Sunday, January 25, 2015


This week at the Eureka Spring School of the Arts, the Blackmsith Organization of Arkansas built a bloomery for making their own iron from ore. It is a rather small device made from clay and the lengthy process should deliver about 70 lbs. of steel. The ore and charcoal came from Arkansas. The amount of sustained heat requires a huge amount of charcoal, and as this sort of thing is rare, even among blacksmiths, there was a large group in attendance and manning the works. As some tended the furnace, others participated in blacksmithing demonstrations at our coal forge and using "Big Blu" our new power hammer.

In the early days of iron making, huge tracts of forests were laid bare to make charcoal. When the forests were depleted and no fuel was readily available the making of iron would move to another location where forest resources were available. Only one of the members had ever attended the making of iron before. Thanks to ESSA and the BOA (Blacksmith Organization of Arkansas) a few more folks have participated in this arcane art.

A larger version of an iron smelter is shown here. It is now a roadside attraction in Sweden on the road north from Mora. Feeding this furnace would have required the clearing of thousands of acres of forest to make charcoal.

Unfortunately, a hole was punctured in the BOA bloomery during the process. It had to be temporarily delayed as the fix was made. That may have  led to a long night tending the fire.

In my own shop I finished my own four position router table for making my production boxes. This router table will allow me to keep the the fences and router bits for fitting box parts set at close tolerances, and will allow me to fill small orders in a more timely fashion without maintaining a large inventory of finished work.

The knobs shown at left are for locking fences in place and were made with commercially made maple knobs and t-nuts. The maple knobs were drilled for the body of the t-nut and the prongs to fit. Epoxy glue locks the t-nuts permanently in place.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Boom whackers

Yesterday as I was attending a staff development meeting at Clear Spring School, a local composer and pianist Ellen Foncannon began working with our younger students during the school's Friday afternoon club time.

Let's not forget that instrumental music is one of those hands-on activities that directly impact learning, as well as the development of character and intellect. As we sat in our meeting, we watched our children's marching band performance.

Boomwhackers are tuned plastic tubes. They are an inexpensive percussive instruments that can be used in performance. What could be more fun than beating on a fence post with musical glee?

In my woodshop yesterday, I wrestled with a simple electrical problem made worse by the fact that access to the wiring was through ports cut in the top of my four router router table, a newly finished addition to my box making process. I finally discovered that one of the switches was faulty, and now that all routers in the system can be plugged in and operated by outside switches, I can finish it today.

On the SWEPCO front, we learned that we did more than simply stop one massive power line. In light of SWEPCO's retreat from building the power line through us, the Arkansas Public Service Commission rejected AEP/SWEPCO's application to launch a new corporation in the state, Southwest Transco, that would be used as a vehicle to build a large network of extra high voltage power lines throughout Arkansas. The APSC ruling was on January 2, just three days after SWEPCO posted a letter of withdrawal from their application to trash the Ozarks with an unnecessary power line. I have asked that SWEPCO award my organization Save the Ozarks, 12 million dollars in damages. That would be only 10 percent of their proposed project costs, and less than 2 percent of what my organization saved Arkansas ratepayers.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, January 23, 2015

toddlers in the wood shop?

When my daughter was two, I was always nervous having her in the wood shop. At the time, I was in full production mode, had written no books, and the place was always full of projects, that presented a level of risk. Even a board leaning against the lumber rack could present huge danger to an unwary child. Anyone with a 2 year old knows they require a lot of attention, and while parents and grandparents will "baby proof" a home to assure child safety, it is very hard to baby proof a shop.

Still, it is important for children to be witnesses of their parents involvement in the real world and carefully monitored forays into the creative wood shop are important, even for the very youngest child.

A reader, Nick, asked the following:
I've been following your blog, Wisdom of the hands, for a while now, and greatly enjoy your articles.

As the father of a 2 year old, and also a hobbyist woodworker, I am curious if there are any projects/exercises you would recommend for a child this young? Most of what I've seen on your blog appears to be aimed more at grade school aged kids, and the same with most of what I can find published online from Sloyd. He's not ready for a handsaw or chisel yet, and at this point all I can really think of is giving him some scraps & a bottle of glue, and letting him make a mess of things. Other than that he's very good at "unsweeping" the plane shavings in my shop and spreading them evenly across the floor with the small broom I bought him and hung on the wall low enough for him to reach.

I couldn't find anything in your blog about children this young, but I would venture to suggest this could be an excellent topic for a book, and I'm sure other woodworkers with small children would also be interested in this as well.

Any guidance you could provide would be greatly appreciated as I am not sure what would be appropriate for a 2 year old in my shop.
What a special gift it can be to share what you love with a new generation. And it would be a good topic for a book.

As Nick noticed with his son, two is a bit young for making much more than a mess of things. When my daughter was two, my wife and I made chairs and a craft table where my daughter could work with playdough. She also started playing with blocks that could be stacked. Froebel’s block sets can be easily made, starting with gift number 2 and introduced at age two, progressing to more complicated sets over time, and only after the design limitations of each has been reached. At age three my daughter began playing with scraps in my shop. I had a low table where she could take the odd shaped cutoffs from the things I made and glue them into things that only she knew the meaning of.

At four, you might consider carefully introducing your son to various tools, small hand saws, hammers, and drills. Also at 4 or 5, introduce him to your use of drawings in your work, and give him the basic drawing tools, square, compass, ruler and pencils. It is easy to do all that stuff with an iPad, but the real tools are more tactile and give the body more of a sense of things. By ages 4 and 5 he will also be ready for some of Froebel’s drawing tools, consisting of small triangles of wood, sticks for laying out designs, and for weaving.These are great things to work with the child. when my daughter was 3, I would join her at her play table, each of us "crafting" with the same materials. Pipe cleaners were a particular amount of fun

Also, at age 5, get yourselves two very sharp knives. Whittling is best when the child has received some instruction in the use of a knife. Whittling together helps because it gives the opportunity to discuss proper safety of others as well.

At age 4 you can do collaborative projects, and at age 5 children can be encouraged to do much more of the work, with you serving as a watchful companion to serve the safety angle or the third hand when needed to hold something being nailed. I find my role to be that of cheerleader when working with kids on hard projects. They may complain, and then I ask, “Would you prefer that I give you something easy to do?” They assure me that they like hard work.

In any case, I hope this helps Nick and others to feel confident as we introduce children to the joy of woodworking.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, January 22, 2015


It is certain that the child's attitude towards work represents a vital instinct; for without work his personality cannot organise itself and deviates from the normal lines of its construction. Man builds himself through working. Nothing can take the place of work, neither physical well-being nor affection, and, on the other hand, deviations cannot be corrected by either punishment or example. Man builds himself through working, working with his hands, but using his hands as the instruments of his ego, the organ of his individual mind and will, which shapes its own existence face to face with its environment. The child's instinct confirms the fact that work is an inherent tendency in human nature; it is the characteristic instinct of the human race." (Dr. Maria Montessori, 'The Secret of Childhood', Orient Longman Limited, 195)
Today in the wood shop, I am working on my 4 position router table which will help me in my production boxes. At school, I'll have my 7th, 8th and 9th grade students.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Grace... and form.

Yesterday one of my students made a near perfect candle stick (if perfection is measured on the basis of finish and form.) The amount of pride he felt was amazing to observe. While a more experienced turner might have been able to do it faster and more efficiently, there is something palpable in the excitement of having reached one's goal.

While many parents wonder what their children do in school, mine go home with evidence of their growth.

Our struggle with utility giant AEP/SWEPCO goes on. They submitted a letter to the APSC denying that we had any right to ask for financial compensation for damages or legal fees, even though we saved ratepayers in Arkansas more than half a billion dollars on an unnecessary power line, and even though we have proved  that the power line was never needed in the first place.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

warp and weft, classroom and community...

In a tribal setting, or in a small community, people learn to have a particular expertise. For example, as a resident of Eureka Springs, my focus has been on wood working and education. Earlier in my life, I was the go-to guy if you wanted to have a door made, or a piece of furniture made for your home. The image I held dear was that of the small town craftsman in a community of craftsmen with each having areas of special expertise upon which the whole of community was reliant.

I have written before about linsey-woolsey, a coarse homespun fabric made of linen and wool. The linen provides the strength of the material, and wool provides the warmth of it, and communities are like fabric.You may have heard the phrase, "the fabric of the community." Some folks are woven deeply into the warp and weft. Some are placed like patches on the surface, poorly integrated and will be sloughed off in time. Some never reach a point of integration, for some reason or another. I can give specific examples if you like.

Part of the challenge of education is helping kids to know how they fit in. Learning in Depth is a program that helps children identify their own areas of interest and expertise. For instance one of my students was interested in dinosaurs from pre-school on. At public elementary school his teacher called his mom and told her, "I'm trying to get Wilson to stop drawing dinosaurs all the time." So the mother pulled him out of school to study at home. The stupidity of squelching the child's natural interests and inclinations would have been a grave mistake. When Wilson was looking for a university, he visited at Yale, and attended a lecture on dinosaurs. He learned that he already knew more than was being offered in the class.

Please enjoy the video above. The boy points out something that we should all remember. Crafting is research and a form of exploration through which expertise is developed.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, January 19, 2015


A micro-soldering mom.
This morning I saved over a hundred dollars by replacing the pipes underneath my kitchen sink. My wife asked, "wouldn't you prefer to call a plumber?" Why, if I could fix it myself?

There is a great website, iFixit, that offers how to fix tips for all kinds of things, and I was intrigued by their newsletter this afternoon, pointing to a soldering mom. You've heard of soccer moms, but have you heard of one who solders? This mom wanted to fix her iPhone, but it involved micro-soldering. She taught herself to do it, and now has a specialized business, fixing things that require her new skill.

Along the same vein, but in a slightly different direction, a friend of mine sent a catalog of Hemslöjd. Hemslöjd means home craft in Swedish. Unfortunately, this catalog is about things you can buy, not things you can make and too little of it is hand crafted. It is important to support those who make by buying their stuff. But it is even more important for each of us to join the community of makers and develop skills in our own hands and minds.

As Salomon said so well, the value of the carpenter's work may be in the  object he or she crafts. The value of the student's work is in the student. Making, fixing and creating are transformational engagements. If the world were full of makers and fixers, it would be a much better place.

Make, fix and create...