Saturday, October 21, 2017

pens and cursive...

Yesterday was a big day for Fed Ex as the driver brought 5 packages from Taunton Press. Three contained boxes that I had sent for photography in product review articles and two were blades for cutting box joints that will be used in photography next week when editor Barry Dima returns for a second visit to Eureka Springs on Wednesday.

Making of making of pens at the Clear Spring School has led to the practice of cursive in high school. The lead teacher puts a quote on the board each Wednesday and the students put it in their own hand writing using the pens they crafted in wood shop. An additional benefit will be that our students know how to read cursive.

In the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, my upper elementary school students decided that they wanted to make toys for the pre-primary students to be shared with them at our annual Harvest Party next week.  They began by making super-heroes and making wheels for the toy cars they plan to make next week.

On Monday I'll order boat building supplies for Building Bevins Skiffs at the Clear Spring School. The following week will be perfect for receiving an order of plywood shipped from Ohio, as I will be out from school for fall break.

Last night we held a successful Mad Hatter's Ball at the Crescent Hotel to benefit the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Make, fix, create and adjust education so that children learn lifewise.

Friday, October 20, 2017

finished Viking chest...

Yesterday I installed the hand forged hardware on the Viking chest, and applied a coat of boiled linseed oil as a finish. Linseed oil was used as a wood finish on boats and chests in the Viking era as it was a by-product from the growing of flax.  One or more additional coats will be required. It is relatively non-toxic, has a pleasant smell and can be replenished at any time.

My thanks to Bob Patrick for having made the hardware. It is simple, strong and appropriate. I followed his guidance on installing it. First use screws, then one by one, replace the screws with nails. It's better than screwing up.

In the meantime, there is additional information about the effects of smart phones and kids. In fact, the amount of screen time for kids is growing at a rapid pace and our knowledge of the detrimental effects is growing as well.

Parents too often use smart phones to distract and entertain their children, with the goal being that of keeping them quiet. The latest research indicates it does just that... delaying the development of speech.

It would be best if parents took a cautious approach to technology. But it may be too late for that. Children strive to emulate the behavior they see in adults. When adults are glued to their phones, ignoring what goes on around them, what can we expect from their kids?

Make, fix, create and set an example so others learn lifewise.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

I want to do this at home....

Yesterday I had a great day in wood shop. What starts out as a bit of chaos ends up with the students deeply engaged and reluctant to quit. The student shown sawing in the photo inspired several others to begin making toy cats, and then moved on to build a house for hers. The house was a ramshackle one, held together with a few nails and lots of glue, but it was carried home with great pride. I am not sure what the parents will do with such a collection of work, and I hope that they understand what it represents.

Beginning craftsmanship is rough, it's imaginative, and serves as evidence of effort, of growth and of learning.

One of my students announced yesterday, "I want to work on this more at home." It is wonderful to see children engaged in real work, and the joy of creativity must be extended into the whole fabric of life. It would be a wonderful thing if all schools would renew an interest in woodworking. It would be wonderful if all families were to offer such things also.

So the message is simple. Buy some tools, make them available to your children, and watch over them to see that they are safe.

There has been a dramatic increase in highway deaths that most are attributing to smart phone use.
Smart phones are addictive.  Less dangerous tools like knives, saws, hammers and the like, are addictive as well, but the consequences of their use may lead to greater intelligence and character as the child learns to create useful beauty in service to family, community and self, all without putting others at risk.

Make, fix, create, and increase the joy that comes from learning lifewise.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

33th semi annual

This Saturday is the 33rd semi annual meeting of the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers (NEAWT). It is being held at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire, and I was proud to have attended their first meeting in that same location, 17 years ago.  To RSVP or get additional information please contact Ben Kellman Networking between teachers gives purpose and strength.

In my wood shop yesterday I made progress in building a "Viking" tool box, fitting a bottom in it and bending the hardware to fit the curvature of the lid. Still remaining are to drill holes in the hinges and hasp, sand the various parts smooth, nail the corners, and attach the hardware. The Danish oil finish will be applied over the hardware, giving it a protective coat.

I have a second chest in the works, also, but with angled sides, and with hinges made from scrap steel. I'll make the hardware for it on Thursday when I have no classes to attend to.

Make, fix, create, and accelerate learning lifewise.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

viking chest...

The Viking chest prototype is ready for a bottom to be fitted and for hardware to be adapted to fit. Bob Patrick left the hardware un-quenched so that it will be malleable and can be bent to the curvature of the lid. He also left the hole drilling for me so that I can choose where to put the hand forged nails he made to hold the hardware in place. In next summer's ESSA class, students will make the chest and hardware in the wood and metals shops.

Today I plan a quiet day in the wood shop.

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

hidden splines...

Yesterday, in addition to trying to re-conceptualize the Wisdom of the Hands book, I prepared for another article in Fine Woodworking and the visit of an editor from that magazine in two weeks. This article will be about the hidden spline joint, as in the box shown, that will serve as a prop in the article to illustrate the finished joint.

I have yet to sand the outside and apply Danish oil to brighten the color of the woods. I will also add a lining so that it can be sold when the article is complete. The hidden spline joint gives great strength to the corners of a box, and does nothing to interfere with the grain pattern on the outside. If working with wood like this quartersawn white oak, the hidden spline joint can be the perfect choice. Making the hidden spline from a contrasting wood brings emphasis to the craftsmanship involved in forming the joint, and in this case, I chose walnut to match the top panel and lift tab.

In the wood shop at the Clear Spring School today, I will continue reading the manual for building a Bevins skiff to my high school students.

Nearly all of us, whether we are graduates of high school, or college, or hold advanced
degrees have in excess of 13 years of formal education under our belts. For some
education is a story of success, for some it is a story of frustration and failure. Some are led
by their experience to regard themselves as having great expertise, and some
are led to regard themselves as lacking in any sort of expertise whatever. That is the
accepted standard. Some win, some lose and education serves as a sorting process,
pushing some on a path toward college and some off the path entirely. In
America, we make too few allowances for late bloomers. Children do not all develop on the same schedule, and some of the damage done in schooling is never corrected.

There has been this idea that the digital world, and particularly digital devices in school would open up new worlds of efficient and effective education. That has proven to NOT be the case. Given digital technology, kids play with it. The do not learn. This link tells the sad story: The article suggests that:
“the new digital world is a toxic environment for the developing minds of young people. Rather than making digital natives superlearners, it has stunted their mental growth.”
Make, fix, create and increase the likelihood that others learn lifewise.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

my day (as planned)

Today I am revisiting my materials for the production of a Wisdom of the Hands Book, as I have no other writing projects to attend to.

Have you ever noticed just how much you use your hands—touching, gripping, sorting, folding, pressing or wiping with them? Exploring textures, gauging hot or cold, wet or dry? Holding and manipulating an object? Whether they are pointing, picking, pinching, smoothing or soothing—the list goes on and on—our hands are rarely at rest. Even when we speak, our hands are engaged, drawing out our words and phrases with gestures that give added dimension and emphasis to our thoughts.

In fact, our hands perform an astounding array of discrete actions each day. It’s no exaggeration to say that every facet of human existence, from the artifacts that inhabit and enrich our daily lives to our grandest cultural achievements, was touched by human hands. And yet, we rarely notice.

From one perspective, this is no problem: we function more efficiently when some of our hand skills, practiced from birth, are employed automatically and unconsciously. But because our hands are so closely integrated with our brains and so seamlessly responsive to our thoughts, we tend to overlook and underestimate their greater significance in shaping our individual lives, our culture, and our society. Even more, in America today, we intentionally eschew handwork, preferring the remote-controlled or battery-operated instead. We design things that are “easier to use”— meaning, without manual effort or skill—when those efforts and skills are in fact what can offer the greatest pleasure and growth of intelligence and character and are the building blocks of a meaningful life.

We also design our children’s schools to be hands-off environments, where the eyes and ears are engaged but the hands are too often required to remain in the lap. As a result, we have created an educational divide between hand and mind, emphasizing academics and relegating arts and crafts, if they are presented at all, as extracurricular activities. This bias persists into our society at large, ignoring or disparaging the value of the hands’ contributions to economy and culture.

Worse, is that by leaving the development of skilled hands to be something apart from schooling, we have closed doors for our kids, that open would have given cause for deeper engagement and lifelong confidence in learning.

Hopefully the book will go on from there (and from here). What I had at first intended was a philosophical treatise. It is a thing I've been trying to get my head around for 18 years. I've begun to realize that much of what's needed is a clear path of instruction on how to get going with it. Philosophy alone is not enough.

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The age of distraction.

Yesterday in wood shop, my high school students were at work as I began reading to them from the instruction manual for the Bevins skiff. Some were finishing their models of the Bevins skiff. I had noticed that they had been talking to each other about things unrelated to woodworking and found that reading to them was a way to bring them into a common focus. I will do that again.

Fellow woodworking teacher and author Gary Rogowski has a new book coming out called "Handmade: Creative Focus in the age of distraction" and I became interested in where the term "age of distraction" came from, as I'd been hearing it a lot lately.

Joseph Urgo published a book "In the Age of Distraction" in 2000, describing the adverse effects of technology. That may be the first use of the term, unless something earlier comes up. Do you believe that digital devices are eroding your memory and ability to concentrate for any long period of time? Unless you actually attempt to do real things in the world, that require patience and skill you may never know.

 I have a Clear Spring School board meeting today and will then resume work on a Viking chest in the afternoon. Working with the hands slows one down, and allows one to observe more closely. There is much to be said about being contemplative as an alternative to being distracted.

The hand forged lock shown above is one that I bought as a souvenir in Sweden, and one that would look great on a Viking tool chest.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to learn lifewise.

Friday, October 13, 2017

hand forged hardware.

I received a hasp, hinges, handles and nails from blacksmith Bob Patrick, to fit on the oak Viking chest I started last week. Now it's up to me to finish the chest and take photos for a summer class.

Today I have high school students only, as my middle school and elementary school students are off and recovering from their camping trip. Teachers, too, are recovering with a day off.

I am studying the use of a router to cut scarf joints in plywood, in preparation for building Bevins skiffs. The material comes in 8 foot lengths, and 12 foot is required.

The photo shows the array of hand forged hardware items I received in yesterday's mail.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the opportunity to learn lifewise.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

whittling in camp...

Yesterday I took knives and whittling supplies to Withrow Springs State Park to give Clear Spring School students on the fall campout some instruction in whittling. I also took a set of spoon carving knives even though the task of carving a spoon requires greater strength in hand and more skill than most small children have. Some wanted to try, and while intelligence and strength are not the same thing, both are complimentary powers in the whole child.

The Clear Spring School camping experience is one of learning to take care of each other, as individual children are testing themselves in an experience beyond the school walls and in nature.

How do we help members of our society to understand the value of taking care of and for each other while also taking pride in themselves? I was thinking last night about how it is important that we frame our debates over such things as guns and healthcare in terms that help us to understand our responsibilities and interconnectedness. For instance, I think it is a mistake when the Democrats claim that health care should be a right. Good health is a gift, not a right. We give it to ourselves to some degree. We may be lucky enough to find it sustained in our communities, in our environment or in our family genetics. Some may not be so lucky. We may claim a greater share of it through attention to regular healthcare, good exercise and diet.

The care we give to each other is also a gift and not a right. But then, what does it say of us (and who we are) if we fail to give that gift to those among us who are in need? If we choose not to use the government (our most powerful instrument of collective strength) to be of service to others, what kind of nation have we chosen for ourselves, and what kind of people are we?

I guess our nation has not decided about that.

When will we begin to understand that a large part of schooling is about caring for each other, about working out the small problems that may come up, and beginning to feel as though we each and all are a part of much larger things? And that we have responsibilities to care for each other!

If you look at politics in the US right this minute, you may find that many of those lessons were not learned. And the shame is on us. We do not give to each other only because there are needs, but because we also have a need to serve, and we will never be whole without having made a sincere and unrestrained effort to be of service to others.

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


From the Catholic Catechism:
"Virtue: Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.
There is a marked difference between the artificial world of "virtual reality" and the practice of virtue, which demands the search for truth, and beauty and requires becoming worthy of praise through service to both family and community. Woodworking in school provides a resource for the exploration of virtue.

Reader René asked if we need a new way to measure the effectiveness of schooling. If you are standing in front of a classroom, it is hard to determine whether students are engaged enough to actually understand what you are lecturing about. That's why they developed pop quizzes, tests, and standardized distractions.

But if the students are busy doing real things, or have the opportunity to do so, you can easily witness their level of engagement and skill. If engaged they are learning, and often at a level that suits their learning needs. Can engagement be measured? For those who think measurement is necessary, the following link helps to explain what is called the Student Engagement Instrument.

Today I have a piece of new equipment arriving at ESSA, and in the afternoon will take whittling knives to Withrow Springs State Park where our students, grades 1 through 8 will be camping overnight. The experiences that students have in real life may be challenging to measure, but have profound effect.

The knives in the photo are spoon carving knives, that I made and plan to re-harden and re-handle to take advantage of having learned to do better.

Make, fix, create, and increase the opportunities for students to learn lifewise.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

grasping the full attention of the whole child.

Standardized tests usually offer  a choice of three or four answers to each question. There will be one correct answer, and two or more that are deliberately wrong. The reason why some students do well on standardized tests (even when they've not studied the material) may be that they've been deeply enough engaged in the real world and in real life to recognize a dumb answer when they see it.

That may explain why so many students do best with learning when the hands are engaged in it. The hands have a way of discerning that which is real and true from that which was contrived for educational effect.

That may also explain why students studying science hands-on may have a leg up over those who learn science by lecture, reading and discussion alone. The use of the hands has a very particular way of grasping the full attention of the whole child.

It is worth reading philosopher Karl Popper in this regard, as I described in an earlier post:

Trump's secretary of Education, Betsy Devos is pushing online charter schools, as being the solution for rural kids, even through they have an abysmal success rate. In Pennsylvania, an early adopter of virtual charter high schools, "Not one virtual charter school meets the state’s “passing” benchmark." Virtual and virtuous do not mean the same thing.

Yesterday in wood shop at the Clear Spring School, I intended that my students make wooden puppets. One girl insisted on making a toy cat instead. All of the design of it came from her ideas. All of the work on it was her own with the exception of drilling a hole for the tail to fit. In addition to the cat, she made the cat's playroom also, including a cat bowl.

Make, fix, create, and extend the understanding that we all learn best lifewise.

Monday, October 09, 2017

How do we best learn...

How do we best learn? The following is from research, Modeling best practices: Active Learning vs. Traditional Lecture Approach in Introductory College Biology–– Sokolove, Blunk, Flaim and Sinha, 1998
"University science faculty have frequently voiced concern that active learning is fine
in principle, but it takes too much class time to allow for student discussion and reflection and that the approach does not allow for enough time to "get through the material." In this study it is true that less time was available for "coverage" in the active learning section (Section A). Yet, the results revealed that students enrolled in the active learning section did as well or better than the students in the traditional lecture sections on a majority of the shared test items, and that the performance of students in the active learning section improved significantly across the semester. The results suggest that the principle of parsimony, "less is more," implicit in the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) for K-12 students is also appropriate for large lecture introductory science courses at the post-secondary level." — Sokolove, Blunk, Flaim and Sinha, 1998
I am occasionally challenged by the question, "How do you prove what you say?" My question in return (aside from pointing to such studies) is, "How do you learn best?" And if challenged to name some educational experience that had maximum impact on the life of the learner, the response can almost without exception be interpreted as "Hands-on," not necessarily meaning that only the hands were involved in learning, but that the hands as a symbol of the whole man, or woman being totally engaged, thus gaining an exceptional learning experience at a deeper level and to greater lasting effect. So let's get real. Children and adults learn best by doing real things, not by sitting bored at desks and being told what's what.

If we think back on our own educations in elementary school, middle school, high school and college, during which we were generally bored and disinterested, we must not rest knowing that we've likely imposed that same degraded schooling on our kids. Tomorrow I will attempt to offer just a bit of insight into why hands-on learning may beat lecture even though less time is available to "get through the material." Getting through the material implies a rush job in which very little actual learning takes place, and yet it is what too many teachers across the US are given as their mission on earth.

Today I will continue an introduction to the qualities of real wood with my upper elementary students, and make wooden puppets with my first, second and third grade students.

Make, fix, and create, thus assuring others have an example for learning lifewise.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Viking chest...

I've started playing with a prototype for a "Viking" tool or treasure chest. Blacksmith Bob Patrick is going to make the hinges and hasp for it. Bob, having just returned home from teaching at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, will begin the hardware this week.

The idea is to hold an ESSA class in which students will spend two days making the chest, two days making the hardware for it, and on the final day, everything will come together in collaboration. It will be a way that the black smith shop and woodworking studio can work together, and students can say, "I made the whole thing."

Our hope is that it will lure blacksmiths into woodworking, and woodworkers into blacksmithing, and lead to greater confidence for all.

 A leading Apple designer of the iPhone said in an interview that it is being abused. What is that abuse? He said it mainly involves "constant use." People are addicted to technology that leaves them disengaged from the real wonders that surround them. What are those wonders? You will not find them on google.

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

Saturday, October 07, 2017

calligraphy and blocks..

My high school students have been practicing with the pens they've made in wood shop. Each Wednesday their teacher assigns a quote for them to write. Evidence of style is emerging, and the students are enjoying it, as you can see in the photo.

Work presented with style has greater impact. You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you cannot present them through a process that shows integrity and care, you may never get them across the threshold of success.

Yesterday in wood shop, my upper elementary school students made Soma cube puzzles, and as I was very busy assisting, I got no photos of that.

I planned that exercise to get my students to pay careful attention to the alignment of edges, and more careful use of glue. A side benefit was for them to observe carefully the difference between end grain and side grain. End grain absorbs glue more readily and is more difficult to get an effective glue joint. Success can be improved by careful observation of the materials.

To prepare for this exercise I make hundreds of small cherry blocks.

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

Friday, October 06, 2017


At ESSA, students are finishing a week-long class in blacksmithing, a week-long class in glass mosaic, and a three day introductory class in wood turning.

At Clear Spring School, my high school students will continue with framing square math, and my upper elementary school students will work on precision and less sloppy work. I have blocks for them to assemble into Soma cubes. In order for these Soma puzzles to work, the blocks must be carefully sanded and positioned with care in relation to each other.

I had noticed a growing mindlessness being applied in their work and I hope to bring them toward greater concentration and concern for the outcome of their work. Making puzzles is an exercise that I hope they also enjoy.

A reader asked for an accounting of the benefits of woodworking in school. Years ago Jack Grube and I developed a list of 21 reasons woodworking is of value in 21st Century Schools. You can find that, here: The reader also asked on behalf of her pastor, of the spiritual benefits of woodworking. Some of those are included (though not specifically indicated or separated) in the list.

I personally do not believe there to be a division between that which is practical and that which is of spiritual concern. Woodworking is a means through which children and adults can seek to serve in their families and communities whether you name that as a spiritual matter or not. There is little more important in the development of a child's life than the creation of useful beauty. The same is true for adults as well. Joseph, after all, was a carpenter, and St. Paul made tents for his living.

The photo shows Kip Powers demonstrating on the lathe. His philosophy is that too much instruction cuts into the student's time on the lathe and interferes with learning. It is better for him to give basic principles, and then to observe and counsel individual efforts.

Trump, in the meantime warns of a "storm coming. Let's hope not. Between guns and hurricanes, we've already suffered enough.

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

Thursday, October 05, 2017

I'm sorry you can't have that.

As our nation attempts to recover from the largest and most gruesome execution of civilians in recent American history, and we make a desperate attempt to come to an understanding of how a single individual can go so far off track, it is useful to take stock. In fact, the stocks of the killer's guns had been altered turning each into a machine gun capable of wanton mindless fire.

Tools can be like that. They can either be engineered to serve as an exercise of mindfulness and concern for each other, or otherwise. They can draw us together or split us apart. Ivan Illich had written a book, "Tools of Conviviality." Guns are often not convivial.

Republicans in Congress, financed by the NRA insist that we must not talk about such things, until the nation has had sufficient time to mourn. They said the same thing following the execution of children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School (and every mass shooting since Columbine) and have gotten away with it. There is a sense of false manliness associated with the owning and use of firearms. Forgive me for my painful sarcasm, but it's like wanna-be cowboy Senate candidate Roy Moore, waving a pistol at one of his campaign events. Whoopie ti yi oh.

It would be OK to adopt a national policy similar to what we have in wood shop. In wood shop students must demonstrate responsible and mindful use of tools in order to be entrusted with their use. To see that tools are being used carefully, correctly, and mindfully, I am a constant reminder. When something is pickup and misused, whether a tool or a stick, I must say, "I'm sorry you can't have that." Would that not be a good thing to bring up in the discussion of guns?

Blacksmith Bob Patrick and I are scheming a class for next year at ESSA in which we will share and flip flop students mid-week, making a Viking era tool box similar to the Mästermyr chest. Students under Bob's instruction will hand forge hardware for the chest. Students under my instruction will make the chest. At mid-week, Bob and I will trade students, and at the end of the week we will gather both groups to complete. Sound like fun? I hope so. The photo above is one example of a Viking era tools chest.

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

Wednesday, October 04, 2017


It was rather chaotic in the wood shop today as first, second and third grade students finished their animal habitats. Some needed trees, some needed houses and grass and one needed a cave where her mother cat could care for its "cubs". There was no shortage of creativity, and no shortage of excitement.

Now the students can continue work in their classroom, despite the mess. Most of the students had used sawdust colored green and glued on the board as grass.

Today at ESSA we have Kip Power's teaching introductory wood turning in the woodshop. I also have a program meeting to plan ESSA classes for 2018.

Make, fix, create, and increase opportunities for others to learn lifewise.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Yesterday in wood shop...

My students in first, second and third grades were to make habitat boards for tiny rock animals they have made. In wood shop they were to build home settings for them. I supplied plywood boards and offered a lot of materials for them to consume. They wanted a more concrete starting place, and it was not until I got involved making houses from cut off 2 x 4's that all got into full gear.  In cutting roof shapes, small triangles were formed. "Who wants bushes?" I asked. The small triangle blocks were in great demand, as were the small houses. I made lots of both.

To make trees we used a Veritas dowel former to shape the ends of sticks to fit 3/8 in. holes we drilled in their plywood boards. We will work on these habitats on Wednesday as well.
"Man is a Tool-using Animal. Weak in himself, and of small stature, he stands on a basis, at most for the flattest-soled, of some half square foot, insecurely enough; has to straddle out his legs, lest the very wind supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three quintals are a crushing load for him; the steer of the meadow tosses him aloft, like a waste rag. Nevertheless he can use Tools, can devise Tools: with these the granite mountain melts into light dust before him; sea are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwarying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without Tools; without Tools he is nothing, with Tools he is all." –– Thomas Carlyle
Even in a thing so simple as in holding a hammer, one can feel a change in self. Tools and their skilled use actually shift perception and identity. Guns are like that but on steroids. If people have no capacity to create, they may be drawn to the darkest side.

An interesting point in relation to the shooting in Las Vegas is how the tools we hold shape who we are. They say it is too soon after the shooting to talk about gun control. They say that would show dis-respect to those who mourn. How about right now talking about Columbine, Sandy Hook, Chicago,  Austin, and all those other places that have suffered so. If we indeed wait for all the mourning to cease, there will be no end of it. Capiche?

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

Monday, October 02, 2017

I wonder...

Is it possible to do something about guns, violence and stupidity in American culture? The fascination some men have with guns could be met by the possession of tools. The tools used to shape wood convey a sense of power and control, provided you've learned their proper use, and invested in the development of skill. Through the development of skill, direct relationship with reality is established and sustained.

There are lots of things that can go wrong in society, infecting people with malicious delusions. Generally speaking, however, we are made better and more whole when we are actively engaged in the creation of useful beauty.

My heart goes out once again to those who suffer from the serial events of violence that infect American culture. Some people say that guns are not the problem. I would say that people with guns IS a problem. Guns feed dark fantasies that are too often acted out.

Tools, on the other hand stimulate creative acts. When a man (or woman) has made something useful and lovely he or she is filled with a sense of self-love and self-appreciation. May we please work in that direction?

Today at the Clear Spring School, high school students will be working on independent projects and learning framing square math. Elementary students will be making animal habitats and projects from their imaginations.

Make, fix, create, and demonstrate skill so that others may learn lifewise.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

a link

A reader  (Dwight) sent me a link  ( to an article about toy making and Educational Sloyd, and when I followed it, I found that it carried me to the Journal  published of the Crafticulation Conference in Helsinki, 2009. I was at the Crafticulation Conference in Helsinki, and presented my own paper on Tools, Hands and the Expansion of Intellect. That paper is included in the download, along with many others for those who may have some interest in Sloyd.

Educational Sloyd is not practiced in Scandinavia as it was in the 19th century. There has been exploration and refinement and it is much more focused on creative engagement than it once was. So when people ask whether my woodworking program at Clear Spring School is "Sloyd", it depends on which century you are looking at. My purpose has never been to exactly replicate the Educational Sloyd from 1876. In Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, as well as Estonia and Latvia, an interest in Sloyd and its development has been sustained for almost a century and a half.

Otto Salomon saw his own particular work as a "casting mold" that would be broken so that other forms would evolve from it.

So here we are. 2017. What can we learn about education from Educational Sloyd? One thing for sure. They still have it in the Scandinavian countries. In the US, manual arts have been largely abandoned, particularly in the lower grade levels. Standardized testing does not measure either hand skills or creativity, so in the American teach-to-the-test obsession, there's too little time in school for the arts, particularly those requiring the use of tools.

The volume produced by the Crafticulation Conference and published by Nordfo shows that Educational Sloyd is a still rich field of study. The guiding principles described by Otto Salomon still are valid, and should guide the whole of education at all grade levels:
  • Start with the interests of the child.
  • Move from the known to the unknown,
  • From the easy to the more difficult,
  • From the simple to the complex, and 
  • From the concrete to the abstract.
So where do the hands fit in? If a child sees something that interests him or her, the first inclination is to touch. The hands are our most effective tools of exploration, making known to us that which had been unknown. The development of hand skills provides a model for all learning as we move from the easy to more difficult. The ability to touch and manipulate makes simple those things that appear complex, and the hands provide the bridge between the concrete and abstract. In other words, the theory of Educational Sloyd provides a foundation for educational development that should not be ignored.

The photo shows the use of a Sloyd knife.

Make, fix, create, and help others to discover learning lifewise.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

free day.

Yesterday I gave my 4th, 5th and 6th grade students "free day" which means they get to make what they want. It is their favorite thing. They have plenty of ideas of their own, and love to saw wood, use nails and glue and put things back together in new configurations from their own imaginations.

Free day for me is rather chaotic, with my name being called out constantly. "Mr. Doug," they say, "can you help me with this?" Or, "Mr. Doug, do you have a piece of wood, this big?"

The work that results is not of the finest sort that will be kept in museums, but is taken home with great pride. Our student work serves as evidence of creativity and engagement. These are real problem solving exercises of their own making, and while research reveals a marked decline in creativity among children as they age past kindergarten, creativity and creative engagement are intellectual components that require nourishment in a healthy society.

I have been finishing boxes as shown. After putting linings in these, I'll turn my attention to finishing some tiny bentwood boxes I hope to sell.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others learn lifewise.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Man, the symbolic animal...

Yesterday in the wood shop I added lift tabs to lids of boxes, did the final sanding, and applied Danish oil. One more coat of finish will be required, and adding linings will finish them for sale.

For a squirrel, the acorn is just a nut. For a human being it takes on greater meaning, and may symbolize the potential of renewed life.

The hands are not only instruments of our creativity, they are symbols of engagement and symbols as well of our higher selves. When the first mate calls for all hands on deck, he's not asking for the disinterested to saunter up from the hold. He is asking for the full intellect and strength of humanity to rise in full measure to the circumstances at hand.

And so when I say that the hands are essential to learning, I am referring to both the physical hand and symbolic hand.

If you think back to any learning experience that left a deep mark on your framework of understanding you will discover that you were fully engaged at the time, in reality, doing something that required the presence of whole being... that which the hands are the most effective and accurate symbol of.

To put the hands at the center of learning and of schooling is to recognize the full potential of the human soul. We are given these instruments to be of service to each other, and even the very young and very old have need of being useful to their families and communities.

In the "Lovely County Citizen" this week, Dan Krotz wrote about recent research indicating that children are taking longer to develop into adults. "Today's 18-year-olds look like 15-year-olds once did." Dan points out that this might be a good thing, in that teens are no longer sent to the mines. On the other hand, it may be that a steady diet of digital distraction immersing them in fantasy, and a lack of doing real things in school are making them reluctant to engage confidently in real life. Where we are going with all this may not look so good.

Better would be that we simply accept that the hands must be at the center of learning. They have the power to engage us all in learning at greater depth, and to greater lasting effect.

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

Thursday, September 28, 2017

it's Thursday.

Thursday is a home shop day for me, in which I'll finish some boxes started as demonstrations during summer classes. We also have Studio Stroll at ESSA, 4 PM, and then Thursday night professional football on TV. I almost never watch football, but feel inclined to do so, simply to express solidarity with those who kneel.

I find it ironic that kneeling, which has always been a sign of reverence, deference and respect has become for Trump and his minions a sign of disobedience, defiance and disrespect. What a shameful parallel universe of distortion and lies they are attempting to impose on us!

There is a simple honesty in craftsmanship (and also in athletics). If the joint is badly or carelessly cut, it shows. If a pass is thrown poorly, it misses its mark. In the real world there is no place to hide from one's failure.

Practicing craftsmanship (on the field or in the wood shop), we learn from our real mistakes and try to do better. It's not exactly like that in politics, where folks in power are allowed to pretend whatever they want. For examples, global warming is a hoax, and if you put enough money in the hands of the rich, it will trickle down in time so that all prosper. I'm curious whether those who have imposed such stupid notions upon the unwary, ill-educated and uninformed will ever fess up and at least say, "oops." Perhaps all would benefit from the practice of craftsmanship of some sort.

The photo shows boxes made during summer classes as demonstrations of technique. Finally, with hinges, and sanding they can be sold or given to charitable causes.

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My tool chest.

My tool chest that I made to test the Woodhaven Portable box joint jig is in this month's Fine Woodworking along with my product review. Sample copies of the magazine came in yesterday's mail. If you are a subscriber look at p. 22.

Today in the Clear Spring School shop, my middle school students will work on boxes that they can then decorate with pictures cut or torn from magazines. The boxes will be a statement of personal interest, but also be something they can use for years to come, keeping special things inside.

A box can be an explanation of personality and self. There are things that are evident on the outside of the box, and yet within, are things that make each of us unique. My first, second and third grade students will work on making "super heros and cats."

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

use it!

Yesterday my high school students continued exercise in framing square math and I learned through it that some were having trouble with fractions. One said, "I learned fractions in 4th grade, but haven't used them since." But being unable to measure accurately is a handicap. We gain ease in using and understanding fractions by using them, and using them again and again.

Following Joe Youcha's book, "Framing Square Math," I cut a series of pine blocks of varying dimensions, and stamped them with letters so they could be identified and reused. The exercise requires each student to choose two, and then to use a framing square to measure them, length, width and height.

I assured my students that it was an exercise, and not a test. The test comes when they are required to make something that works, and that fits. But they each wanted me to double check their work to see that they got it right.

Today I will be installing hinges in boxes prior to sanding and finish.

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

length, breadth and height

Today at the Clear Spring School, my high school students will practice measuring using framing squares, following exercises described in Joe Youcha's book, Framing Square Math. In preparation for these exercises, I've prepared random sized blocks from pine. I will mark them with letters so each can be identified. The students will determine the dimensions, length, breadth and height.

The point, of course, is that we (including our children) learn best by doing real things. The principle in Educational Sloyd was described as moving from the concrete to the abstract. When education is set up to move the other way, as it most often is, students are left disengaged, and bored. Failure to engage student interest makes what American schools spend on education a colossal waste.

My 4th, 5th and 6th grade students will finish their models of the solar system, and turn pens on the lathe.

My first, second and third grade students will continue making toys for their pleasure, learning and amusement.

Routing the boxes shown and cutting the lids free will wait until much later in the day.

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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

a steady application of attention

Yesterday I applied Danish oil to veneered boxes, and I'm pleased with how they've turned out. So I began working on 9 more. These will be sold or given as gifts.

The veneering is done as a form of play, and the process leads to three or more top panels made at the same time. Even though they are done at the same time, the process insures that each is unique.

The point of course is that there's pleasure in the making of each one, and someone might find some pleasure in keeping special things inside a finished box.

I am interested in learning whether the maker movement and the excitement that some participants find in it will lead to the long term development of quality craftsmanship.

As an example, a friend of mine, Larry Williams, has been making wood bodied planes for many years. His are the state of the art, and prized by collectors. He has only recently, and after so many years discovered design details in early planes that he and his partner will apply. The point is that watching a few youtube videos and doing what you see on screen is not enough to fully develop as a craftsman. Craftsmanship often requires years of doing the same thing over and over and applying steady attention to the improvement of your craft. It takes some level of dedication and commitment.

Will the resurgence of interest associated with the maker movement lead to quality craftsmanship? It may take 40 years to find out.

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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

quiet day in the wood shop.

Today in Northwest Arkansas we will navigate through an event called "Bikes, Blues and Barbecue" in which motorcycles and their riders will swarm on the highways and drink at taverns, and cluster in mass quantities to do so. Over 350,000 bikes and riders are expected, and my small town of Eureka Springs is one of the prime destinations.

The roads leading to and from town have hills and curves that make riding a thrill. One of our local pubs has a refrigerator semi-trailer parked outside to hold their inventory of beer. It will likely be emptied before the weekend is over, and we are hoping for a safe ride for all.

In the meantime, I have shop work to do. If Bike, Blues and Barbecue is like those in the past, there will be a steady drone of revving cycle engines, interrupted by sirens as the police and ambulances respond to difficulties. Again, my fingers are crossed for a safe ride by all.

I'm planning to finish boxes, start some small bentwood boxes, and will attempt to clean shop.

Yesterday some of my 4th, 5th and 6th grade students finished their models of the solar system. Some students were in a hurry to take their models home, but some will be left on display in their classroom as examples of student work.

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

Friday, September 22, 2017

lovely or useful things, music or at the very least spaghetti

Yesterday we had the premier showing of Eleanor Lux's Arkansas Living Treasures film showing her at work in her beautiful studio and talking about her work. There were about 50 people attending and enjoying the three films about local "treasures." We had the films showing in both the bench room and lathe room using the TV's we use for student instruction.

In remarks, I attempted to direct attendees to the necessity of making in schools. If students aren't making beautiful and useful things, let them at the least make music. If they are not making music, at the very, very least let them make spaghetti. Schooling should be infused with real life.

If you want students bored, disinterested, disengaged or disruptive, proceed just as we have with a regimen of isolated academic endeavor, thus keeping our children safely sequestered from the wonders of real life.

The photo shows a very simple way to provide an essential tool for elementary school wood working, a sanding block.

In Educational Sloyd, sanding was discouraged, as it was preferred that all shaping of wood be done with very precise, individual mindful cuts. Sanding obscurred those cuts. That level of craftsmanship would be lovely today, too, but children and adults rarely have patience for that level of infusion of mind and hand. The sanding block can be used to shape edges and make smooth, leading the student to observe with some greater care.

To make sanding blocks I use self-adhesive sand paper, cut with scissors as shown and folded around the edges of a piece of wood. These can be held in hand or secured in the vise.

Make, fix, create and encourage others to learn lifewise.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

straight and square

I got up early this morning and went to the shop, anxious to install hinges on boxes. (A task now complete.)

Today we have a mini documentary film fest at ESSA with three short documentary films will be shown featuring the three Arkansas Living Treasures from Eureka Springs. They say that hanging out with prize winners may lead to a greater probability of receiving the same award. Larry Williams, ALT of 2006, Eleanor Lux, ALT of 2016, and I have been friends for about 40 years.

Yesterday in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, I went over a few concepts with my students. Straight and square are useful math concepts that are essential to wood working, but will also be useful for other things.

The mini documentary film fest at ESSA begins at 6 PM immediately following Studio Stroll in which guests are invited to see what students have made during the week. You are invited. There will be a short Q and A following the films.

The cat in the photo is first rate, first grade work.

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The sensitivity of the child.

Children will spend a lot of time pretending through play, but this does not mean that they are insensitive to the implications of real life, or that they are incapable of discerning that which is real from that which parents and teachers have contrived for their distraction. For that reason, schooling should not be arranged to sequester children from reality, but to engage them safely in it.

Perhaps that's why students at the Clear Spring School enjoy wood shop so much. They are enabled to use real tools and real wood to make things drawn from their own imaginations.

I am planning a parent/child box guitar making class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking this next summer. I asked Marc if he had any particular advice on planning the class, as he has had a number of parent/child classes in the past. He advised,
"Just teach the parent/child class like any class. The parents will take the lead with the machines but the kids can do all the creative stuff."
I suspected that might be the case. It seems that the world is coming apart, with hurricanes, earthquakes and general stupidity at the top. There are some things we can fix, and some things not. But to take wood in hand and make something useful, beautiful or both allows one to feel for a few moments at least, that there we have some power and some control, in our own lives at the very least.

As we build the future one small gift of useful beauty at a time, things may add up.

The boxes shown in the photo are now ready for hinges, a lift tab, finish, then sale. At Clear Spring School today I will introduce first graders to the use of hand planes.

Make, fix, and create.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

this is your brain on art

It has 6 legs (or four arms and two legs) along with cat ears, and wings behind. What is it? Even the child who made it is not sure. Yesterday my first, second and third grade students continued making "superheroes."Some of my fourth, fifth and sixth grade students would have preferred that activity to making models of the solar system. But we started that project anyway.

We must make certain that children's brains are effectively engaged in in school. In the early days of manual arts training, administrators were concerned that exercises not be "purely mechanical," meaning that what the children did and made must involve the brain as well as the hands. Children's hands were not to be put to mindless (and mind numbing) tasks, like those one might find in industrial employment. Now we must demand that educational activities involve the hands as well as the brain. The hands and brain form a learning system in which each part refreshes and sustains the other.

Educational psychologists have long described the effect of art on mental performance. Now, through the use of brain imaging technology, we can see the actual effect.

Make, fix, create, and make full use of our most effective learning instruments: our hands.

Monday, September 18, 2017

solar system models, revisited

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, we'll repeat a project from 2009, making models of the solar system.

I have disks cut out to represent the sun, and large and small dowels to cut into discs representing the various planets, proportional to their real size. The students will drill holes mounting their planets, and will paint their work in their classroom or art class. This will likely be a two day project, finishing later in the week.

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Making a happy state.

The difference between these boxes and the veneered boxes I've made in the past is very subtle. The veneered top panel is recessed slightly below the sides, allowing it to be glued in a groove and for all the edges to be buried.

That makes fitting easier and less prone to error, as the panel needs not be cut quite as precise. Some may see the recessed panel as an interesting design feature (or not). Slightly less time will be required per box.

Other features will be the same as in some of the boxes I've made in the past. I'll install keys at the mitered corners to strengthen the joints, and use spring loaded barbed hinges to connect the lid to the base. The veneered top panels are some that I did as demonstrations and I'm attempting to make use of unfinished works.

We have witnessed a radical depersonalizing and unraveling of the fabric of human society. This is taking place in small communities, and in the world at large as people display greater anger and intolerance toward each other.

If we were living in an earlier time, I might be wearing the socks and mittens you made from the wool of your own sheep. You might be eating the wheat I raised and paid in exchange. We would think kindly of each other and be kind to each other. The web of human existence and the fabric of community life were carefully crafted from small repetitive acts of kindness and concern. The exercise of craftsmanship and the exchange of useful beauty is the antidote for a society in decline as ours seems to be.

A recent study proclaimed Minnesota as the happiest state based on a number of interrelated factors. My state of Arkansas was 46th as one of the very least happy. I will be teaching in Minnesota on the 10th, 11th and 12th of November so will have a chance to see that happy state first hand.

On Thursday at 6 PM at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, a new documentary short film about 2016 Arkansas Living Treasure, Eleanor Lux will be shown in public for the first time. Larry Williams, Arkansas Living Treasure 2006 and I, Arkansas Living Treasure 2009 will also be on hand to talk about our work, as our documentary films will also be shown. You are invited to attend.

Make, fix, create. Make yours a happy state.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

today in the wood shop.

I have many small projects that require attention to complete. The object of completion is to get them out of my way and placed and sold (hopefully) to make room for further production.

In Sweden in the 19th century, German manufactured goods overwhelmed the populace. In the past the Swedish farm families had met most of their own needs for boots and gloves and you name it, by either making these things or trading with neighbors. In the crafting of objects, the crafting of the intelligence and character of the people was assured.

When the cheaper, but well manufactured German trade goods decimated the value of home craft, the Swedish farmer turned to the making of Branvin as a source of revenue to replace that lost when their home crafted goods were no longer of value. Drunkenness was a by-product of the exchange. The Lutheran church became deeply concerned, as did the Swedish Parliament and King, just as we should have been over the past 150 years.

Educational Sloyd, the use of woodworking as an important part of school, was the means through which the industriousness and intelligence of the people was to be restored and the whole of Swedish culture was to be put back on the right track.

We can do the same thing here. It is relatively simple. Give students the opportunity to create. The use of the hands refreshes and energizes intellectual capacity. Don't believe me? Try making something.

Make, fix, and create.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


In wood shop at the Clear Spring School yesterday, as some students were finishing their pen sets and whittling pens, I invited others to make "super-heroes." One first grade girl announced, "I want to make a cat." Another one suggested, "It could be cat woman!" And so they began making super hero cats as shown in the photo. They used the little scraps that resulted from forming the neck to make ears. The photo also shows one left unfinished, and another with moveable arms.

Perhaps you can understand why children love wood shop. What they learn will not be effectively measured in standardized testing, but in real life instead. The children asked, "May I take this home?" And of course they can, and they did.

To make a super hero (or cat) of your own, begin with a piece of 3/4 in. white pine 2 in. wide by 6 in. long. Use a band saw or straight cutting hand saw to begin forming the legs. Then have the child make a coping saw cut to remove the scrap of wood from between the legs.

A coping saw is used to make cuts forming the neck. The top of the head can be sawn to shape or left flat for the attachment of ears, which are glued in place. The super hero stock must be mounted securely in the vise for all cuts. We use a drill press to drill holes for the arms to fit. In drilling, I hold the stock securely in place as the student turns on the drill and turns the handle to form the holes on either side. 1/4 in. dowels are glued in place to form the arms.

Today I will ship boxes to the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock.

Make, fix, create, and help others learn lifewise.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The longer school day.

There is a national debate about the effectiveness of a longer school day. If it makes room for recess it might not be such a bad idea. But educators might want to look more seriously at Finland. In the international PISA testing, the students of Finland have regularly thrashed American students, and they have far more recess time and less time in school than do the students in the US.

The following is from an editorial by Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg describing how Finnish schools differ from American schooling.
" constitutes a significant part of individual growth and learning in Finnish schools. Every class must be followed by a 15-minute recess break so children can spend time outside on their own activities. Schooldays are also shorter in Finland than in the United States, and primary schools keep the homework load to a minimum so students have time for their own hobbies and friends when school is over."
Perhaps instead of lengthening the school day, we should look at a more comprehensive approach. We know that the things we've each learned that had maximum and lasting impact on our understanding were those things we learned hands-on. Can we not use that idea to reinvigorate all schooling?

Yesterday at Clear Spring School, the 4th, 5th and 6th grade students formed a solar system on the school playground. Even serious schooling can take the form of play. Each student was assigned the role of a planet. And when they were organized began to orbit.

Today at Clear Spring School, my first, second and third grade students will whittle pens and begin making boxes.

Make, fix, and create...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Mondays are my busiest days at the Clear Spring School. I have middle school and high school students in the morning and then all of the elementary school kids in the afternoon. That along with materials preparation makes for a busy day.

David Pye, a woodworker, philosopher and author in the UK, had noted that writing with a pen was an example of the relationship between certainty and risk. You cannot dip a pen in ink without it leading to a mark. You cannot erase what you have written in ink, and so once you set the tip of the pen to paper, things are changed.

Pye recognized two forms of workmanship, that of certainty in which the intelligence is built into a particular device and the results are consistently the same, and that of risk in which total attention of the craftsman is required. In workmanship of risk, one slip of the chisel and you are set off in a quest for for plan B.

Workmanship of certainty may be performed by the unskilled and unthoughtful.  Workmanship of risk is made successful through the exercise and development of skill and mindfulness... Developing therefore the character and intelligence of the craftsman.

In workmanship of certainty the jig is made and the results of the machine like operation will go on and on in relative perfection, until the machine like operator shuts down the process. In workmanship of risk, whether writing with a pen, or sawing dovetails by hand, there are opportunities for growth of either skill or intellect available to the craftsman. "Pye proposed that we build things to effect change." Workmanship of certainty may have a profound (and overwhelming) effect on the world around us. Workmanship of risk is a means through which to transform self.

Today I will sand boxes, sign them and apply finish.

Make, fix and create.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Boxes and pens.

Yesterday in the wood shop I inlaid and assembled another dozen boxes. If a box or two of a particular design are necessary to complete an order, I make several extra at the same time to be assured I have boxes in my inventory to sell later. My strategy developed  as a custom furniture maker. Living in a small town in Arkansas, when there was not furniture piece to demand my attention and skill, I made boxes in preference to spending a day idle.

I also sharpened Sloyd knives, and prepared stock for whittling pens.

Today all my students will be in the wood shop at various times, from high school through first grade. All will be given sticks of wood to either carve or turn on the lathe. I also found that we can buy Chinese made ink pens on eBay for our students to use when they tire of dipping their own crafted pens in ink.

In the photo, some boxes have received their first sanding. Others have not.

Make, fix, and create. By doing so, you may encourage others to avoid the ineptitude that can come from failing to learn likewise.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

reaching back toward lost individuality.

An editorial from the Washington Post, asks fascinating questions about loss of individuality as we each become more enamored with what is offered online, and we do less to express our own personal circumstances and individual creativity.

The online world presents an illusion of control, as computer algorithms shape our experience and even deliver the right groceries on the very day
before the milk runs out.
"When it comes to the most central tenet of individualism — free will — the tech companies... hope to automate the choices we make as we float through the day. It’s their algorithms that suggest the news we read, the goods we buy, the paths we travel, the friends we invite into our circles... It’s hard not to marvel at these companies and their inventions... But we’ve spent too long marveling. The time has arrived to consider the consequences of these monopolies, to reassert our role in determining the human path. Once we cross certain thresholds — once we remake institutions such as media and publishing, once we abandon privacy — there’s no turning back, no restoring our lost individuality."— Franklin Foer is author of “World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech.”
 Yesterday in the wood shop, I made a stack of wooden boxes as shown. While they all fit a basic construction formula, each is different in subtle ways. In schools, when it comes to cursive, each child develops his or her own style. That is not the case when it comes to data, shaped to conform to exacting standards through tapping on keyboards. The point is not that cursive as an exercise is precious, but that the individuality of each and every individual is.

It has become clear that the online world presents a serious threat to our humanity. Engagement in the arts is a means through which we might escape what ails us. The promise that proponents of high tech make is that it will make things so easy. The satisfaction that is to be found in human life is dependent on doing difficult and demanding things. Are we to "float" through each day, or are we to grasp pen (or some other real tool) in hand and begin to make a real difference in our own lives and the lives of those around us?

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

Saturday, September 09, 2017

during recess...

Yesterday during recess at the Clear Spring School, I took note cards and pens and ink out to the picnic table where teachers were gathered, so they could experiment with the writing pens we make.  It should be noted that recess is not only important to kids, but also to teachers. It is a time to share concerns with each other and to share what is going on in their classes, while the kids come and go and release pent up energy from class room sequestration.

It doesn't hurt that the Clear Spring School campus is lovely.

The teachers were excited about making pens of their own and practiced with the note cards, pens and ink.

The simple pen holder consists of a piece of wood with two holes drilled in it, and then decorated and personalized with letter stamps and markers. One large hole is to hold a bottle cap in which ink can be dipped, and the other is sized slightly larger than required to fit the nib so that the pen can stand up at the ready when not in use. We are using bottle caps as ink wells.

Those who have not written (recently or ever) with real dip in ink pens may be surprised by the thoughtfulness required. The pen holds just a enough ink for a word or two before dipping again. Practice is required as to the flow of thoughts onto paper, and slowing down and becoming more thoughtful in what we express is not a bad thing.

The photo shows 4th, 5th and 6th grade students with their carved pens and pen sets. They voted on whether they wanted blue or black ink to take back to their classroom.

Do you suspect that writing is more fun when you are using dip in ink pens that you've made yourself? This is an example of what is meant by integrating arts (and particularly wood shop) into the curriculum.

Today in my own wood shop I'll be making boxes.

Make, fix, create, and take the fundamentals of real life into your own hands.

Friday, September 08, 2017


Yesterday the director of ESSA and I met with folks from the North Arkansas Community College about possible collaboration, finding ways to serve their students, and maximize the use of our facility. It may become a useful partnership for both institutions.

I've begun working on more boxes. In attempting to fill an order, I discovered that some sizes and types were in short supply. Must make more boxes! Lids must be inlaid and various parts made before the boxes can be assembled and sanded. It's a very good thing, as the making and selling of boxes in a stream of work keeps money flowing into the operation, allowing me to buy more materials and to pay for expenses.

Today I meet by teleconference with a panel of judges to choose the recipients of various Arkansas Governor's Awards in the arts. I've been somewhat overwhelmed by the number of nominees whose entries must be read through carefully.

The jumble of clamps and pieces of wood are pencil cups being glued up before being inlaid. I work until all the wooden pads and c-clamps are in use, and then do other things while the glue sets.

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

Thursday, September 07, 2017

introduction to woodshop.

Yesterday was our first day of wood shop for my first, second and third grade students. In the meantime, I have a thick notebook to review for the Arkansas Arts Council as I was selected to review nominations for this year's Governor's Awards in the Arts. There are about 62 different applications. Some are very well documented and some are not.

Some of the categories are more difficult for nominators and perhaps reviewers to understand. For instance, the Arts in Education Award calls for "An individual or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to integrating the arts into the educational curriculum." The challenging word in that is "integrating." Does integrating mean that you have the arts as part of your curriculum but where you do the arts in an unconnected manner? Or does integrating mean purposeful arts integration. Tomorrow when I meet with the other reviewers in a conference call, I will ask what the Arts Council means by "integrating the arts into the educational curriculum," just to make sure we all are on the same page.

My first day of school could serve as an example of what I have in mind. We have recognized the necessity of teaching children to read and write cursive. So lesson one was to make a desk set for hand made fountain pens. Each involved sawing. Each involved drilling holes where the pen would rest and another where an inkwell could be placed. Each involved the use of steel letter stamps to put the child's name in place. Next week the desk sets will be further sanded, decorated with markers (if the children want) and we will begin carving real ink pens. When the projects are complete, they will be taken to their classroom and used in learning to write.

Integrating in my mind is not to have art as a separate activity, but to have the arts infused throughout the learning process. Is history brought to life through art? Is literature? Is math? And if you answer yes, then you know what I have in mind.

The thing that makes arts integration possible is collaboration between members of staff, and the recognition that there are truly no walls between the arts and the rest of the curriculum but those established and fiercely defended by narrow minds. At the Clear Spring School and in those schools that have been fully trained in A+ all make a commitment to infuse learning in all subject areas with the arts.

With 10 tiny students in the wood shop yesterday, I had no time to take photos until the students were gone and the mess we had made had been cleaned up. The photo shows their labors.

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

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

recognizing the wrong answers...

Yesterday, Barry Dima from Fine Woodworking and I did more photography to illustrate making a hidden spline joint. We shot the sequence on speculation that perhaps the magazine will be interested in an interesting technique useful to box makers but less common than a fingerjoint or keyed miter joint. The technique for this joint is one that I discovered on my own, so it's not one that I've found published in other books or articles but my own. For that reason it may be of lesser interest.

Barry and I also visited my good friends Larry and Don at Old Street Tools as they were working on their remarkable hand planes. I thought it would interesting for an editor of Fine Woodworking to get to know the makers of what must be the finest wood bodied planes in the world. It was a visit I know Barry will remember. We talked about some new discoveries that Larry and Don have made about the refinement of 17th century English planes, relating to their balance.Their tools can be found at

The things we do in real life have greater importance to the shaping of our intellect and character than the things we read or witness second hand. Is this a difficult concept to comprehend? Is that not an idea (and ideal) that should be applied in American education?

The other thing about being involved in real life in comparison to commonplace American schooling is that one learns how things work, and how to recognize when things do not.

Let's take the multiple choice question as an example for exploration. Whether in a teacher contrived test or one made by the standardized testing industry there will be one right answer and 3 or 4 that are made up and recognizably false, particularly to those who have a foundation of personal experience. I'm using Duolingo to study Swedish and Norwegian and recently, Duolingo pronounced me 23 percent fluent in Swedish. The truth is that I simply know how to discern a wrong answer when I find one. So I am not actually that fluent. I simply know how to read through a set of answers and know when they are off the mark. Yes, I am gradually getting better and building my vocabulary, but I would be hesitant to claim even the lowest level of real fluency at this point. The only reasonable and real test would be to converse with a Swede. All else is bull hockey.  Is it fair to say the same about schooling when it ignores the real learning and developmental needs that children have?

Since I've packaged and shipped the box shown above for the article in Fine Woodworking, I guess its fate is sealed. I appreciate those who offered advice as to whether or not to put a pull on it. I chose the lazy and least intrusive solution by leaving it without pull.
My book Making Classic Toys that Teach has not as yet taken off in sales. It is a book that's hard to classify. Is it a book about making things, or is it about the history of progressive education? It is both, and it is intended to set the stage for families that are healthier and better engaged in giving to their kids, what they really need to thrive both in character and intelligence. If you are not familiar with this book, it can be found on here: You can help the book to have a larger impact by suggesting it to family and friends.

Make, fix, create and insist that children be given at least a chance to learn likewise.