Sunday, April 21, 2024

Happy Birthday Mr. Froebel

Friedrich Froebel, inventor of Kindergarten was born on April 21, 1782 so if he were alive today, he would be 242 years old. His ideas, having grown out of favor are still young. In the early 1840's he was walking over the crest of a mountain pass with fellow educators and proclaimed, "Eureka! I know what to name my youngest child! Kindergarten!" A garden of children. It was a place in which children would be offered the right conditions for their growth, growing from patterns inherent within.

Gliedganzes was a term that Froebel combined from two German words glied meaning member and ganzes meaning whole. Advocates of progressive education talk about the education of the whole child... that education should not only be concerned with teaching a child to read and do math, but to also to become engaged as a creative member of society.

Froebel's odd word gliedganzes was devised to show simultaneous concern for both directions education must proceed at exactly the same time. Froebel's gifts were designed to illustrate this. For example, the gift number 3 consisting of a cube shaped box, containing a smaller cube composed of 8 small blocks illustrates that while each cube is complete in itself, it is also a member of a larger form, just as the child itself is a complete whole and is a member of  larger forms. 

The purpose of Kindergarten was to help children discover their own unique characters and capacities and simultaneously discover their interconnectedness with family, community, human culture and nature.  These may seem divergent, but are actually brought together in Froebel's concept, gliedganzes.

Happy Birthday Mr. Froebel.

You've not been completely forgotten. This video should be widely shared.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Observe this

The New York Times published an article this morning referencing research by Kelly Lambert on the positive mental health effects of working with your hands.

If you try it, observe this. Take a stick and a knife and whittle. Note that each stroke of the knife offers evidence of effect. Cumulative observed effect provides evidence of your own power, even in such simple things, offsetting the sense of powerlessness that's associated with depression.

Before carving rocking chair backs, I lay out a simple pattern using a small template, then sketch in stems and leaves connecting. Quite simple. The finished carving will  require only 4 chisels.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Rocking chair backs

I'm in the process  of making rocking chair backs. I used templates to create the symmetrical design, and then after cutting to shape using the band saw, used an angle grinder to smooth and further shape. I'll design the carving next.

If you've been following progress in my shop you'll see the new mini woodworking bench finding a good use.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Student absenteeism

Letters from educational experts to the New York Times were written in response to a report about post pandemic absenteeism in schools.  

Of course part of the solution as one letter pointed out is that students need to be engaged in doing real things. That's a no brainer. And the reason kids are determined to use digital devices in schools, even when they're not allowed, is that connection to the internet provides a bit of escape from boredom. Student time ought to be valued more than to subject them to endless hours sitting at desks doing mind numbing stuff.

In my shop, I'm nearly ready to carve the backs for the toddler sized rocking chairs I'm making. Clamping them together took a great deal of pressure, concerning me that I don't have all the angles of the various parts just right. Fortunately I'm not going into production full time, but simply revisiting a project from the past.

In the photo, the assembled chair, not yet with back and slats is resting on the rockers, with the mortises for the legs to fit yet to be cut.

Saturday, April 13, 2024


I'm at the stage in making tiny rocking chairs where the parts are sanded and assembly can begin. With a variety of parts to wrangle,  it's best to go slow, making certain each fits in its proper place.

I've been waking up at night, and in addition to hearing barred owls calling to each other, I think about American education.

 After Kindergarten was introduced in the US, many educators gravitated toward the notion that the upper grades of elementary school should be modeled on the same ideas. That's definitely not the case now.

Before Friedrich Froebel became a teacher, he worked with Christian Samuel Weiss, a pioneer in the study of crystallography and its relationship to math. There were a couple important things in Froebel's philosophy and teaching method that came directly from those early years. On was that crystals grow in their  own unique manner from a pattern inherent in the material, just as a child might grow from a unique pattern embedded within. 

The other was the development of Froebel's gifts, a system of blocks and objects that were used to help the child understand the patterns inherent in the universe. I discuss this and more in my book, Making Classic Toys that Teach. 

The thing that makes me think most of Froebel was what he saw as a primary goal of education— to develop in each child a sense of interconnectedness, from that pattern embedded within stretching out to embrace the whole of life. That is a far cry from the general purpose of education today, but one we'd best keep in mind. As I  lay awake at night, thoughts circling in my own mind, there are greater things afoot. Ask the owl.

Friday, April 12, 2024

box projects

 I discovered that some of my box projects are available on For instance this laminated box is one of my favorites from when I was doing some writing for Woodcraft Magazine.

I hope you enjoy it.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

flipper vise handles

Inspired by experiments by Mike Taylor at, I've made flipper vise handles for opening and closing a shop made vise. They resemble bird sculptures as they're standing up, waiting for the epoxy glue to set. More will come shortly.

Make, fix and create...  

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Moxon benchette

In the shop I've taking a brief break from rocking chair parts to make a very small work bench inspired by experimental benches made by Mike Taylor at This can be clamped easily to a desk or table and is based on the Moxon vise. The Moxon vise design, however, has the rods that are always in the way at the front of the vise.  On this the threaded rods are arranged so they bury themselves under the bench. You will see more of its features when it's complete.

Is it goofy to call it a benchette? Let me know. It is small and portable and drilled to accept bench dogs and other holdfasts. An outrigger will be made that will extend its length. That, too, is inspired by Mike Taylor and you'll see it later as my work progresses. 

Tomorrow is solar eclipse day in Arkansas, as a large swath of the state is in the zone of totality. Here in Eureka Springs, we're on the fringe with our eclipse being in the 93-95 percent range. There's a range of 2 degrees due to the fact we really don't know how big the sun will be tomorrow. It swells and shrinks, altering how much the moon will be able to block.

Make, fix and create... 

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Addressing the teacher shortage crisis

There's a widely acknowledged teacher shortage in the US. Teaching has become uncomfortable, made so by over-emphasis on standards and to some degree by hostility from politicians, parents and students. Politicians want to use teaching our kids as a wedge issue. Parent are confused and disoriented by the pace of societal change, and students raised on do-whatever-you-want internet engagements are bored and simply don't like being taught. So can we understand why teachers might leave the profession looking for more emotionally satisfying work? Add to that the crisis with guns and the fact that school shootings have generated fear throughout the US, and we have serious trouble.

Dale Dougherty from Make Magazine had asked me for my prescription for fixing American education.

“The first thing to recognize is that the brain, even among college students is good for only a very few minutes of lecture. Even the best minds wander, and must, for in best cases, minds are connecting what they're taking in and associating it with what they already know to be true.

The second thing to recognize is that activities that are by nature real, and therefore engage all the senses (this was noted by Comenius,) create a better network of remembrance, connection and utility in the brain. This has been proven by research… Learning that takes place hands-on, meaning it was accomplished by being physically present thus engaging all the senses has much deeper and longer lasting effect. You can think of this as real estate, hands-on activities are noted in the full sensory and motor cortexes.

The third point, as emphasized by educational sloyd, is the relationship between the concrete and abstract. All abstract studies should be accompanied by concrete learning. We make a huge mistake starting kids to read before they’re doing real things…. reading is abstract, doing is concrete, and reading should always build upon what's known in the senses

 The fourth point is that teachers need to be drawn at least partly from the pool of those who didn’t necessarily do so well in school. Late bloomers are particularly important. A reason for this is that when faced with stress, as happens in many or most schools, teachers tend to fall back into positions most comfortable to them, often meaning the ways they themselves were taught. And those who go to college are generally the ones who learn best by rote, rather than by doing. We need doers in schools whose most comfortable fall  back positions are getting things done rather than talking about it.

 Fifth point, we need to rethink the place of manual arts in schools and make certain that administrators, school boards and parents know the value of the arts, including wood shop.

We desperately need to replenish the number of teachers in the US as some retire and others simply move on from an unpleasant situation. Where can new teachers come from? I suggest artists and musicians be considered. We need doers in school. Not talkers.  And doers would regenerate and renew American education.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

walnut chair seat panels

At work on my toddler sized rocking chairs, I've arrived at the point of making chair seat panels. The unique design of this chair has floating panel book matched bottoms shaped to fit the curvature of the surrounding parts. So I made a simple jig to use on the router table making certain that all are the same shape to fit the frame. To hold the wood on the jig I routed dovetail shaped grooves first in the plywood base to enable the use of Matchfit dovetail clamps.  This jig will be useful when I teach a class in making these chairs, and there's a lot to do in a five day class. Routing them one on top of the other in pairs helps me to keep the grain aligned.

While these resemble track saw clamps that exert force on the surface of the material in which they are clamped, the force of the dovetail clamp is spread across a wider, and more stable surface with the clamping force going outward as well as up as pressure is increased. 

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Hands On ESSA

 I'm inviting each of you to join me at Hands On ESSA.There will be crafts for students of all ages (Including yours). Ever turned wood on a lathe or hammered a red hot piece of iron direct from the forge? You can do that and much more at this free event. The place? On the left as you drive toward Inspiration Point. When? Saturday April 6 from 3 to 5:30 PM. Bring Friends! There's an auction also of hand crafted art, including my own.

My 1948 Shopsmith

I dusted off my old 1948 Shopsmith to use as a horizontal borer, forming tenons to attach the top backs on toddler sized rockers. The bit used is for tenoning and dowel making and can be found on Amazon here: It can also be used on a drill press. The operation is shown below.

In using the Shopsmith, I noticed that it needs a new electrical cord, so today, I'll replace it, getting it ready for another 75 years of service.

The Shopsmith (used) was a gift from my Mom and Dad on my 14th birthday. Give your childen iPhones and they'll need new ones next year. Give them real tools and they'll make unique futures for themselves.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, April 01, 2024

I'm celebrating National Woodworking Month

One of the woodworking tasks considered odious by some is sanding. And yet, if you go carefully through the progression of grits, coarse to fine, without skipping too widely between, it goes more quickly and yields better  results. Also, if you've done it for long enough to gauge customer response, you see how important it is. When you watch peoples hands carefully caress the things you've made, you begin to take satisfaction in knowing how others will respond to your work. That anticipatory satisfaction can invest caring in your work, that is then witnessed in the hands of others. Knowing that touch is not the only sense through which your work will be viewed, you work also toward the satisfaction of a more sophisticated audience—not those who are rich and easily deceived, but those who do it themselves and will not be deceived by less than perfect work.

April was proclaimed National Woodworking Month. I don't know by whom, but it has been celebrated by some each year since 1990. For me, every month is woodworking month. I teach it, I do it, and I write about it. And it's a good life.

I'm currently working on some toddler sized walnut rocking chairs, and there are some jobs that are best done by hand. The back edges of the back legs where they bend back, can be done hack job with machine sanders but if you want the lines to be straight, a series of sanding blocks works best to smooth lines left by the band saw. That the lines not be straight may not bother some, but knowing more sophisticated eyes might follow the lines I've created, inspire me to do better work.

Finding a balance between machine work and hand work, gives a deeper level of satisfaction on both ends.

Booker T. Washington, explaining to parents and supporters of the Tuskegee Institute, why it placed a focus on agriculture and industrial arts in addition to academic studies, noted that there's a difference between "being worked" as they were as slaves, and "working to learn" as they did at his school.

Being worked stiffles the human spirit. Working to learn opens pathways toward advancement both for the individual and the race. (and for humankind overall.) As a friend of mine explained to me about 50 years ago, you can look at something as  "I have to do this."  or "I get to do this!"  and attitude makes all the difference in the world. Sanding comes to mind.

In his essay, Industrial Education for the Negro, 1903,Washington quoted industrialist C.P. Huntington as follows: "Let me say to you that all honest work is honorable work. If the labor is manual, and seems common, you will have all the more chance to be thinking of other things, or of work that is higher and brings better pay, and to work out in your minds better and higher duties and responsibilities for yourselves, and for thinking of ways by which you can help others as well as yourselves, and bring them up to your own higher level.”

Sanding is regarded by some as a mindless activity. Let me assure you it needs not be. It is a thing from which the mind can wander toward the ideals mentioned. It is a thing that both the hands and eyes can assess steady progress. Remember to move carefully from coarse to fine. Pause on occasion to look closely at what you've done. Go with the grain, not across, and use your fingers to feel progress.

It is best to have a dog at your feet. While I sand, Rosie chews sticks, a thing she only does when I'm sitting with her on the porch.

The wood is walnut as is the dust (of course). The sanding block is 180 grit self-adhesive sand paper on a block of scrap plywood. If you are bored or depressed, do something.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 31, 2024

National Woodworking Month

It's no April fool's joke. April is actually National Woodworking Month, observed since 1990. I know nothing more about it. Who proposed it? And how did it become named as such? Was there an act of congress to certify it? I'll celebrate it anyway.
And happy Easter! My children's rocking chairs are parts stacked on every flat surface in the shop, but gradually coming together. Two will be finished and assembled and one will remain loose parts to assist in my rocking chair class in the fall, not yet announced in the ESSA catalog. Progress on these chairs has been a bit slow, as I'm also making jigs that will better guarantee student success, like the angled tenoning jig shown in the photo used for forming angled tenons on the stretcher crossing between the front legs.
Make, fix and create... Assist others in living likewise.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

deadline extended, application simplified

 The application deadline for the mentored woodworking residency has been extended. 

The Eureka Springs School of the Arts is looking for practicing woodworkers seeking focused time to refine their skills, create work, and/or explore new avenues within their medium for a Mentored Residency under Master Woodcrafter, Doug Stowe.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

  • The 2024 Mentored Woodworking Residency will span 2 weeks from June 17 to June 29, 2024, with a required orientation on June 16, 2024.
  • Up to 6 participants will be selected.
  • Participants pay a $1,200 fee, which includes on-site lodging (see Residency Details for more information). A limited number of scholarships will be awarded. Indicate your interest in receiving scholarship funds by checking the appropriate box on the application form.
  • The deadline for submissions is April 17, 2024, by 5 pm (CST), and successful applicants will be notified by April 19, 2024.
  • Submit application materials via email to 
You can find the applications material here:

Make, fix and create...

Friday, March 29, 2024

too easy? no reward.

Years ago I asked my students whether they would prefer that I make things easy for them or difficult and the answer, of course, was difficult. We all know that it things are made too easy, boredom soon sets in and the suffering begins. Doing difficult and demanding things energizes the spirit.

In the Maker Ed Substack this morning, Dale Dougherty discussed Kelly Lambert's research on  "effort driven rewards," and their relationship to depression, and if a clinical psychologist was to peer into a typical American classroom, he or she might diagnose an overall malaise bordering on depression. Longtime readers of this blog or readers of my book Wisdom of Our Hands will recognize Dr. Lambert's work, as I've discussed it many times before.

Yesterday I visited ESSA briefly where a group of veterans was busy crafting wooden benches, and no malaise was to be found. 

In my wood shop I continue working on children's rocking chairs, toddler size. I'm mainly cutting parts to size and cutting the mortise and tenon joints that hold the parts together. When those operations are complete, I'll hand carve the backs. At the moment I have parts scattered on every flat surface in the shop.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Happy Birthday Mr. Comenius

Today March 28, 2024 I celebrate John Amos Comenius' 432nd birthday. He was considered the father of modern pedagogy but his contributions to education are now largely dismissed. He influenced a wide range of early educators, an insisted that the senses and learning through the senses was key to greater understanding than reading could provide. He's credited with developing the first picture book for children. He laid the ground work for other influential educators, and was for a time celebrated throughout Europe.

Educators worry that schools are not providing critical thinking skills. I suspect however, that's by design. Exploring life though the application of the senses, provides avenues though which questions arise. Critical thinking is based on a willingness to ask questions. Questions lead inevitably to questions of authority. Democracies headed toward authoritarianism, do not want students to develop critical thinking skills. And yet, critical thinking skills are essential to a successful society.

Last night I watched an interview with a psychologist describing the dangers of children being too deeply engaged in technology and social media. He said that children should be engaged in the real world as it offers benefits for growth and emotional security that the online world does not.

Happy Birthday Mr. Comenius. As long as a few of us remember, there's still hope.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

fly through

This QR code will take you to a quick fly through of the new Museum of Eureka Springs Art. It is much better to take your time and stroll. The museum is open during farmer's market hours on Thursdays and from 1-5 on Saturday afternoons.

To activate the QR code, aim your phone camera at it. The camera will recognize the link and carry you to youtube for viewing.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Mentored residency in woodworking

The deadline for my mentored residency in wood working approaches. Applications for review must be submitted by March 29, just 3 days from today. If you have any questions about the program or wonder what value it may offer to your own woodworking career or interests, you may email me to set up a time to talk.

Scholarships are available.

In my woodshop I'm continuing my work on toddler sized rocking chairs and building jigs that will assist me in teaching a class in the fall.

I've been reading Richard Hofstadter's classic book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. I am exploring the idea that anti-intellectualism is rooted at least partly in the failures of our education system  to engage students in the exploration of real life. Shop classes can help to fix that. 

An interesting side note on Hofstadter's book is his mention of Gerald L. K. Smith, a noted Nazi and Anti-Semite who settled in Eureka Springs and is indelibly a part of our local history.

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

Monday, March 25, 2024

micro jig sled

My new micro jig sled using micro jig dovetail clamps is proving useful in a variety of operations, including tapering the back legs of the children's rockers I'm making as preparation for a class at ESSA in the fall.

When I taught making children's rockers in the past, one week was really not long enough, so I'm working on various jigs to clarify and simplify a complex project. Hopefully, that will leave more time for carving the backs. When I had my last rocking chair class, it was with the Diablo Woodworkers in the San Francisco Bay area, and I received photos in years after showing me student's finally finished work.

In addition to using the micro jig dovetail clamps  to hold the work directly on the jig, they can be used to clamp blocks in place trapping the work in position or you can use their kit to set up stops using the same dovetail grooves.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, March 22, 2024

If you can't use it, it may be art.

A friend of mine cut a slice of burl from a tree on the river and gave it to me years ago. It sat on a shelf, taking up space—too lovely to throw away, and too useless to be anything but occasionally admired.

Yesterday I used spray polyurethane to bring its colors more to life and give it  some protection.

Today I added French cleats so it could be hung. The way the cleats are mounted to the back, it can hang one way or the other. And sometimes art is exercised just in the recognition of beauty and placing an object in such a way that others are given a chance to admire it.

My friend gave it to me thinking I might make something from it. but my own imagination goes no further than to appreciate it just as it is. My only exercise in the area of craftsmanship or artistry was to add the French cleats and decide how and where it should be hung.

It hangs over the door that passes between my finish room and the outside.

Make, fix and create. Let beauty guide your path.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Mortise and tenon joints

I'm working on three children's rocking chairs, one of which will be kept loose as parts to help me set up for a class at ESSA in the fall. I made the first of these chairs in about 1995 and the last about 15 years ago, so it is good to refresh my thoughts in anticipation of the class. The disassembled chair will help in setting things up, and the finished chairs will be available for sale.

I'm routing the mortises using my horizontal boring machine, cutting the tenons on the table saw and quickly rounding the tenons to fit the mortises. In class I may opt for using a hollow chisel mortiser, as that is a more familiar approach for many woodworkers. It is amazing, however, how quickly a few strokes with a rasp can fit the square shouldered tenons into the mortises cut with the boring machine.

I received a lovely photo of the spice cabinet that was sold at the Clear Spring School Spring Fling Art Auction in its new home. It is great to see my work honored in people's homes. It has found a happy place in a happy place.

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Better things to do.

Michelle Goldberg's essay in the New York Times is interesting reading as it suggests the answer to our social media/phone/internet problems might be to offer them better places to go. I suggest, better things to do.

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a college professor who is working on an article about technology and education. He asked me about how schools might best deal with the disruptive force of iPhones in school. Parents spend a loot load of money on them, and want their kids to be accessible to them at all times. Social media offered through the phones is recognized as presenting tremendous mental health problems, and they tend to be a distraction. 

A couple weeks ago I offered classes in box making to staff and board at ESSA, the school I helped found 25 years ago. As I taught, I noticed a few phones left on benches that were occasionally picked up so that their owners could record videos and images of the experience so it could be shared or remembered. In no way were the phones disruptive. Nor need they be disruptive in schools.

The secret to integrating phones successfully in schools lies in making learning active, project based, relevant and less mind numbing. Of course kids will be drawn to facebook, instagram, tiktok and other sites if what they're doing in schools is abstract and out of touch. The phones will be put down when there are real things to do.

In my shop I'm revisiting a project from 2002, building toddler sized rocking chairs—in preparation for teaching a class in the fall.

Friday, March 15, 2024

my ETSY shop

I've published some additional items for sale in my ETSY shop. You can find it here:

By selling a few things, I make room to make more.

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Torii tables

I do some furniture that slips away without people in our local community seeing it so many folks are unacquainted with the range of my work.

The tables shown I call Tori tables as they are inspired by Japanese architecture, most particularly the shape of a Torii Temple gate.

I'm sharing my work here in the hopes of attracting folks to apply for my 2024 Woodworking Residency at ESSA. The details can be found on the ESSA website.

Some of the aspects of the Torii Table are  exposed mortise and tenon joints, the shape (of course) and the treatment of the wood, with each piece managed with a sense of reverence for the  material and for the tree from which it came. In addition to the wedged through tenons the tops are floating with the expansion and contraction allowed to take place toward the middle of the table... A future I illustrated in my second Fine Woodworking article "A Fresh take on Table Tops," published in 2006.

Want to take your work to the next level? Perhaps I can help.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 10, 2024

C.P. Huntington

Let me say to you that all honest work is honorable work. If the labor is manual, and seems common, you will have all the more chance to be thinking of other things, or of work that is higher and brings better pay, and to work out in your minds better and higher duties and responsibilities for yourselves, and for thinking of ways by which you can help others as well as yourselves, and bring them up to your own higher level. — C.P. Huntington (1821-1900)

How many times have you been involved in manual work, and had your mind wander in ways that brought some form of gift to others or to yourself? It happens all the time. Never underestimate the value of mindless work. It offers unseen pleasures and surprises, when we invite the right spirit to attend.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, March 08, 2024

adapted hand screw

I've started a small oak stand for miscellaneous in our second bathroom and have been cutting and planing stock. In the meantime, I modified an old hand screw by cutting the handles off and replacing them with octagonal ones on each end of the threaded rods.

These will fit the wrench I made yesterday and  will allow the hand screw to be used as a vise when clamped to a table, desk or bench. The wrench will enable young hands to get the hand screw tight. The shop made octagonal handles are white oak and are glued to the threaded rods with epoxy.

My simple point is that every classroom in America should be readied for hands-on learning.

Am I crazy or what?  I'm powerless to make the changes I have in mind, so that's where you and others can join in. 

My book Designing Boxes has had the publication date changed to June 25, 2024.

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

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Mentored residency in wood.

The deadline to apply for my mentored residency program at ESSA approaches. More information can be found on the ESSA website, including the application material.

As leader of the program, I'm author of 15 woodworking books and over 100 articles in various woodworking magazines including Fine Woodworking. While I'm best known for box making, I've also done a lot of furniture design published in books and articles and for individual clients. For instance, the table shown was for a contractor in Little Rock and is assembled with mortise and tenon joints and sliding dovetails. The rocks embedded in the wood are a theme used in some of my furniture work and boxes.

Residents in the workshop will have full use of the ESSA machine room, lathe room and bench room, my experience in helping to move to the next level in their work, and on campus lodging. Larry Copas, a local woodworker with profound experience in all kinds of machine use will also be available as a resource to residents. You may contact me directly with questions if you like.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

hand screw

Today I made a simple hand screw, but using common all thread and barrel nuts as the hardware. One of the things I discovered in the process is that all thread takes a lot more time to adjust than common hand screws. Those have threads going opposite directions and adjust twice as fast.

You'll note that in this that I put both handles on the same side so it can be adjusted while clamped to a table or bench.

It was fun making this, and working through the challenges involved. It would be easy to make a Moxon vise using the exact same technique.

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

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Adding legs to a box.

Adding legs to a box. The box is made of ash with walnut accents and veneered top.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 03, 2024

method or madness

The photo shows two of my demonstration boxes from my classes for board and staff at ESSA. They are made of ash and have now received a first application of Danish oil made using the Sam Maloof mixture of boiled linseed oil, mineral spirits and polyurethane varnish. The oil finish darkens the wood and enhances the grain, bringing natural colors to life, while adding just a bit of sheen and protection to the wood.

The lids have their shape for specific purposes. Being resawn at a 4 degree angle leaves them thick enough at the back for applying surface mounted hinges, and thin enough at the front to not appear overly clunky and graceless. An additional advantage is that by careful resawing, two lids can be cut from the same piece of wood. 

You may be curious how wood can be planed at an angle as was obviously done. First surface the wood on both sides. Then cut the one piece into two using the table saw set at the desired angle. The taping the outside faces together back into the original shape, run it through the planer again, surfacing the sawn sides.  To further utilize the angle of the lid as a design feature in the box, the ends of the lid taper toward the front corners and the front corners of the box taper toward the front, providing a natural spot for the fingers to engage in opening the box. That subtle feature is more easily observed in the open box.

Is all this method or madness? Check the photo, and you decide. If you don't like it, tell us why.

Make, fix and create. Insist that all education become likewise.

Saturday, March 02, 2024

Yesterday, and new clamps

Yesterday I had a great day teaching box making to members of the board of the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. It was a wonderful team building exercise, and ought to serve as an example for corporate retreats. We had a great time and each was able to leave having finished a box.

In the mail yesterday I received some wonderful clamps. One was made by Mike Taylor at Taylor Tool Co. It is a reinvention of the ages old hand screw, but with holes that allow it to be clamped to a table or bench, giving it much greater flexability.  Also, having both handles in the front allow it to perform more like a Moxon vise, and will likely be less confusing to young hands.

The other clamps I received I had ordered from Amazon. They are quick acting lever clamps, and I bought them thinking of the challenge teachers might face in converting a common classroom into a wood working shop... a thing we must consider if schools are to become the places they must be. The clamps are well made, and have exceptional clamping strength. The lever would allow kids or teachers to tighten them with ease, or quickly take down at the end of class and tools must be put away. They are perfect to use with Mike Taylor's custom hand screw, or one converted for classroom use as I will demonstrate in the next issue of Fine Woodworking magazine. 

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

Friday, March 01, 2024


Members of the ESSA board of directors will join with me in making wooden boxes, and while the method is simple, the results are satisfying. I found an interesting article by Booker T. Washington inspired by my search for information about the opposition to manual arts training from parents of the poor.

Let me say to you that all honest work is honorable work. If the labor is manual, and seems common, you will have all the more chance to be thinking of other things, or of work that is higher and brings better pay, and to work out in your minds better and higher duties and responsibilities for yourselves, and for thinking of ways by which you can help others as well as yourselves, and bring them up to your own higher level.—Booker T. Washington

Labor is made boring by being resentful of your part in it, and in it we can always find cause for joy. Washington noted the difference between "working," in which we find joy, and "being worked" in which there is cause for resentment and despair.

Yesterday's staff class was a joy, just as I expect today's class for board members will be. The photo shows the box design we made yesterday and will be making today.

Make, fix and create... assist others in finding the joy in living and learning likewise.


Thursday, February 29, 2024

recipe boxes

I mentioned that I've been working on recipe boxes. Now they are complete. They are made with keyed miter joints from ash and cherry and the keys strengthening the corners and the lift tabs on the lids are made from walnut. They are veneered on top with  variety of American hardwoods. The surface mounted hinges have a 90 degree stop.

staff box making class

Today members of the ESSA staff and I made boxes. My demonstration box that I made during the class is shown. Its features are: Finger jointed corners, sloping solid wood lid (providing a thinner profile at the front) and surface mounted hinges with 90 degree stop.

It was a very fun class, and tomorrow I get to repeat the same class with members of the ESSA board.

A few years back when my daughter was at Columbia University and as a freshman was engaged in study of their famed Core Curriculum in which all were to become deeply engaged in the study of civilization and become more uniformly civil in consequence, I attempted to contact University president Lee Bollinger to suggest that with the unfinished cathedral St. John the Divine just across the street, freshmen would benefit more greatly by cutting and carving stone than by a study of Socrates. No doubt, that might have been difficult to explain to the trustees. But I hold deeply, the conviction of its truth. Students would better understand civilization by getting their hands involved in the creation of it.

If any of my readers are friends with the current administration of Columbia University, my offer still stands. I'd gladly help the university get back on the right track.

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

making your child smart...

Today I have a staff class at ESSA in which I'll be teaching and assisting staff members to make wooden boxes. We will go through tool safety and I'll lead my students through a series of operations all aimed toward leaving the class with finished boxes.

Some place I'd read that parents of the poor had objections to manual arts training as it was a way to prevent the advancement of their children into more lucrative studies, and to keep them in their proposed place. Woodrow Wilson had stated as president of Princeton University that: 

"We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."

You can see where the idea came from... that an advanced social class resulting from academic education would be served by a lower class drawn from the poor.

The point that too many have missed, is that you don't teach carpentry in schools to turn students into carpenters. You teach it to help all students become smart, and even the children from the upper classes deserve to become smart. 

The image shown is a simple way to shape a lift tab for the front of a box lid, using the table saw to get consistent results. A pencil holds the stock in its nest cut in a piece of 1/8 in. thick MDF.

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

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

new tables in commons

Yesterday we assembled 4 tables at ESSA for the Commons House where our teaching staff can share meals and social time and where we can have corporate retreats and meetings. They are intended to be used separately or arranged as in the photo shown. These were made by volunteers from locally sourced white oak, much of which was quarter sawn to reveal the lovely ray patterns,

Today I begin preparing for staff and board classes in the ESSA woodshop.

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

Saturday, February 24, 2024

recipe boxes

In my woodshop I'm working on recipe boxes at the request of the Historic Arkansas Museum Gift Store. They are made to hold 4 x 6 in. recipe cards and are made from Arkansas hardwoods. They are now nearly complete but for the application of finish.

I used surface mounted hinges that open to a 90 degree stop.

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

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Woodcarving Illustrated and sled runners

Today I received copies of the latest edition of Woodcarving Illustrated, containing my article about making hook knives. 

Beyond that, there is a great deal of information that points to the significant role of the hands in learning. Anyone who has paid a modicum of attention to observing his or her own learning experience, would know that “hands-on” is the key and won't need experts to tell what you can see for yourself. But for those who don’t know their hands from a hole in the ground, there are some important things happening that tell us that we have it ALL wrong in most modern classrooms. Some of the research being done in a variety of areas tells us that we have grossly misunderstood the role of the hands in thinking and the development of intelligence.

One significant item I’ll point to is the research that concludes that the playing of instrumental music in school has a significant effect on the development of math proficiency. I think it is particularly interesting to consider the role of the hands in the playing of music. It was Frank Wilson’s involvement in music that lead to his book, The Hand: How its use shapes the brain, language and human culture, and while this particular research doesn’t specifically address the hand’s role in learning, instrumental music is clearly hands-on. Was it the music that made the difference, or the use of the hands in playing the music? It would take more extensive research to prove one way or the other. I strongly suspect that both have effect, the music and the hands that play it. The book describing the research can be found for download at the  Government Information website "Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Social and Academic Development," was sponsored by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Department of Education and was written by James Catterall, Karen Bradley, Larry Scripp, Terry Baker and Rob Horowitz. It is truly astounding how rarely the United States Government is able to take its own advice. It is a clear case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

In the meantime, I enjoy making jigs and sleds and for the table saw,
most of my sleds have involved wooden runners. Because I make them myself, they're cheap and because they are wood, it is easy to mount them with screws. But I'm always open to new things. The plastic runner shown is high density 
polyethylene that is cut from a common plastic cutting board I purchased on Amazon here. The advantage is that it is stable material, can be machined with common woodworking tools, and mounted with screws just as I would one made of wood.

Make, fix and create. Help others get the point.

Monday, February 19, 2024

A pen and ink box

A pen and ink box I made for a lawyer in Massachusetts is featured in the current issue of Popular Woodworking.

It is made of ash and walnut, and also serves as an example of interior design in my new book, Designing Boxes.  The lift out tray is to hold pens and the space under is useful for accessories.

I was listening to a report on how the rich play a disproportionate role in climate change. Over 900 private jets converged in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl, and that's just the tip of the melting iceberg. 

If more folks were involved in crafting beautiful and useful things within their own communities, they'd find greater satisfaction in the use of their own hands and would not have to go rushing off toward the destruction of life for the rest of us.

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

John Amos Comenius

John Amos Comenius was born March 28, 1592, and as father of modern pedagogy (the science of learning and teaching) said the following.

"The ground of this business (education) is, that sensual 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.” 

"Theory," says Vives,"is easy and short, but has no result other than the gratification that it affords. Practice on the other hand, is difficult and prolix, but is of immense utility." Since this is so, we should diligently seek out a method by which the young may be easily led to the practical application of natural forces, which is to be found in the arts."

"Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do. Let them be like ants, continually occupied in doing something, carrying, drawing, construction and transporting, provided always that whatever they do be done prudently. They ought to be assisted by showing them the forms of all things, even of playthings; for they cannot yet be occupied in real work, and we should play with them. 

Is it not time that we learned from an expert observer and changed the foundation of America education? More doing and less reading would be a good start, so that when kids are reading or writing they have a firm foundation for it.

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