Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Two gift articles

Today I offer two gift articles from the New York Times related to the hands and the wonders they bring. One involves knitting and the other blacksmithing. Both, while one is noisy and the other not, offer solace to the soul.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 25, 2023

beyond troubled times

We seem to live in troubled times, and yet when we take matters into our own creative hands, things seem to fall into a better place. It might be easy to fall into despair, but it's also easy to surrender to the help and companionship of friends.  Lacking friends at hand, your own hands can be your friends, luring you into a meditative state. 

I have found that I've been given a great gift in that I'm given the opportunities to teach, both through my books and articles and through classes. When we empower others to discover their own creativity, expressed in the making useful beauty we are helping to create the world of peace and joy that all long for. 

Along with season’s greetings and holiday cheer, I’m imagining all the wonderful things students have made as Christmas gifts this year, as well as all the wonderful things my students have helped others to make. Perhaps there are a few boxes among those lovely things.

I was sent this lovely photo of things a member of the Oregon Woodworking Guild had made from "scrap". The box holding the kitchen utensils is as lovely as the beautifully figured wood within.

Merry Christmas. May we each find moments of creative joy in the coming year.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 24, 2023

tables and birdmouths

In the wood shop at ESSA I'm beginning a table making project. What I hope will be the end results are shown in the drawing. There will be four that will go in our Commons house that is used for meetings and for guest teachers to gather after hours. They can be arranged individually or assembled as a group for board meetings, and it's all part of the steady growth of our school.

The four columns supporting the table tops are made using birdmouth joints commonly used in boat building to make hollow spars and masts. They are 6 sided and hollow so that steel rods can pass through, and so that lighter material can be used. The feet will rest on pads made from high density plastic that will keep moving them from marring the floor. 

To start, I've been jointing and planing stock. Sometime in February I'll call together a team of volunteers to help. 

I quote from a personal email I received from David Henry Feldman on the state of American education and its problems. 

My own point of view about education is that it has gone lopsided, understandably, because of the number of kids who are unprepared for school and who don’t know how to do school work. So the system puts most of its resources into trying to get all kids at least well enough prepared to do the work up to a minimum standard.

The other, in many respects more important, purpose of education is to help each child find his or her true path. The goal tends to be relegated to after school or out of school activities. The preoccupation with ‘standards’ also has a dampening effect on this second, more sacred, purpose.

Without denigrating the very real challenges of insuring at least a minimum of competence in all of our students, if we don’t also celebrate the uniqueness and distinct potential of each student, and if we don’t guide each one toward a life well lived, we may win the battle but lose the war.

When shop classes were first started in American schools, (and as I've explained before) there were two compelling reasons. One was that we were becoming an industrialized nation and were in need of skilled hands. The second was that it was then realized that making beautiful and useful things bound the child to higher purpose, in the same manner as would engagement in the arts. I can describe (and often do describe) the many non-economic benefits of doing real things and most specifically working with wood.

For example, in 2016 I had my upper elementary school students turning wood on the lathe. Lily had done a beautiful handle for her small hammer. It was smooth. There were no tool markings and the shape was well conceived. She looked at me and stated, "I am very proud of this." But she did not need my guidance in her self-assessment. She knew precisely why it was good work. Moments later I heard her complimenting a younger student. "That's very good Ana." 

And so what I'm describing is not just quality of work. I'm describing qualities fostered in the person doing the work. In less than a minute, Lily had self-assessed, expressed pride, and from the stand-point of her own success had encouraged another in her work. This is what happens when students are encouraged to do real things instead of laboring senselessly on abstraction as they do in most schools.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

the need to do real things.

My essay in the Front Porch Republic will be published in mid January, so in the meantime I'm reviewing material for a second essay that I hope will find a home in another publication.

It is interesting how deep the resources are that promote hands-on learning over the lecture style teaching that we normally subject students to. It is shameful what we put students through in school. That such boredom is acceptable illustrates how little we value human culture and our kids and the development of their minds.  Lecture based learning is proven to be strikingly ineffective, and yet, in schools teachers and administrations persist for they are given little opportunity to  make the changes that are most necessary.

This snippet from an article by Korwin and Jones tells a great deal:

Jerome Bruner, a supporter of varied learning experiences, stated that "...increasing the manipulability of a body of knowledge" creates both a physical and mental optimum learning structure and con-tended that physical operations create feed-back of learning that allow children to seeit happen. 

 Lipson and Fischer sustained this reasoning, stating "Experiences without words are difficult to integrate, describe, and retrieve. Yet, words without experience tend to have limited meaning. The two reinforce each other and are defined by one another". 

Martinez, further explains this in saying that a student who is introduced to a concept such as walnutwood will grasp a different meaning than a student who actually uses walnut and experiences its properties firsthand.

It was proposed that we actually have four different memories involved in learning:  auditory, visual, tactile, and body motor functions. This implies that information that more fully utilizing all four memories would be stronger and more easily retrieved. Hence, the need for students to do real things.

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

Thursday, December 21, 2023

sliding book rack

This simple sliding book rack is made of white oak. Years ago I'd done an article about making them in Woodwork Magazine, and some of my students from the Clear Spring School will remember having made some similar in class. In fact some students may still have them.

I'd started work on these years ago, having cut out the parts, and rather than letting the wood go to waste, I decided to finish them. Making them would be a good two day class, introducing students to a variety of tools and woodworking strategies.

We are down to just a few woodworking days before Christmas. At this time next year I'lll be making grandfatherly toys for Sylvie. In the meantime, let's all remember that we learn best hands on, and that reading (acquisition of knowledge 2nd or 3rd hand) is far less meaningful and effective than learning by doing real things. In schools extreme emphasis is placed on reading. Greater emphasis must be placed instead on doing real things.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

a reliquary of wood

 With the addition of a plexiglass box to keep the innards safe, my reliquary of wood has been added to the Museum of Eureka Springs Art museum display. 

The reliquary was inspired by a reliquary in the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City and by my participation in  a shrine show (sponsored by ESSA) in which artists were invited to create shrines celebrating the things important in their own lives. 

The idea of a reliquary is to lift as important things that should be treasured. The reliquary in the Nelson Atkins Museum once held the bones of a saint. My reliquary has 25 turned samples of American (Arkansas) hardwoods, each in their natural color. It is a statement of value. The box itself is made of sugar maple.

Some may remember a simple children's finger game that goes, "Here's the church, Here's the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people." The people in my small chapel are the woods of Arkansas, each deserving admiration and respect. The way the doors open is designed to represent hands opening to the wonders of all life.

This small box has been honored before. It was featured in my book, Simply Beautiful Boxes, as best of show winner in a show at the Springfield Art Museum and on the pages of UU World Magazine.

The museum will be open to the public on Saturday, December 23, 2023 from 1 PM until 5.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 18, 2023

Veritas Box Maker's Plow Plane

I received two planes from Lee Valley today, left and right plow planes of a smaller size suggested for box making. Like other Veritas planes made by Lee Valley, they are works of art. The crafting of them is exquisite.

Plow planes are used for cutting grooves in wood but can also form beads and coves. In box making you can imagine using them to cut grooves for inlay, or for bottoms to fit. With other cutters installed, beaded edges or panels could add interest to a lovely box.

The tight curls of walnut behind the plane in the photo below were formed in my first test use of the right handed plane.

These are lovely in their design and perfect in their manufacture. They can be ordered here.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, December 17, 2023


 I frequently evaluate tools that might be useful for woodworking with kids, and I ran across a folding Japanese style Kataba saw that would likely be a good replacement for the Vaughan Bear Saws we've used for years at the Clear Spring School. The Hardtwerk Zen Saw has 13 precision ground hardened teeth per inch and like the Bear Saws and other Japanese designed saws, cuts on the pull stroke. It's not as fine toothed as a Dozuki so would not be a replacement for a dovetail saw, but would cut quickly in softwoods.

While I'm waiting for mine to arrive, you might try it also, as it would provide an excellent opportunity to get some valuable sawing time with children or grandchildren over the holidays, and it folds closed when not in use. The Hardtwerk Zen Saw is of German and Japanese design and only a fraction of the price of the Bear Saw. 

If you are a woodworker, a saw I recommend for your own Christmas stocking is a small flush cut saw, also of Japanese design. I use this saw to trim miter keys flush at the corners of boxes, and with careful use, it will do so without marking the surrounding wood. It cuts quick. I bought two that have kept sharp through several classes and multiple student uses. 

I prefer the Tamatori single edge flush cut saw  over the version with two cutting edges as it allows me to guide the back edge of the saw flush against the work without scraping my fingers with the teeth on the back edge.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, December 15, 2023

Holiday gift idea

If you have a child or grandchild in the 4 year old and up range, a hand drill and a bit of time using it under the guidance of an adult (and that adult could be you!) would make an excellent gift... one that would last at least a generation or longer. 

I suggest a bit of parental supervision to prevent holes showing up at unexpected locations. You can occasionally find antique hand drills on eBay, but for just in time delivery before Christmas, Amazon can deliver.

 This drill from Amazon  has storage for bits in the handle, and unlike some antiques, has a chuck key and the chuck is locked in place with a screw, requiring just a bit of assembly before use. That assembly time gives a bit of one on one with the younger children and a chance to talk about appropriate tool use and storage. It comes with two brad point bits, excellent for drilling in wood or plastic.

At the Clear Spring School I mounted hand drills in blocks of wood so they could be held in vises and used to decorate tops with colored pencils and markers. https://youtu.be/TDJYFR5COHU

If you want your children to become curious about mechanics and the way things work, the gears will be a subject for fascination from an earlier time.

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

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Mentored Residency in Woodworking at ESSA

ESSA has announced a mentored residency program in woodworking at ESSA. I'll be the primary mentor, joined by Larry Copas, an excellent woodworker and instructor from the Springdale area and frequent participant in ESSA classes. 

The details and application form can be found here:


The program is designed to help woodworkers take their work to the next level. Both the wood turning and flat work studios will be available. With on site lodging, we expect lots of collaboration and fellowship among participants. 

The display cabinet shown above is some of my earlier work.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

wooden ties

I finished making my wooden ties. They are made of walnut, inlaid with cherry, maple, walnut and sycamore.To wear them you simply tie the strings in a bow at the back of the neck.

No, you won't find them at Dillards.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, December 11, 2023

Woodworking with Kids

During the worst of the pandemic I began using emailed woodworking with kids emails in an attempt to keep my students and parents engaged. It met with limited success. Due to the inactivity of my mail chimp account, I was informed that unless it received further attention from me, it would be disabled. I'll try to keep it going because the need for children working with wood has not diminished. If anything, it is more important than ever before as more stuff moves online and a hunger develops for meaningful engagement in the real world.

Adults and children learn in the same manner, direct from the real world and by doing real things. You need not have children or grand children to find value in the newsletters.

You can view old copies or the latest through this link. https://mailchi.mp/8ea7eadc567e/children-and-hammers The browser page makes it easy to subscribe or cancel at will.

I will attempt in the coming months to add more content.

Friday, December 08, 2023

glue spreaders

I began using simple plastic glue spreaders while teaching kids at the Clear Spring School. One of the things you'll soon notice when kids use glue is the mess.  

So I would have the kids make a small puddle of glue on a plastic lid from a box of screws from which dried glue could be easily removed, and then use plastic glue sticks to spread just the amount of glue needed and in just the right place. Glue bottles offer an immediate mess.

These glue spreaders work great. Just as advertised, the dried glue comes right off, and they're cheap enough that you can give them to all your woodworking friends and thereby improve the quality of their own work. These are perfect for applying just the right amount of glue in tight places or for gluing linings in small boxes. 

I've used them for years and at $9.95 for 70 of them you'll get a lifetime supply. The ring around the working end is useful. It holds the messy end up off the workbench.

If you buy through this link I get a small commission as an amazon associate... a bargain for each of us.

Cubitron discs

I was introduced to these excellent sanding discs from Taylor Tool Company taytools.com. They do an excellent job of dust removal and last far longer than other sanding discs. The placement of the dust extraction holes removes the concern with aligning them just right on the sanding pad. And they are hard to wear out. As an amazon affilliate This link to Amazon.com provides a small commission when you buy a set.

Make, fix and create... 

My top selling book this gifting season

I learned that supplies are low on my book The Guide to Woodworking with Kids
but was assured by my publisher that when supplies run out it goes automatically to print on demand so orders will be filled. A larger print run will be available after the first of the year.

It is currently my top selling book. And that's good as it suggests more children will become engaged in the joys of working with wood.

In the meantime, I've fabricated the top knots for my wooden ties, and after further sanding they will be finished with Danish oil, bringing the colors of wood to life, and assembled with string.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Hinged to fit

In this photo you can see how the wooden tie is hinged to bend at the bottom of the rib cage, allowing it to conform to the body, at least a bit.

The photo was taken by John Rankine for a series of artist portraits commissioned by Marty and Elise Reonigk. The series of photos is now part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Eureka Springs Art, opening in the spring.

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

tie one on

Years ago I'd made and sold wooden ties. As I was cleaning up in the shop, I found a few walnut blanks that I'd not used. I also had made some inlay that was not being used, so I put them to work. I now have 8 wooden ties almost ready to finish and assemble.

The woods used to make the inlay are walnut, maple, cherry and sycamore.

Wooden ties are goofy to wear. I've stood in conversation with friends for long minutes before my wood tie was noticed and met with howls of laughter and delight.

Friends of mine won one in a charity auction and when I visited their house for a party I found it framed as though it was art. That's not something you'll do with a Chinese made tie from Dillards. And when you're done with it, it can be composted or used as kindling.

Make, fix and create...


Monday, December 04, 2023

a stash box

Medical marijuana is legal in many states, and a friend of my wife asked if I could make a stash box to hold various paraphernalia. In the old days I know many of my boxes were used for objects associated with the use of marijuana. But that was never discussed. The advantage of this box is that it has two levels of storage, under the lid and in the drawer and we can talk about it.

The top is frame and panel construction, and the drawer is made with a mortise and tenon technique that I always use on small drawers. The wood used is walnut except for the bottom panels (Baltic birch) and the drawer sides (maple.) 

Plans for a similar box can be found in my book Beautiful Boxes: Design and Technique  

With the stash box finished, it will be shipped today. 

Make, fix and create...

Friday, December 01, 2023

Things to love about walnut

One of the things to love about walnut is the  rich shift in color and tone that results when a penetrating finish is applied. Compare the box shown with the unfinished box earlier in the day and you can see the richness that results. I have one or two more coats of finish to apply, but must wait hours between coats

Another reason to prize walnut is shown in the top panel, selected for the curly figure that results from the wood having grown close to a major limb.  The straight grained walnut surrounding it frame it nicely.

Make, fix and create. 

My 7 year old website

 In 2016 Cat Templeton designed my current website. I've been trying to get better at keeping up with it. It looks as fresh and lovely, I think, as the day it was launched. Dougstowe.com Normally websites are out of date in a year or so. This one may last a decade or more.

One thing I'll not change on it is the photo on the publications page
t showing my books arranged on the top of my work bench. It shows 8 books. In the intervening years I've written several more that you can find on Amazon at this link: 
 Just in time for holiday shopping. A book can be a great gift. As a gift to yourself it might guide you in making gifts for others.

Shown on the same workbench today is a walnut stash box ready for final sanding and finish.

Make, fix and create...