, head for the basement or garage workshop instead. Instead of being engaged with rude bargain hunters, you will discover a new life.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are early this year, leaving us a number of making days prior to the Christmas holiday. A black Friday sale you may not want to miss offers 12 in. handscrews like the one used to make a bench vise in yesterday's post for $9.99 ea. Buy 4 to qualify for free shipping. Four of these clamps and a bit of effort would get 4 students busy working in your shop.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

hand screw table vise.

For years before I had a workbench with a woodworking vise I used hand screws to hold drawer sides for cutting dovetails. For those unfamiliar with hand screws, they are an ages old form of clamp used by woodworkers. They range in size from 6 in. long to 12 in. and longer. A couple of them clamped to a workbench can serve in place of a bench vise and provide an amazing amount of holding power. The wooden jaws will not damage delicate stock, and can be adjusted to irregular shapes.

Now, with some schools wanting to try a re-introduction of woodworking, I've come up with a simple woodworking vise based on the readily available wood bodied hand screw. The idea is shown in the illustration, and it allows woodworking to be done on a table top or desk. With this tool, woodworking can be done in any classroom provided other tools are supplied.

A twelve inch hand screw can be purchased new for under $15.00 and smaller ones are available for much less. Two "c" clamps are also required to secure the hand screw table vise to a table or bench.

A vise is the key to safe use of hand tools, and I believe this one will assist schools in getting their students started. More details will be shown after Thanksgiving.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

center frames

Yesterday as our students were involved in Trashathon, picking up road side trash as a community service project, I went to ESSA to get another step completed on the Bevins Skiffs. I am developing various parts as a kit, so that my students can be successful in our boat building project. They would not be involved without my leadership, and they will not be successful without my having done some of the complicated stuff.

The parts for the day were center frames. The center frames  require precision and careful thought that will not happen in a class full of kids. I had cut the parts from white oak and quickly learned the difficulty involved in hammering bronze ring shank nails into oak. Even with a pilot hole, the task proved impossible and rather than go home for a larger drill, I simply remade the parts from Catalpa. The photo shows the template for the center frame, the template for the gussets, and a gusset being nailed in place with Sikaflex adhesive and 1 inch bronze nails. The Catalpa, gussets, nails and glue provide a strong midpoint around which the sides will bend to form the shape of the boat.

My hope is that by December 4 we will be ready to begin forming the boat from the various parts, sides, stem, transom, center frame and bottom ply. Starting  on that day, many hands will make light work.

My first, second and third grade students have been busy making Barbie clothes, so I got an old  1950's Singer SewHandy sewing machine tuned up for their use. It was not working so I studied the mechanism, took it apart, put it back together and got it working just right.

Many years ago, my sister Ann had gotten a child's sewing machine as a gift. She was or seven and I was 4 or 5. I took it apart and it never worked right again. Perhaps my making this one work, and providing it to a classroom of very young fashion designers will make up in some small part for my earlier failure. When I left school for the day, one of the girls had already used the machine to make a pillow. Every elementary school classroom in America should be equipped with such wonderful machines and the chance to use them.

Unlike the cheap plastic toys of today the Singer model 20 was a real sewing machine made to last generations. You can find one for sale like it here:

Make, fix and create...

Monday, November 20, 2017

the case against charters...

A number of large foundations and corporations are spending billions to privatize education. The following is from an email I received from the Network for Public Education:
In 1988, AFT President, Al Shanker, voiced his support for charter schools. His hope was that a new school model, judiciously used, would be an incubator of innovation.

However, as Network for Public Education President, Diane Ravitch, reminds us, by 1993 Al Shanker became disillusioned. Shanker saw what charters had become—a privatized system run not by teachers, but rather by non-profit and for-profit corporations who believe that schooling is a business rather than a community responsibility. Instead of supporting and sharing practices with neighborhood schools, most charters have become rivals that seek to attract the most motivated families and the most compliant children.
Many charters schools in their quest to prove their value through attaining higher test scores limit their enrollment to those students who are easiest to teach and who are already destined toward greater success thereby shifting the burden of teaching under performing students to the schools from which they have starved funding. Even with the cards stacked in their favor, many charters fail to deliver improved test scores. (And I'm not claiming here that test scores are a valid measure of school performance. They are not.)

Yesterday I shaped the 3 remaining boat sides. I laid the carefully shaped first side as a template over the remaining three and used a saber saw to cut just outside the line. Next, I used a template following router bit to rout the clamped together bundle of sides to be exactly the same shape. I also planed and cut the chines to their required size and shape and then formed the center frame gussets. My objective is to develop the parts of the boat into kit form as there are a number of steps for which the students have not developed sufficient skill or experience.  The photo shows a pair of center frame gussets, made to hold the parts of the center frame together.

Today at the Clear Spring School, my elementary school students will make toys for distribution to kids through our local food bank. I get questions on occasion about the Clear Spring School, asking whether it is a charter school. No, it is not. It receives no public funds and does nothing to cost the tax payer or take funding away from our local public schools. Clear Spring School is an independent school accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the Independent School Association of the Central States (ISACS).

Unlike charter schools, we serve as an innovative learning laboratory of the kind that AFT President Shaker had hoped for in 1988, but that the charter school movement has failed to deliver. We serve at no cost to the taxpayer. As the holiday giving season begins you are welcome to support the Clear Spring School through the school website:

Make, fix, and create.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

the case for hand tools.

Power tools are intended to make things easy and fast. They can also make cuts more accurate, thus requiring less skill. They can plough through tough grain that would trouble a hand plane or hand saw. They can saw things that a teacher would not intend, and they exert enough force that parts can be thrown into the face or across the room at others. Some are noisy and dusty and can frighten sensitive kids

Hand tools on the other hand are slow and can wander. They demand continuous attention to the material as it is transformed. I can have a room full of hand tools at work, and can hear their effects, and know from what I hear that they are being safely used. A room full of power tools would frighten me for the safety of my students.

If the purpose of learning is to impart the skills of attention and mindfulness, a room full of hand tools will do that job better than a room full of power tools and at far less risk.

The book shelves hanging from my vise are ones I pulled from my closet to show an example of my 7th grade work. My mother had kept them in the basement of her house in Omaha, Nebraska, and had asked me when I had been there for a visit, "Do you want those shelves you made in wood shop?" I could not imagine she had kept them for so long. But with these as evidence to remind me, I am carried back to the days in which I made them. I remember sawing their shape with a coping saw. The teacher had marked the shapes of the parts on wood. I had felt troubled as my coping saw wandered off the line but was consoled when I looked over and saw how much  worse my neighbor had done on his. On the last day of school, I was using a nail to assemble the shelves and one nail went astray and split the wood. I showed the error to my teacher and he said only these words, "you have done well."

If the purpose of woodworking in schools is to prepare students for the use of power tools then perhaps there's justification for them be used to teach children in school. On the other hand, if woodworking in school is practiced to impart an understanding of materials, and processes and  to develop character, intelligence, mindfulness, and skill, hand tools more safely fit the bill.

This said, I do allow the use some power tools at various ages. First grade students are allowed to use the drill press, operating the switch and handle if I hold the stock. Third grade students (with instruction) can safely operate a scroll saw on thin stock, provided they use safety glasses and properly adjust blade guards. My students begin work on the lathe in 4th grade using a face shield and with proper attention to hair being pulled back and loose clothing secured. At each use, I check to see that the work piece is properly installed and the right tool is being used. In high school, and under close supervision I allow the use of the band saw, and saber saw.  I regard the use of hand tool processes to be the precursor for all else.

Another simple point is that hand tools slow the pace, making the experience more about learning than about getting work done. With the pace being slower I have more time to attend to safety and individual learning needs. Students are working instead of waiting for the teacher's assistance. With the pace being slower and more educational, I need, also, to prepare less stock.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

class size matters

The principles of Educational Sloyd were based on direct observation of how children (and adults) learn. Start with the interests of the child. Move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract.

These principles are not just for wood shop learning, but apply to all learning endeavors. They fit science, music, reading and math and all else as they are universal. If anyone is uncomfortable about learning something from wood shop that actually applies to all else, let me assure you that these principles came from the followers of Pestalozzi and Froebel and have their origins in the teaching theories of Comenius.

These very simple principles challenge conventional thinking about education.  Children are never exactly on the same page in things. They do not all have the same interests. They do not all have the same prior experience and capacity as a starting point for class room learning. Even if, through extreme effort and care, a good teacher is able to bring all students' attention to the same page for a moment or two, for a child (or an adult) to find a place in the mind for information to be taken in, successfully managed and usefully stored the mind must wander out of the moment into the student's catalog of experience and compared to what's known. At any given moment during a classroom lecture or presentation, the various students' minds are not all in the room or in the same place or on the same page. If you do not believe this, take a few moments to test the workings of your own mind.

And so, Otto Salomon likely got in some trouble with educational policy makers when he insisted that classroom teaching was ineffective. All those concerned with the economic bottom line would want learning (and values) to be injected into the student mind as cheaply as possible. And I will likely get in trouble with educational policy makers today, when I insist the same thing. We learn best when our individual learning needs are met, and small class size is a determining factor in school success. Class size must be small enough to allow for the teacher to make a very personal connection with the learning needs and interests of each child.

Mostly, however, educational policy makers are less concerned about student learning and more concerned about cheaping out.

The photo is of an old-timey fidget spinner, more commonly known as a button toy. We are making them to give children visiting at our local food bank. Unfortunately, most children no longer know how to use such things. With a bit of practice and a bit of skill in making it, and decorating it, you can be distracted, just as kids were in the 16th century...  even before Comenius, when children learned just as we all learn best, doing real things.

Make, fix, and create...

Friday, November 17, 2017


One of my students took a martial arts practice sword (boken) he had made in our wood shop to a weekend Akido competition and it faced scrutiny from a variety of masters. One (an expert in the sword) pointed out that there were several points about my student's boken that did not meet "standards." Nevertheless, all agreed that  it surpassed all others on the site in one particular way.  He had made it himself. None of the other practitioners could say that of their own swords. All of the participants wanted to try his sword, and so they did. The result was that the student received a dose of pride and brought his boken back to wood shop to do a bit more sanding and refinement on it.

Standards must be flexible enough for students to arise through them with spirits energized, not merely in tact. There are higher standards than those grasped tightly on the surface of things. Woodworking in school can be a means through which higher standards than those present in conventional schooling can be met.

Black Elk told that the Lakota Sioux selected their leaders from among those against whom nothing bad could be said. As an observer of the American political arena, I find it a shame that we fail to follow that same strategy. There are so many on both sides of the aisle, whose abilities to lead are encumbered by serious character flaws. They live in hopes that we do not discover the things they have done. I lay the blame for this situation on the failings of our educational institutions.

When you learn to do real things in school, you contend with real consequences that are visible as measures of character and intellect. When students are sequestered in abstraction and unreality, life becomes a game of manipulation and deceit. If we want better, we must be better and hold those around us to higher standards.

Yesterday in woodshop, and as shown in the photos, some of my students assembled a toy car to be given as a prize in a holiday raffle. Tickets are being sold by the parents, students, teachers and board members at the Clear Spring School.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

two points

A nineteen year study of child development and success conducted by Penn State and Duke Universities discovered that a child's success in college and in life is directly related to social and emotional skills developed and learned in Kindergarten. While many schools continue to focus only on reading and math readiness, they are missing the point, as reading and math have too little to do with it.

In Finland, they begin reading at age 8 instead of age 5 and by the time their students are tested in the international PISA study, they beat American students hands down in 30 percent less time. I can keep hammering on this in the blog, and on facebook, but until others join the chorus and make direct demands of our educational policy makers, we're screwed, our children are left behind and the American culture becomes increasingly dysfunctional.

Point number two for today has to do with the ineffectiveness of classroom instruction. As I've mentioned before, the principles of Educational Sloyd (derived largely from Kindergarten) are as follows: Start with the interests of the child, move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract.

First, not all children have exactly the same interest.
Second, not all children entering a classroom have the same experience as a starting point.
Third, not all things are equally easy at the same point for all children.
Fourth, not all children adapt to increasingly complexity at the same pace.
Fifth, all children must be continuously engaged in doing real things as a foundation for abstract study. Even when the facility for abstraction is established, real testing of what is learned is essential to avoid traipsing into the realm of the absurd.

Otto Salomon stressing the ineffectiveness of classroom instruction, insisted that teaching become personalized to the needs of the individual child. To do so, we must drastically reduce class sizes in American schools.

Yesterday in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School my first, second and third grade students finished work on platforms. One made a cat farm as shown in the photo.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

just another gun-down-day

Whenever there is a mass shooting event, some representatives in the house and Senate who have sworn allegiance to the National Rifle Association, tell us we must not "politicize"by discussing the causes of the tragedy,  or ways to  prevent such things from happening again and that we should pray instead. "It's too soon to talk about it," they say.

About noon yesterday it occurred to me that there had been no mass shooting events having taken place up to that point in the day, so I wondered if it was time to talk about gun tragedy in America. But then I looked at the news. Damn,  there's another. It seems every day is gun down day in America and we have lots to pray about. If gun tragedies keep happening at their current pace, we'll never have the conversation we need to have about stopping gun violence and making dead certain that those who should not have guns do not have such lethal capacity.

As politicians continue to tell us not to "politicize the issue" we should recognize that the issues surrounding guns were "politicized" years ago when the National Rifle Association began pouring money into political campaigns and threatening those politicians who did not vote their way.

If you are hunting for food or for recreation, a fine rifle is a necessary tool. When we choose tools as means to threaten each other, perhaps we should be thinking in a more creative manner. There are lots of tools that do a better job of building character and culture. Woodworking tools come to my mind.

Yesterday, I made progress on projects. I routed the first side of a Bevins Skiff to shape, and also scarf-joined catalpa boards to sufficient length to use as chines. Chines, for those out of the loop on boat talk, are the boards that connect the bottom to the sides.

In the photo, a narrow and therefore flexible piece of plywood screwed to the side is placed according to calculations derived from the boat plans and serves as a router guide. When one side is fully formed, it can be used as a guide to rout the other using a router bit with a guide bearing on the shaft, thus assuring both sides will be perfectly symmetrical.

Returning to my home shop, I began making drawer parts for maple jewelry chests. The photo above shows using a router and a screwed-in-place guide strip to shape a boat side.

Make, fix, and create.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What will we do?

There are folks wondering what we will do when the efficiency of our machines completely overwhelms the need to do things for ourselves. It's getting bad folks. Human beings have always found our meaning in service to others.

And so what happens when our service is no longer needed and no longer demanded of us? Some folks are asking what we will do for a living when machines replace human beings at all tasks. There is hardly a thing humans do that cannot be done more efficiently by machines, as long as we are willing to accept a life stiffly scripted by standardization.

Some economists are saying we need to provide a basic unearned living allowance to all persons so that we can afford to keep all the machines going, producing the stuff of "civilization," thus keeping the machine owners happy as the money pours in.

The other thing that some have noticed is that mental health is dependent on finding value and meaning in one's service to others. What we must do is make for ourselves, and for others, useful beauty in defiance to the direction of our society. The easy path is to simply buy stuff and let the stuff overwhelm us and our environment. The more challenging and fulfilling path will be to make for ourselves and make meaningful lives in the process.

In Minneapolis, in about 20 minutes (I could have done it in 10 without 86 people watching) I made a simple box joint jig that would allow me to make lots and lots of boxes. I could instead have bought a similar jig from a retailer for about $50.00 and then would have waited a day or more for the UPS truck to arrive. Then I would have had to figure out where to store it when not in use (after all, I spent good money on it). Buy enough jigs and you need a larger shop. Make enough jigs, and you've made yourself smarter in the process and your work easy. The ones you've made yourself can be thrown out when you are done with them. Or used for years and years if they are still of use.

The jig shown is one I made and used recently to scarf join the material for the sides and bottoms of the boats I'm building with my high school students. It can be put away until we start some more boats. It could be sold to another boat builder. Or it could be taken apart and used as kindling.

Today, being back from Minneapolis, I will begin shaping the sides of Bevins Skiffs. My target is to have parts ready for my students to begin building in December.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning lifewise

Sunday, November 12, 2017

ON my way home

I completed my two days of class with 85 woodworkers in Minneapolis, MN. I've had a great time and made many new friends. Somehow or other, I was able to get through most of my planned curriculum and I'm grateful to all those who helped. I fly home to Arkansas tomorrow and will resume work on the Bevins Skiffs on Tuesday.

Those who are new to the blog, will find thousands of earlier posts, each gathered around the main point: We learn most effectively and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on. To sequester the mind from the engagement of the hands leads to disinterest, disaffection and disruption, the 3-Ds of a failing educational system.

Some new readers may prefer to follow this blog on facebook as a means of sharing it with others. The link for that is: The point of sharing is that in order to have effect on the educational system at large and on the policy makers that keep screwing things up, we must each assert and reaffirm and demonstrate for them the ways in which use of the hands make us whole, rooting what we learn in real life.

Make, fix, and create.

Minneapolis, day two

I am here for day two of my box making seminar with the Minnesota Woodworking Guild. Yesterday we cut miters and installed miter keys. I adapted my most recent miter key jig to fit an old Craftsman table saw that was selected for the conference because it would run on 110 volt power and could be moved to the site. I have over 80 students.

Today, I will show how to cut the lid from the body of a box. I'll finish a demonstration on forming a mitered finger joint. I'll cut a hidden spline joint, and I'll show how I install butt hinges. It will be a short day with a lot of ground to cover.

I want to publicly thank the members of the Guild who have worked hard to transform the cafeteria of the Dunwoody Community College into a wood working shop. It is minimalist, just as was the shop I started out with over 40 years ago, reminding me that great boxes can be done with a relatively small commitment to tools and materials.

There's little standing in the way of finding joy in the process of creating beautiful boxes.

Make, fix and create!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

September 21, 1780

On September 21, 1780, during the American Revolution, American General Benedict Arnold met with British Major John Andre to discuss handing over West Point to the British, in return for the promise of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. The plot was foiled and Arnold, a former American hero, became synonymous with the word “traitor.”

It is odd to me that so many members of the Donald Trump campaign and administration met with Russians with an eye toward sewing chaos in the American democracy, but few call it treason. Perhaps we should think about that.

In the meantime, I am in Minneapolis to teach. During the opening presentation we had a large crowd. Tomorrow for class, we have 85 or 86 students. They will all get a taste of my techniques.

Make, fix and create

Friday, November 10, 2017


Today I'm headed to Minneapolis for an evening lecture and two days of demonstration class. I heard there are 76 or more members of the Minnesota Woodworkers guild planning to attend, and that will be my largest class ever. Please wish me luck.

In wood shop yesterday at Clear Spring School, I had enough projects going so that each student (4th, 5th and 6th grades) was able to work at his or her own level of skill, confidence and interest. Some made toy cars, some made button toys, some made super-heroes, and some turned on the lathe.

Later in the morning I had a planning session with my editor from Springhouse Publications on the "Wisdom of the Hands book." It will start with about 30 pages or more on the philosophy of hands on learning, but then launch (as a workbook) into giving the reader the information necessary to plan projects for kids. The is will not be a book for kids to read (though some might). It is to inspire adults to give children what they need to inspire themselves. The audience will be those who as teachers, grandparents and parents want to  be sure that the children in their lives and for whom they are responsible, get the best learning opportunities available, hands on. It will also convey the following simple message, a thing you can learn yourself if you've been paying attention to your own learning and to your own life.
That which we learn hands-on is learned at a deeper level and to deepest lasting effect. Don't believe me? Examine the things you have learned. Hands-on is a measure of engagement in real life, and no doubt the lessons in your own life that had greatest effect were not learned from google but were learned from real life, doing real things.
In the photo, with a freshly made button toy in one hand, a first grade student in the Clear Spring School wood shop shows her construction of a miniature bathroom, complete with sink, tub and toilet.If children are given the opportunity they will build.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, November 09, 2017


I am packing and preparing for an evening lecture and two days of class with the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild. Today, in addition to a 9 AM class at Clear Spring School, and an 11 AM meeting (also at school) I hope to fine tune my presentation. The two day class will be easy (I tell myself having done such things many times before) but there are things that inevitably come up.

Life is like that. Yesterday, I had four projects for my students (grades 1-3) to work on, and they still came up with the unexpected. For instance, the cat in the photo is one that a student made from beads glued on a board. The same student worked on a wooden wheeled skateboard to replace the earlier one she made that broke.

I was grateful to have their classroom teacher in the wood shop. He made the engine of a toy train.

I can understand why some administrators and teachers would like more control and predictability in the classroom. But we have to ask whether we want children to adjust to being controlled, or whether we want them be creative, thoughtful and to control themselves. I would choose the latter, and that requires allowing some opportunity for the children and teachers to engage in a bit of chaos.

Matti Bergström, Finnish neuro-scientist who had written lovely books about the brain, noted that children must play the "black game," to engage in "possibility" space. Adults often play the "white game" in which all action is to lead to a proposed outcome. Can we not admit for once that the white game is an impossibility? If you work with real wood, on any given day, on any given project, and regardless of your best intentions, things most often do not turn out exactly as you planned. The same is true of working with kids. By allowing their creativity to enter the learning process, they and I get better, more meaningful results. If you engineer schooling, rather than allowing it to flow from the fabric of real life, the whole thing sucks.

Make, fix, and create.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

How kind communities teach children

Progressive education (like what we practice at the Clear Spring School) traces its roots to  Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. By "progressive" I do not mean the next new thing (as in progress) but rather a system of education in which the life and learning of the child was to unfold incrementally in a natural way and without being forced. Pestalozzi's contributions to progressivism were expressed through a number of failed schools, each of which attempted to serve the poor, and a book that he wrote called "How Gertrude Teaches Her Children." It's a worthwhile book to read even today, as it lays out what we still face, the dichotomy between an authoritarian structure and a natural unfolding based on love and respect within a community.

Pestalozzi's Gertrude was a young mother who gathered her own children and some of her neighbor's  children into her home and provided instruction all the while she worked at her craft, that of spinning and weaving. The transference of learning took place in a gentle atmosphere of absolute love in which Gertrude and the older children provided lessons a completely natural setting doing real things of real value.

Pestalozzi’s ideas are reflected in the following:
  • Particular attention paid to the interests and needs of the child
  • A child-centered rather than teacher-centered approach to teaching
  • Active rather than passive participation in the learning experience
  • The freedom of the child based on his or her natural development balanced with the self-discipline to function well as an individual and in society
  • The child having direct experience of the world and the use of natural objects in teaching
  • The use of the senses in training pupils in observation and judgement
  • Cooperation between the school and the home and between parents and teachers
  • The importance of an all-round education – an education of the head, the heart and the hands, but which is led by the heart
  • The use of systemized subjects of instruction, which are also carefully graduated and illustrated
  • Learning which is cross-curricular and includes a varied school life
  • Education which puts emphasis on how things are taught as well as what is taught
  • Authority based on love, not fear
  • Teacher training
A good place to read about Pestalozzi is here:

If someone wants to know why Finnish Schools beat the pants off American Schools in international testing, I suggest that Finland's adherence to the ideals set forth by Pestalozzi holds the answer.

Yesterday, I scarf joined pieces of plywood for building Bevins Skiffs using epoxy glue. The photo shows scarfing of the wide bottom pieces.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

scarf joints...

Yesterday after school, I cut scarf joints in the plywood for the sides for the Bevins Skiffs. I will scarf the ply for the bottoms tomorrow and begin gluing the scarf joints together into seamless plywood parts. The jig I designed for routing the joints worked flawlessly. In the photo, you will have to look very closely to see the joint, invisible but for the fuzzy edge that will disappear with just a bit of sanding.

At the Clear Spring School I have the most wonderful class of first, second and third grade students, and while it might seem daunting to some to have so many children working with tools, it is a thing of pure delight, seeing what they can make and how much joy they find in it.  They love wood shop and tell me so.

There is something very special about learning through doing real things. And it is disturbing to me that most public education schemes fail to recognize this simple fact. When we (children and adults) are engaged in the creation of useful beauty, whether in music, science or the arts, we are operating at a higher standard and apply greater attention. We seek to excel.

David Henry Feldman recognized this in his award winning essay, "the Child as Craftsman." In it Feldman recognized that children have a natural inclination to strive to excel at things, and we must provide the opportunity and encouragement for them to do so. That's a far cry from the way public schools are managed now. Children under rigid external control are steeped in artificiality that robs them of their natural love of learning.

I will repeat the theory of Educational Sloyd until all my readers know it by heart. 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. These simple principles were learned by watching children learn and remain unchanged through the ages. One further thing should be mentioned. Children (and adults) learn best by doing real things.

On another very sad subject, speaker of the house, congressman Paul Ryan assures us that prayer actually helps in the aftermath of mass shootings to prevent the next. Let us pray now that congress acts on OUR prayers and removes such foolishness from office.When faced with a crisis, a humane individual would use every tool at his disposal, including the law and federal government to prevent such senseless killings of innocent children and adults from ever happening again. To languish in prayerful silence when you have the power to serve God by actually acting in the defense of children is not enough. The government is a collective tool which must be activated in the defense of our nation.

Click on the photo above to see a larger view.

Make, fix, and create.

Monday, November 06, 2017

If you own a backhoe

It is just another sad day in America. In congress and in the administration, Republican folks are praying once again for the victims of gun violence as their excuse for doing nothing about it.

If you own a backhoe you will dig holes and ditches with it. If you own a Sloyd knife, the deep seated inclination is to see how well it will carve wood. The mind directs the tool, but the tool also directs the mind. If you are inept in the use of the backhoe, you'll make a mess of your garden. If you have no piece of wood handy, you might whittle the edge of your dining room table to see how well the knife works. The tools we possess shape who we are, and if you have a closet full of guns, it's best that they be kept locked up, that you may avoid having killed someone you did not intend. If your mind is weak and and your perceptions distorted, that closet full of guns may call to you, demanding your attention, and you may get to join the huge numbers of folks in America who have become participants in gun violence.

I pray, for the victims of gun violence, and also for the victims of the gun disease that has taken over the American mind. Apply common sense. Guns do not make us safe. They do not make men manly. They have nothing to do with courage, or patriotism. They are a curse. They are devices that cowards hide behind. They are tools that are best avoided, as they have only one purpose, that being to kill others and deprive them of meaningful life.

There is a relationship between the having and owning and knowing how to use woodworking tools to create useful beauty and getting a grip on mental health. That's why many woodworkers describe their time in their basement or garage wood shops as "sawdust therapy." When we use tools to create useful beauty, we are made whole. Guns, in contrast, may convey to their owner, a sense of power and control, but they do not make us whole.

Can we not apply just a bit of common sense and take a few guns away from those who should never have had them in the first place? And can we have a discussion in which we can acknowledge that guns are for cowards, and will not be the instruments that make a safe, meaningful and creative society in which we may each find joy?

Make, fix, and create.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

uncommon sense...

Yesterday at ESSA, a small group of wood carvers from around the area converged to whittle, carve, share techniques and encourage each other. It was nice for me to observe as they worked quietly together, and perhaps next month I'll take a project along and join them for some quiet work.

Working with real wood, getting it to do what's in the mind's eye requires patience, and careful observation. As our minds have been overwhelmed with too much information, generated by others in their efforts to manipulate us, it is good to slow down, clear the mind of useless data points and destructive ideology, and engage directly and purposefully in the real world. If the tool is not applied to take advantage of the natural proclivities of the wood, having to do with grain direction, we screw up, and it's noticeable in real time.

In other words, and other worlds apart from the one that politicians and their scheming handlers have mangled for us, there's a lot to learn from the exercise of simple human creative craftsmanship.

It's like healthcare in America. Minds have become inhabited by distraction. One side warns of socialism, and the other asserts need, when both should be looking at the facts. If we, in Carroll County, Arkansas are dying in general, two years or more before our time, as measured and compared with others in our state, and we in Arkansas are dying 6 years before our time in comparison to other countries where national health care plans provide for all citizens, what we have created for ourselves is a simple matter of life and death for ourselves and for others in our community.

There is something simple that happens when a man or woman picks up a gouge or knife and attempts to whittle or carve a chunk of real wood. We learn that it's incontrovertible in that it has qualities of grain, hardness and individual temperament that are not to be denied. The same is true of the real world, and a craftsman, trained to observe what's real and override the blast of disinformation, distraction and purposeful deceit, may stand a chance of putting real things in their place. Only God can help us if we do not.

The photo shows the joinery of a small jewelry chest of drawers. Next comes the routing of drawer guides. The design of the chest is such that it narrows toward the top, leaving it firmly planted in the real world. Would it not be a wonderful thing if our political schemers and voters were as firmly planted in reality?

Make, fix, and create.

Saturday, November 04, 2017


Yesterday I cut transoms to shape and size to fit the Bevins skiffs and began shaping jewelry chests of maple. The sides are now ready for drawer guides to be routed, which is a complex measurement and set-up problem that I make easy for myself through the use of spacers. I may try to take a photo that will explain it.

Yesterday I also met with a small group of the local Democratic Party to help in deciding what things will be important in the next election. Some things are staggering and demand attention and explanation.

The United States, among other nations, ranks 31st in life expectancy, even though we maintain the delusion that we have the best health care in the world. We certainly do have the most expensive. Among states, Arkansas ranks 46th out of 51 and while among Arkansas counties, we rank 7th, (OK, right?) we are 3 years off the mark when it comes to reaching the statewide average.

In other words, there's something going on here (or not going on here) that costs the average Carroll County Arkansas resident 3 years of our lives. There is something going in (or not going on) in Arkansas that costs each of our residents an additional 6 years of our lives if compared with such nations as the top five. Each of the top five has something we do not have. A national health care plan. And so, are we stupid or what? We keep electing those who would rather we die 5 to seven years early than to take care of our children and families as a national priority.

All politics, they say, is local, and how much more local can it get than to die years before your time.

The big argument against national health care is the fear of socialized medicine and that the government will mess things up. The situation now is that hospitals are forced to take patients on an emergency basis who cannot afford the care. When those poor patients are released, they are advised to file for bankruptcy as their only recourse. The costs for the care those persons received are shifted within hospital accounting, and added to the bills of those who have insurance or who can afford care. So, like it or not, under the system we have, those who can pay are paying for the extreme care of those who cannot.

In the meantime, health insurance companies have large staffs to allocate expenses and deny care. This following explains how health insurance put hospitals at risk:
Hospitals across the country lose approximately $262 billion per year on denied claims from insurers, sparking huge cash-flow issues and recovery costs, according to new data.

Payers initially deny about 9% of hospital claims, putting about $5 million in payments per hospital at risk, said Jason Williams, vice president of analytics for Change Healthcare, which collected the data.

Although hospitals ultimately will secure payment for 63% of initially denied claims, it costs $118 per claim on average to recoup the money, not to mention the cost to hospitals of foregoing the payments while they claw back the funds, Williams said.— (
So the system we have now costs at both ends, as insurers have a huge staff to deny coverage, and hospitals maintain a staff to insist upon payment. It's no wonder they tell poor folks to file for bankruptcy immediately upon release and it is no wonder that medical expenses are the primary reason people file for bankruptcy in the US.

But bankruptcy aside for the moment, the system we have now is costing lives. Yes we need to exercise more. Yes we need to improve our diets. But yes, we also need access to better health services and a single payer national plan to make certain quality care is available to each of us.

Make, fix, and create...

Friday, November 03, 2017

from stem to transom

Yesterday I made progress in forming the transoms for Bevins Skiffs. These are glued up from Catalpa, an Arkansas wood that Richard Jagels from Wooden Boat Magazine and the University of Maine assured me is good for this use. Tomorrow, after the glue has dried fully, I will cut the transoms to shape. In the same photo you can see the boat stems, also fully formed and ready for the assembly process to begin.

In my own shop, I've been cutting the joints for maple jewelry chests.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

last night.

Last night I was awake with various things running through my head. One was the process for cutting the joints that will connect the sides, top and bottom of small maple jewelry chests. Another was the selection of materials for work on Bevins Skiffs.

Joe Youcha from Alexandria Seaport Museum suggested that I consider cypress as a material for forming the chines and rails of the boats, as it's a material with a reputation for weather resistance that I ought to be able to find in Arkansas. When I had used cypress before to build a table on our deck, instead of it lasting for years and years as the reputation suggests, the table rotted away in three years. So why would that be? The  answer might be found in the difference between heart and sap, and the length of time in which trees are allowed to grow to full maturity before harvest. Old growth cypress and freshly grown stock are not the same quality of wood.

Richard Jagels in the current issue of wooden boat noted that plantation grown teak was once harvested after 40 years or more, but that pace has been quickened to 7 years or less. The quality of that teak is not the same. The same may be true of cypress as well. If it is not allowed it to grow it once did, the difference can be found in the quality of the material that results. Richard Jagels suggested that in teak, the heartwood that gives strength and resilience to the wood is not given time to form.

The same can be said of kids. In too many schools they are pushed to learn a narrow band of certain things, in a set time, and then strictly measured, but only for those things... Those schools neglect of the heartwood that will give them strength and resilience through a long life.

Make, fix, and create.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

9 benefits of wood shop...

Children rapidly lose creativity during the first three years of formal schooling. This fact has been heavily researched and is widely accepted. You can test it yourself through observing your own child's refrigerator art.
  1. Woodworking in school can be designed to reinforce creativity in the use of materials.
  2. Problem solving behaviors that are useful in engineering and scientific exploration are nurtured in wood shop.
  3. The making of useful beauty to be shared by family and community puts the child in a positive and creative stance with regard to self and society.
  4. Woodworking is a multi sensory experience, putting into play all of the Howard Gardner set of multiple intelligences in a single exercise and location. It thereby engages all learning styles.
  5. Lessons learned through the hands doing real things are learned at a deeper level and to greater long-term effect.
  6. An understanding of history and litereature are reinforced by the student having done real things.
  7. The relevance of mathematics in the development of intellect is made clear in wood shop. 
  8. Children love woodworking as a counterpoint to formal studies as it reintegrates body and mind. 
  9. If we want all our children to thrive and our culture and economy to thrive, the arts, including wood shop are essential to education.
Yesterday I began making small maple chests of drawers for jewelry. The first step is to shape the angle on the sides, making the finished chest more interesting. A simple platform made of scrap plywood supports the stock as it passes through the planer. In order for this process to work, the stock must be long enough to be engaged safely between the infeed and outfeed rollers, and thick enough to not be bent by the downward force they apply to the wood.

Make, fix, create, and reshape education so that students learn by doing real things.