Monday, July 27, 2020

no lazy-bones

The following was translated from a placard at the Leipsic Manual Training School and should be shared with those boys and girls who are today trapped in schooling. We don't want any lazy-boned boys. Girls either for that matter.
"Listen to what we have to say, boys. It concerns every true boy. Every one of you who wants to become a true man likes to watch diligent workmen and wishes to do like them — that is to say, use the hammer and hatchet, the tweezers and gimlet, the plane and saw, the file and rasp, the bolt and solder, the blow-pipe, the modeling-tool and carving-knife, etc. Every boy who is a real boy tries to use these tools. He will find opportunities to do so in our manual training-school.

"We don't want to make artisans of you, for your leisure hours would not suffice for that; but we want to make you more skillful and clever than boys usually are. How many can drive a nail without hitting their fingers? How many can make kites that balance and fly well? How many, when the skates get shaky on the ice, can help themselves and need not run to the locksmith? Yes, many of you can not even point a pencil well, or put a wrapper around a school-book without making it look clumsy.

"Your parents mean to benefit you when they present you with a tool box at Christmas. How many of such boxes are shoved into the corner, where the tools rust and the box is covered with dust? You must have some one who teaches you how to use tools. Or you get a scroll-saw, and, after breaking a number of saw-blades, you succeed in sawing out of cigar-box boards a few clumsy patterns. Then you go to a joiner to have them glued and adjusted. He is the one who does the real work. Yet you give these things away as your work. It isn't right, boys! It can't be right!

"We must talk plainly, boys. Most of you do not know how to use tools. That needs to be learned. Most of you spend too much time in reading, and spoiling their precious eye-sight. When you are called to do a manual job for your mothers, you are at a loss how to go at it. Oh, what would have become of you had you been in Robinson Crusoe's place? You would have perished miserably. Come, boys, think of it!

Things should be different. When school is over and home tasks are done, a true boy spends an hour happily on the playground and in summer takes a bath in the river. In winter he may learn to work with his hands at the work-bench and the vise. After many hours of brain-work he uses his strength in planing and sawing, hammering and chiseling. He learns to see and admire lines of beauty in drawing, and working out his drawings in models. He furnishes models in clay and carves wood. He makes physical experiments, and works neat Christmas presents for his dear ones at home.

"And when, outside, the winter storms rage and the snow-flakes fall, our pupils come together in a warm room and work like good fellows to produce something, and laugh, chat, and sing in company, while book worms sit in corners like hermits. Our pupils have had such pleasures for several years. Come and join us.

But, remember, we don't want any 'lazy-bones.' If any of you like to shirk work, and after a few weeks, when the work gets harder, thinks he has a toothache, or perchance some other ache, don't let him come. We don't want him. We want diligent boys. All who like to work are welcome. Ask your parents. They will allow you to come for an hour or two where they know you are well looked after.

"Life is full of work, boys, now more than ever. Prepare for it. A true man learns to help himself, and we will show you how. So come, and be welcomed by The Masters of the Training-School." — Richard Lewis Klemm, 1889
Make, fix and create....

Sunday, July 26, 2020

An old diploma

A reader sent me a photo of his grandfather's graduation diploma from Gustaf Larsson's Sloyd Teacher Training School in Boston. Dana Andrews Stanley, upon graduating in 1912, became a teacher of the manual arts, leaving a lasting legacy among his students and within his family. 

Thousands, like Dana Andrews Stanley went on to teach woodworking throughout the US.

Recognizing that the power to create and to serve society through what we made, was just as important as literacy, the manual arts were an important part of American education. Then, in an odd twist, educational policy makers decided that all students were to go to college and the manual arts were brushed aside. 

We went from being a manufacturing nation to being one in which students attend college, fail to get college degrees and are left with massive debt and in which we're addicted to buying foreign made stuff. When you make something, you are not just making that thing. You are remaking yourself as a craftsman.

We must look at American education and make an important change. All students should have the opportunity to learn real things by doing real things.

Make, fix and create....

Saturday, July 25, 2020

First and second sleep

It was once well recognized and accepted in human culture that instead of going to bed and sleeping through the night, human beings would sleep for a few hours, then get up and do a few things, driven either by necessity or inward awakening, and then go back to bed. This was called first and second sleep by some. In 1840, Charles Dickens wrote in Barnaby Rudge (1840):  
"He knew this, even in the horror with which he started from his first sleep, and threw up the window to dispel it by the presence of some object, beyond the room, which had not been, as it were, the witness of his dream."
You can read about it here: The point may be to help us toward finding a rich, more personal inner life. I can attribute much of my waking life creativity to being sleepless from about 2 AM until 3 or 3:30. It's a time in which the day just passed is done, sleep has begun to bring detachment from it, and the next day's wonders are fresh on the horizon. I learned the inlay technique that I've used on thousands of my small boxes by going to a lumber yard one day, becoming entranced with the variety of colors and textures of different species of woods, and then wondering in the middle of the night how I would use them in my work.

I think the larger portion of human creativity arrives to us through those times we are awake and unable to sleep. I do some of my best planning when we think I ought to be sleeping, but that is indeed the natural pattern of our human kind.

For that, we can make plans. Awaken and watch the wonders come. I thank my friend Grant Mallet, for helping me find a name for the phenomenon.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

getting better at zoom

Last night I attended the Oregon Guild of Woodworkers meeting via zoom, and it seems that with the pandemic, I'm zooming a lot. It allows me to connect with woodworkers from around the world from the convenience of my office. 

Today I have a zoom conference with folks from the Idea Center at Notre Dame (the university, not the cathedral), and tomorrow one with the program committee for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

I've been giving some thought to the importance of mistakes, and of forgiveness. Mistakes they say, are inevitable, even though we may have feelings of self-loathing when they happen. They do alert us to our own humanity. They may help train us to accept the humanity of others. Along with acceptance of blame, we accept our own humanity, and our responsibilities to attempt to do better. And the quicker we act on forgiveness, the faster we get back to the work at hand.

Only two of our presidents, to my knowledge have been woodworkers. One was Thomas Jefferson, though he likely had most of his work performed by slaves. The other is Jimmy Carter, who in time will be acknowledged as one of the greats, in that he's lived long and set an example of selfless service. There are some who despise him for that. I have a nice note from Jimmy Carter that I've kept on my bulletin board in my office, in which he thanked me for a copy of one of my books that I sent to him years ago.

I wonder if mistakes are part of the plan that sets us up for success... not success in having the right perfect stuff, but success in our arrival as fully functional human beings capable of such divinity as the practice of forgiveness. 

The world of manufactured stuff sets us up for an unreasonable competition of man vs. machine. Machines go out of whack over time. People, real people, have the opportunity to improve performance through the development of skill. But if we make a simple guess, that the reason we make mistakes is a divine plan to enable us to learn crucial lessons of forgiveness of others, would our mistakes no longer be necessary to our development? It's an experiment you can help me with. Get out there, and goof up. Then practice the forgiveness of others. You may discover that it helps. It's certainly one of the lessons we learn in wood shop.

I started last night's meeting with this brief, 8 minute video produced by the Arkansas Arts Council.

Make, fix, and create...

Monday, July 20, 2020

three little puppies...

I've been installing new equipment in the Clear Spring School wood shop and arranging the tools we already had to be of better service in the coming school year. This next year promises to be a doozie. We do not know whether we'll be able to have face to face classes, as that will depend on the success in removing the threat that Covid-19 presents to our families and community. Of course there's a need to have kids in school. And yes, there's a great need to keep our families safe.

I am preparing for the possibility that some at-home learning will have to be part of the new school year. The new planer and dust collector will help us to be ready to prepare take home kits for student learning.

I have been awakening in the middle of the night, thinking about the new book. If only I was able to be as poetic in the day, as the words that come in the night! Is there a higher consciousness to which we are attached when we are at the edge of sleep? I suspect so. At least when I awaken I'm able to dredge forward a few thoughts from a deeper state.

I'm proposing a slight adjustment of the title of the book. "Wisdom of Our Hands: Crafting self, family, community and human culture" feels a bit too cold and academic. To make it more personal, as if someone might take the book as a personal action plan (as is my hope), my slight change is as follows: "Wisdom of Our Hands: A guide to crafting self, family, community and human culture." It may be longer, but it implies that action may result, and as our world comes apart, to hell in a hand basket, we'll need a guide that restores the most powerful aspect of our humanity. The thoughtful relationship between head and hands in empathetic service to each other.

My wife is using this bit of time during the Covid-19 crisis to arrange photos from our lives into scrap books and she noted how many photos there are of my daughter Lucy and I in which she's in my lap and I'm reading to her. What joyous memories! I'm reminded of a story I used to tell from my own mind that Lucy requested over and over again, about the "three little puppies." I never told that story twice the same, and perhaps that will become my project when the "Wisdom of our hands" is complete and off to Linden Press for editing and publication.

Make, fix, and create.

Friday, July 17, 2020

simple advice on tools

When my daughter was attending Columbia I had a friend Gus at the Teacher's College Library who would pass along discarded copies of old books on the manual arts in the hopes they would find use.

The text excerpt below in quotes is from The Amateur House Carpenter, by Ellis Davidson published in 1875. My own copy was given to me from Teacher's College Library in New York and had been acquired by them in 1887. It was the 428th volume acquired by the fledgling university and before their move to their current site adjacent to Columbia University on the Upper West Side.

The illustration of a hammer striking a nail is one of the original illustrations from the book, drawn by the author on wood.
"There are chisels which, after bending in a curve, proceed in a straight line, by which the ground under carved work may be cut. There are in fact, numerous varieties of carving tools, not a twentieth of which will be required by those for whom these pages are written and for whom a coupe of chisels,  couple of gouges, and a couple of print-cutter's tools (small chisels), and a single bent toll, will suffice for present purposes.

"It is by far the better plan to supply the necessity for additional tools as it arises, than to buy a "good set," containing so many of of such various forms, that the amateur is puzzled which to use first; and in attempting to manage a complex tool, intended only for expert workmen and for some very peculiar purpose, the work which could have been fairly done with simple tools is often injured or spoilt altogether."
The simple point is one that I try to make to my students. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the variety of tools available to the modern woodworker. There are so many tools and jigs that are intended to make fine woodworking easy enough that even an ignoramus can do it. Far better than to be overwhelmed is to take a softer approach, acquiring tools as they are needed. That way you know what to do with them, and before that time is reached you will hopefully have exhausted the potential of the tools you already have.

There's a zen saying about this. "Poverty is your greatest treasure, never trade it for an easy life." So how can poverty be a treasure? It demands growth. It requires that you refine your approach, not only to the tools and materials, but to those neighbors who surround you. It demands modesty, and compels empathy. It's just as simple as that.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2020

the knife

It is interesting how some things come to us in the night. Do you wake up in the night with things on your mind that are related to what you're to be doing the next day? 

Last night I was thinking of educational Sloyd and how difficult it can be to contend with grain during the use of the knife. In early sloyd model series, one of the challenging models was that of the scoop, a common tool carved from wood. 

The challenge is to get a clean cut where there's a reversal of grain. You can use a chisel or gouge, or a knife with a hooked blade, but there's no ideal tool to make the task easy without the intense application of mind and without hands well-trained and practiced for the task.

The following was translated for me from a book written in early Norwegian by N. Christian Jacobsen,
I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg
"The knife is that tool which a child most naturally and easily grasps: it is simple to have at hand and can be used for both this and that. It is a tool with which much work can completely be done, and without help from another. Yes, nothing more on this need be said; the knife is above all else the tool of ordinary dexterity, that is to say, sloyd’s tool. 

"But it is with the knife as with smoothing: it is not appealing to start with when the mechanical saw comes before it. The knife makes large demands on thought and on the hand. The saw can be operated mechanically while the knife requires a freedom which consists in developing one's own effort. In hand skills in particular the knife is especially suited for the development of the sense of form in right-angle and curved forms. 

"What counts with the knife is to be able to freely put it to use through a multitude of hand movements, under which the aimed at form must be brought into clear focus, and the nature of the wood and action of the tools steadily observed. This compels to continual consideration and continual search for the desired form lying in the material before its emergence. – N. Christian Jacobsen, Kristiania (Oslo) January 1892"
I'm grateful to Barbara Bauer for her translation, and Christian Jacobsen, one of Otto Salomon's favorite authors suggests the complexity of one of our most simple tools.

It's amazing how academic life often revolves around the acquisition and regurgitation of information rather than demonstration of direct learning. The consequences for society are disastrous. We are carefully trained to undervalue the contributions of those who've labored long and hard to develop skill.

The photo shows a simple pin hinge inserted in a tiny box. It was one of my planned accomplishments for yesterday in the wood shop. How can such a simple thing be challenging? Would you not just simply take such things for granted? 

In order for the hinge to operate smoothly, the pin has to be positioned exactly on both sides. In order for that to be done with success on a number of boxes requires having the  right tools available, having the tools set up properly (measurement, measurement and measurement again) and having a feel for the process. For an exploration of the ways mind is applied in fields that we've been trained to think of as mindless, I recommend a book by Mike Rose, The Mind at Work.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The value of labor and the value of the laborer

I'm beginning to develop an outline for my new book and so am reading through some of the notes I've been compiling in the blog since 2006. What follows was from an earlier blog post, September 20, 2105 on the undisclosed value of manual arts training. 

Developing an ethos of craftsmanship...

Blog reader Tim Holton asked a question in response to the Forbes article on CTE/Vocational Training in School can a just society, in which all are treated fairly and able to find and generate work satisfying both to themselves and to the needs of society, educate the full range of tradespeople necessary to vital communities?
This is not a new question, and is one that is almost never addressed in discussions of Career and Technical Education. Whether or not someone would find satisfaction in being a garbage collector might concern those who want to make certain that we have a culture in which all citizens are afforded a reasonable level of dignity and reward for their service. This was a big concern to Uno Cygnaeus and Otto Salomon, the two founders of Educational Sloyd. Cygnaeus wrote of his initial conception of sloyd (inspired by Froebel's Kindergarten) as follows:
"the child must not only practise intuition, and express the representation which he has thus received, but should also learn to carry out in play, and in smaller pieces of hand-work, what he has grasped — should as a productive being be educated from the beginning to self-activity and productive energy — should thus be educated through work for work. ... In this way I was led to the thought that we must introduce into the school not only Froebel's gifts and the rest of the exercises in work recommended by him, but also establish for elder children such kinds of hand-work as have for their aim the training of the hand, the development of the sense of form, and of the aesthetic feeling, and which help young men to a general practical dexterity, which shall be useful in every walk of life. ...But all these kinds of work must not be conducted like trades, but always with reference to the aim of general education and as a means of culture." 
The point was not to establish a separate system of manual arts/industrial education and a separate career track for those deemed unworthy of academic instruction, but that all would benefit from an education of the hands... It would be an easy thing in this blog to explain what should be as clear as the nose on my face.We need technical training in schools to provide the kinds of intelligent workers required in a modern society. What is more difficult to explain, and what keeps me writing is that ALL children need the kinds of learning that wood shop provides. All children need to face the challenges of learning craftsmanship. The practice of craftsmanship applies to all else that we might tackle in our long lives, and applies directly to the culture we pass along to our children. Salomon said the following in reference to the true value of Sloyd and woodworking for all students: 
“...persons not manually trained, generally regard the products of manual labour at less than their real value. They think it much more difficult to solve a mathematical problem than to make a table. It is not an easy thing to make a parcel-pin or a pen-holder with accuracy, and when students have done these things they will be the better able to estimate comparatively the difficulty of making a table or chair; and what perhaps is of still greater importance, they will become qualified to decide between what is good and what is bad work.” 
I restate Salomon to apply additional emphasis on an important point. 
“...persons not manually trained, generally regard the products of manual labor and performers of that labor of at less than their real value."
In other words, those who fail to understand the real value of manual labor, what it entails, and what it costs to learn, and to learn well, will not grant dignity or fair value to those who perform it. It's why we have a 99% and a 1% who could care less for the bottom tier of society and who place themselves on pedestals of wealth as being better than the rest of us. It's also why we import so much junk from other countries instead of developing an ethos of craftsmanship in our own citizenry.

This was a point that brought some contention between Otto Salmon and his mentor, Uno Cygnaeus when Salomon made statements in favor of separate manual training schools. Cygnaeus insisted that Salomon had misunderstood the important societal principles involved. Students were not to be divided and sent along on separate career and educational tracks without having first acquired a thorough understanding of the dignity of all labor.
Make, fix, create, and insist that all be given an equal opportunity to learn likewise.

Friday, July 10, 2020

crafting self, family, community and human culture.

I have a contract coming in the mail for a new book that I hope will be called, "the Wisdom of our Hands: Crafting self, family, community and human culture." The publisher has the ultimate say on what the title will be. But this is huge for me... an opportunity I've been working toward for the last 20 years. 

The book will be based on personal observation and experience over my 40 plus years as a furniture craftsman, box maker, and teacher of woodworking. Long time blog readers may notice a slight shift, from wisdom of the hands (impersonal) to wisdom of our hands (very personal) and more inviting.

This will be a project to help carry me through the worst of Covid-19 with a completion date of March, 2021. Wish us all the best of luck.

Last night I had a zoom meeting with the Annapolis Woodworking Guild, and today I'll be sanding pencil cups and business card holders and cutting miter joints for a new design box.

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

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Pinch me, please...

Yesterday I finished inlaying 36 pencil cups and 50 business card holders. I also started a new design smaller box and received prototype cedar boxes back from the engraver. These are not the reasons a good pinch is called for. I've been offered a contract for the book I've been planning for years, about the wisdom of our hands. It will be published by Linden Press, a highly respected publisher of books on crafts. It will allow me to tell my story as a woodworker and teacher of woodworking and share the philosophy that emerges from deep engagement in creative crafts.

On another subject, I received an alert to a published article,  Inhuman hands and missing child: Touching a literacy event in a Finnish primary school and read the following summary:  
"This paper explores an inhuman reading of 'hands' with/in visual images of a Finnish literacy lesson. Inspired by Karen Barad's agential realism and the ontological turn, we disrupt a metaphysics of presence, the temporality of progress and binary logic, to reconfigure the child in literacy practices as a sympoietic phenomenon, always already assembled in human and more-than-human company. We think with/in the concept of 'touch' as a method to reconfigure literacies as inhuman."
I've no idea what an "inhuman hand" is and I can promise you that the book I've proposed with offer easier reading with none of the specialized jargon found in the sentences above. I spent too much time on the internet trying to learn what inhuman hands and inhumanism are about.  If any of my readers can humanize the subject for me, please do.  I find that there's something wonderful about being human and having real hands, particularly as we observe nurses and doctors caring for the victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the midst of all this, president Trump insists that the pandemic is almost over and that schools must start back in the fall despite the risks to children and teachers and the other support people involved and despite the risks offered to parents, and grandparents who've safely sequestered so far from exposure to the disease. The head of our nation's largest teacher's union "double-dog-dared" Trump to sit in a classroom full of kids. You'll notice that Trump and Pence have begun modeling better social distancing, by sitting at meetings six feet apart. That will not be possible with kids in a typical public school. So I triple-dog-dare Trump to allow himself to be schooled by science.

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

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Path to Learning podcast

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by the Path to Learning podcast and that interview is now edited and live.  My thanks to John, Jay and Scott for helping me to tell the story of what the hands give learning at the Clear Spring School. 

This podcast episode is about the power of hands-on learning as it is applied through the wood shop at the Clear Spring School.

The Path to Learning podcasts grew from the Kindergarten documentary film series that can be found at A trailer for the film series can be found here:

At school I'm hooking up a new dust collection system in preparation for the coming school year. In my home wood shop, I've been inlaying 50 business card holders and 35 pencil cups for sales when the economy and nation return to some semblance of normal.

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

Monday, July 06, 2020

an early blog post

On Thursday, September 7, 2006, I began writing this blog. On the second day, I offered an invitation for personal investigation that went like this:

In order to understand the importance of the hands in learning, I can point you to a number of authorities. But first, I ask you to make a few personal observations. 

We have become a society reliant on experts. We hire people to tell us things about our lives, when we might find the greatest truths through simple and direct observation. For instance, we check our phones to learn the temperature, when we might step outside instead, feeling the chill or warmth of the air on our own skin. 

Here is a simple thing to help you to begin your own observatons. Pick up a long stick and hold it if front of you. Now close your eyes. You can feel in the tensions of your hand whether or not the stick is vertical, or slightly out of balance. You can adjust the position of your hand along it's length to bring it into balance. Centering one end in the palm of your hand you can feel or direct its motion, pointing it straight up or feel the weight of it when it moves away from dead balance. 

When you pick up a tool for the first time, whether it is a chisel or a pencil, the same dynamic principles are measured by the hand. The hand, measuring and adapting to those forces moves from the foreground of awareness to the background, disappearing from conscious thought as it learns the weight, form and movement of the object. In the use of a chisel, the hand itself can disappear from thought and consciousness to the degree that the only thing felt in the mind is the position and sharpness of the cutting edge. 

We take our hands for granted due to the extremely close integration between the hand and brain in the development of our consciousness and our awareness of the world around us. The use of the hands to assess the reality that surrounds us begins at the earliest possible age in our existence. 

As an excercise in the development of your own wisdom, I invite you to watch carefully today as your fingers engage the keyboard, as you write notes in pencil to a friend, as you pick up a bag of groceries, pull a book down from the shelf, or wipe the tear from the eye of a child. Hands that we take for granted are the key to being fully engaged in our lives, sensing and creating.

Dr. Frank Wilson, author of the 1999 book the Hand, How its Use Shapes the Brain, Language and Human Culture, shared the following in response to that first blog post:

"Great to see this site, in honor of whose youth I thought I'd say something about the earliest steps toward an enduring hand-mind partnership as I've seen them taken by my grand-daughter, now just 14 months old. From completely undifferentiated open/close movements of the whole hand and fist, she has gradually gained the ability to control the pinch grip of thumb/index finger (thanks to endless practice collecting Cheerios and then depositing them in her mouth). 
"Starting at about six months she was manipulating small objects bimanually. She became skilled at dropping things from her high chair. She next began tapping hard surfaces with spoons and blocks, testing their sounds. She also started exploring the surfaces of grampa's teeth with her fingertips. She started using her hands to pull herself up. She learned to use a spoon to maneuver peas into her mouth. She began to tear paper; then to pull books from bookshelves. She played with a springy doorstop to make noises. 
"By the age of 1 year she was gesturing -- pointing with her index finger, waving bye-bye, slapping both hands to the temples repeatedly with a wild facial expression as if to say: "Oh, what can I do???!! 
"She has fallen in love with buttons: buttons on musical toys, buttons on her mom's Blackberry, and now the buttons on the elevator in our building. 
"Two weeks ago she started walking, and immediately she approached other small children to pat them on the head, or touch their tummy, or gently push on the belly-button (as if expecting to see the kid's nose light up). 
"It's already a huge repertoire. What next????" – Dr. Frank Wilson, Friday, September 8, 2006

And so, what's next? We all have that same question at the tip of our lips. Will we technologize our way our of the huge mess we're in? Or will the hands provide a path forward. I bet on the hands.

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

Thursday, July 02, 2020

New small cedar boxes

This is a new cedar box design that could be laser engraved for sales in gift shops and museum stores. The outside of the box will be polished with wax for protection and the inside will be left unfinished to allow for the cedar smell to entice customers. 

I've arranged to have the laser engraving of samples done. This will likely not be my final design. My hope is that it could become a nice carry home tourist item when the economy recovers. 

In the meantime, we're safely sequestered, and not taking chances that the coronavirus will suddenly just disappear. As nice as that would be for all of us viruses just do not perform in that manner.

We are apparently in deep trouble. Be safe. 

Make, fix, and create.