Friday, August 30, 2019

young hands, young minds.

I've noticed in my teaching that it's often difficult for older adults to grasp things that come easy to to the young. It's best not to become discouraged when trying to emulate what I do. I've been making boxes and furniture for over 40 years and before that had studied woodworking in junior high, then pottery in college, and my dad bought me a shop smith for my 14th birthday. Facility with the hands and mind are best developed at an early age in which they are fresh to the world.

Getting an early start in your creative work gives you an advantage. Children learn quickly what it can take adults years to learn, and that they'll never grasp quite so easily or completely as the young. This applies to both hand skills and to what are thought of as "skills of mind," and it's idiocy to think that they are actually different things.

When we listen to a well trained pianist we are not instantly convinced that we can do the same thing. He or she will make it seem easy, but it will indeed not be as easy as it appears. It takes practice, and those who arise to the highest levels of the art, are most often given a very early start.

Woodworking takes place at a slower rate. That you can actually see the hands moving more slowly does not mean that practice was not required. In other words the same rules apply. It's best to get an early start.

I had made a suggestion in the blog and to some experts that the Quipus used by the Incans to record transactions and history were to be read not only by looking at but also by running one's fingers through the patterns of knots and thereby sensing the vibratory patterns they present. Quipus were, after all, described as talking threads. Were earlier scholars taking a purely intellectual approach not listening? Now some experts are exploring this idea based in part on interviews as to how they were read. Unlocking their full mystery will be a challenge for untrained hands.

I have been asked by Fine Woodworking to be an instructor in their 2020 Hands-on Tampa Event. The maple dining table is upside down and ready for the lag screws connecting base and top to be drilled and installed.

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

table base

I have been meeting with my fellow teachers and planning for the beginning of my school year. In my own shop, I've assembled the table base as you can see in the photo. It is extremely stable, as is necessary given the size and weight of the top.

As you can also see in th photo, my shop is a complete mess and ready for a thorough cleaning when the large project is delivered and out of the way.

Make, fix, and create. Adjust schooling so that others have the opportunity to learn lifewise.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

"We ask you to imagine Kindergarten classrooms where teachers are trusted to use their judgment about what's best for each class. Imagine a future where love of learning, not test-based performance, returns to the heart of our children's very first education experiences." -- Brookline, MA Teachers letter to their School Committee about returning the joy to kindergarten
And of course, the joy of learning need not stop at the Kindergarten level. If it does, we've really screwed up.

In Finland they say their success in education has to do with two things. They train their teachers well and then trust them to teach. In the US, we are lacking in two areas, training and trust.

This link, is to a couple articles I published a few years back on a website sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools. I'm grateful to play a part in a school where I've been trusted to teach.

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

cool catches

Cool magnetic cabinet catch. The photo shows a very strong magnetic catch for small cabinets using a rare earth button magnet. One part is embedded in the edge of the cabinet and the other drilled into the cabinet door.The nice thing is that these are unobtrusive.

When double doors are used, a stop must be made unless the doors overlay the top or bottom.

The cups are intended to fit in holes drilled in the cabinet. The magnets go in place covering the screw.

Put the magnet in only after both the cup and catch plate are screwed in place. The magnets are very strong and do not like being removed from the cups. And that is nearly impossible after the cup is embedded in surrounding wood.

The plate is mounted to the door, either surface mounted or sunk into a ½ in. hole drilled 3/32 in. deep. Of course the easier option is to surface mount. The cleaner, more professional look requires a hole.

How do you locate the hole to be drilled in the door for the catch plate?

You can use a ½ in. dowel center between the cabinet and door to mark the center of the hole fin the door. Put the dowel center in the hole in the cabinet and close the door, thus marking the where the catch plate must go. Another approach would be to put the cup in inside out with double stick tape on the exposed surface. The double stick tape will stick the cup to the door, allowing you to mark the proper location for the non-magnetic plate to fit. You can also do the same with hot melt glue.

These, except for the screws are available from  They are not sold as a set so you have to order the individual parts.

I've been meeting with teachers to plan the coming year in the school wood shop.

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


Monday, August 19, 2019

hands and self...

The features editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette asked me if there was something special about woodworking as a tool in education. "Of course," I said. And there are special wonderful things about it. Not only does it provide observable outcomes that can be shared with family and community, the products of woodworking in school are often useful. And those products (and skills) do get used.

While crayon art may be put proudly on the refrigerator for display until the next art that comes home crowds out earlier efforts, the products of wood shop are more practical. When the child sees what he's made warmly accepted and used, it informs the child of his or her usefulness in the home, and not merely as a contributor to home decoration held in place by refrigerator magnets.

When done over a period of months or years, woodworking provides evidence of learning and growth in concrete form. That growth is witnessed within by the child and also by others in the family. An early work may go home with bent nails and misaligned parts poorly sanded, but it takes very little encouragement for the child to improve his or her own work.

Does this mean that other arts and crafts are not also important? No! I say. But if a school has limited resources as most do, woodworking is a powerful activity to unleash toward crafting a creative environment in education.

Here are just a few points.
  • If children do not learn hand skills at an early age, those skills and proficiency with the hands become much more difficult (and expensive) later to develop, and likely never to the same level of ease and proficiency.*
  • These hand skills do not reside in the hands alone, but also have profound effect on thought itself. 
  • They create the sense within the child of his or her own place in the community of man: that of being a creator and not merely a consumer of cheap stuff. 
  • They create an appreciation of the things one might discover from earlier generations in museums and the like. 
  • They create a sense of the child's own investigative powers. Hands-on, children can test reality, and confirm or disprove what they are taught.
  • Where the hands lead, the heart follows.
If we want to create a society of do nothings, American education is generally on the right track.

Make, fix, create, and adjust American education so that all children learn likewise
*Hand skills are very much like language skills. It is easy for a child to develop fluency in various languages in very short time and much more difficult for an adult. What it takes children months, it can take adults years.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

depressed kids?

Claiming that "We have ruined childhood," this  OpEd from the New York Times tells what conventional schooling is doing to our children's mental health.
"The role of school stress in mental distress is backed up by data on the timing of child suicide. “The suicide rate for children is twice what it is for children during months when school is in session than when it’s not in session,” according to Dr. Gray. “That’s true for suicide completion, suicide attempts and suicidal ideation, whereas for adults, it’s higher in the summer.”
Surely we could do something to fix things. We have a model for better learning and social engagement at the Clear Spring School, but then most politicians would prefer that schools warehouse kids. An interesting point of the OpEd is that children turn to screen time because they have fewer real opportunities to engage freely with their peers and with real life.

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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

old dogs, new tricks?

Yesterday I shaped the cross members that attach the table top to the base. It was a job quickly done that relied upon past experience doing similar work. I used the band saw to make the angle cuts and used the jointer to clean up the flat surfaces and remove the marks from the saw. Now with routing, sanding, drilling of holes and the application of Danish oil, the parts will be ready to install.

You know the saying, that you can't teach old dogs new tricks. It's not true. You can still learn to do amazing things. But old hands and old minds do not learn as quickly or as easily as the young.
Sir James Crichton-Browne was called the last of the great Victorians. His views on the relationship between hand, brain and body are described in Gustaf Larsson's book "Sloyd,"1902 as follows:

"The eminent English scholar and scientist, Sir James Chrichton Browne, tells us that certain portions of the brain are developed between the ages of four and fourteen years by manual exercises alone. He also says, "It is plain that the highest functional activity of these motor centres is a thing to be aimed at with a view to general mental power as well as with a view to muscular expertness; and as the hand centres hold a prominent place among the motor centres, and are in relation with an organ which in prehension, in touch, and in a thousand different combinations of movement, adds enormously to our intellectual resources, thoughts, and sentiments, it is plain that the highest possible functional activity of these hand centres is of paramount importance not less to mental grasp than to industrial success."

Again he says,"Depend upon it that much of the confusion of thought, awkwardness, bashfulness, stutterings, stupidity, and irresolution which we encounter in the world, and even in highly educated men and women, is dependent on defective or misdirected muscular training, and that the thoughtful and diligent cultivation of this is conducive to breadth of mind as well as to breadth of shoulders."

"The nascent period of the hand centres has not been accurately measured ... but its most active epoch being from the fourth to the fifteenth year, after which these centres in the large majority of persons become somewhat fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency ever afterwards.

"The small muscles of the eye, ear, larynx, tongue, and hand have much higher and more extensive intellectual relations than the large muscles of the trunk and limbs. If you would attain to the full intellectual stature of which you are capable, do not, I would say, neglect the physical education of the hand."--Sir James Crichton-Browne
Fixed and stubborn. Those are good terms, but depressing ones. We think of stubborn as being an attribute of mind. These terms may explain why a few readers of the blog take some offense when I wander slightly off from the favorite subject, woodworking. But woodworking is not an isolated thing. As much as we might like our shops to be a refuge and a retreat from the woes of the world and the occasional horrors we learn from it, woodworking also offers the power to engage deliberately and creatively  in making the world a better place. We do that through the making of useful beauty, and sharing what we do and what we learn with others.

As we transform wood, are we not also capable of transformation? As we reveal beauty in the wood, can we not show the same in ourselves?

Make, fix and create. Share with others

Friday, August 16, 2019

Fitting more parts.

Yesterday, in addition to staff meetings to establish schedules for the coming year, I worked on the table base, fitting cross members that will be bolted to the table top.

Woodworking is planned for every child K-12, each having woodshop twice a week.

The table parts are connected to each other with half lap joints, each routed or sawn 1 in deep. The joints in the cross members were cut using the sled on the table saw, gradually widening the cut by moving the stock left to right in 1/8 in. increments. The joints in the beam were formed using a template and a template following router bit. The new parts will be tapered, routed, sanded and oiled before they are bolted in place.

I had a reader complain that he hoped I would refrain from ever making political comments so that he would be more comfortable to continue reading the blog.

Excuse me, please. Woodworking and woodworking education are both political acts. They lead us beyond complaisance and toward service to each other. Done well they lead us more deeply toward an appreciation of the natural world and it's wonders, and thereby lead us toward protectionism. That sense of protectionism  would naturally lead us toward concern for a few things. Like: Stopping global warming. Protection of endangered species. Protection of national parks and preserves. Thus developing within us: An appreciation of diversity. An understanding that we are to be stewards of both the natural environment, and human culture.

If my occasionally mentioning my own opposition to certain political figures who've created policies in opposition to my own values bothers anyone, I hope they will look more deeply into their own scheme of things. You can learn a lot from crafting wood, but it helps to start with an open mind.

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

what would you do?

What would you do if you had the power to save the life of a child? If you were sitting at poolside and a toddler fell in, would you attempt to rescue that child whether you could swim or not? The supreme court made the decision that corporations are people just like you. But corporations fail to show it.

Take Novartis, for example. They developed a drug that with a single dose could save the life of a child suffering from spinal muscular atrophy. It is a rare disease. The price that Novartis charges is 2.1 million dollars per dose, making it impossible for any but the most affluent parent to afford.

If you were sitting at poolside, would you ask the toddler's parent's net worth before making your own plunge to the rescue?

Working with one's hands creates a sense of agency, but frames a sense of moral duty. When you struggle to make things that are useful and beautiful in service to self, family and community, you may have also developed compassion as an attribute of your character. If you have the power to do good then you must do so, whether you are sitting on a corporate board or more directly at poolside.

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

this day...

My wife and I returned yesterday from the memorial in Bloomington Indiana for my sister Sue. I'm tired, but it's time to get ready for the launch of the school year at the Clear Spring School. My meetings with administration and fellow teachers start on Wednesday, and I have a lot to do to get the woodshop ready for the return of kids.

The profile article in the Democrat-Gazette turned out to be a lovely piece of work, well outlining parts of my life.

There was one thing that I wish had been covered in greater depth: the ways in which the hands and their use in learning builds the heart-mind connection. It does so, in five distinct but interrelated realms. It affects how we feel about ourselves and strengthens the intelligence and sense of interconnectedness that resides within us. It builds healthy, happy, families and also builds the intelligence and feelings that resides within them. Healthy, happy, smart families are the foundation of great communities, great communities are the foundation for great nations and you can see that even the broad expanse of human culture is based on the foundation laid and continuously maintained by our very human hands.

This is not to say that machines don't have their effect. They are impersonal, careless, powerful, wanton, and we can do best for ourselves when we take a more delicate approach.

Try gardening with a backhoe. What will you get? Will you thence live in a place that offers the sensitivity your humanity will enjoy.

I enjoyed talking with cousins at my sister's memorial, and some of the conversation got deep. My cousin Michael, in agreement with my hands first approach, noted that the most important things we do as human beings are those things we actually do. We've been made complaisant and powerless like observers of a train wreck. But when the dust settles, those of us who've cultivated a relationship with our hands will guide others toward a more wholesome life.

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

profile article

Today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, our statewide newspaper contains a profile article about me. It can be read on-line here:

The article is very complimentary and well written and includes quotes from my wife Jean, my daughter Lucy, and our ESSA director Kelly McDonough.

I hope at the article directs a few folks to consider their hands.

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

Thursday, August 08, 2019

being poked with sharp needles.

Today at ESSA I have my fourth day of making small cabinets. We also have a naming ceremony honoring the Windgate Foundation for their help in building our school campus.

Linsey-woolsey is a coarse pioneer cloth woven with linen and wool, the linen forming the warp and the wool the weft or woof. The linen makes the cloth strong and lasting, the wool makes it warm, but because it was usually made from local fibers and dyed with available vegetable dyes, it was looked down upon by those wanting only new stuff. Now  a cloth made of linsey-woolsey may have historic value. One unique aspect of linsey-wooley is that it can be repaired through felting. Felting is the process through which felt is made, by poking wool fibers with short barbed needles which force the kinky fibers of wool into a tight interlocking mass.

I have given some thought to the meaning of living in a small town. Linsey-woolsey is a term that applies. When first arriving in a new place you rest upon the surface of community like a patch. After some years, provided you are like wool and have some personal warmth, you become woven in, felted into the warp and weft. Your integration in to community may take a bit of poking with sharp needles. 

Time if you let it  has a way of removing your coarse edges and working you into the depth of the cloth.

As a culture, we are buzzing like electrons, skipping from one orbit to the next, and I would like to offer to my readers a strange notion. We live in a facebook, blogger age in which we can befriend or be befriended by others who will always remain unknown to us. It demands nothing of us but high speed internet and a device of some kind. But there is a real world out there where encounters can run deep.

Eureka Springs is a linsey-woolsey kind of place. And my wish is that we may each find a place like it. 

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

Monday, August 05, 2019

small cabinets.

Today I begin a small cabinets class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. It was suggested to me that ESSA is like a Clear Spring School for adults, and those who missed out on the kind of early education that Clear Spring School provides.

Come check it out. Studio Stroll where you get to see what's going on in this week's classes will be at 4 PM on Thursday afternoon. We'll have demonstrations in wood turning and small cabinet making. This week we also have a naming ceremony for the building that holds the woodworking and iron studios. 4:15 PM.

The small cabinet shown in a key cabinet from my book Building Small Cabinets.

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

Sunday, August 04, 2019

the epidemic of gun violence.

We are facing an epidemic of gun violence in the US, and our friends around the world must be mesmerized by the stupidity of our legislators, who stand by with thoughts and prayers and no action. Yesterday separate incidents in Texas and Ohio left at least 29 dead and the lives of others shattered.

Republicans and some Democrats have been made powerless by their ideology and their fears that gun rights advocates will punish them at election time if they stand up against guns. Families and communities are forced to stand by helplessly as politicians refuse to even debate the issue.

Some blame it all on mental health. We also have politicians who fan the flames of ideology and race who set things on edge and pit folks violently against one another.

Can we not yet admit that American fascination with guns is a mental illness that affects us all? Guns provide a perverted sense of agency that would have been better provided by engagement in the creative arts. All of us need to feel as though we have power and some sense of control. And we can get that though the creation of useful beauty, thereby strengthening our social fabric, and leading us toward a more civil and just society.

Today I make a brief presentation at the UU fellowship in Eureka Springs, on how the engagement of the hands can help process grief. When the world grieves for victims of gun violence, politicians  offering "thoughts and prayers" is like saying, "Hey bud, I really feel for ya. So sorry. Better luck next time." When will they take concrete steps to fix things or make things better? I would have thought that the murder Kindergarten students at Sandy Hook would have pushed things over the edge and forced politicians to act, but I failed to realize how deeply and badly corrupted our politicians had become.

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

Saturday, August 03, 2019

hands and grief.

The eyes may be the "window" to the soul. The hands are the more direct connection. When we hold hands, our human care and compassion are shared with each other. When does one know when to hold tighter or let go? Hand holding can hold some awkward moments when one party's grasp lingers too long or too tight, and yet we come into the world alone and will leave the same in a time and situation that's unique, though it's been repeated a billion times.

It is odd to me, how little attention we place on our own human hands. Perhaps that's because in order to attain the efficiency in their use necessary for human survival, they take a back seat in our conscious effort, allowing the brain to claim the illusion of command. For example, the first time we hold a chisel and attempt to direct it to make a cut in wood, the chisel feels awkward in hand, (how do I grip this thing?) and yet with practice and more practice the craftsman goes about his or her work and the hand serves its apparent master.

In actual fact, the hands and brain co-evolved in the earliest age of man as a system in which the hand trains the mind and the mind trains the hand in coequal partnership in the development of human culture. To think of hands and brains as isolated from each other is foolishness whether you are a humble tradesman or the most powerful person on earth.

I lost my younger sister Sue to pancreatic cancer on July 10. I held her hand tightly until it became apparent to both of us that it was time to let go. And so, then what? As a box maker, I've gone through the same routine before. When my father passed away from cancer in 1977, I was a potter here in Eureka Springs and made a raku box to hold his ashes. When my mother died in 2010, I made a wooden box for the burial of his ashes at the site of my father's grave. As we stood there at my father's grave, my nephew David and I taking turns with the shovel, I dug deep and we heard the sound of the shovel's steel scraping on fired clay. We knew we'd found the right spot and the right depth that my mother's ashes and my father's would be united.

This is of course a simple work in progress. The start of tomorrow's presentation on crafting through grief at the Eureka Springs Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 11 AM on Elk St.

Make, fix and create.

Friday, August 02, 2019

welcome to the hand tribe.

One need not pour over statistical analyses to begin to understand the relationship between hand and mind. The hands are in fact, attached to our own bodies and are available for direct observation. We have been trained to be reliant upon outside expertise, (What do those experts thinK?) and yet, we are each capable for observing what the hands do in our own lives. I grant you license to do so.

I was sending the features editor from the Democrat-Gazette a list of folks who have been helpful to me in refining my thoughts. One who came to mind is Dr. Frank Wilson whose book The Hand, was on the short list for a Pulitzer Prize a number of years ago. It describes how the hands shape language, culture and even the brain itself. Dr. Wilson and I became correspondents on the subject of Educational Sloyd and my attempts to restore woodworking education in schools. That led to my being invited to a couple hands conferences in which a number of Dr. Wilson's friends gathered to construct a strategy for the return to an emphasis on hands-on learning in American education.

According to Dr. Wilson, the hands and brain co-evolved as an educational system, sharing equally in the development of human intelligence. If you are awake to your own body long enough to observe this simple relationship between hand and mind, and then trust what you've witnessed and then act upon what you've learned, you'll be a member of what Dr. Wilson described as "the hand tribe."

Let this be your invitation. The group is not exclusive. In its full potential, it could include the whole of humanity. And now in this digital facebook age of distraction, membership is more important than ever.

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

Thursday, August 01, 2019

make, fix, create.

Yesterday I had an interview with the features editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. She's writing a profile article that will be in the statewide Sunday paper on August 11. She wanted me to tell the story of my life.

I talked about the hands and how they shape character and intelligence. The hands have always done that. Anaxagoras had stated it clearly when he said that man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands. So what I share is not something new that I discovered myself. In fact, you can learn the same principles by observing your own life.

When and under what circumstances did you learn something that had a profound effect on the direction of your own life? Think, reflect and learn. Just as a friend alerted me to the fact that my brains are in my hands, you can test the idea yourself. Then act upon what you've learned. Make yourself useful in service to what you know.
"The hand is the instrument for perfecting the other senses and developing the endowments of the mind itself." -- Sir Charles Bell.
In other words, to fail to educate the hands is also to fail in the development of the mind. And so to teach well, one must make the decision (and the effort), even in rebellion against the established order of education, to teach hands on.

The box shown is for my sister Sue's ashes. I'll rout the bottom edge, fit a bottom, sand it, and apply a clear finish that will bring the color to life.

Make, fix and create.