Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A New Machine

Yesterday I finally got my new hinge slot cutting machine working. It's a project I've been working on for months, and it's great to see that it performs exactly as planned. 

I have two barbed hinge machines now. One is set up for a larger size hinge and this one is to cut very small slots for a smaller barbed hinge that I plan to use with cedar boxes. It will also help me to return to making small hardwood boxes that I've not made in years.

Cedar boxes have a very long history in Ozark Mountain tourism. The smell of cedar inside a box and a clever message on the outside can lure folks to buy one and take it home. 

My plan is to have some  boxes laser engraved to be sold from museum stores and tourist shops. Once developed it could be a business that I sell or pass along to another craftsman.

This is a project I set up for myself as a way to be productive (and sane) during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The "hand basket"

Are we there yet? Here's a list:
Global warming.
Economic injustice.
Police violence.
Political polarization.
Economic collapse.
Anger, fear, anxiety and depression on the uptick.

On the other hand, the hands allow us to take direct action toward the alleviation of each thing. Were we not taught to take care of each other?

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

Friday, June 26, 2020


I've been assembling new equipment for the Clear Spring School wood shop. We have a new planer, a new dust collector and a new small drill press that will be dedicated to making wheels. Each requires assembly. 

It's fun, reading and following instructions, finding where each screw or bolt goes and putting it in place. I was stopped in my assembly of the dust collector yesterday by the weight of one of the components. It was just too heavy for me to lift and position on my own. So friends. We count on them. We'll mask up, take care and lift the component into place. 

The new tools will make us better able to do materials preparation in the school shop... some of which I'd been doing in my own wood shop, and allow for my replacement by another teacher when that time comes.

Do we plan for such things? Yes, in a  time of coronavirus and coming change, we must.

With cases rising again across the US, and folks who think their own right to flaunt safe health practices is greater than the necessity of protecting the health of their families, communities, and the economy, we are in very deep trouble.

But, human beings have a tendency to rise anew from troubled times. And so we are entering a period of adjustment. 

I am reminded always of this quote from Jean Jacques Rousseau... 
"Put a young man in a wood shop, his hands will benefit his brain. He will become a philosopher while thinking himself only a craftsman."
There's some serious meat in that quote... Meat you can gnaw right off the bone if you can understand  first that it applies to women as well as to men. Working with our hands makes light work for the mind. It allows for the intrusion of other things to clarify the workings of thought. One thing about the quote that appeals to me is the word, "only." It implies a sense of humility. Like the glass that's half full, it is not pretentious. It admits humility, and with humility, we have the opportunity to learn a few things.

And so these are uncertain times. We, together, will make the best of what ails us.

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Religiosity and Faith...

One of the hazards of formal education comes when teachers or administrators use education as an authoritarian means to attempt to control the beliefs of small children. Froebel had grown up as the neglected son of a Lutheran minister, and discovered his own faith by wandering the Thuringen forest. 

By observing nature and life directly rather than by merely assimilating what is told to us by others, we develop faith. When there's real faith, belief becomes a distraction from the accuracy of observation. 

Froebel's faith led him to examine the role of mothers in the education of their children and led him then to devise a method of schooling that trusted the sensory engagement of the child to guide learning and growth through self-activity. 

The teacher's efforts were not to be directed toward shaping the child's beliefs, but rather to facilitate and encourage the child's creative expression and interconnectedness with all things.

There is a difference between religiosity and faith. Religious beliefs may require a teacher to demand something from her children. Faith allows the teacher to set up learning experiences for her pupils all the while clear in her trust that the children will draw what they need from real life, just as thousands of generations of children have done before. Faith requires freedom of consciousness while religion demands conformity. 

Creative craftsmanship, pure and simple, is a means through which children and adults can come to a better understanding of reality and find a clear basis for belief, faith and trust. Froebel had faith that given constructive learning experiences, the child would grow in harmony with family and community. That was similar to what Matti Bergström called black games and white games and the consideration that children need to engage both certainty and possibility... allowing human culture to arise fresh within each subsequent generation. 

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

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Watching the oven door.

We had my daughter, her new husband, his brother, the brother's cat and the daughter and son-in-law's dog with us for 2 months and now they're safely back in New York. The coronavirus seems to be in better management status there, while heating up here due to people's itchiness to get back to more regular life and a refusal to understand the importance of wearing masks.

After our family had been with us for a couple weeks, our golden doodle, Rosie discovered there was a cat in the house. She would stand outside the bedroom trying to get a peek at our mysterious and reclusive houseguest. She decided that the front glass on the oven door was a window through which she might catch a glimpse of the mysterious cat.

Yesterday afternoon Rosie heard my daughter's voice on the phone and immediately went to the oven door, attempting to peak into the black glass. How can I explain to my wonderful pooch that the oven door is not a TV and that there's no Lucy there, no cat, no dog, and neither of the two bros?

It appears that we've given up on our own curiosity. We accept digital technology without questioning it. It might inspire more wonder than it does. For instance, "how does this stuff work?" Without asking that question and understanding at least a small part of it, we are somewhat in the dark no matter how much we feel ourselves to be on top of things.

In the early days of Educational Sloyd, students were to start with the very basics of their own lives, understanding the simple, easy, knowable, concrete phenomena and build in increments from there, so as to merge with greater understanding of place and purpose within the vast scheme of things. We've chosen instead to launch student learning with devices that are inexplicable. Even toddlers are given their parent's iPhones for amusement and distraction, with very little real learning taking place.

Perhaps I'm being overly harsh. Online instruction can lead to good things. But only if you break from it and test what you've learned in the real world, generating your own discoveries and turning your efforts toward service.

Let's put real tools in the hands of kids and allow them to journey forth.

A friend of mine, Jason Proulx, has an article and plan in the latest issue of the Lee Valley Newsletter. https://www.leevalley.com/archive/us/newsletters/woodworking/2936/newsletter.htm

Jason, a long time reader of this blog named his educational blog after the three words featured at the end of each of my blog posts, 

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Let's look at this...

Let's look at this. The photo shows a girl working at a woodworking bench in school in 1918, and as schools are almost never equipped with such things today, we must wonder where things went wrong. 

So what went wrong and how do we fix it? A few years ago I had the opportunity to speak at the Craft Organization Development Association's national convention. A woman came up to me after my talk to tell me that she had bought woodworking tools for her grandson, but that her daughter in law would not allow them in her house. She was afraid her son would make a mess in her home while the grandmother, knowing the value of the arts, and creative expression was afraid the mother was making a mess of her grandson. 

There has been a failure in getting folks in the general public to understand the nature and real benefits of creativity. Children develop both character and intellect when given the opportunity to create useful beauty to be shared with family and community. Please stand with me in launching a change of view. 

The public relations firm helping in the promotion of my new book, The Guide to Woodworking with Kids is having a good response from woodworking clubs and magazines. You can help, too, by buying the book and sharing it with family and friends. Amazon is currently offering a special price, 3 for the price of two, meaning buy two and get one free. https://www.amazon.com/Guide-Woodworking-Kids-Projects-Lifelong/dp/1951217233/

Unlike tangible, tactile tools of the trade, digital devices give the false impression of creativity. We watch with wonder at what a toddler can do with an iPhone, neglecting to note that the creativity was coded and pre-formatted as an element of deception. Unless the child is doing the coding, no real creativity is taking place. 

Every classroom in America should have at least one woodworking bench. Even those classes at upper levels. It would serve at the very least, as a reminder that we are all have real work to do, making the world a better place.

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

Friday, June 19, 2020

ESSA on Facebook

This week on the Eureka Springs School of the Arts Facebook page, they're sharing some of my work in their series, #everyonesharesomeart. Tune in each day for more. 


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

Monday, June 15, 2020

open ended learning

I've been consulting on a project to develop subscription boxes for woodworking kids. The idea is that a parent subscribes to receive monthly packages of tools, materials, and instruction for their kids along with inspirational material that leads the child to engage in creative woodworking. 

One of the challenges is to develop projects that inspire open ended learning.

I walked by a display of kits at a Lowe's store the other day. The kits were not flying off the shelf. They are static. They are assembled with simple tools and with each part engineered to go in it's particular spot. This is not to tell you not to buy such things. Any woodworking is better than no woodworking at all. But projects must be designed to allow open ended creativity, for surprising consequences to be arrived at, and for the potential of failure and the exercise of plan B.

A fellow woodworking teacher on the East coast, whom I very much admire, compared my new book, The Guide to Woodworking with Kids, to a book by an earlier author, Richard Starr. That's a compliment of the first order.

In any case, the Covid-19 pandemic is offering some valuable lessons in life. As was once in Kindergarten,  we are each challenged to learn to work together, to care for each other and to make the best of things by exercising our own playful creativity. We get along better as a nation when we've learned the basics. And since the basics are often not taught as they once were, here we are learning from real life. Barbara Bauer sent this poem, one that is excellent for these times: from https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/these-are-hands/
These are the hands
for the 60th anniversary of the NHS 

These are the hands
That touch us first
Feel your head
Find the pulse
And make your bed.

These are the hands
That tap your back
Test the skin
Hold your arm
Wheel the bin
Change the bulb
Fix the drip
Pour the jug
Replace your hip.

These are the hands
That fill the bath
Mop the floor
Flick the switch
Soothe the sore
Burn the swabs
Give us a jab
Throw out sharps
Design the lab.

And these are the hands
That stop the leaks
Empty the pan
Wipe the pipes
Carry the can
Clamp the veins
Make the cast
Log the dose
And touch us last. —Michael Rosen 

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

Sunday, June 14, 2020

deign to design

Yesterday I had my first zoom class, teaching 3D design with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. I used boxes as a tool to help students go from "what they like" to a better understanding of the principles and elements of design. It's a class I hope to teach again, as design actually touches every aspect of human life, and human life is enriched when we act with greater awareness and heightened holistic purpose.

The video is one I created to assist my students in a discussion of the principles and elements of design, despite our being at a distance from each other.

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

Friday, June 12, 2020


A friend Mario is re-reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation series published in 1951. He suggests it as the perfect read for these times as it's about societal disintegration with hints of possible renewal. Mario noted that Asimov and I are in agreement in one particular passage.
"The hands?
But why not the hands? Trevize found himself floating away, almost drowsy, but with no loss of mental acuity. Why not the hands? 
"The eyes were no more than sense organs. The brain was no more than a central switchboard, encased in bone and removed from the working surface of the body. It was the hands that were the working surface, the hands that felt and manipulated the Universe. Human beings thought with their hands. It was their hands that were the answer of curiosity that felt and pinched and turned and lifted and hefted. 
"There were animals that had brains of respectable size, but they had no hands and that made all the difference. And as he and the computer held hands, their thinking merged and it no longer mattered whether his eyes were open or closed. Opening them did not improve his vision nor did closing them dim it. Either way he saw the room with complete clarity."

And so, here we are. Police forces are challenged over their inappropriate use of force. They respond through inappropriate escalation of force, proving the demonstrators right. In the meantime, we are experiencing a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in Northwest Arkansas. And we have a national election that will determine whether or not our nation attempts to hold true to the ideals of justice and democracy. 

Tomorrow I have a zoom based class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. It may seem trivial to some that we would have a class on design. But design is at the core of renewal. Some of what we learn through designing and building a box or any other lovely useful thing applies also to what we build as a new foundation for a society in which we have love for each other. There are still a few vacancies in this class https://essa-art.org/workshops/wood/online-principles-of-3-dimensional-design/

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

Thursday, June 11, 2020

A 4th aspect of design...

I'm preparing for my 3D design class on Saturday at ESSA, to be held via Zoom. It should actually be 4D as there's another aspect of design that's often overlooked in art classes.

You can think of the process of design, beyond the idea that it represents 3 dimensions, x, y, and z, the axes of a material object, in that an object also must fit cultural parameters, the 4th dimension. It must fit the lives of both the maker and the user of the product and possibly the longer term relationship of the material object to the planet.

So in the process of design, and beyond what something will look like and feel like and how it will be used, and whether or not it will actually be useful,  we ask why it is to be made, how it's to be made, how long it's intended to last, and what's to be done with it in the very much longer term.

The photo shows the base of a white oak and walnut table I made just a few years ago. It is the expression of a shared set of cultural values.

The class on 3D design will be participatory and I'm expecting it to be fun. Join us if you can on Saturday June 13. https://essa-art.org/workshops/wood/online-principles-of-3-dimensional-design/

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

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

finding a stark contrast.

Today I'll continue preparing for my 3D design class on Saturday with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. I'll be in the wood studio at ESSA while my students will be across the US participating through Zoom. This will be a first time for me to teach using this technology and at a distance, but it's what's called for by these difficult times. There are still a few spots available in the class. https://essa-art.org/workshops/wood/online-principles-of-3-dimensional-design/

I noticed in the news that an 8 year old boy in NYC was arrested and hand-cuffed for carrying a stick, and find that to be a stark contrast with police "forces" across the US carrying metal and wood "batons" into crowds of unarmed protesters. I've noted in my teaching of kids, how holding a stick can give confidence. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/08/us/new-york-police-complaints/index.html

Kids want to make hiking sticks and canes. They need to be cautioned about their use and about not waving them in the air where they might injure another. But it is natural to find some delight in the sense of power that one finds in waving a good stick. An officer who would arrest and hand-cuff an eight year old boy for carrying a stick should be ashamed of himself. And any officer who felt the need to carry a baton to wield against a group of unarmed protesters should also reconsider.

Geoffrey Canada had written a book that I consider a classic about the escalation of violence. It is called Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun. But the use of sticks is not directly related to an escalation of violence or an expression of violent intent.  It can be an exercise in imagination. I'm reminded of many years ago when one of my much earlier students, Sylvester, stood triumphantly at the top of a slide, stick in hand. He proclaimed it to be a cane, a sword, a broom and an umbrella.

I also read a suggestion that police be redefined as a "service" rather than a "force." What a good starting point that would be! Some of my readers may disagree with me on this. But open hearts and open minds will find a path forward.

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

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Welcome to Kindergarten

Yesterday I brought my new workbench to a near completed state and assisted my new son-in-law in making a cherry box. He plans it as a gift to his dad.

On the workbench, I still need to do some additional sanding, a touch of routing, and the application of a Danish oil finish.

I've been avoiding writing in the blog for a few days. What does one write about when there are larger issues at hand. I have been sending short letters to my local and statewide newspapers about the mess we are in.

It seems that policing has a dual purpose. One is to protect and serve. But apparently protecting and serving often has to do with service to a social elite and protection of their properties, and not the people on the street.

It is often said that education has a dual purpose, one that's professed as a humanitarian ideal, that of educating the people, and with the other being control: of kids and classrooms and the social order necessary for protecting the interests of the societal elite.

So what about schooling during these days of crisis and potential change. Educators and parents ask about ceremonies and proof of learning as measured by seat time in classrooms, SAT and ACT scores and standardized testing of all kinds. The truth is that if learning is our concern, there's a whole lot happening during the coronavirus pandemic and disruption in the streets. What's learned may not be as easily measured in a standardized test, but may be more crucial to the health of our families, communities and nation.

Just as in the early days of Kindergarten children were to learn to listen to each other and to get along with each other and to respect each other and to value the differences between us, and we are all back at that point. Welcome to Kindergarten. I pray that we make the best of it.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning lifewise. Believe me, please, it's worth it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

This is a very sad time.

Today I have a podcast interview with pathtolearning.us. I do not know when the podcast will be aired, but will let you know at a later date. Today also, I'm expecting a carton of my new book to be delivered by UPS.

It is difficult, however, to think much of such mundane things as our country is purposefully torn apart.

On the one hand, we have the pandemic and a president far too inept and self-congratulatory in all things to mount an effective or humane response.

On the other hand, we have systemic racism and class division resulting in poverty and lack of equal opportunity that's pushed things to the brink of open warfare in the streets, with a president unable to feel what's felt and understood by others and that chooses to use violence against his own people, even when they are demonstrating peacefully as is guaranteed by our constitution and bill of rights.

I'm very sad. I have never seen our nation in such a disgusting mess. And I fear that it will get much worse before better.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning lifewise, even when it seems we are learning far too much and more than what we can handle.