Sunday, February 28, 2021

warding off

What some call "warding off" is a Tai Chi movement in which one leg is planted ahead of the other and the hands push forward and as the weight shifts slightly from one leg to the other.  It's a movement very similar to that made while standing at the jointer or planing wood. 

In Tai Chi, the purpose of this movement, like other Tai Chi movements is to build strength, flexibility and mindfulness. It is modeled on movements intended to maintain a firm gravitational centeredness while engaging in defense against an aggressor. If you are firmly centered, it becomes likely that your opponent is not, and the earth will step forward in your defense, bringing down that which is beyond your own strength. 

In woodworking, understanding the relationship between your craft and your state of being centered can add significant meaning.

This movement (warding off) involves the muscular sense that tells of our own position in relation to the real world. It's a sense that affirms we are really in the world and doing real things. Paying attention to muscular sense and our relationship to the earth's gravitational force is one of the ways that our lives are made more deliberate, and engaging.  

One of the differences between warding off and working wood is that in planing or jointing, hand position becomes more critical as instead of just using the hands in a forward thrust to place the opponent at a disadvantage, the hands in planing must also determine the squareness of the tool to gravitational force in order to form a square edge.

One of the very good things about woodworking as a craft,  is that it engages the full range of bodily movement and can be practiced with intent as one would a martial art. This is one of the aspects of woodworking that will be a part of my new book, The Wisdom of Our Hands.

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


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Making things make sense

Yesterday I misspoke when I stated that there are 4 basic senses, as I overlooked what is commonly recognized as number 5, the sense of taste. So, forgive me, there are 5 commonly recognized physical senses, touch, sight, hearing, sense of smell and taste. There are two more just as important that I'll add.

One is the muscular sense that tells us body position, stance and physical relationship to the real world, including the sense of the earth's own gravitational pull. As we lift things or even as we stand up, or even as we sit still this sense is active. I state muscular sense as being on of the physical senses because it's important and none of the other senses actually provide the information we receive from this vital sense. 

The other of the two of the additional senses is the narrative sense,  the seventh sense through which we compare all the other senses and the feedback we receive from them to determine what makes "sense." The narrative sense involves our own internal dialog but also goes far deeper than that, even into the realm of the unconscious mind. This seventh sense, called by some the "sixth sense" and associated with psychic powers is the one that's activated and used when we learn in and from the real world. It is the one that interprets and "makes sense" of the information presented by the other senses upon which it relies.

This is exactly why learning should proceed from the concrete to the abstract, and forevermore dip deeply again and again and again into the real world by doing real things. Without the physical senses providing crucial information to the seventh sense, students are left disengaged, disinterested and potentially disruptive of education affecting themselves and others in the process. 

Fortunately, there's a relatively easy fix. Insist that schools allow the students to do real things.

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


A new issue of Quercus magazine should be arriving in the US soon, as it has just been released in the UK.  Getting this issue off on-time was a major feat after computers and files were stolen from Quercus earlier in the year. Lost was all the correspondence and photographs that had been submitted by contributors.

Editor Nick Gibbs contacted me last week to resubmit a review of the Veritas number one plane which I did and which will be included in this issue. Subscribers can watch for its arrival. The magazine has a strong focus on the use of hand tools and the practice of traditional woodcraft.

I submitted answers this morning to questions from Idle Class Magazine for an article about my work.

On Tuesday Feb. 23, I'll participate in a zoom call with Building to Teach. If you would like a link to attend, please contact me via email.

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

the senses are key

We can call this reality based learning. When we do real things, all the various senses are engaged. Sight, hearing, olfactory and touch. You may find it interesting that Howard Gardner described various learning styles, with the suggestion that a good teacher would plan to touch upon each, thus insuring the interest of every child. There is a fifth sense, that of narrative. Narrative is comprised of the explanations offered us by others, "when things make sense" and that may or may not be felt as true or that we compose ourselves when we reconcile our senses and sensory experiences with the world that surrounds us. When we do things that are real, nothing needs be thus contrived. Comenius had put forth his argument that the senses form the core of learning:
"The ground of this business is, that sensual (sensuous) objects be rightly presented to the senses for fear that they not be received. I say, and say it again aloud, that this is the foundation of all the rest; because we can neither act nor speak wisely, unless we first rightly understand all the things which are to be done and whereof we have to speak. Now there is nothing in the understanding which was not before in the senses. And therefore to exercise the senses well about the right perceiving of the differences of things will be to lay the grounds for wisdom and all wise discourse, and all discreet actions in one's course of life, which, because it is commonly neglected in schools, and the things that are to be learned are offered to scholars without their being understood or being rightly presented to the senses, it cometh to pass that the work of teaching and learning goeth heavily onward and offereth little benefit."
Comenius was considered the father of modern education. So here we are in a huge mess of things. Due to the pandemic, kids are kept home and sequestered from normal school life. Naturally we are all looking forward to a return to what had been our previous normal, which I described in an earlier blog post.

I wish you all warmth, water with no leaky pipes, power that comes on at the switch, contact with loved ones and friends, and a return to normal, with normal meaning those days before the pandemic was allowed to wreak havoc on our communities, our way of life, and our comfort and safety in gathering together. 

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

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Rosie loves snow and cold

A dog can bring joy, even in the coldest, snowy day of the year. Due to the extreme could we only let her out for short spells wearing a borrowed polar fleece jacket.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Shop video

This short video shows activities in the Clear Spring School woodshop. Due to risk of Civid-19 and my age I've been distance teaching, enabled by youtube videos and a helpful staff of core teachers and an assistant. The footage is from our security camera. I've been grateful to have been able to participate, coach and observe. The kids discovered the location of the camera and wanted to share with me what they'd done.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Collector Cubes

 The photo shows some almost finished boxes made with ash and with lift off lids from various Arkansas hardwoods. The boxes will be finished with Danish oil and lined. They are assemble using miter joints interlocked with small wooden dowels.

I published a new edition of my Woodworking with kids newsletter today and also learned that my Guide to Woodworking With Kids published by Blue Hills Press will be reviewed and promoted at Fine Woodworking Magazine by Joe Youcha, whose Building to Teach program is an inspiration.

The new edition of the newsletter can be found at this link: From this link you can subscribe, view earlier newsletters or translate what you're reading into a variety of languages. 

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

University in Norway responds to Will Ferrell and GMs Super Bowl ad - So...

postcards from the edge

I am making wooden post cards again. One or two of them will go to a benefit auction for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts in April. Each will have a stamp affixed and be postmarked at the Eureka Springs Post Office. 

None are suitable for mailing, but are instead done as sculptural forms. Each is vacuum laminated using 4 or 5 layers of veneer over a wooden form. No two are the same. Some will be sold in a shop in Eureka Springs or other galleries. These might be considered utter foolishness or lovely, depending on your point of view. Each is designed to stand on edge.

One of the nice things about this project is that each requires hand sanding. That gives me a quiet activity to do on the front porch when the weather is less severe.

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

Sunday, February 07, 2021

our forests at risk

Human beings are not the only species to be suffering from deadly things that are too easily spread. Our nation's forests have long been under attack, and as the effects of global warming become more pronounced, the various at-risk species that we care for and rely upon for untold benefits will be suffering even more. This article from the New York Times tells a bit of the story.

I'm starting work on a new bathroom vanity for our home that's to be made from ash. Currently ash is priced well in the market due to the rush to cut ash trees before they're completely lost to the emerald ash borer. By cutting infected trees and kiln drying the wood to kill larva there's a small hope that unaffected forests can be protected.  We watched a similar story unfold many years ago as American elm trees of massive size were removed from cities to stop the spread of the Dutch elm disease.

The spread of viruses like that that killed most of our once glorious elm and chestnut trees, and the spread of insects like the emerald ash borer are directly related to international trade.

There's good reason in all this to think local as thinking globally as environmentalists suggests. We can treasure and protect what we have before it too is lost.

The screen shot is from the article in the New York Times. Read it if you can.

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

Friday, February 05, 2021

Chiseling Nut Mortises for Moxon vise

I'm working on a review of a kit for making a Moxon Vise for Quercus Magazine in the UK, and this video shows how to inlay a large nut into the inner face of the vise.

It also demonstrates my own effective way to hold a chisel close to the tip, rather than at the handle. Holding the chisel close to the tip presents greater ease in holding it at just the right point for starting the cut. It also allows the handle to serve as a pendulum providing the hand a sense of whether or not the chisel is held in a directly vertical plane. You may not regularly use the chisel in this way, but I invite you to try, and assess on your own whether this technique offers merit over what you'll see commonly demonstrated over the internet.

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

Thursday, February 04, 2021

A moxon vise

Making my Moxon vise is nearly complete so I'm awaiting instruction for writing an article about it for Quercus Magazine in the UK. The article may just be a review of the kit used, or I may describe its various features. If the magazine is interested I may go through the process of building it a second time and take photos of each step. 

The Moxon vise, first described by Joseph Moxon in the 1700's is portable and is easily clamped to a work bench or table. One of its advantages is that there's quite a bit of space between the treaded rods that allows for drawer parts to be clamped for cutting dovetails. The guide bars in many vises get in the way of that. The parts kit is made available by Tay Tools, and can also be purchased through Amazon.

I've gotten some positive feedback and direction from my publisher and am launching myself into a third draft of my new book, "Wisdom of Our Hands: Crafting Family, Community, Culture and Self," which I intend to have finished by March.

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

Monday, February 01, 2021

circumstances command that we teach and share.

"The nascent period of the hand centres has not been accurately measured ... but its most active epoch being from the fourth to the fifteenth year, after which these centres in the large majority of persons become somewhat fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency ever afterwards. "The small muscles of the eye, ear, larynx, tongue, and hand have much higher and more extensive intellectual relations than the large muscles of the trunk and limbs. If you would attain to the full intellectual stature of which you are capable, do not, I would say, neglect the physical education of the hand."--Sir James Crichton-Browne

Please attempt to name a concert pianist who got his start on the piano late in life. A friend of mine, Dr. Frank Wilson who wrote an important book about the hands, had written an earlier book called "Tone Deaf and all Thumbs" recounting his experience trying to keep up with his daughter as she was learning to play the piano.

It is important that we recognize that crafting is a social engagement, and that skills in the making of beautiful and useful objects are built in an intergenerational manner. As Sir James Crichton-Browne notes, development of hand skills will be an exercise fraught with greater difficulties for those who get a late start. Recognizing that skills of hand and mind go hand in hand, and seeing that our own craftsmanship must also entail the development of skill among those who surround us, commands that we teach and share and most particularly with the young, who's skills of hand and mind are yet nascent.

In the wood shop I'm making boxes.

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