Tuesday, July 31, 2018

at the top of the slide

While I was teaching at Marc Adams School of Woodworking last week, I told my students that Kindergarten was the learning model we would attempt to follow. Each student would be learning at the their own pace and through play.

When asked about the Kindergarten I attended, I remembered St. Mary's Kindergarten in Memphis, where they had an indoor slide and sandbox. Walking into St. Mary's was like finding one's way to a joyous place.

For woodworkers intent on learning, that's what MASW (and other woodworking schools) can feel like. Lining up at the table saw was like lining up at the top of the slide, and saying to one's peers, "watch this!" For some dirty reason, school administrators and politicians decided that school must not be fun. I challenge that foolishness. I hope you will, too.

The photo is from an old book, Jean Lee Hunt's Catalog of Play Equipment from 1918 that helped teachers understand that children with some adult supervision, can make their own dangerous but wonderful playground. Join me at the top of the slide, and watch this...

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

Monday, July 30, 2018

a Quick tip...

I have a box making tip in this month's Fine Woodworking, p. 14. It is about using spacers to stabilize a box while the lid is being cut from the base. Read the article in Fine Woodworking Magazine Number 270, September/October 2018.

Readers interested in putting woodworking back in schools might enjoy an article I wrote for Encounter, Education for Meaning and Social Justice, in 2006. It was written less than a third of the way into my teaching at the Clear Spring School. http://www.dougstowe.com/educator_resources/stowe194.pdf The article opens with these words:
"Woodworking in school — with real tools, real materials, real work, and making real objects — turns abstract concepts to concrete, experiential learning."
These words are still true. You can test them yourself and in your own hands. Then use what you've discovered to set others to work developing wisdom. These days we need it.

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

Sunday, July 29, 2018

How we learn...

You can learn a lot by watching your own internal dialog. For instance, I can remember sitting in class and if the teacher said something, and if it interested me, I would have thoughts of my own.  From what the teacher said, (and if I was paying attention) a question might arise in my mind, or a thought linking me to something I knew from prior experience. My own receipt of information would be thus shifted at that point and I would miss whatever was said next.

So to take a whole class with each student having unique experiences and thoughts of their own and expect them to each learn the same things at the same time is completely unreasonable.

Lecturing to a class is an incredibly ineffective means through which to convey information and understanding. One of the things that makes me an effective teacher is that I am fully aware of the inefficiencies of the normal teaching style. My students say I'm patient. The simple truth is that I know how things work, that individualized learning is the only way to get the best teaching results, and that to be an effective teacher requires that I do much more than simply instruct. I must give time to the learning needs of each student. If I were to expect my students to actually get what I was instructing before their own hands were in place, I would wrongfully feel justified in feeling impatient when my students don't get the results that the ease of my own well practiced demonstrations suggest.

Learning is also complicated by simple psychology involving a thing called the serial position effect. We tend to remember best what comes first and last and forget the middle. https://www.simplypsychology.org/primacy-recency.html  This is a thing that you can test yourself by going to the grocery store with a list of five things to remember.  You will likely remember the first and last things on the list and forget one or more things in the middle. And so you show someone how to do things and tell them how to do things and until they've practiced the full operation with all the steps, they'll be unlikely to be able to do the full thing on their own.

Throughout hundreds of years of academic instruction the assumption has been made that if something has come out of the teacher's mouth, it has gone into the student's mind, and little could be further from the truth. Shop teachers have long known how students learn and could teach other teachers a thing or two, but which academic teachers and educational policy makers are willing to admit that?

The photo shows learning at its best. The students are all doing different things. They are testing what I've told them and demonstrated for them through their own hands as applied to projects that arise from their own interest to create.

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

Saturday, July 28, 2018

A week's collection of boxes.

This is my class with their collection of boxes. Two students left early or there would have been more. We had a great week.

I am back in Eureka Springs after having a great trip.

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

Friday, July 27, 2018

day 5

I am ready for my 5th day of box making class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Real life is the best form of learning, and the students are excited with each learning at their own pace.

All the students have several boxes in the works, using a variety of joints, woods, hinging types, proportions and decorative effects. Some students are more adventurous than others, depending on confidence and goals.

One challenge is that we are trained to look to others to provide feedback with regard to what we do. My students are sometimes puzzled when things don't work out quite as they expect. So I say, "look at this," and ask my students to look very closely at the object itself to provide insight into why things may not fit quite right. If things don't fit, then its because some small earlier step may not have been done quite right. And that requires inquiry and careful observation.

When you do something for the first time it takes extra brain power as the hands are trained to perform and feel what you are doing. The hands both sense and perform, but in an untrained condition in a newly introduced task may not get everything at once. In woodworking, all the senses are required, and and require training.

This afternoon I will take a class photo with my students and their many boxes.

Make, fix, and create...

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Day four...

Today is my fourth day of box making at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I'll demonstrate a few more joints, and begin making inlay, along with other demonstrations. My students are making lots of boxes, and each has more than one in the works.

The box in the photo is an example.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

leaning is fun

My students at Marc Adams School of Woodworking are doing well and most of my 16 students already have boxes on their benches that are nearing completion.

Learning is fun. You start with the interests of the student and things flow freely from there. When student interest is secured, progress is rapid. The model that serves children serves adults as well. And vise-versa. But politicos and administrators are too obsessed with measuring to allow actual free-flow learning to take place.

Today we will have demonstrations on oversize box joints. I will give personalized instruction in the finer points of mitered box joints. We will begin a fresh series of additional demonstrations, driven in part by what the students ask of me.

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Day two at MASW

I am here at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking for the second day of my box making  class and this is my 11th or 12th year teaching at this school. I cannot tell you in sufficient terms what a remarkable place this is. There is no university program in the world that offers so much instruction in the woodworking field. I am one among hundreds of woodworkers who teach here and there are thousands of dedicated students who come through for week at a time instruction.

Mostly, however, we are of a particular age, and there are too few young people in attendance.

Ars longa, vita brevis. This is a quote attributed to Hippocrates, translated as Life is short, the craft long to learn. Is it that folks must arrive at this point in their lives to have the leisure time and the resources to afford learning?

 There is a misunderstanding in American education with regard to understanding what the hands offer the mind. And we would be a smarter nation with greater compassion and understanding for each other if we were earlier engaged in the making of useful beauty as a way of being of service to each other.

I urge you to consider these things.

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

Sunday, July 22, 2018


I am in Indiana ready to begin my 5 day class in box making. A photo of some of my box guitars is now featured on the CBGitty website. http://share.rivet.works/display/t/A-few-of-the-box-guitars-made-/cbgittycraftersupply-grid/e7703678-8bba-11e8-ac03-22000adc9bd8

On another front, there is a new short Kindergarten pitch video to enjoy.


Make, fix, create and assist others in learning likewise

Saturday, July 21, 2018

learning in the real world

One of the things that children do as a matter of course is learn. We are hard wired for it. We are not wired for sitting still in classrooms and being instructed in things that the adult world has assumed we must be taught.

And so, when it comes to design of education we must carefully avoid disrupting that which is most natural to each child, the inclination to learn and to love learning.

Howard Gardner, in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences made the important point that we are smart in a variety of ways and that we each have inclinations and abilities to learn related to individual dominance of particular senses. Gardner's work led to good thing in the recognition that not all children learn the same. It also led to demands that teachers carefully script their lesson plans to match a variety of learning styles, that the teacher may not have much experience or confidence in.

In fact, those who graduate from traditional colleges to become teachers are among those who've demonstrated a strong inclination for academic learning, and little for the rest of it.

So let's break barriers. A+ Schools is about that. I am pleased that at the Clear Spring School, we now have two A+ fellows who will take on the responsibility of training teachers in other schools. In addition, ESSA will host the Arkansas A+ fellows retreat in October. At that retreat I'll teach the fellows to teach teachers to use woodworking. I am pleased that the Clear Spring School is stepping up to a role of leadership in educational reform

The point is not just to put arts and crafts in school, but to bring real life into the classroom and to make sure that the child's full range of senses is employed. From a prescriptive approach, one might say, Johnny, is kinesthetic, Angela is auditory, Susie is haptic,  and Ermilio is visual in their learning styles. But if you are simply proceeding to do real things, all the senses and all the learning styles are energized and employed.

If you enter my woodshed at the Clear Spring School the first thing that hits you is the fresh smell of wood. All of the senses follow.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 20, 2018

at this point

I have the Governor's Quality Award bases ready for gluing, sanding, and finish. Those tasks will wait for my return from my box making class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

The bases are simply trial assembled without glue at this point to check to see that all the parts fit, and that the miter joints are tight.

 I leave for Indiana today. The car will be loaded with boxes, tools and supplies. The boxes are to lead students through a design exercise and to serve as examples. We learn best through  concrete examples, and the process of design is needlessly abstract without examples to study and learn from.

And so, once again, I remind my readers of the principles of Educational Sloyd. 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 same principles apply to effective learning in all subjects. Few academics would acknowledge they might learn something from industrial arts.

For that reason I'll carefully explain that Adolph Diesterweg was the source of inspiration for the principles of Educational Sloyd. Friedrich Adolph Wilhelm Diesterweg  ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolph_Diesterweg ) was not specifically an advocate for manual training, but as an associate of Friedrich Froebel was one of the philosophical influences that Cygnaeus drew upon in the formation of the Finnish Folk Schools. Diesterweg was a prolific writer, with his most notable works being on the role of the Volksshcule (folk school) in the promotion of democracy. As with Friedrich Froebel's Kindergartens, the Kaiser shut Diesterweg's schools down, too. Progressive education and an intelligent populace are inconsistent with the aims of militarism and authoritarianism. In a top down militarist society, you cannot have people who think for themselves and are willing to stand up to fascist inclinations.

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

inlaying spalted wood

As you can see in the photo, I've sawn spalted sycamore into thin strips and have routed channels in walnut for them to fit. I am making 5 Arkansas Governor's Award bases recipients of the quality award. What you see in the photo are the parts for one base. Next I'll miter and assemble these parts, sand the assemblies and prepare the parts for application of a Danish oil finish.

I have loaded photos of making patterned inlay on my instagram account. https://www.instagram.com/douglasstowe/

In addition to making the Quality Award bases, I continue to prepare for my box making class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

gluing exotic woods

One of my students in Connecticut sent this photo of me making my classic inlay. As always, I learned a few things.

One of my students went home in the evening and made his own version of the inlay using exotic woods, some of which don't work well with yellow glue. When he attempted to cut the glued up block into thin strips, the first cut broke at the joint between two resinous woods.

"Quit right there," I insisted.  "It is not going to work."

His block had contained highly resinous woods incapable of making a secure glue joint with yellow glue.

Would other glues work? The point of my own inlay is to demonstrate the beauty and utility of our own native hardwoods, and building my patterns using exotic hardwoods has never been of interest to me. But I am always in debt to my students for teaching me a few things. While making these patterns works well with domestic hardwoods, some exotics should be kept from the mix.

Thanks you, Larry for the photo.

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Today in the wood shop.

I have been working on Arkansas Governor's Quality Award bases. My hope is to have them ready to assemble before I leave for Indiana on Friday where I'll teach for a week at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Having come from one box making class and preparing to leave for another has put me in good shape.

Today I will inlay the parts for the bases with spalted woods as I've done from the start in 1994. Then I'll make a small sliding top box for use as a demonstration in my current book and perhaps add just a  bit about the making of wheels.

I watched with horror, but with no surprise as President Trump met with Vladimir Putin to proudly undermine American values. Treason is the crime of betraying one's country. Now that Trump has done so in a public manner, shamelessly for all to see, perhaps not so many Republicans will collude or condone. Some may actually find the courage to stand up.

Do I dare hold my breath? When faced with evil, proceed to do the good. And there is plenty of good to be done in the wood shop.

Make, fix and  create...

Monday, July 16, 2018


Yesterday I was using a jig that I'd made over twenty years ago from flimsy nailed together stock.  It had been quickly made but worked, was kept and served year after year. It broke as it started into the planer, so I made another.

I'd not known that the  first one would last so long, or that my making of Arkansas Governor's Awards for quality would be such a lasting thing. This is my 24th year of making the prestigious award.

Knowing now what I did not know then, I've made this one with better stock. It is more robust. The purpose of it is to carry angled stock through the planer to be surfaced first on one side and then the other. The glued up walnut will become a portion of the award base.

In addition to working on the awards bases, I am getting ready for my week long box making class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking and will spend a bit of time working on my current book.

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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

One week

I am home in Arkansas and have one week to do two things. The first thing is to be ready to leave for my class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking Class on Friday. My class will begin on Monday morning July 23 but I intend to visit family on the way.

My second thing is to work on Arkansas Governor's Awards for Quality. This is my 24th year of producing this special award. Some years one company may meet standards, sometimes two, and sometimes none. Last year no top level awards were given, but this year, we seem to have bumper crop. I have been assured that the award bases I've made in the past are treasures to the folks who have worked so hard to earn them and they are put on prominent display.

Yesterday I visited Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT, and the adjoining Harriet Beecher Stowe house and museum. Both were wonderful and enlightening. The folks at the Stowe house were especially accommodating. I had a very tight schedule and was offered a special  "walk-through" house tour that allowed me to catch my flight.

The bed shown is the actual Harriet Beecher Stowe bed in which she slept the last years of her life. On the bed is a large facsimile of the paper in which her book Uncle Tom's Cabin was first published. Her husband Calvin Stowe, had urged her to use her power of pen to write in response to the horror's she had witnessed in slavery. She did.

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

Saturday, July 14, 2018

a completed class

I am traveling home to Arkansas today and will spend the next week getting ready for my class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. The photo shows my students from this week and the boxes they made. A couple demonstration boxes of my own are there with me on the left.

I was honored to be able to share with these folks. Each learned, practiced, and worked harmoniously with each other.

On my way to the Hartford airport, I hope to visit the Mark Twain house and the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

An ash and walnut box

A few weeks back one of my students asked for parts that were left over from a demonstration. He wanted to finish them as a box for his grand daughter. The photo is of the completed box.

David asked if I knew the ash would be so beautiful. Yes, I did. My cutting of the parts was to create a four corner match which is shown at the facing  corner of the box.

Today I finish my five day box making class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. My students have created a diverse array of wonderful boxes, each illustrating a point of personal growth.

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

CVSW day 4

Yesterday I did demonstrations on a variety of techniques which you can see in my students' work. They are making mitered finger joints, installing hinges, creating veneered patterns, and have an insatiable appetite for more. I'm hoping to offer two things. Confidence and a sense of play.

Yesterday I also received an order for 4 Governor's Quality Awards to be given to Arkansas corporations that have met very specific standard in their  pursuit of quality. This will be my 24th year to make these awards, and I was told on the phone how very proud Arkansas companies are to display these special awards.

Today we will make wooden hinges, inlay and more.

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Day 3 CVSW

My students at  CVSW are doing well and have a long list of things they want to learn. Dan, a student from my last box making class sent a photo of a box he finished using the bit of inlay he received as a gift from me at the end of  class. It makes a classy box, don't you think?

Ia m starting my third day of box making here in Connecticut.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


I  spent my first day of a 5 day class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking getting my students through some basic exercises in building a box. Each is building a similar box. Today my students will begin exercising their own creativity. I'll be introducing some new techniques.

Make, fix, and create...

Monday, July 09, 2018

Box making in Guyana

I received photos from a box maker in Guyana who says he was inspired by my books.

Guyana borders Venezuela, Brazil, and Suriname. Eddie had received copies of two of my books from a friend in the UK and was inspired to to make boxes. I am grateful that I have friends from around the world. There's something about woodworking that brings people together.

The main wood in the box is purple heart, an exotic wood prized by North American wood workers. The darker green wood is likely "greenheart," a wood that is prized as a boat building wood. It is known to explode during milling, so sawyers will lash chains around the portion of the log that's already been cut.

Guyana is the only country in South America where English is the official language.

This morning I begin box making at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.

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

Sunday, July 08, 2018


Today I'm flying to Manchester, Connecticut to teach for 5 days at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. There may still be openings in this class. schoolofwoodworking.com.

Make, fix, create, and adjust schooling so that others learn likewise.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Learning Through Woodwork

The title of this post refers to a new book on woodworking with kids by Pete Moorhouse in the UK. I received a review copy yesterday. It is full of good information on getting started with woodworking, particularly in the early levels of school. Part of the book deals with the history of woodworking education in the primary years, making some reference to Friedrich Froebel and Rudolf Steiner.

Perhaps most useful to some will be the discussion of the teacher's role in introducing woodworking to kids. Moorhouse quotes Otto Salmon as follows:  The teachers concerns must be: "not only of how much he shall demand from the children, but of how much he shall tell them and how much he shall not tell them. The best teacher is the one that teaches least."

You can find Learning Through Woodwork here: https://www.amazon.com/Learning-Through-Woodwork-Introducing-Creative/dp/1138071102/

The point, of course, is to stage and maintain an environment of discovery, not just of distribution of information through instruction. It is also a mistake to think that you must be a skilled woodworker to teach woodworking to kids. Do it.

I am getting ready for travel to Connecticut tomorrow for my five day adult class in box making. An interesting point is that children and adults learn best in the same way, by discovery that comes from doing real things.

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

Friday, July 06, 2018

I can explain it (maybe)

A friend in my ESSA box making class gave me a t-shirt with the message shown. "I can explain it to you but I can't understand it for you." And that seems to be the case in American education and everywhere else.

Learning from another is a two way street, and what the teacher teaches must be met at least half way by student interest and attention.

An associate of Froebel, Adolph Diesterweg, was the educator who laid out the basic principles that evolved into the principles of Educational Sloyd. 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. Adherence to these principles is the means through which the teacher's presentation of learning is carefully paced to conform to the student's growing interest and engagement. To follow these principles requires that the teacher actually know his or her students. That's a difficult challenge when you have 25 to thirty kids in a class.

Abandon these principles and students become disinterested and disruptive. Apply these principles to all areas of instruction and students blossom.

Today I have meetings at ESSA, and will continue preparing for my teaching in Connecticut.

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

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Router table, free plan

Fine Woodworking offers a free plan for my minimalist router table that you can download here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/finewoodworking.s3.tauntoncloud.com/app/uploads/2009/04/06095750/Minimalist-Router-Table-Free-Plan.pdf

The router table is minimalist, and the plans are, too. But I think you'll get the idea and be able to make one yourself. I use a Porter Cable router in mine, as it can be screwed directly to a sheet of plywood using machine screws. The plans do not show that the router base plate should be removed. The screw holes where the base plate had been will be the mounting holes for attaching the router to the table.

Since these plans are free, please share them with others, too.

I have been gathering online resources to share with my students from last week and next, and this article should be of interest. The minimalist router table is one I still use regularly and one that has lasted over 20 years.

I am getting ready for my class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking that starts Monday. If you are in the Northeast, and are interested in box making, there are still openings for more students in this class. https://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/

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

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

unfinished boxes

Last week, I thought I would be able to use some number of my unfinished boxes from prior classes to demonstrate box making techniques.  I just made more. As my students were making boxes and actually finishing them, I lagged behind assisting and answering questions.

Part of my accumulation of unfinished boxes is shown in the photo. They are in a variety of woods and in a variety of sizes. I have well figured ash and walnut to consider in making top panels.

What needs to happen next with these boxes will be the addition of floating panels for the lids and then bottoms as well. After that I'll add hinges, lift tabs for the lids, sanding and finish. Then the greater complication arises. Will I be able to sell these boxes?

Happy 4th of July, Independence day in the US. On this date 242 years ago the American colonial congress approved a document declaring "that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Can we celebrate our freedom while our government incarcerates families, holds children hostage and refuses to unite them with their parents? Is this the government that the founding fathers had in mind? As a nation we seem to dance between angels and demons. Our founding documents promised the nobility of man,  and our actions as a nation frequently move in the wrong direction.

Make, fix, create, and adjust education so that all students have the chance to learn likewise.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

A new way...

Today I am still recovering from 7 days of classes and I am attending to followup. That includes sending  files to my box making students, an exercise that will also help with my class in Connecticut next week. I have been scanning a few articles that I'd written for Fine Woodworking Magazine and for other magazines that I can share with students.

The photo shows a new way of making a guitar top integral to the neck. I rout a recess into the body of the box, and then rout a 1/8 in. groove into the side of the neck. This makes a rigid structure to support the bridge and strings and gives a precise location for the nut and bridge. Some tonal quality is sacrificed for ease and accuracy of assembly. This is a technique I developed to use in the weekend class.

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

Monday, July 02, 2018


I finished my box guitar class yesterday so will spend the next week getting ready for my other summer classes and may also return attention to my book about woodworking with kids.

I am hesitant to picture students without parental permission so have attached a photo of Annunziata with her wonderfully shaped rock guitar, made during the parent/child box guitar class.

I developed a new method of attaching the neck to the body of the box for this class. It is a hybrid technique in which the  construction benefits of a kit guitar and the creative opportunities inherent in oddly shaped boxes are combined.

The kids were extremely excited to paint their guitars and then to put strings on.

It is easy and fun to make your own boxes for box guitars, without being dependent on the tobacco industry for your musical enjoyment. The added benefit of using shapes from your own imagination should make my box guitar book popular if folks discover it, which you can on Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Box-Makers-Guitar-Book-Sweet-Sounding/dp/1940611644 and other book seller websites.

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

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Box Guitars...

Yesterday I started a two day class with parents and kids to build box guitars. We will finish them today.

For some reason, all the adults are mothers with one grandmother. 

The parent/child pairs built the box first, then my assitant Darla and I helped to attach the necks. Each step offered design opportunities for the kids, and the adults got to help as you can see in the photo.

One of the mothers had never done any woodworking before, and one of the students is blind, bringing greater focus on the effective use of the hands.

I leave in one week to teach for five days at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking https://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/ Sign up for a class.

Make, fix and create. Make the world a better place by learning to trust the character and intelligence nourished and expressed by the hands.