Friday, January 31, 2020

a simple tip for speedy boxes

By sanding and finishing one side of a piece of wood prepared for box making before it's cut into parts, you ease and expedite the process of finishing at the tail end. I thank my retired box making friend Don for the tip.

In the photo are over a dozen future boxes. The woods are cherry, walnut and ash. The outsides of the boxes will be sanded and finished after being assembled. The application of the oil finish before the parts are mitered will not interfere with effective gluing, because fresh unfinished wood will be uncovered when the miters are cut and when the grooves for the top panel and bottom are cut.

I have an editor from Fine Woodworking coming at the end of February to take pictures of the process, and today my book editors and I will go over the next steps in completion of my Guide to Woodworking with Kids.

There are wonderful things that happen in wood shop. We learn to look around us and to assess reality in our search for truth.

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

Thursday, January 30, 2020

super heroes

Yesterday in wood shop my Kindergarten students began making super heroes. I asked them to consider the super heroes in their own lives... Like Mom, like dad, like a teacher or their librarian.

The Kindergarten students are the real joy of my woodworking week. They embrace everything in the wood shop without reservation.

The new woodworking studio remains in a slight degree of chaos as we find places to move additional tools and projects from the old shop. I asked my 5th and 6th grade students to help in the process of organizing, by playing a game. Find something, look for other things that look just like it, learn what it is, and put things together.

Yesterday I received a pdf of my new book on woodworking with kids. I'll review this first draft with an open mind and the editors and I will talk on Friday.

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

among friends

I never seem to get done all that I want to accomplish, so I hope to begin spending at least one hour each night in my shop. It will be better than TV. Last night laminated eight top panels for boxes using a variety of Arkansas veneers to cover 5 in. by 7 in. Baltic birch panels. These will be used with ash sides, and if I add just a few shop hours each day the boxes will be finished next week. The photo shows some panels glued up, and another stack of four in the vacuum press.

I reordered hinges from Craft Inc. In my early years I kept track of the number of boxes I'd made by counting the number of hinges I'd bought from Craft. Two thousand hinges meant 1000 boxes, and I always ordered from two to four thousand at time. Now I use a variety of other hinges as well and made some lift lid boxes, so keeping track of hinges no longer gives a clear count.

I have been thinking about the importance of staying put. We live in an age of constant motion, with people moving from place to place and seldom realizing the full value of where they are and with whom they live. You can glue yourself to the TV watching the nature channel and know more about distant places than you'll know about your own back yard. And so it makes sense for us to allow ourselves to become rooted in one place, to care deeply for it and for the people who surround us. For me to have lived here for so long, means that wherever I go I find myself among friends.

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

Monday, January 27, 2020

today in the wood shop

I've begun a whole bunch of boxes in my shop as it's important to connect with my own inner drive to create. Yesterday I resawed inch-thick ash lumber to form the sides, and today I'll begin vacuum laminating veneers to 1/8 in. Baltic birch plywood to form the top panels. The combination of veneers and solid woods give a box that's strong and light. Beautiful, too.

In the Clear Spring School wood design studio, I'm still in the design mode myself. Yesterday we put up more pegboard for hanging tools, installed a French cleat along one wall and began adding shelves that will also provide for coat hooks at differing heights to meet the needs of our full age and size range of our kids.

In my January beginning box making class at ESSA, one of my students brought in a box that he'd bought at our local thrift store for $20 bucks. Normally that would be a lot to pay for such a thing, but he'd recognized it as being one that I'd made and that had originally sold for several times the price.

The hinges were bent but I bent them back. It was a one-of-a-kind box, done as a demonstration of techniques in an earlier class. You can read a bit about that specific box in an earlier blog post here: The box has a number of interesting features intended to illustrate a variety of techniques.

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

Saturday, January 25, 2020

simple progress

We're making progress in organizing the new Clear Spring School woodworking studio and clearing out the old space for it to be assigned to other use. We hope to be out of the old shop next week.

We had a very pleasant book signing this week for Not Dead Yet. Despite it being a rainy, cold night, a number of copies were sold and signed by the authors attending.

I showed some of my students this video: and now they all want to be youtube stars. They want me to do some more brief videos. Perhaps that can happen if they can work quietly while the camera is at work. In the meantime, some of my younger students are excited to learn how to use various tools for the first time, and to be trusted to do so.

My new to unreleased guide to woodworking with kids is now in layout and the first draft is nearly complete.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, January 20, 2020


Yesterday as we were finishing up our box making class at ESSA, students gathered tightly around my workbench to assist, encourage, and share tools. I was reminded of my first, second and third grade students doing exactly the same thing.

Schools regiment learning. Learning at its best is not regimented. It is responsive to the needs and interests of the individual. That's what public school administrators could learn if they were to attend one of my adult woodworking classes.

I was worried at the beginning of the day that my students would not arrive at the point of putting hinges on their boxes. But they did. Each had hinges, and check chains installed and a bit of finish applied. It was a great class with each student learning, applying personal creativity and helping each other.

I'd walk into the room and hear them laughing with each other. All schooling could be like that, and the expression of joy should be one of the most important measures of educational success.

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

Sunday, January 19, 2020

day 3

We are ready for day 3 of an adult box making class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. We've made small lift lid boxes, larger lift lid boxes, and today will make hinged boxes with floating panel tops.

The photo shows play with pulls.

On Jan 22 the local contributors to Not Dead Yet will gather at Brews for a 6 PM book signing and to offer readings from the book. Like most of my writing, I offer some how-to. In this particular case, the how-to is not about making things, but about making a better life.

What we learn in life is more meaningful, more effective and more fun than being "schooled." And that raises the important question, "how can we make education more meaningful, more effective and fun?" Real life offers the solution. At the new Phyllis Poe Hands-On Learning Center at the Clear Spring School, we have cooking, sewing, woodworking, dance and art, each of which engage our students in real life.

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

at work in the new studio

Yesterday we began woodworking classes in the new Clear Spring School woodworking studio. The larger space gives us better organization with will lead to greater learning. It is a very happy place, complete with an elf door made from clay by a friend, Karen Overgaard. The elf door is to assist entry of creative spirit into the wood shop. Will it work? Of course.

I thank assistant Curtis and maintenance supervisor Jeremy, for helping with the move.

Better organization will also make things easier for me. Today I'll have Kindergarten students and upper and lower middle school classes.

I'm grieving the loss of a very good friend Michael, to pancreatic cancer. I'm thankful to have had time this summer to visit with him, share and express our love for each other, and to have had the opportunity to make a box to hold his ashes. Michael's plan, worked out with his grandsons and granddaughters is that when his ashes are buried, the box will become the place where dad jokes are kept. I hope that some of my love will be held there as well. Whether open or closed, a box we make with our hands, can express things.

I'm preparing for a three day box making class at ESSA that starts this Friday. Seven students are enrolled and due to last minute cancellations, there's room for two more. Join us. You can register at

Make, fix, and create.

Friday, January 10, 2020

the relevance of sloyd

Yesterday I met with staff at the Clear Spring School and mentioned Sloyd, the system of woodworking education from which I draw inspiration. I also received notice concerning a paper published in Sweden by Marcus Samuelson on following and leading in a Sloyd Classroom.

When Educational Sloyd was first developed in Sweden and Finland, children were generally homogeneous in their prior experiences. For instance, children growing up on small farms all had the experience of whittling with a knife, even as young as 4 or 5 years old, and all came from common backgrounds and domestic situations with all mothers working in the home.

So it was relatively easy to set up a course of training in which all the kids in a class and of the same age would go through the same exercises at the same time and share a common interest in the work. That's not exactly the situation today. Some parents fill their children's lives with technology. Some fill their children's lives with rich experiences. Some parents may face such challenges of family survival that they have no resources for either.

These days, children starting out in any field of subject will be all over the place in level of prior experience upon which to base further study, and all over the place in terms of interest, also based in large part upon prior experience. And so the first principle of educational Sloyd, that of starting with the interests of the child takes on even greater relevance and importance today.

It would seem improbable today for academic educators to arrive at the conclusion that there would be anything of importance that they might learn from manual arts. That was also the case in the early days when school administrators insisted that there was no time for concrete learning, that hands on work took too much time away from necessary academic pursuits. The truth is that when a proper foundation in reality is secured, academic subjects are made easier, their relevance is better established and the kids are refreshed and energized to actually learn in short order.

We now have the new woodworking studio at the Clear Spring School, in our new Phyllis Poe Hands on Learning Center, ready to classes to begin in the new semester starting next week.

In the meantime, educators would sere themselves well by learning the basic philosophy of Educational Sloyd. Start with the interests of the child. Move in close increments from the easy to the more difficult, from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract.

Make, fix, create, and allow for all children to learn lifewise.

Monday, January 06, 2020

to witness joy

Just as our dog Rosie exudes and exhibits joy when running with a friend, Patrick in our local dog park, joy can be observed. And the same witnessing of joy in schooling could be established as a routine priority. It should supplant other forms of assessment, for without joy in learning, what the heck have we done to schools or to kids.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among teens. Joy is one of the ways to fix that.

Today in the new Clear Spring School wood studio we've begun hanging pegboard for storage of tools. We aim to simplify by putting less used tools into deeper storage, while pegboard will hold more commonly used tools more readily at hand.

Make, fix and create. Joy follows forthwith.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Season's greetings.

My wife and I received a lovely card from friends like one we receive from them each year at New Years. Like the others from years past, the message, always the same on the front though each time in a different lovely hand set font is simple and printed in old style letterpress on a near ancient printing press. It says, Peace.

The message inside this year is a bit more complex. On the upper fold hand set type says, "If you cannot find peace in yourself, you will never find it anywhere else." — Marvin Gaye

On the lower fold, it reads, "Our wish to you and your family is for great art in your home and well printed books in your book shelves. Please support your local artists and craftspeople in the coming year."

May I offer the same wish and request for you, please?

There is no better formula for building community and culture than what's offered here.

The photo shows the new Clear Spring School wood studio as it begins the process from chaos to creativity.

We can build a culture in which people find purpose in service to each other and the attainment of higher standards. You can call it artistry or craftsmanship.

Make, fix and create.

Friday, January 03, 2020

thrift and thrive

Etymology of Thrift

From Middle English thrift, thryfte, þrift, from Old Norse þrift (“thriving condition, prosperity”). Equivalent to thrive +‎ -t.[1]

"His thrift can be seen in how little the trashman takes from his house."

A friend of ours brought our dog Rosie a Christmas gift of two new balls. Rosie already has a dozen or so, but even dogs respond to the glory of new things. Her old balls lose interest in comparison to the new. And so when it comes to our human worship of new things, perhaps we can see it as something normal, even for animals. Rosie will glory in finding a new stick. We and the whole world would be better off being modest in our consumption of things. Thrift, and thrive. There's a connection between the two.

We are at great odds with the former Soviet Union, as Russia attempts to rekindle its old glory through alliances with some pretty mean folks. Those who mis-remember the past are destined to repeat it. The US and Russia had an opportunity to get things right back during the time of Gorbachev. But we saw the events of Glasnost from irreconcilable angles. Reagan claimed that we had defeated the evil empire and offered Americans the glory in being the "only remaining super power." Russia, on the other hand, chose for a time to see the break up of the Soviet Union through a more noble lens while Americans were content to watch Russians fall into abject poverty. It was like the situation at the end of WWI when the Allies withheld support for the German people preferring to watch them suffer. Hitler and Putin are woven from the same cloth as are others in the various "evil empires."

Aren't we having fun now?

Tensions with Iran will divert attention from the impeachment of Donald J. Trump. But in the meantime, I continue to set up the new wood studio at the Clear Spring School. The benches are in place, and we have new shelving for student work. We'll begin moving cabinets today from the old shop to the new.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Happy new decade.

A line from an earlier presidential debate was, "it's the economy, stupid."  As we enter a new decade let's remember that the real economy is not something you can measure in dollars and cents. As we enter an election year and a new decade, we'll hear a lot about the economy — how it's doing. The more important question is "How are we doing?" The stock market seems OK these days. The lives of the common folk maybe not so good.

In the meantime, I spent parts of the last three days clearing hog wire and barbed wire from our woods. The wire had been there for generations and had become broken and trampled into the soil. Parts were covered by leaves and downed trees. I chose to remove it because it was well within our property lines, and presented a hazard to dogs and wildlife and to my own enjoyment walking in the woods.

Making my local world a better place by removing old wire from the forest is not something that the powers that be would consider a contribution to the economy.

I live in a small town that thrives due to the number of persons who volunteer and do things for each other without payment changing hands. Just like pulling wire from the woods, volunteers make things better for all even though none of their labors would be measured in "the economy."

Let's get this straight. Thrift is a good thing, as is conservation, as is volunteerism, as is caring for each other. Obsession with "the economy" is dumb.

A friend Larry sent me this photo of a gift he made for one of his great grandchildren. He told me that he has seven grandsons and great grandsons ages ages 3 months to 8 years, and being retired at last, he plans to spend time with each of them in the wood shop. What can be more joyful than that? The photo shows a "busy board, one of 4 that Larry made as Christmas gifts for great grandsons.

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