Sunday, March 31, 2019

Hands on ESSA

Please come to ESSA today, Sunday March 31, 3 to 6 PM for hands-on learning activities. I will be helping students make Sloyd trivets from Gustaf Larsson's book Elementary Sloyd and Whittling, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Nature Pattern Blocks. Woodturners from the Stateline Woodturning Association will be giving hands on instruction on the lathe, and we'll also have wood carving, pottery making, blacksmithing and more.

In the wood shop we'll use the medical school model, show one, do one, teach one, and if all goes well, my students will be assisting each other.

On Friday my students, fifth and sixth grades worked on boxes and my Kindergarten students made phone stands to give their parents. The idea of Sloyd was to make useful objects that would reinforce the relationship between school and life at home. At that time (mid to late 1800's), many parents saw schooling as useless, in comparison to the usefulness of the child working at home or on the farm. Each child's labor could be a factor in the family's survival. To send a child to school involved sacrifice.

But when the parent saw the child's growth in tangible form, the partnership between home and school was made crystal clear. Instead of report cards or test scores that came home twice a year, providing only an abstract and subjective view of student performance, useful and beautiful objects provided a constant chain of feedback, establishing the child's interest in school, and the parent's resolve in dedicating their own resources to their child's education. When a child sees mother or father using and cherishing a thing she's made, powerful things are happening in that child's life.

More about Hands On ESSA can be found here:

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

Thursday, March 28, 2019

cell phones, screen time and kids...

Some of my students discovered that I have a youtube channel. They asked if I'm famous. And so it goes. We would be so much better off to live simply and without so much loss of time on our digital devices,. Discovering what we can do with our own hands may be more fulfilling than to simply watch what others can do.

A number of reports with well documented research has told of the major complications related to excessive cell phone usage, and restrictions should be applied. This article from November in Time Magazine tells that parents should have serious talks with their kids.

Yesterday one of my students cut her finger very slightly with a whittling knife. Parents worry about injury in wood shop. But they will give their children unrestricted use of cell phones that are closely linked to depression and suicide. Go figure. A cut on the finger is visible and can be fixed with a band aid. There is no band aid for depression.

Jean M. Twenge, in this week's Time Magazine asks, "Think of this in terms of risk vs. benefits. What is the harm in limiting (not eliminating) the use of electronic devices? Very little. What is the harm in doing nothing, if a lot of time on devices might be behind the sharp rise in teen depression? Too much."

Every parent should be made aware of the risks. The time spent on digital devices is taken from the time spent on engagement in the real world. That's true for adults as well as for kids.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

"an utterly defective grip?"

The following passage is from J. A. Hobson's book, John Ruskin Social Reformer, 1898, available on google books.
 "Educational reformers from Xenophon to Froebel have emphasized the natural union of "head and hand" as the first principle of education. Not merely is dexterity of hand and eye a useful accomplishment, while the foolish and immoral contempt which "gentility" affects for manual work is scotched in childhood; the direct intellectual gain is still more important. Children who draw their intellectual pabulum from books alone, and whose experience embodies no regular and systematic experience of the nature of matter in relation to human service, the qualities of useful substances, and the tools and modes of work by which these substances can be wrought into serviceable forms, grow up to manhood and womanhood and pass on through life with an utterly defective grip on the earth on which they live and the material environment of life."
My thanks to Tim Holton for sending the link to a book that has great relevance to the Wisdom of the Hands. John Ruskin believed as I do that all children, regardless of class or future occupation, should be exposed to the creative, useful art, through manual training in school. It prepares each to be of greater service to self and humanity.

Yesterday in woodshop my students grades 1-4 were given "free day" in which they could do anything they wanted. Free day allows them to work at the level of skill they are most ready for, and to progress at their own pace. The warrior dog shown with moveable legs is from the video game Minecraft and made by a second grade boy.

One of my students came back after class, during recess to explain that he really needs more time in wood shop. He explained that he loves it and his parents think he's really good at it. I explained that all the other subjects are also important, and will make his time in wood shop even more useful to him.

Make, fix and create... Allow children to learn likewise.

Monday, March 25, 2019

five points.

The idea of manual arts training was and is to develop the skill, intellect and the character of the child. Allow me to reflect on the principles of Educational Sloyd.

From the easy to the more difficult refers most directly to the gradual development of skill, though it can also refer to the child's conceptual framework and what it can grasp.

From the known to the unknown can refer most accurately to the development of a framework of knowledge within the child's gradual awakening to the world around it. It can also refer to what the child knows how to do, thus referring to the child's growing capacity to act intelligently in its world.

From the simple to the complex  suggests that by starting out with simple things in school we build the child's capacity to grow into the complexities of life. These days we are particularly troubled by a population unwilling or unable to understand complex issues. They prefer to have complex things reduced to one liners and have been left too lazy to understand complex issues. Instead of having the strength, and interest to go deeply into complex issues, members of our society simply place themselves in us against them relationships with each other, and fail in their responsibility to engage intelligently as citizens.

From the concrete to the abstract really suggests where schools have generally left our population in the dark and emasculated of their intellectual capacity. Schools launch students into abstract subjects without building from the concrete realities of real life. Schools do that by teaching students to memorize factoids abstractly presented and irrelevant to their own lives while they ignore direct investigation of the reality that surrounds us.

It was believed that manual arts training in schools was crucial to the fulfillment of the ideals of democracy. All of this was to be launched from the interests of the child. Before the disruption of natural growth patterns by unnatural schooling, children learned by doing things in service to their families and communities.  Now students are expected to sit still and drugs are often recommended if they are incapable or unwilling to do so.

Make, fix, and create. Plead the case that others must have the opportunity to learn likewise.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

blue tape...

I learned a trick from one of our teachers at ESSA, Steve Palmer, from St. Louis. It's to put blue masking tape along the joints where wood is being glued together to form a table top. You put the tape down extending beyond the edge, then use a knife to trim the tape flush. Then when the boards are glued tight, the excess glue is squeezed out onto the tape rather than onto the wood so it can be easily peeled away rather than scraped or sanded.

I am preparing eight partial coopered columns at a 26 in. radius to form parts of a table base, and while I'm less concerned with glue squeezing out on the outside of the column where it can be easily sanded off, the inside coopered shape will present greater difficulty. So Steve's technique will make my finish work less difficult.

The coopered columns are to be formed from 8 coopered parts, forming an inside and outside radius as shown in the photo. Side strips will be added, making 4 hollow coopered forms each only a fraction of a compete circle. The forms will be connected together with a central beam giving stability to the table, The curvature of the base units will also stabilize the top, preventing movement.

When the coopered base units have been glued together (a process relying on lots of clear plastic tape) they will be textured to give a hand carved resemblance to the surface of wood after the bark has been removed.

In the photo, the blue tape is being used to simply hold parts together while I work out the details and dimensions of additional parts.

This is the last day of spring break and classes resume at the Clear Spring School on Monday. I'm grateful to have had some  extra time to spend in the shop.

Make, fix and create. Increase the odds that others have a chance to learn likewise.

Friday, March 22, 2019


For some time I've been trying to explain political reality from a manual arts perspective. There are a few folks I've referenced in previous blog posts that may help you to sort out and dig deep. One is Joe the Plumber. ( each of these can be found by using the search function of this blog, found at upper left) Another is Karl Popper whose concept "verisimilitude" can also be useful in digging deep. For facebook readers, you'll have to go to the blog,

What follows is a blog post from WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31, 2010

Narrative and reality

Jerome Bruner's article "The Narrative Construction of Reality" suggests that narrative plays an important role in how man "achieves a 'true' knowledge of the world... that is to say, how we get a reliable fix on the world, a world that is... assumed to be immutable and... 'there to be observed'." (we develop narratives and then chat in our own heads and with each other about them) But it should be noted that belief and reality often differ.

In my continuing interest to explain the narrative function of crafts, I want to address one minor point of comparison. In discursive narrative, verisimilitude, or what Stephen Colbert called "truthiness" is completely acceptable. In my interpretation of Bruner's article, discursive narrative may be based on real events or fictional, without diminishing our use of it to establish belief or to portray reality in shaping the beliefs of others. A great example is when Ronald Reagan used his movie characters' "experiences" as being valid in explaining and rationalizing positions he took in office as president.

In political narrative, it has become completely acceptable to just make stuff up. I want to compare this with craftwork as narrative expression. Crafts are not about making things up, but about making real things. Narrative, as used in politics, religion and entertainment creates belief based on verisimilitude, on ideas that may appear to resemble truth from certain psychological predispositions but may not be able to pass full muster of physical reality.

In other words, in discursive narrative, you get to make stuff up. In crafts, you make beautiful and useful stuff instead, and if you are interested in reality, there is no substitute for the real thing, and I'm not talking Coke.

There is an honesty in craft work that is missing in too much k-12 and university education, and the results can be disastrous for the entire society. The following is from Charles Henry Ham's book, Mind and Hand, 1886:
"It is thus that the trained hand comes at last to foresee, as it were, that a false proposition is surely destined to be exploded. The habit of rectitude gives it prescience. It invariably discovers, sooner or later, that a false proposition, when embodied in wood or iron, becomes a conspicuous abortion, involving in disgrace both the designer and the maker. A false proposition in the abstract may be rendered very alluring; a false proposition in the concrete is always hideous. One of the chief effects of manual training is, then, the discovery and development of truth; and truth, in its broadest signification, is merely another name for justice; and justice is the synonym of morality."
I find it interesting that Karl Popper, the philosopher who came up with the concept "verisimilitude" had an early career in a cabinet shop that he described as being his launch into the realm of philosophy.

Today in the woodshed, I'll be working on a table base.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, March 21, 2019

experience first then build belief...

I did rather well on standardized tests when I was in school. The multiple choice answers on the tests were either right or wrong, and the fact that my parents gave me some practical experience outside school gave me the ability to sift out the answers that were patently false. If you can recognize that which is wrong on a standardized test, the correct answer is much easier to discern.

At that time, standardized tests were not such a big deal that anyone would obsess about them. We just went to school with our pencils sharp. We were told that the test results were not to be shared with others. At that time in the Omaha public schools the administrators were starting to be aware that the competitive culture around standardized testing that would later arise was not to be a good thing. And now, with our testing obsessed culture, we've allowed educational policy makers to really screw things up.

Kim Brand reminded me of an article I'd written 10 years ago about Kentniss and Wissenshaft and the rise of what is now called fake news. The problems we face have gotten worse and I don't think it took much imagination to know the direction we were headed. We believe we must pick and choose our belief systems (established by others), rather than relying on experience to establish belief.

The foundation for all this was laid in religion. We were told to believe like sheep in things we could not see or understand, and once trained for that, were told that one truth was just as good as another, but that we should battle out between ourselves and in our own heads which would drive the direction of things.

On the other hand, and in the real world, working with real tools, real materials, with real tasks at hand and while attempting to express beauty, usefulness and sincerity, we may be led to observe and draw conclusions on our own. So manual arts were the place we  only put kids who were at less risk of wrestling with the big ideas that come when the brain and hands are put in harmony with real life.

Rousseau had said "Put a young man in a wood shop and his hands work to the benefit of his brain, and he becomes a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman." That happened to me. But there's a great risk to putting smart people in work shops where they are inspired to think for themselves by directly observing the reality that surrounds us. They might become revolutionary and then threaten the prevailing thought.

Today I will sand boxes and begin the process of building a table base.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

our little free llibrary.

If you go to and then type our Little Free Library charter registration number in the search block, you can find the Clear Spring School Little Free Library on the map.

The charter registration number is 85348. Better yet is to find it in real life at these geographic coordinates: 36°24'30.2"N 93°44'41.6"W or 36.408400, -93.744889 Put either form of the coordinates in your phone or car GPS and you'll be led right to it. You can also find it on the map using our zip code, 72632 or the name Clear Spring School.

Today in the wood shop I'll assemble boxes and begin work on a table base.

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

each and every child

This 20 year old article by Alfie Kohn might help you to understand why he's been a trusted name in progressive education.  The point is that these are not your kids or our kids, but our children, and we each share a responsibility to each one. The news of elite parents gaming the system to get every possible advantage for their own children is nothing new and is perfectly reasonable to fearful minds. Each child is important that we have a responsibility to all children.

Clear Spring School was founded over 40 years ago with a mission that differs from that of many of the private schools that sprang up across the nation in the wake of the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling by the supreme court that was intended to bring an end to school segregation. While many private schools were established to maintain segregation, and to maintain the advantage previously given to white children by segregated schools, The Clear Spring School was established to offer a model of education in which each and every child was afforded the recognition and opportunity each child deserves and enabling the success of each child upon which our society depends. The point was not to be exclusive, or to keep some out, but to serve as a model from which all children would ultimately be served.
What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.— John Dewey, School and Society
Brown vs. Board of Education was an extreme measure in response to an extremely ugly problem... that of a society deeply divided along racial lines. The court decision brought  school busing and the politicization of the educational landscape, with politicians of both parties vying for control of local and state school boards. If you read the national news, we are still a long ways from returning the focus of education to the child. Politicians have all kinds of ideologically inspired notions that have little or nothing to do with the needs of our children.

Today I gather materials for building a table.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, March 18, 2019

get back pocket cat... woodworking is where it's at

Yesterday I registered our little free library so it will go on the map at The photo shows the prototype "pocket cat" I made for Friday's Kindergarten class. It is little more than a hint of a cat and quickly made but was instantly recognized by the kids wondering, "What will we make today?" And responding, "YES, I want to make that."

It is nothing more than a small block of wood with 1/8 in. holes drilled in it for bamboo skewers to fit. We use small snipping pliers to trim the skewers to shape to form the ears and tail.

This is spring break week at the Clear Spring School. I plan to use my time to assemble boxes. I've also been clearing and cleaning in the wood shop to have room to build a large dining table.

Make, fix, create and encourage others to learn from real life. It's rewarding.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

two events...

Mark your calendar & join us for an Art Extravaganza on March 31, 3-6 pm, in ESSA's Wood and Iron Studio!

I will have two woodworking activities for guests in the wood shop. One will be making a very small set of Frank Lloyd Wright's Nature Pattern Blocks. Sawing and sanding will be required. The other will be crafting a Sloyd trivet from Gustaf Larsson's book Elementary Sloyd and whittling. A question, my youngest students ask, "Do I get to keep this?" Yes you will keep the things you've made, maybe for generations.

The other event I want to invite you to is the annual Froebel education conference in Boston, October 5 and 6, 2019 in Boston. Many important educators have been invited to speak.

Make, fix and create...

Nature Pattern Blocks

A friend, having heard a talk I gave at the UU Church in Eureka Springs, gave me this set of Frank Lloyd Wright Nature Pattern Blocks. As I've described before, Frank Lloyd Wright became an architect having grown up with the blocks invented by Froebel. His mother had attended the 1876 World's Fair in Philadelphia at which a Kindergarten classroom had the following effect described by Nina C. Vandewalker in her book  The Kindergarten in American Education, 1908:
"The Exposition kindergarten was conducted in an annex to the Woman's Pavilion, by Miss Ruth Burritt of Wisconsin, who had had several years of experience as a primary teacher before she became a kindergartner, and whose manner and insight were such as to gain adherents for the new cause. The enclosure for visitors was always crowded, many of the on-lookers being "hewers of wood and drawers of water, who were attracted by the sweet singing and were spellbound by the lovely spectacle." Thousands thronged to see the new educational departure, and many remained hours afterwards to ask questions."
Wright's mother was among those mesmerized and inspired. The Kindergarten method of learning is not to be confined to the early years. We all learn best through play, and as Wright noted in his later years, "I can still feel those maple blocks in my hands to this day."

I do not believe these blocks are currently available. They should be.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, March 16, 2019

bridge and pocket cats

Yesterday in wood shop my 5-6 grade students helped to finish the bridge and to decorate a bench leg on the lathe.

My Kindergarten students made tiny pocket cats.  I made a couple prototypes as usual, and was pleased that the Kindergarten students immediately recognized what they were and wanted to make them.

I left my phone at home to charge during the Kindergarten class, so I have no photos of that class.  To make a pocket cat requires decorating a small block of wood with markers to serve as the cat's body, then drilling holes for 1/8 in. dowels to fit as legs, tail and ears. The kids decided where these parts would fit, then drilled the holes in the chosen spots, with me holding the block of wood while they operated the drill press.

When the cats were complete, they insisted that their cats be further customized. One boy wanted wings on his, while another, claiming the cat was not toy but part of a "collection," chose to mount his on a block of wood to serve as a base. Many of my students have collections of their work, and what better time is there to start than in Kindergarten where they can learn to get things of interest through their own labor?

You may recognize our dog Rosie helping with the bridge.

This is the start of Spring break at the Clear Spring School. I'll spend my time working on boxes and launching a table project.

Make, fix, create. Build human culture and the fabric of community by choosing to learn likewise.

Friday, March 15, 2019

chapter 11

I learned in the past few days, when I got a royalty statement from F&W publication, and no check came in the following days that the company had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the state of Delaware. When I started my first books, F&W Publications was a family owned enterprise. F stood for farm and W stood for writers, and the initial thrust of the business was to cater to those two areas of need: Publishing in support of small farms and writers. That was about a hundred years ago. The founding family members happily sold out to investors and the new CEO announced at a staff meeting that the business would be a perfect fit for him. He could run the business (after selling off assets) from his beach house in the Bahamas.

According to the bankruptcy narrative presented to the court, the company had made a few fatal mistakes. Over a period of years they'd made relentless efforts to get much bigger fast. Then the killer was to get deeply involved in e-commerce for which they were ill-prepared. Since they were one of the major publishers of niche craft related books, they thought they could expand their market by selling craft related products, taking the customer trust they had earned and leverage that into competition with other online retailers. That involved building an unreliable internet system that greatly disappointed customers, and renting warehouses to hold all the stuff they couldn't sell through an unworkable platform.

When the first non-family owners had severely botched business, the second round was Citi Bank, and then a descending spiral of big idea banker type folks all with the small minded idea of selling off non-essential assets so they could do more stuff unrelated to the founder's intent.

Of course, part of F&W's problems have been related to the rise of free unedited materials offered through the internet and youtube in particular. Why should anyone have to pay for anything other than their connection fee to Verizon or AT&T? I assert that there is still a place in the world for well-edited good books. It's easy to make cheap content, and to fill the internet with crap. It's more of a challenge to make good books. And there is a value to the latter. The shame in F&W's case is that they could have continued to make good books. Perhaps Chapter 11 Bankruptcy will allow them to return to the mission that gave them their start. There's a lesson here. When businesses wander far from their founder's intent, things have a way of "getting out of hand."

F&W gave me the chance to write my first three books. So they have a dear place in my heart and I wish them success. My first three books are now out of print but we did a more recent compilation of projects from my first two books. It is "25 Beautiful Boxes." You can find it on Amazon or can contact me directly for a signed copy.

Make, fix, create, and hope for the sake of human culture that all learn to learn likewise.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

one in twelve...

The scandal of rich folks using bribery and fraud to get their kids into college has brought to light some of the pressures that children and parents feel. No one could fault a parent for wanting the best for their children, even if that parent is delusional about what a child might actually need (like character and the self-respect one earns through doing real things of value to their communities as examples). Perhaps you can excuse a few folks for not imparting to their kids what they have not earned or learned themselves.

On the other hand, one in 12 students go off to college with suicide plans in hand. The pressures are enormous. Parents want bragging rights they can claim from their children's success, and success in this disrupted society requires college.

They've advertised and promoted this for years, even on TV. How many times have you heard that college graduates make twice as much money as those who do not get college degrees? And so the solution they propose is that all kids, by necessity, must go to college whether they are ready and mature enough to be successful at it, even if that means elbowing more deserving kids out of the way.

We might take a different approach like that taken in the Nordic countries. Incomes are more uniform, so that all (even teachers) make reasonable incomes, and parents have much less to worry about. Here in the US, college graduates make twice as much and corporate CEOs make up to a thousand times more than that.

In Educational Sloyd, one of the objectives was to foster a societal sense of the dignity of all labor. This was not to create a two or three tier society, but to build a society in which all människor,  (human beings) would be treated with respect, and democratic principles would thrive. We seem to have gone willingly in the wrong direction, and our children pay the price. Suicide, drug addiction, and student debt.

It interests me, that manual arts training in schools would build that sense of the dignity of labor, but also provide a path toward the development of character in all our youth. Between senseless degradation of our natural environment, suicide and opioid addiction, our children suffer, and few see that the answer is at hand.

The photo shows one of my students with an airplane he made in yesterday's class. The working propeller is a special touch.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

service does that.

While a few desperate housewives may cheat as best they can to get their kids into colleges they think their children must have whether they've earned it or not and thus deprive them (their children) of choice and the system of universities of their legitimacy and fairness, the idea that all children must go away to college in order to find fulfillment is based on the idea that the only place success can be found will be in the larger world beyond the humdrum walls of our own communities.

If you actually look at small communities like my own, you find folks itching to serve one another and to actually make the world a better place. Service connects us with each other. That may not be known by those in northern cities where folks may itch to escape winter on the one hand or anomie on the other. Folks move around a lot and may never become fully connected. Corporate ladders do that. You may get yanked around one place to another and be happy about it because each step brings more money, power and glitz. Financial success can do that. You may have your eye on fresh and larger properties (the owning of which make you appear hot), or a place to go during the winter months (or summer for that matter). Getting the hell out or away has become a mark of success, whereas fitting into the ponderousness of small community life is not.

 Perhaps it is simply time to reassess. Take a fresh view. When you begin to realize that the hands themselves are not dull instruments, but are thoughtful creatures on their own, that can be listened to and trusted, you may place more attention on the small things that actually matter in the creation of a sense of place and appropriateness of place for the rest of you. You might find for a change that you fit and fit in. Service does that.

We have may have a terrible view of human culture at this point, if you look through the lens of the internet and through broadcast media. Life from that vantage point is about big, fast and glitz. In small towns like my own, folks work hard to be of use to each other. That, my friends, is what's called the fabric of human culture.

 The interesting thing that might happen from a fresh, hand-centric view would be that instead of home becoming the hell you hope to get the hell out of, home might become a better place. Perhaps we should take time to reinvest in each other and see what happens next.

I have a full day of classes planned at the Clear Spring School.

 Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

is that love?

Last week my local Arkansas State Senator proposed a change in Arkansas state law that would have given white folks with guns the right to shoot and kill unarmed black children and teenagers if they "felt" threatened whether they were actually threatened or not.

"He got out his cell phone, your honor, and I thought it might be a gun."

The legislation would have given adrenaline charged white folks the right to "stand their ground." Another State Senator in committee was pushed to the point of outrage, over fear that the change in legislation would put her own son and the children of her constituents in even greater danger.

My local legislator was outraged by his opposing legislator's outrage and threatened to file complaints against her behavior. I emailed him to express my concern at his failure to grasp the depth of the situation and to urge him to put himself in her position. In response, he claimed that she should have been calmed my his verbal assurance that "he loved her."Does anyone have a fully functioning meter to measure BS? My own meter was buried in red.

Love, if it's to be believed is never expressed in words alone. In fact, when a child invests in the making of useful beauty, the child is practicing what it takes to be woven into the fabric of community life. When the parent receives gifts made by that child and responds with grace and admiration, threads are made whole.

Tim Holton had written to David Brooks of the New York Times, urging him to read a couple posts from this blog. Tim was inspired to write David by a piece David had written in the New York Times about weaving and the construction of "radical mutuality". We all share in the responsibility to reconstruct the fabric of community life. Tim had written to David(in part):
"The essence of Doug's message here is that the actual fabric that manual labor provides society is no mere metaphor for the social fabric, but the very substance of it. Nothing significant is ever made without the purpose of serving others, without the maker having in mind, and having in his or her heart, the needs of others. That, I believe, is the real root and basis of “radical mutuality,” as you call it. More than anything, it has been by degrading and denigrating manual labor (and steering our children away from it, as Mr Stowe’s work as a teacher emphasizes), that we have shredded the social fabric. Before the thing that we call “love” becomes a feeling, a sentiment, it is a deed."
And so I go back to our local Arkansas State Senator. How can he say "I love" someone without loving her son by protecting his life? How can a person represent the people of Arkansas while putting some of us at greater risk, black or white? Are black kids the only ones killed by adrenaline charged gun wielding fearful fools? I cheer the State Senator who stood up in committee and insisted on being heard.

Yesterday in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, we nearly finished the bridge connecting our athletic field with the new Hands-on Learning Center. My students first through 4th grades made wooden hammers, and my upper middle school students worked on the lathe. The photo shows a first grader using a plane to shape his hammer handle. They must work, but also observe and reflect. And when one student mentioned the physical work we do in wood shop, she pointed to her head.

Make, fix, and create as though the fabric of society depends upon it. It does.

Monday, March 11, 2019

the work of the artist.

The real work of the artist is not the making of works of art, but of building community. That differs in no way from the real work of of humanity. Some fail to discover their real work. It is easy to be distracted or to be left unhinged... to have not formed the bonds that weave one into the threads of community life.

These days folks move around a lot. They may have been injured, in the way that so many are. Poor parenting, bullies in school, poverty of resources or of spirit. So folks move around looking for something that's better, only to find what's inescapable. If you seek community, you must take part in the building of it. A person would be unlikely to stumble upon it ready made. You must weave yourself in.

In the Ozarks there was a kind of material woven by early settlers, called linsey-woolsey. The warp was linen, giving strength, and the woof was wool, giving warmth, and to be woven into the fabric of community requires time, and effort to find one's place among the threads.

There is a relationship between the use of the hands and the building of community. The hands connect us with each other through the making of things, but also in the expression of care and concern. Small acts, more than anything we might say, are the powerful force that binds us into forms larger than ourselves.

I have a day full of classes.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 10, 2019

nature my college.

"Nature," said Froebel, "was my college, the tree my principal, the nursery my university, and children my professors." According to Froebel, the child was not born to think but to do and be active, and in that we have the opportunity to observe and to learn. Froebel learned about education by watching children learn.  Children are equipped by nature for that task. Since children have not changed, we might follow the same course of education ourselves, learning both from children and from those who have made a life's work of watching children learn.

Educational policy makers devised a two track model in which one track was to keep its hands clean, and engage in purity of thought leading to college while the rest did the dirty manual work of keeping society strong and moving in the right direction. This was described by Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton, as follows:
"We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."— Woodrow Wilson
Would we not be better served by a model in which all were called in schools to make objects of useful beauty, building not only things, but in building those things the character and intelligence of our communities and our nation?

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, March 09, 2019

my usual

What you see in the photo are sixty four lids for boxes that I inlaid yesterday morning. About 25 larger lids are in the works for tomorrow. This is that time that comes each year when a few box orders arrive and merchants restock. I make boxes.

Boxes have always provided something for me to do between furniture commissions, so I am grateful to be able to stay productive, even when the larger projects don't show up for awhile.

The lids will be cut to length and sanded on the insides before the boxes are assembled. If all goes well, that will begin to happen next week.

Tonight is the annual Clear Spring Fling to be held Main Stage, 67 North Main in Eureka Springs from 6-9 PM. The event offers great food and plenty of fine art for sale including the box guitar that I made for an article in Woodcraft Magazine. Join us.

Make, fix and create. Discover ways in which you can help others learn likewise.

Friday, March 08, 2019

the wall between

Parents have been sold a bill of goods by the insistence by educational policy makers (and society at large) that college is the only pathway to success. Parents drum into their kids, "You are going to college, you are going to college," and it may not be what every student needs. In some cases they are engineered into situations in which massive debt is accrued for degrees they do not receive and do not use.

For example, I have a college degree in political science, but it was pottery class that offered the greater impact in my life.

This article suggests that parents should overcome their resistance and understand that a son or daughter choosing trade school over college would not be such a bad thing.

I go a step farther forward. The artificial wall constructed between academic pursuits and hand skills at all levels of education should be torn down. The Froebel play ground  I've made at the Clear Spring School can serve as an example. It is constantly being rearranged to serve student desires.

The rearrangements seem limitless, even with only 8 large blocks and three plastic barrels. On Wednesday I watched students lifting and rearranging blocks. The blocks are large enough to require two or three children to lift and move, so each arrangement is a creative collaboration. I made the point of adding only a few components at a time to give them time to exhaust possibilities before growing on, and have watched as the students have taught each other.

"Help me do this," asked of one student by another is an invitation to consciousness. With that question, one admits humility: that he or she is not strong enough to act alone, but is also put in a position in which he or she can share observations and intent. The request, "help me do this," can also be from an adult to a child, and is thereby an invitation into adult responsibility. It is quietly instructional, for real purpose. All education, in an active school is like that. The learning comes as much from the doing as from instruction.

Imagine if all schools were like that. All academic work would be done at deeper levels and  learning would be retained to greater lasting effect.

Yesterday, being off from school for conferences and not being needed, and the weather being just right, I went to House Handle Factory in Cassville, Missouri to get scraps for using in woodturning and making wheels. I hit the jackpot, loaded my truck with a two year supply and left plenty for others to enjoy.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, March 07, 2019

The limitations of conventional language based learning

This is a repeat post from August 31, 2016

We all know that craftsmanship is an expression of values. A man or woman does beautiful and useful work because he or she cares enough for self and others to make it so. 

The inclination to create beautiful and useful things is a human universal. It can be found in every culture. It is rooted in relationship. We do good work because we are trained to expect it of ourselves, that we may be seen by others as caring. On the other hand, you can tell folks a thing or two, and lay verbal claim to your moral superiority, with it being revealed at some point as total bull. (we appear to be at that point in the Trump Presidency)

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."
Also, from Charles H. Hamm:
When it shall have been demonstrated that the highest degree of education results from combining manual with intellectual training, the laborer will feel the pride of a genuine triumph; for the consciousness that every thought-impelled blow educates him, and so raises him in the scale of manhood, will nerve his arm, and fire his brain with hope and courage.
Hamm's theory is the antithesis of Plato, as described in his  Divine Dialogs:
"...the simplest and purest way of examining things, is to pursue every particular by thought alone, without offering to support our meditation by seeing or backing our reasonings by any other corporal sense."
To Plato, I offer James' rejoinder: "Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation. There is in the living act of perception always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught, and for which reflection comes too late." – William JamesThe following is also from Charles Hamm.
It is easy to juggle with words, to argue in a circle, to make the worse appear the better reason, and to reach false conclusions which wear a plausible aspect. But it is not so with things. If the cylinder is not tight, the steam engine is a lifeless mass of iron of no value whatever. A flaw in the wheel of the locomotive wrecks the train. Through a defective flue in the chimney the house is set on fire. A lie in the concrete is always hideous; like murder, it will out. Hence it is that the mind is liable to fall into grave errors until it is fortified by the wise counsel of the practical hand.
The human hand is constantly seeking the truth and finding it. By leaving laboratory science and wood shop and the arts outside of education, we have diminished our children in both character and intellect, and diminished human culture.

Make, fix, create and offer to others inspiration for learning likewise...

Wednesday, March 06, 2019


Mattie Bergström warned that those who's hands are left untrained will be left "values damaged," and what he meant by that is that they will be left without the full and normal range of human values, and incapable of perceiving the deeper meaning of things. Values like care for the natural environment, historic preservation, art, craftsmanship and real love for each other will ring hollow for those who've been sequestered from engagement in life though the development of skills hands-on.

I am reminded of the Bonwit-Teller Building in New York, that was torn down to build the Trump Tower.

John Barron (really Donald Trump with his voice disguised) claimed that the Art Deco sculptures Donald Trump had previously vowed to preserve, were "without artistic merit." The saving of the sculptures, previously promised to the Metropolitan Museum (where they were thought to have profound artistic merit) was delaying construction, so Trump had them destroyed. Those sculptures were conceived by artists and carved by craftsmen,  and were to be welcomed and preserved by the Met, but did that matter? It would have to a man cognizant of the full range of human values.

Those Bergström described as "values damaged" are lacking the full depth and diverse range of human values. They, knowing little else and having no solid core of humanity adopt money and power as their only driving principles. They become reckless and careless for all else.

We are left in a sad and sorry state when our leaders are drawn from among those Bergström  called "finger blind." And so, developing integrated skills and intellect of hands and mind is essential to the preservation of the quality of human life. Let's make certain that all kids develop integrated skills of hand and mind to prevent them from becoming destructive egomaniacs and putting human culture at risk.

Editing my woodworking with kids book begins in earnest this week with a proposed publication date in July, 2019.

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

curved planes

Yesterday was a snow day in Eureka Springs with school cancelled due to icy road conditions.

I was able to give some time to table design as it was also too cold to be in the shop where I need to be making boxes. In a few back and forth emails with my customers and some time on sketchup, we came up with this drawing to illustrate the concept.

The rectangles on top are to illustrate approximate seating positions. The table top is natural edged, so will be far more dramatic in real life than the chunk of wood shown in the drawing.

The base will be made of staves, coopered to shape in a manner similar to making a barrel. Making it will offer some technical challenges in the crafting and assembly. After assembly, the sections will be textured and ebonized, creating a strong contrast between the walnut floor in the dining room and the silver maple top. The sections of the base are placed so as to not interfere with the placement of feet as friends gather around what will be a lovely table.

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

Monday, March 04, 2019

a table to inspire a table...

Customers and I have moved toward a table base design by running through many of my old projects to arrive at something we all like. The table shown in the photo is one that I did almost 10 years ago during the economic collapse at the end of the Bush presidency in which many of us wondered whether we would be launched into another great depression.

I took the time of no work in sight to turn to my storage barn and make tables out of whatever I could find. With all my time being "spare time" I made 10 or 11 tables and sold almost all as the economy began to pick up.

Some may remember losing homes, or loss of value in homes and the serious unemployment that resulted from the near collapse of the banking industry. It took longer than the first term of the Obama administration to get the economy back on track, while the Republicans resisted spending on infrastructure that was intended to put folks back to work and get things fixed at a bargain rate. The Republican deficit hawks were against deficits and raved about the ballooning national debt. Now with huge deficits resulting from the Trump tax cuts, none worry about a balanced budget. Hypocrisy works well in politics, but not so well in craftsmanship.

During the great depression in the 1930's, furniture manufacturers turned to scrap wood to continue work.  I followed their model by carefully using what I had at hand, so it is useful to have at least some knowledge of history.

I began this table during a workshop hosted by the Little Rock Woodworking Guild and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and then finished it in my own shop. The top is walnut consisting of two consecutively sawn boards. The two part base is made of oak that has been ebonized to achieve its black color. The stones are inlaid to accentuate and cover minor imperfections in the wood. The design of the base is utterly simple and will serve well when used with a natural edged top.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 03, 2019

2nd life wood

Yesterday I met customers at a lumber supplier in Fayetteville, Arkansas that specializes in large full width natural edged lumber. We selected a piece of silver maple, 39 in. wide, 3 in. thick and 9 ft. long that will become a single piece dining table top for my customers' home in Little Rock. The weight of the table top will be a particular challenge in my shop as I plane and sand it to serve. I'll call on friends to help.

My teaching schedule limits my involvement in  furniture commissions, but this will be a project too lovely and meaningful to pass up. The customers already have a collection of my work.

This table offers design and technical challenges for me and I'm always amazed that there are folks who think enough of me and my work to present the challenge of making something I've never made before. How many people function with that level of trust? They could go to a store and buy something already made with so little risk and yet prefer to give a craftsman the opportunity for further growth. Perhaps this tells us something about the society we live in and charts the course forward in the event that we would like the world to become a better place. If we were to invest in each other rather than just buying stuff, we would  all live in a happier place.

When we set our neighbors to work crafting objects of useful beauty, more than objects are made. Lives are. Character and intelligence become fabricated within us and in our communities.

In designing a new piece of furniture, I begin with a brainstorm in the night, thinking through all possible options. One I'm thinking of now is a twin cylinder pedestal base as I did in a dining table many years ago and as is shown in the photo. What follows is the philosophy of my commissioned work:
"As furniture maker my preference is to work with native American hardwoods. With some extended care these hardwoods will be here for future generations. Beyond that, I adhere to some basic design principles:

·      The work must be useful - for to be useful is one of the highest of human objectives.
·      The work must show respect for the wood, for the tree, and for the forest.
·      The work must fit the needs, character and temperament of the client.
·      The work must fit my own desire to learn and to grow.

"My customers come to me, asking that I make what they’ve not yet seen, that I’ve never yet made, with faith and confidence that I’ll be able to deliver something truly unique,  useful, and beautiful that will last a lifetime. It is an honor and a gift to serve those with such vision and I owe a great deal to these individuals who have invested in the development of my skill and creativity."

"Every piece of furniture I’ve made began with a brief discussion of client needs and maker philosophy. It can be by email or over dinner. Some fine works have started as napkin sketches. All at some point involve drawings, estimates and an exchange of funds."
In case you are interested, the lumber supplier is

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

paper baskets in wood shop

Today my Kindergarten students made paper baskets in wood shop. They raided the scrap bin to get extra wooden parts that they wanted to add for decoration. They have no shortage of creativity. The basket is one from the book, Paper Sloyd, which serves as a preparatory text for wood working.

In the Froebel playground at Clear Spring School, the students demonstrated how plastic barrels might be added to their construction. You can see a video on instagram here:  The students are using their recess time to exercise their bodies and their minds. They are collectively creative. They collaborate and problem solve. They take turns, and watch over each other's safety. The applaud each other's successes. Did you know that recess is one of those ways in which students develop character? Human culture is refreshed in each new generation.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, March 01, 2019

a favorite thing.

On Wednesday I introduced more recycled plastic barrels as building components in our Froebel playground. In the afternoon, my students grades 1-4 were allowed another free day following a lesson in measuring and understanding the inch and fractions thereof. Thursday I worked in my own shop for a bit. I have a backlog of boxes that must be made.

On another subject, I received permission from Taunton Press to put my Basic Box Making DVD on youtube. I have uploaded it and you can find it in 17 parts here:

Just as my students' favorite thing in school is wood shop. Time in my own shop on a cold and drizzling day in the Ozarks, is a favorite thing.

Make, fix and create...