Wednesday, December 30, 2020

books and cooks

I got a royalty statement from Taunton Press today and was pleased to find the amount of sales being well over twice normal. That's a sure sign that during covid-19 folks are reading more and wanting to spend more time doing real things. We need that. The virtual world and the virtuous world  are not the same. In the virtuous world we provide tangible service to each other.

Certainly, a renewed interest in cooking is taking over in American households.

I'm curious what the long term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will be. Some, sadly, will have lost loved ones and friends. Some will know quite well how important we are to each other. Some will survive with debilitating effects from the disease. 

Please be careful. When all this is over, wise, healthy hands will be needed to fix things and set things right.

The photo is of my new work bench from another angle. The retractable wheels allow me to move it various places in the shop. The drawers will be loaded with tools and jigs.

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

My new workbench

I've finally finished the new work bench that I started last spring. 

I used dovetailed drawers that I salvaged from an earlier project, and a slab of silver maple cut and left over from a much longer plank. Bench dog holes in both the top and vise will allow pieces of wood to be held on top for various operations. 

Wheels make it easy to move around the shop. Its weight will keep it stationary when the wheels are lifted allowing the legs to touch down. 

This is a covid-19 survival project, intended just as much to meet my mental health needs (keeping the hands and mind busy) as for actual shop needs. 

The bench has natural edges along the front. The legs are white oak and the wooden vise is made of cherry. The drawers have white oak facings with the drawer boxes made of maple. It's robust and will last long after my own days are done.

Other things we've found useful are cooking and yard clean up. This week I hauled another 100 yards of old hog fencing and barbed wire out of the woods and have been cutting brush to make our woods more inviting. 

Make, fix and create.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

finding a common truth

 I've heard from a number of friends and family members over the holidays, even from distant countries, and it appears we are living in pretty much the same world. Covid-19 is an equalizer of sorts in that it is forcing us all to recognize a common truth. 

We've been lied to and deceived about the dangers of the disease. Some have lost loved ones due to the lies. But lies only work until they've been laid bare by circumstances intruding from the real world. The sun comes up and lays the truth bare. We all have been made clearly aware that Covid-19 is real. It is dangerous and we would all be safer now while waiting on the vaccine if we had all been encouraged to take it seriously from the outset. I can point to the number of lies we've been told. I can name them and name who told them, but that would not solve the problem we face.

While Covid-19 is taking a much larger toll on the poor, and a much lighter toll on those who have the means to work from home or are retired, we all face the same risks when we venture out, and most are taking greater care in their daily lives. We are among the lucky ones. We've learned how to stay safe and have the means to do so.

In the early days of manual arts training in the US it was proposed by educational sloyd that all should receive training in the manual arts. Even those who were going to college and were to have everything done for them by minions were to benefit by being humanized in the manual arts. In the Jewish faith the Talmud warned:

"As it is your duty to teach your son the law, teach him a trade. Disobedience to this ordinance exposes one to just contempt, for thereby the social conditions of all are endangered… He who does not have his son taught a trade prepares him to be a robber… He who applies himself to study alone is like him who has no God."


Martin Luther insisted that each man be taught a trade, not just one of the mind, but of the whole body, that human culture might be of whole cloth. 

One thing that learning a trade did, and that the manual arts also did, was to bring all students into a relationship with the fundamental reality upon which all other learning should be based. The manual arts develop the skills of observation, problem solving and hypothesis, while also creating a sense of the dignity of all labor and empathy toward those who perform it.

Now a days, it's become perfectly acceptable to tell whatever lie you can get away with or to fudge the truth in the belief that if you can get others to believe what you believe, then you've found some victory of sorts. What a shallow, shameless world ours has become. But it does appear that reality is persuasive in times like this. It is time to learn a few things from our shared situation and hold accountable those who lie, and for each of us to become awake enough to see through and to act toward the protection of all.

Make, fix, create, and care for each other. We need that.

Friday, December 25, 2020


 My wife and I have learned that we can survive in a pandemic by being careful to keep social distance, to wear masks, to avoid crowds and unnecessary travel. It's not fun. But  I would prefer to not put her at risk and she has the same feelings for me. We're lucky. She's retired and I'm lucky to be able to do most of my work at home. I'm deeply concerned for others who are not so lucky. It would be painful to live alone. It would be frightening to be an essential worker and to know you may be infecting those you love by just coming home at night. Can you imagine feeling responsible for the death of someone you love? There are many in that situation today. Taking chances. "It won't happen to me!" Sometimes the statement is made with bravado. Sometimes with desperate hope. But then it happens. The world is real.

Working in the real world, doing real things, you learn that there are consequences when the mind wanders or you are pre-occupied rather than focused on the task at hand.  If you're a potter at the wheel, and your mind wanders, so does the pot. If you are cutting along a line with the band saw and your mind wanders you'll likely screw up. These days we have a singular task, that of keeping each other safe. And while it's painful to be apart, the time will pass. Hope is on the way. For those who gather despite what we know to be true, there's forgiveness. We're human. We make mistakes. And we live through to brighter days.

There is a good reason for the use of hand tools. You are unlikely to mess something up when, for example, you are taking thin shavings from a piece of wood using a hand plane. A power tool places the work at greater risk. Another reason for hand tools is that they instill patience in the user. They are not for the hurry up get done folks, and patience learned from adjusting our minds and bodies to their use allows us to contend and be content with the difficult times we pass through.

I wish you all joy this holiday season. Be safe. Stay happy. Better times will come.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

a steel drivin' man

In the struggle, man vs. machine there's the legend of John Henry, immortalized in folk music and in songs by Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash. 

According to researchers he was a real person, a black prisoner whose labor  was leased to the railroad in Kentucky to dig a tunnel through solid rock. The "hammer man," John Henry would work with a "shaker man" as a drill bit was driven into a rock face for the insertion of dynamite for blasting. It was a job being taken over at time by steam drills, and to prove the efficiency of the steam drill, they wanted to test it against their best man. That was John. The shaker man's job was to shake the bit, to cause rock debris to fall from the hole, providing necessary clearance for the bit to go deeper into the hole. It's said that John Henry won the competition against the machine but lost his life, probably to silicosis and is likely buried in a ditch behind the prison, where if he was alive, he could hear the whistles of passing trains. While John Henry and his shaker man were able to drill 9 feet of hole, the steam drill could no more than 7 feet in the same amount of time, perhaps because it had no shaker man to remove debris.

The shaker man would stand where a missed hammer strike might hit his arm or hand, so it's not just John Henry's strength that came into play but his aim as well.

Where does all that fit in? Who knows. I'm still trying to figure things out. There's no doubt that machines can make things easier for us. Faster for sure. 

This morning I put a rather large router bit in my hand held router, and neglected to get it tightened enough. So the bit began to climb out of the collet, going too deep into the wood. I managed to stop just in time to prevent it from destroying the project. I changed to a different router bit profile and managed to save the project, and I like the second choice of profiles better than the first, so all's well. My friend Zane at Marc Adams School of Woodworking used to tell students, "hurry up so you'll have time to fix your mistakes." Fortunately the fix in my case was easy.

One of the lessons one learns in woodworking, and perhaps other crafts as well, is that self forgiveness is required. We are human and we make mistakes. Those mistakes can sometimes make things better so there's no point in getting too stressed out. And self-recrimination is a waste of time.

In the meantime, my Christmas wish for all is that we stay safe. We can celebrate double next year when we've weathered this terrible storm that keeps us apart.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Last day of Pop-up store.

This is the last day of the pop-up art store at 67 Spring St. in Eureka Springs. My work there is on sale at 25% off. On Monday the store will be dismantled for new gallery owners to move in. Stop by and see lovely works on display, today.

I have been going through my new book, Wisdom of our hands, and tweaking and refining my message to make it read more smoothly and its message more directly to the point. It is a lovely day in the Ozarks with a beautiful clear blue sky and I sit on our chilly, shaded front porch as I write, dog Rosie at my feet. She watches the woods with great concern that a squirrel might appear. 

In the woodshop I've dusted off my old Worth Machine, a multi-purpose tool that cuts a variety of woodworking joints. I've not used the machine in years, but it will come in very handy today for cutting slot mortise and tenon joints. The slot mortise joint is one in which a  machined part bridges between matching mortises in two pieces of wood. Sized properly and glued in place, it can be easier to use than a full mortise and tenon joint, and just as strong. 

The Worth machine is a classic and built for the ages. Ironically, they're rare enough at this point that it's difficult to find them even on the internet. My Worth Machine, invented by John Worth, though dusty, will be returned to service this afternoon, and will last another 30 years if I continue to take care of it.

Make, fix and create... 

Friday, December 18, 2020

On Sale at Eureka Pop-up Store

 I have put my boxes and sculptures on a 25% off sale at the Eureka Springs Christmas pop-up store at 67 Spring St. in Eureka Springs. you'll find other works by Eureka Springs artists just in time for Christmas gift buying.

Buy our work and support the arts.

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Alert to young mothers

Quercus Magazine 

has a lovely cover for the upcoming issue, January/Feb 2021 that shows a young woman teaching woodworking. Does that seem unusual? It should not. Educational Sloyd grew from the Kindergarten movement, and of course young women were the driving force in that. Pestalozzi and Froebel had each noted the importance of women's roles as teachers. Women were leaders in the introduction of Educational Sloyd in the US. Contrast that with the role that men played in industrial arts education which had as its primary goal, preparing young men for industrial employment. It seems that women were more inclined toward the education of the whole child.

I'll have an article in this issue describing the whittling of a sphere, the sphere or ball being one of the early gifts in  Froebel's scheme for early childhood education. Froebel was a lifelong whittler and wood craftsman.

Subscribers to American Woodturner Magazine, the publication of the American Association of Woodturners will find on page 47 of the current issue where I describe the making of a PVC tool holder that hangs on the wall by french cleat. We use this type of tool holder at both the Clear Spring School and the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. 

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

Saturday, December 12, 2020

the relationship between science and the arts

What is it about the use of the hands that makes man smart?

Jacob Bronowski described the hand as the cutting edge of the mind. The walls between the arts and sciences are paper thin. Both require the development of critical thinking skills and the power of close observation. In woodworking you can’t whittle a stick without making simple unspoken hypotheses having to do with the impact of the grain and the angle of the knife’s edge applied to the wood. Neither the knife nor the wood will lie about the results.What is intelligence without the practice of observation and critique? And what is intelligence if it does not allow us to better manage real life? 

We live these days in a world in which folks think it's just OK to make stuff up and in which you get to believe what you want and that if you can get others infected with your beliefs you've then found truth. I call BS. There is a real world and we live in it whether it pleases us or not.

Bronowski described the practice of the arts and the practice of science as being “explosions, of a hidden likeness. The discoverer or artist presents in them two aspects of nature and fuses them into one. This is the act of creation, in which an original thought is born, and it is the same act in original science and original art.”
"The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better. You see it in his science. You see it in the magnificence with which he carves and builds, the loving care, the gaiety, the effrontery. The monuments are supposed to commemorate kings and religions, heroes, dogmas, but in the end the man they commemorate is the builder." –– Jacob Bronowski, the Ascent of Man television series, 1973

Make, fix and create... 

Saturday, December 05, 2020

the interconnected web of all life

This article from the New York Times describes the interconnections between trees in a forest, suggesting the interconnections of all life, a thing suggested by some religions.

I have been making small chess pieces for my middle school class to go with the traveling chess boards we're making. Today I'll make a video to describe the process. The photo shows tiny rooks I've shaped for the students from maple and walnut. 

When will we also discover that children, like trees, do not stand alone in the forest? That we, too, are interconnected in ways we may never fully understand? Perhaps what must come first, will be a refusal to deny that we are indeed part of an interconnected web of all life, a thing Froebel described in his word, Gliedganzes, meaning member, whole. We are each members of a wholeness, and education, at its best, directs us toward that understanding.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

On Narrative

This is a repost from a few years back. 

The first characteristic of narrative is what Jerome Bruner describes as its "inherent sequentiality: a narrative is composed of a unique sequence of events, mental states, happenings involving human beings as characters or actors." Bruner's second feature of narrative is that it can be "real" or "imaginary" without loss of its power as a story. Hence the power of well crafted fiction. Bruner's third crucial feature is that "it specializes in forging links between the exceptional and the ordinary." That which is canonical or normal and by the rules, or noncanonical, breaking or transgressing the expected norms.

My point, in case you didn't already guess, is that narrative may be as strongly present in hand crafted work as in speech and written discourse, and in some cases can be more powerful. We place far greater value as a culture on written or spoken narrative and place far greater emphasis in education on discursive narrative than on that which is expressed by hand. And so part of coming to better terms with the value of crafted work lies in understanding its narrative role in human culture. Our objects describe who we are, where we are going, and the means through which we will arrive at our greatest potential.

I offer these photos above and below of a piece of furniture showing narrative qualities in conformity with what Bruner outlines above. Dr. Bruner and I discussed whether craft work was narrative or not, with him taking one angle and me the other.

You will note that this table connects normal and unusual or exceptional elements in the same work. The contrast between the natural edged top board and the more conventional mortised and tenoned base is an example. While some viewers familiar with the process of crafting such work would know the sequence of operations the work records and describes, a casual viewer is drawn to skim or read it sequentially, just as one might skim or read a published text. Each and every piece of hand-crafted work is autobiographical in that it records and describes the maker's character as well as his motions in making the piece. The meander cut through the center of the board is used symbolically in a fictional representation of a river or stream, while also allowing use of a traditional technique--the sliding dovetail joint. And so, I hope my regular readers will understand that story telling, the foundation of human culture, is not just something that happens through words alone, but can take place whenever the human hand goes to work on wood.
Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

An announcement

Following a press release at 10 AM this morning, I'm allowed to mention that our Eureka Springs School of the Arts is being provided a 10 million dollar endowment through the Arkansas Community Foundation that will assure its success and service for generations to come. Some of my readers will know that I was one of three co-founders of the school, so I share this joy with co-founders Mary Springer and Eleanor Lux and all those who've served the growth of the school over the past 22 years. The relationship between ESSA and the Windgate Foundation that's responsible for this large gift grew from my friendship with John and Robyn Horn, artists in Little Rock. 

As a friend of Robyn and a board member at ESSA, I've been involved in all the Windgate Foundation gifts to the school, and have had a hand in many of the developments on campus, including the acquisition of our school's 50 plus acre campus, and the initial designs for our school wood shop and our recently added onsite instructor housing.

The gift, providing long term operations funding, will allow us to focus our fund raising attention on additional campus improvements, innovative programming and scholarship support.

Artists wonder how their work will be regarded in years to come. Will it be kept or discarded? Being involved helping other artists evolve in their work and now seeing that this part of what I've helped build will go on for generations makes this a very  meaningful moment in my life.

Years ago, Tom Begnal, an editor from Fine Woodworking,  asked me why I didn't start my own woodworking school like so many other authors were doing. It is so much better to have built something with friends. Having my own school would have been such a lonely thing in comparison to what we've done.

There are still openings in my lecture class tomorrow afternoon presented through zoom. You can sign up here:

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