Monday, February 27, 2017

The point of a nail...

Nails seem to be one of the simple things we take for granted, and it may seem silly to write such a long post about them. Made of steel wire, they are used to join pieces of wood.

They are easier to use in softwoods like white pine, spruce or fir, as harder woods like oak, cherry, walnut and yellow pine tend to bend them before they are driven fully home. You will have some luck nailing some of the softer hardwoods. For instance basswood is soft enough under most circumstances to be successfully nailed. You can also nail the harder hardwoods, but you must pre-drill the nail holes first, giving the nails a path to follow into the wood without splitting or bending.

In old houses, you will sometimes find square forged nails holding together oak full sized 2 x 4s.Those nails were driven into green wood in which the cells were still soft and pliant, allowing the nail to enter. Once the wood is dry, the nails are held fast. And you would never be able to pound those nails into fully seasoned oak.

Here's a  rule of thumb on selection of the right nail to fit the job:
A nail should be long enough so that over half up to 2/3rds of it's length goes through the first board into the one to which it is being attached. For example, to nail through 1/4 in. thick stock and to attach it to another piece of wood, the ideal length of nail would be 5/8 in. to 3/4 in. Nails longer than that tend to go astray, and shorter than that may give insufficient holding power. Of course the exception to this rule is when nailing two boards flat to each other, in which case the nail should be selected so that it does not go through both boards.
My youngest students like to just glue things together, but that tends to give a fragile joint. Some students on the other hand, love the challenge of nailing things together, even at odd angles, but often nails are made more effective if the wood is also glued. I sometimes have difficulty getting my students to do both. Effective nailing requires effective observation.

The drawing above is to illustrate an important point in the anatomy of a nail. Anyone who has actually tried to hammer nails will have learned that they can either bend as they are driven, or if poorly placed can split wood.
There is one little secret to nails that many of the finest carpenters will not know but that can keep you or your students from splitting wood. To make use of this secret requires close observation of each nail as it is positioned to drive into the wood.

When nails are made, wire is pressed between two dies that form its head and point. The process leaves a small mark across the top of the head, and two sharp edges at the point on opposite sides and parallel to the mark on the head. These sharp edges when properly aligned cut into the grain, allow the nail to pierce the wood without splitting if the sharp edges are positioned at a 90 degree angle across the grain. If the nail is positioned so that these edges parallel the grain, the point of the nail works as a wedge splitting the wood.

On very small nails like those used by kids in woodworking projects, the line at the top, and the tiny edges require close scrutiny. The edges are also sharp enough that you can determine proper orientation by feel. Learning the value of close observation is one more thing that students can learn in wood shop. This can be presented as a lesson on the value of close observation. Students can test the theory themselves to see if the lesson is true.
This lesson goes with the illustration above, and there are other fine points in the use of nails that can be discussed. While we tend to learn a few things over time without them necessarily entering the verbal domain, bringing ideas forward into language allows them to be shared with each other.

Make, fix, create and share an understanding that we all learn best likewise.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

new bench design...

Yesterday I finished the Infinity Dovetail Spline demonstration box and got it packaged for shipping to Fine Woodworking. I also designed a new work bench for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

The idea of this bench is that the metal tool cabinet provides both stability, and a place to keep necessary hand tools. This is not the final version of the design, as some changes will be made as the need becomes clear. Also, construction details need to be put in. The leg assembly technique is the same that I used on my own bench, with the joints formed through the use of overlapping stock. With the design being in Sketchup, I can make changes without having to start anew.

Eleven benches will be required.

It occurred to me that at some point I need to discus nails. Nails are not generally a point of discussion for "fine" woodworking. But choosing the right nail and having it available when working with kids using softwoods requires an understanding of them. It may take me a couple days to pull together what I need to say about nails. Nails are not quite as simple a subject as they may appear.

Make, fix, create and activate your interest in advocacy, that others may be lured to learn likewise.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

veneered tops...

Yesterday my high school students began playing with veneers to make top panels for boxes. There is an aspect of the Dunning-Kruger effect that suggests that those who know how to do things, underestimate what they know, thus making the erroneous assumption that what they can do is also easy for others. I found that what I do, though easy for me, may not be so easy  for some of my students. I assured my students that though they may have made a false start, they are welcome to begin again.

In my review of the Infinity Dovetail Spline system I have worked on a second and third box, and have thereby learned just a bit more about it. And yet, in schools, the value of repetition is seldom stressed. Children are encouraged to have a "been there, done that" attitude that will not serve them well in real life, for practice does truly lead to better if not perfection.

I also launched a conversation with my high school students, asking, "Between boys and girls, which gender is more encouraging of each other?" I have noticed that some students are reticent to admit liking things at various times, as to do so would encumber them with the judgment by others of being uncool. The fear of being adjudged uncool, can squelch ambitions and progress.  I told them about my weight lifting group in which each of us sincerely encourages each other's efforts. Perhaps I can help the boys to be more helpful and encouraging to each other, as all immediately recognized without question that the girls had greater capacity for encouraging each other than the boys. Recognition of what we do (or don't do) for each other is the first step in bringing change.

The box is made from spalted sycamore with a burled walnut veneer on top. The dovetail spline joints were formed using an Infinity Dovetail Spline system.

Make, fix, create and increase the probability that others learn to learn likewise.

Friday, February 24, 2017


Jill Jonnes' book Urban Forests describes the efforts of non-profit associations of the tree loving kind to set a monetary value on trees, measuring their beneficial economic effects on the environment thus attempting to measure their net worth in dollars and cents. Sense might be a better measure than cents.

Today I am back in the forests of Northwest Arkansas, but yesterday as I walked toward Riverside Park from 95th and Broadway, I captured the image of a tree that had captured construction debris directly from the air. I took that image as symbolic of the important economic role that trees of all species play in cities.

Much of what trees do, we cannot see. They remove particulates, harmful chemicals and carbon dioxide, while returning oxygen to the air. They remove and help manage the amount of urban runoff from storm water. Environmentalist have felt an urgency to put monetary values on such things largely because there are those who are too insensitive to perceive the other values trees impart to the urban environment.

Putting things in dollars and cents, a single tree can pay back thousands of dollars, in return for a only a hundred or two invested in its planting and care. Imagine an urban landscape devoid of life affirming trees. Their effects on the human psyche are also real.

As I was on my walk, I observed the following:
Trees are essentially selfless, giving their all without a moment's hesitation to the betterment of the planet, while some men, in contrast, ruthlessly take all that they can, careless of their effects on other people and the planet at large.
The other image is of a honey locust tree. They are noted for their thorns and long seed pods.While the thorns might make them unattractive to some and the seed pods a nuisance to others, they are noted for surviving in urban situations. This one is in Riverside park. In its 40 or 50 years of life, it has given thousands of dollars in benefits (measurable and immeasurable) to the city at large.

René had asked in a comment below if there is any particular reason that woodworking should be promoted in schools over some other particular craft.The fact that wood connects students to their own natural environment is but one.

Make, fix, create, and assist others to understand the necessity of learning likewise.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

rubbing the tree of hope...

Last night we attended Amateur night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The talent was wonderful, the host funny and talented himself.

It is a tradition for entrants of all ages to rub what's left of the tree of hope, a section of hollow elm left from a tree that had stood years before in front of the Lafayette Theater which also had hosted a talent night.

It was amazing to be in the theater that had meant so much to so many early performers. Dionne Warwick was in the audience. The Apollo is still playing a similar role today, by giving young ones their first chance on stage.

Each performer coming on stage was careful to rub the stump for good luck. And it can be assured, that trees do have a special place in the world of luck, as we would all suffer without them. The tree from which the stump came had not had such good luck on its own. It was likely a victim of Dutch Elm Disease, and was notably hollow.

Today we head home to Arkansas.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

yesterday in New York

My wife, my daughter and I went to the 911 museum yesterday and outside on the museum grounds, I looked for the Callery Pear tree that had been rescued from the 911 site in the days after September 11, 2001, broken, uprooted, and yet showing signs of life. It was dug up, nurtured back to health, and has been replanted on the site.

I was made aware of this tree by the book Urban Forests by Jill Jonnes. The tree became a symbol of hope, renewal, healing and survival during a major international crisis, the repercussions of which are ongoing around the world to this day.

There is a seedling program that provides seedlings raised from this "survivor tree"to communities that have suffered tragic loss. The tag in the tree identifies it as one of the artifacts recovered from the 911 site.

As I've seen in the news, Trump attacked the news media as un-American and "enemies of the people." I'm not sure where he gets his ideas. I, like so many others am troubled. One cannot attend the 911 memorial without thinking about the sacrifices real Americans make each day, and not only during times of greatest national trauma. Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, wrote an editorial: These are the American people Trump calls enemies of the American people. Whatever Trump thinks or spews, the members of the media are true patriots.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

ethical culture society

Ethical Culture Society, 5th Ave. NYC
Yesterday my wife and daughter and I attended the #notmypresident day rally at Columbus Circle in New York City. We joined with thousands of others challenging the legitimacy of the 45 president. On the way, we walked past the Ethical Culture Society building on 5th Avenue.

Some of my readers may recognize the name Felix Adler, founder of the Ethical Culture Society and the Working Man's School. Adler was a proponent of manual arts training for all children. He was also instrumental in bringing Kindergarten to New York City.

If you use the search block at upper left and type in "Adler" you will find earlier posts complete with quotes from Adler's book The Moral Instruction of Children. He recognized the importance of manual arts training, even for those children who planned to attend college, as the hands were applicable to learning in every subject. The use of the hands in service of others is the foundation for moral behavior. Have you heard of the word "craftsmanship" and wondered what it entails? If you've missed the point that it involves values, character and morality, please allow me to invite you to deeper reflection on the subject at hand. If we want students to be good and smart, or smart and good, there can be no better means than by the reintroduction of wood shops to our nation's schools.

In conventional schooling, children are instructed to believe this or that and are tested on it. In the schools we need to support Democracy, children will test and challenge themselves by DOING meaningful things for family and community. Some of that should include making beautiful and useful things from wood.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.