Tuesday, July 22, 2014

so far...


Hand carve a sphere and cylinder? The three parts of gift number 2 are the symbol associated with Friedrich Froebel that was used as the marker on his grave. In this case both the ball and cylinder were carved by knife from blocks exactly like that forming the base.

In contrast, Richard Bazeley is using a different approach with his students to make spheres. He reports that students hold blocks in the vise while they work with planes and chisels to form the starting polygon. Then they use a rasp and sandpaper to finish the shape.

The photo below shows my progress so far in making walnut bases for the Arkansas Governor's Quality Award.

This has been a amazing year so far, in that we have ground AEP/SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool to a near halt in their plans to build a massive extra high voltage power line through our small local community. I have had to do a tremendous amount of work to stop it. In addition to writing in this blog, and finishing my most recent book about boxes which comes out in September, and other articles about box making in American Woodworking and Wood, I've written countless letters to governmental agencies, and more to local newspapers, including guest editorials. Without time in the wood shop to bring some form of balance, I would be lost.

All educators and educational policy makers should be alerted to the value of doing real things in real materials and the discovery of craftsmanship. Not only does hands-on learning bring greater character and intelligence, it also brings balance to lives over-encumbered by abstract, intellectual engagement.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission has granted a rehearing to my small organization, Save the Ozarks, as they agreed with us that the power company failed to prove the need for the project. It is designed to ultimately provide 16 times the available local power, and is to take power through us, not provide power to us.

Currently, the APSC is setting a date and time for the acceptance of additional testimony, and evidence, and will set a date for the rehearing, though we are sincerely hoping that AEP/SWEPCO will see the light and pull the plug on the project.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

handling mind...

The title of this blog post comes from an interesting website in Finland that concerns a project that explores the way the hands and mind connect. Handling Mind. My readers might find it interesting.Among the area of interest is how the use of the hands increases the plasticity and capacity of the mind. We mistakenly assume the mind controls the hands, but the mind itself is constructed by the skilled operations of the hands. It is a situation of chicken and egg. Which came first? They developed in relation to each other. And the hands, unlike the other instruments of perception, have the capacity to create and express.

I visited with a friend yesterday who has been a doctor for 40 years. He is frustrated with the ways that technology intercedes between the doctor and patient, and how the hands are becoming less well trained in new generations of medical practitioners. Perhaps we will arrive at a point in medicine where all things are done by robots, each trained to assess things that the trained hands of a physician once did so well. It will be like robots fixing robots. Whereas in the touch of one human being of another, feelings are made known, and in a simple touch, things can be fixed that can never be repaired by a machine.

I have been photographing the making of wooden spheres, and the making of such things as miter boxes, and doing a bit of whittling on the side. I am also preparing my thoughts for my trip next week to Marc Adams School of Woodworking where I will teach for seven days.

The hands are the primary pathway to real learning, and Friedrich Froebel utilized crafts early in his teaching career. He learned those crafts either as an observer or participant when he was a forester's apprentice in the Thuringian Forest in Germany as a very young man.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

learning ops...

The Kansas City Woodworker's Guild has an excellent woodworking facility and is offering a hand-tool pre-school in August and October. In the two day class students will learn to use basic hand tools and build both a shooting board and a pencil box. Sounds like a good deal to me. The class size is limited to 6 so each student will get plenty of help.

I started work yesterday on the Arkansas Governor's award for Quality,  a thing I do each year at this time. I was reminded that this year will be the 20th anniversary of the Arkansas Quality Awards, and so it was twenty years ago that I was asked to design the award base. Time flies.

I am working on the first chapter of the Froebel book, and also continuing to carve wooden balls. I used Richard Bazeley's technique of doing additional marking on the ball following reaching the Leonardo polygon, and found it useful and a bit more methodical.

I am also preparing for this year's classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Starting Monday July 28, I will teach my usual week-long box making class and then a weekend class on making small cabinets. Both classes are full with 18 students each.

I invite my readers to join the linked in group, Hands-on Learning. 

Juhani Pallasmaa, one of Finland's most distinguished architects said "philosophers regretfully continue to emphasize and value conceptual, intellectual and verbal knowledge over the tacit and non-conceptual wisdom of our embodied processes." His book is called, "The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses."

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 18, 2014

fuzzballs in box

Yesterday I became concerned about how it would be best and most accurate for me to tell how to cut a small dado for sliding lids in Froebel boxes. I thought of making a small scratch stock, but after consultation with Larry Willams and Don McConnell at Old Street Tools, here in Eureka Springs, decided that my first inclination was the best approach, that is to simply use a marking gauge to lay out the edges of the groove, and then use a 1/8 in. chisel to cut between the lines. This approach works best with straight grained woods. I've also made (this morning in about 15 minutes) a small solid tool steel clean out plane for clearing the grooves.

Larry Williams gave me a piece of 1/8 in. thick steel scrap left over from making plane irons, and by grinding one edge at a 10 degree angle and having sharpened it,  I hoped to pass it through the grooves to make them more uniform in depth, but so far the experiment is unsuccessful. The steel blank is too hard to hold in my hand if any pressure is applied. I'll need to grind it to a sharper angle and add a wooden grip and depth guide. When faced with academic stuff, smart kids will say, "yeah, I know that." But when doing real things, there is no end to the learning.

While visiting with Larry and Don, I also met their visitor from Finland, Tuomo Rinne. He is a preservation carpenter who discovered that the use of traditional hand tools adds value, integrity, and efficiency to his work. He is here for his 5th visit with Old Street Tools. He had met Larry when he was attending a class on making planes at Marc Adams School, and learned that he wanted more of the kinds of hands on learning that he could acquire in a more direct apprenticeship. I find it remarkable that old country craftsmen would come to the US to restore the tradition of hand work that set them apart in the first place.

In any case, meeting Tuomo was  pleasant opportunity for me.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Prowess...

noun: prowess
  1. skill or expertise in a particular activity or field.
    "his prowess as a fisherman"
    synonyms:skill, expertise, mastery, facility, ability, capability, capacity, savoir faire, talent, genius, adeptness, aptitude, dexterity, deftness, competence, accomplishment, proficiency, finesse.
    informalknow-how
    "his prowess as a winemaker"
    antonyms:inability, ineptitude
  2. bravery in battle.
    synonyms:courage, bravery, gallantry, valor, heroism, intrepidity, nerve, pluck, pluckiness, feistiness, boldness, daring, audacity, fearlessness.
    informalguts, spunk, moxie, grit, sand
    "the knight's prowess in battle"
    antonyms:cowardice
Prowess is a thing we gain from the experience of doing real things. And yet we design schools on the basis of pretense. Pretending to get ready to do real things, when the simple and direct approach would be to enter children into activities of real life.

Last night I was reading about Felix Adler's role in building one of the first free Kindergartens in New York City. His Kindergarten was quickly expanded to become the Workingman's School, later to become one of the most prestigious private schools in New York. At a lecture in Buffalo, Adler described a meeting with an aging poet, who I'd suspected was Walt Whitman*. The poet turned to him and said,
"That is all very well. I like your factories and your wealth; but tell me, do they turn out men down your way?"
And Adler asks, "Is this civilization of ours turning out men--manly men and womanly women?" 
There are values of character that come from hands-on learning that our schools neglect and that our children so desperately need. Will those who have been raised without skill except in an academic and financial realm know how to create opportunities for students to gain skills and prowess in our nation's schools? Walt Whitman wrote the following:
The Sacredness of Work
The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places, laying them regular.
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises, according as they were prepared,
The blows of mallets and hammers--Paeans and praises to Him! -- Walt Whitman 
The truest feelings of self worth, come from the experience of usefulness to others.

Richard Bazeley sent a photo of his student's exercises in carving wooden spheres. The steps before smoothing lead to a polyhedron shape that Leonardo had illustrated as shown at left and developed in the photo at the top.

Make, fix, create.

*When asked about Adler's quote of the "aging poet," Walt Whitman said, "I guess that's me: and it is very kindly and friendly, isn't it?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

cutting cubes...

Back in the days when Froebel was inventing Kindergarten, he was on a tight budget, but had been a forester's apprentice in an earlier day We have evidence that he whittled many of the "gifts" that he used to teach children. And so his participation in craftsmanship is undisputed.

If I were Freidrich Froebel, and had only hand tools and had access only to materials I could buy today at the local lumber yard, how would I make blocks? A common miter box is the best, along with a hand saw. The saw shown in the photo is similar to one that Froebel might have had. It can be kept sharp with a file and regular attention, and so a man with little money might become the inventor of Kindergarten, a task which would require the making of hundreds of small, regularly formed wooden blocks.

I used a spruce 2 x 4 for the needed materials. Froebel may have cut and squared his stock from lumber readily available in his own community just as I have done here. the quick video below shows the use of the fingers and thumb as calipers. As you rotate the ball in your hands, you feel high spots and note their locations. Then whittle.



Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

small local communities of craftsmen...

The image at left is from the Sverresborg Tr√łndelag Folk Museum in Trondheim, and illustrates what I've come to suspect as the truth of Froebel's Gifts. In the US,  during the early days of Kindergarten Froebel's gifts were made by large manufacturers like Milton Bradley. But throughout the world, they were also made by craftsmen in small local communities. Why not? The gifts themselves were of such a nature that parents themselves, with common woodworking skills, could make them for their own children and teachers themselves might make them for their own schools.

As a nation we have become so estranged from our own creative capacities that we have lost sight of the role that the hand plays in our development of culture, character and intelligence. We walk around with digital devices that are smarter than we are, and are dependent on what they can call up from the web, for the content that stimulates our lives. In the past, culture arose individually from the creative capacities of our own hands.

Years ago, my mother was so excited when my father bought her a scroll saw for her birthday. What mother these days would want that? But as a Kindergarten teacher, my mother knew all kinds of ways that a scroll saw would enhance her classroom. In her classroom there were wooden puzzles that were missing parts! With this particular birthday gift, she could make them anew.

School districts all across the US seem convinced that personalized learning is a thing that comes from their technology purchases. An article in Education Week, Before Buying Technology Asking Why? debunks that myth.  There is a cheaper and more effective way to personalize learning. We each have the necessary tools attached at the wrists.

Make, fix and create...