Friday, September 04, 2015

bent elm...

In the school wood shop, I seem to have managed to make a workable bow that my students will have success with, both in the making and in archery. In addition, I've begun work on my 9th and 10th tiny boxes. One will be a miniature bent wood box based in part on one I bought in Estonia. The other will most likely be a business card holder box.

The photo above shows my experiment in bending elm to making a tiny oval box. The size of the finished box will be about 1 1/2 in. x 2 in. and about 1 in. high. I cut the elm about 1/16 in. thick and boiled it until soft enough to bend. While I used my boiling tank for shaker boxes to bend this wood, this one is actually small enough to boil in a pan on stove top.

In the meantime, researchers at MIT have come up with a direct design to print program that will make it very easy for  3-D printing enthusiasts to customize designs by using a set of sliders. That means there will be even more plastic in the world, and less engagement with the materials that have long shaped human culture. If you have "designed" something through the use of "sliders"will there be satisfaction in it for those who may actually have developed skills and know better?

At one time, the boy scouts decided that they would give merit badges for carving soap with a butter knife. The idea was that the soap would be easy and safe. But if all things are to be made easy, how will children develop character, resilience, and strength? If all risks are removed, how will our children develop good judgement and the ability to assess risk?

Richard Bazeley sent this photo of his year 7 student's spoons carved from fruitwood. I think you can see that the designs came in part from a study of the materials at hand.

Some things become easy because we have developed knowledge and skill. On the other hand, some things are made easy for us, and we pay dearly for those things.

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

Thursday, September 03, 2015

compound miter saw for box making...

I almost always use my table saw to cut miters but as an alternative in my book on tiny boxes, I felt the need to address the compound miter saw and its potential as a box making tool, as many potential box makers may not be able to afford an accurate table saw.

There are some things that must be done to make a compound miter saw safe for box making. First of all, they are intended for cutting long strips of molding as a carpenter's tool. That means that a compound miter saw comes out of the box without a zero-clearance backing board or any effective means to clamp small parts.

In the normal use of a compound miter saw, it is fairly easy to keep your hands away from the blade, as the stock  is usually long enough that holding it securely will require them to be a safe distance away. With small parts, that is not the case. In the photo shown above, cutting miters for a small box, you can see the Baltic birch backing board that I've screwed to the miter saw fence.  This gives a great deal more support than the fence that came with the saw. I've also added a stop block and  I am using two hold down blocks to keep the stock in place during the cut. I use two hold downs because when the work piece is flipped over to cut the miter on the opposite side, they will apply pressure independently to the irregularly shaped molding.

Two tips that that are essential for both safety and clean cuts: Orient the  blade angle so that the wood being cut is pushed toward the stop block, rather than away. And let the blade stop in the down position rather than lifting it back up while still spinning. The wood only needs to be cut once, and in lifting, the work piece may shift slightly and become jammed against the stop block.

A third tip is to buy a good blade. The one that came with your saw was intended for rougher work.

So, is this my new favorite tool? It can be useful for quick cuts, but for general box making I prefer the table saw.

Yogi Berra said that "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is." Both table saws and compound miter saws can cut miters. But some practice would be required by either to use to best effect.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to do likewise.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

night work

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about boxes, and so in the wood shop, I made some. Black Elk talked about how one's dreams energize one's life, and that by acting out what we dream, power is drawn into our lives from the universal mind.

In my dreams, I had some trouble crystalizing what I was to make, so in real life, I made two designs and invite your comments.

The one at the left seems to reflect a classic Chinese design motif. The one to the right more classic modern, and might trace its design origins to Danish furniture craftsmanship. Both use the same router bits, with the initial molding being identical, and their difference comes from the molding being flipped.  What's right side up in one is upside down in the other. Ironically, the one at left appears larger than the one at right, even though they are exactly the same size.

Time magazine this week named a variety of things that schools could do to make themselves better for kids. One was mandatory recess at all ages.

Recess is like dream time, and power is drawn from detachment. How are we to know who we are and what interests us when we are overwhelmed by a constant stream of lessons in which we find little or no relevance to our own lives?

The reason I wake up in the night thinking about boxes is that I am passionate about making things from wood. Recess is not just about play. It IS a time in which materials are processed on neutral ground.

Some mornings lately, I've been finding it more difficult to write in the blog. Some say I write too much. But I insist that we come to our senses about how children are taught, and what they are to be taught. Those nincompoops who came up with the notion that we would live in an "information age," and have a "service economy" in which all things would be made in China should be called out and embarrassed for their stupidity. The control of American education should be wrested from their unskilled hands. Take sides and join me in revolution.

Dream, make, fix, create, and encourage others to do likewise.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Trees and outdoor education...

The upper elementary students at Clear Spring School have been involved in outdoor education during the start of the school year and their particular focus has been on trees over the past week. Next week they will make cutting boards using woods that they have identified on campus, so they will learn something about grain, the working qualities of the woods, and to identify species and their potential uses. In other words, they will have a strong grasp of their environment and their interconnections to it.

If we were studying plastics and their uses, and what became of them when we were done with them, it would be a far less engaging stream of study, but it might lead us on a virtual adventure, from manufacturing plants in China to landfills in Oklahoma, and to the gyres of plastic detritus swirling at the centers of the oceans between continents. Those are important studies, but we must first learn to act and learn locally within our personal environments, before we take on the greater issues that trouble the planet.

One of the things that excited me as a beginning woodworker was to lay claim to the whole of the creative process, taking wood in its raw form, and crafting it to a finished object. The spirit of sloyd can be found in that. I can remember being given a piece of wood in 7th grade shop class and a sharp plane and being told to square its edges and flatten its face. The same will happen next week with my students.

At school I have been experimenting with various ways to make limbs for archery bows. I've laminated some, and have bent some using the boiling tank for making shaker boxes. I have also received brass knobs that I ordered for tiny boxes as shown in the photo above.

Make, fix, create... Help others to do likewise.

Monday, August 31, 2015

virtuous reality?

Can you imagine sitting around in classrooms with each student's face glued to a digital device? Socrative works cross-platform, so students can use windows or mac or their iPhones or other digital devices as the teacher scores their performance real time. So, being glued to a digital device for even longer than kids are now, seems to be the future that many in Silicon Valley have in mind for our children.

Time magazine got in trouble with some of their readers (those who are propelling us into a virtual world) for using such a dorky image of virtual reality on its cover. Those proponents of VR like to think of their field as sexy in some way. Not what you see in the image above.

We are past due for a revolution in learning. But the gifts of the digital age are not all they are cracked up to be.

Education must be fully dimensional. What's called one-sided education is where children are systematically fed a collection of formulas and facts, whether by book, lecture or machine, and then measured through abstract testing to determine whether or not those formulas and facts have been successfully inculcated.  (Inculcate means to instill through persistent instruction, and is not be confused with real learning.) It should be noted that there is very little that's virtuous about the virtual world. Kids are often engaged in video gaming in which the moral structures of the real world are not in place. Then they may become addicted to distraction by their engagement in these devices and literally sequestered from engagement in real life, and of no real use, even to themselves.

One huge irony is the success of Montessori schools in Silicon Valley. Many who are closest to the development of the technologies sold to the rest of us, would prefer to send their children to schools where they learn hands-on with real materials rather than the virtual stuff.

Virtuous (in contrast to virtual) reality, develops both character and intellect through the making of useful beauty. I am experimenting today by laminating parts for bows so that our kids at school will be able to make their own archery sets.

Make, fix and create... see that others have the opportunity to do so, too.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ozarks Mini-maker faire...

A First robotics team from Camdenton
Yesterday I went with a friend to the Ozark Mini-Maker Faire in Springfield, Missouri and took advantage of the trip to swing by Grizzly Tool Company. My friend and I managed to buy two small drum sanders from the scratch and dent section of the store, so I've added a fresh tool to my woodworking adventure. 

Paper making with kids
The Maker Faire was well attended and had plenty of schools and small factories represented.  Kids and parents were excited. I consider it somewhat unfortunate that there was no woodworking offered at the fair.  It would have been a great opportunity for Grizzly Tools and others involved in woodworking to capture and lay claim to a fresh generation.

Kids who have had an opportunity to do woodworking may draw upon the experience for the rest of their lives.

Last night we wen to a concert by the Eroica Trio. Their performance was sublime, and an expression of joy. Should we not each find such pleasure in our work?

Make, fix, create, and incite others to engage in the quest for useful beauty.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

learning from the experimental

Vacuum tapering jig
Sometimes things work as we expect or hope, and we learn nothing from the situation. Other times we fail dismally, and we hit the books (literally) trying to find answers to what went wrong. Yesterday I tested my jig for ripping tapered veneers for archery bow limbs. It worked to perfection.

My experiment in using the vacuum bag to glue the veneers, on the other hand, was a disaster.  Since I am making these from greenwood, I learned from my mistakes that common wood glue is of no use with damp wood. So, I switched gears and methods. I went back to form and "C" clamps along with Gorilla Glue. I also learned that six flexible tapered strips is too many. The limb was too stiff for me to bend. With the next test, I'll try only three layers instead of six and see how that works. If any of the kids are strong enough for a more powerful bow, we'll try four.

Today I'm going to Springfield Missouri for the Ozarks Mini-Maker Faire.

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