Wednesday, July 27, 2016

today in the woodshop.

I have started a couple more boxes for guitars and am making a full size neck for a six string. If you can make a 4 string or a 3 string, adding two or three more strings is easy. I am also getting ready for my class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts in two weeks, and beginning to plan for the coming school year.

Readers interested in learning hand-tool woodworking may need to look no further than the turn of the 19th century for all the information required. The Course of Study, Manual Arts Training Department, Chicago Public Schools, 1899-1900, offers a full and useful range of knowledge for teachers as well as for those who would simply like to learn on their own. It provides information on over 100 different species of wood, but also information that many woodworkers no longer know. For example, the various types of teeth on saws, and about saw set, and the like.

One of the great things about woodworking is that through it we cultivate both intellect and skill. For those who would like neither, tools are being designed that remove the necessity of both. For instance, Wired magazine this month has a hand held router that adjusts itself for the inexact motions of the operator. Instead of watching your work, you watch the screen on the router as you move it through inexact motions and the router adjusts itself to a perfect cut. I am certain that many woodworkers will be lined up to buy skills that they've not earned through practice and application of mind. For the rest of us, old books from the tail end of the 19th century may suffice. 

The image above is of the Gamble House in Pasadena.  I was there on Saturday to see the lovely woodwork. Interior photos were not allowed, but there are many images to be enjoyed on the web and in books.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

a box of good tools...

I am back in Arkansas from L.A. and reflecting on the things we did there other than drive in freeway traffic. It is pleasant indeed to be away from all those cars.

Among other things we visited the Gamble House and the Getty Museum. As a woodworker, both were of interest.

I also visited the LA Museum of Craft and Folk Art. A few years back a group of members came to Eureka Springs to visit me, and I never knew why. It remains a mystery to me, as the L.A. Museum of Folk Art is a rather small place in the vast L.A. scheme of things.

The image above is a "display" cabinet (Kabinettschrank) in the Getty. At the time it was made in the 1600's it was proposed to contain what was known of the universe. It opens on all four sides to drawers and doors, each compartment holding some aspect of what was known of science and culture.
On the other hand, the following is from the Course of Study, Manual Arts Training Department, Chicago Public Schools, 1899-1900
Give your boys a box of good tools, and if possible a room or place for a workshop. Employed in it, they will not only be kept out of mischief, but they will be strengthening their muscles, exercising their mental powers, and fitting themselves for greater usefulness, when they shall be called upon to take their places in the ranks of men.
The cabinet shown above, might be called a curio cabinet, as it contained objects of curiosity. But to make children even more curious, give them real tools instead.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the joy of learning and living likewise.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The tool house at home

The following is from Bayard T. Putnam's article in July, 1895, "Century."
"I wish to present a plea for a 'tool house' at home for the young people, and one well stocked with the best tools. A great deal of creditable work has doubtless been done with a jack-knife and an old cross-cut saw, reinforced, possibly, with a half-worn- out smoothing plane, a rusty bit or two, and, perhaps, a chisel; and a certain amount of ingenuity has unquestionably been developed by the adaptation of these tools to the work in hand. But, after all, the best that can usually be said of such work is that it is very well done considering the means. The edges are rarely square and true, the joints are rarely well made, and the time consumed on the "job" is apt to be unduly prolonged, so that the work, if intended for something more than a mere makeshift, becomes wearisome before it is completed. A necessary consequence is that the boy (or girl, for there is no reason why a girl should be ignorant of the use of tools) becomes discouraged with his work, and decides that his forte is in some other direction. If on the other hand, a boy once becomes familiar with the use of good tools — tools such as an artisan would use for the same work — the knowledge stands by him, and is a source of constant pleasure and often of some profit. In a few words, to use a Western expression, the best tools ought not to be 'too rich for the blood' of any intelligent American boy."
Along with the best tools must be supplied some knowledge in their care, and safe use. You may play a part in that if you choose to do so.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the likelihood of learning likewise.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

the bent for mechanical pursuits

The following is from the Course of Study, Manual Arts Training Department, Chicago Public Schools, 1899-1900
Skill in the use of tools is of incalculable advantage. It gives useful employment to many an otherwise idle hour. It prompts one to add a thousand little conveniences to the house, which, but for this skill would never be made. In a word, it is carrying out, in a fuller sense, the design of the Creator, when he implanted the faculty of constructiveness within us. A bent for mechanical pursuits usually manifests itself at a very early period in life; the inclination of the six-year-old boy to hammer and pound, to tear open toys and clocks to 'see what makes 'em go,' all so annoying to the careful parent, may be taken as indications of latent constructive genius, although now manifested in a very destructive form. In the youth the mechanical bias becomes still more apparent, manifesting itself in attempts to construct wagons, boats, small engines, etc. With such a boy a mechanical education is no doubtful experiment. Give your boys a box of good tools, and if possible a room or place for a workshop. Employed in it, they will not only be kept out of mischief, but they will be strengthening their muscles, exercising their mental powers, and fitting themselves for greater usefulness, when they shall be called upon to take their places in the ranks of men.
I am still in L.A. and must wonder how many children in this very large place get the kind of education they most need, and that fits best their natural inclinations.

Make, fix, create, and offer to others the love of learning likewise.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Ben Franklin

No character in American history who had not served as president of the US had greater effect on life and on politics than Ben Franklin. He was an inventor, an author, and scientist whose writings had led to the founding of the University of Pennsylvania. When he was a young man, he was always busy trying to make things while at the same time as described by Zacharia, "philosophizing and imagining in the abstract."

He wrote a pamphlet describing the ideal system of university education that can be found here: Proposals relating to the education of youth in Pensilvania. It is worth considering if we were to ever reimagine what education should become if we were to scrap the stiff, self-conscious, unnatural and overly expensive system we have now.

I am still in L.A. and enjoying a brief family reunion. We plan to go to the Getty Museum today.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the joy of learning likewise.

Friday, July 22, 2016

in L.A.

I am in Los Angeles for a family reunion and away from my wood shop.

I have been reading Fareed Zacharia's new book In Defense of a Liberal Education, and nearly finished it on my 3 1/2 hour flight from Arkansas. The book starts out telling a bit about his own life and then a bit about how our universities became what they are. Then he explores jut a bit of what universities may be destined to become.

I received this book from a student at MASW who said that it was a good book except for the fact that Zacharia said too little about the hands. About that I agree.

My wife reminded me that in her last trip to New York she and my daughter had seen Fareed Zacharia in Metro Diner on the upper west side. In response to reading Zacharia's book, I am attempting to conceptualize what an ideal university might be like. It would be much more like a think tank except that the participants  would have real things to think about. They (professors and students) would  be making beautiful and useful things within it.

As they worked under the tutelage of expert philosopher/craftsmen to create objects of lasting beauty, students would discuss life and philosophy, the materiality of the substances (sciences) they transformed, and reflect upon and write about what they had done and how their ideas and ideals connect and shape community, human culture and the world at large..

Just like the colleges that gave universities their starting points, they would be small and their work would be intense.

Make, fix, create and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Jewelry cabinet

One of the students, Don, from my MASW cabinet making class finished his small cabinet, and fitted the inside for use with jewelry. He had opted to leave the shelves out and design the interior to his wife's specifications. He says it was helpful to be able to finish the cabinet at home and to have his wife's input on the interior design. Is that not always the case? We are smarter and make better decisions when we collaborate with others.

I am impressed with his work.  I am hoping that many of the other cabinets made by my students will be equally lovely. Don included a secret compartment in his and used it to display some of his skills on the lathe,  by making turned pegs and ring holders.

The cabinet (without Don's additions) is one featured in my book, Building Small Cabinets. 

Editorial review and corrections are now completed for my Tiny Boxes book and it is ready to move along to its next stage in production.

One of my students at MASW gave me a copy of Fareed Zakaria's book, In Defense of a Liberal Education. (Thanks, Andy!) One of the many points it makes is that trying to educate young people to fit careers is not enough. They need to be brought up into the broad expanse of human culture, becoming engaged in an understanding of history, and literature. Who can argue with that? I for one, would never do that. But to focus on intellectualism alone as "liberal education" is not enough. The hands must also be included in the making of useful beauty as a grounding for all else.

The illusion of a successful economy is what happens when you have an intellectual elite that has been groomed and cultivated to be out of touch with the working class as described by Woodrow Wilson in 1909 when he was president of Princeton.

"We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."—Woodrow Wilson
At least in Wilson's time the lower class was understood to have value and Wilson provided some understanding of the value of the middle class and practical learning in the following:
"You cannot develop human nature by devoting yourselves entirely to the intellectual side of it. Intellectual life is the flower of a thing much wider and richer than itself. The man whom we deem the mere man of books we reject as a counsellor, because he is separated in his thinking from the rich flow of life. It is the rich flow of life, compact of emotion, compact of all those motives which are unsusceptible of analysis, which produces the fine flower of literature and the solid products of thinking."—Woodrow Wilson
The same can be said of a man of labor. His work may be an expression of intellectual engagement and a flowering of human culture, just as might be that of the academic. The most fruitful flowering is when both sides are expressed in and through each other. I feel like writing Zakaria and asking him if he understands the value of the manual arts. Educational Sloyd was at one time considered an important part of a liberal education.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the courage to learn likewise.