Thursday, September 29, 2016


I try not to promote the benefits of being a packrat, but having a few unfinished projects lying around can be an advantage at times. For instance, when Fine Woodworking editor Dillon Ryan arrived yesterday for an article about boxes, and we realized the need to have a few boxes available to work on while he's here, I simply had to dig into a few places to find unfinished boxes that will fill the bill. This photo shoot gives me the excuse to now tidy up throughout the shop.

Today, while Dillon is taking shots of finished boxes with various hinge types, I'll be bringing various unfinished boxes up to snuff so we can take additional shots of hinges being installed.

My suggestion for your day?

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

today in wood shop.

Anaxagoras: Man's wisdom comes from his hands
This afternoon, m students in first, second and third grades will work on their toy trains. With the engines nearly complete, they are planning the various cars their trains will pull. Some want "box cars" that can carry other things, so I'll prepare stock before class.

This afternoon Dillon Ryan from Fine Woodworking will arrive to take photographs for an article. I'll be blogging on the light side for the next couple days. I'll remind readers that there is a search feature connected with this blog. It is at the upper left. I've been writing this feature for over 10 years now, so there is plenty of content to keep you reading things you might enjoy for the next few days without my adding much more.

Here are some suggested search terms... Sloyd, Nääs, Helsinki, Froebel, Wilson, Crawford, brain, research. Play around and see what you find. If there's anything that you read that strikes your fancy, use the comments feature to respond.

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

the advantages of wood shop.

Yesterday in wood shop I neglected to take photos. My 7th and 8th grade students have decided to help the school with our "social media presence," so in addition to gluing shaker box sides and sanding parts for making hand bells, we used clamps and sticks to make a tripod to hold an iPhone so that interview videos could be taken. One student is taking still photos and another video clips of woodworking in action.

The exercise revealed one of the many advantages of wood shop. No tripod? Make one.

My first, second and third grade students worked on making toy trains, and are very excited about their work.

Around the shop, I'm getting ready for Dillon Ryan from Fine Woodworking to come and take photos for an article about hinges for wooden boxes. Dillon will the third editor from Fine Woodworking to come here to visit my shop, with Tom Begnal being the first in about 2006. The photo above is from that visit.

Make, fix, create and make the case that others learn likewise.

Monday, September 26, 2016

get on the bus

I was reading in the local paper that our neighboring public school in Berryville had three buses for sale and the board approved the sale of one for $1700, leaving two unsold that they hope to sell later in the year. That brought to mind what can be done with an old bus. I had assumed that the major impediment to starting a woodworking bus would be the cost of the bus, but there are two buses in Berryville, Arkansas that can be acquired cheap.

For many years Sheila Dawson in San Diego, CA has operated a woodworking bus, taking woodworking and projects for kids to public schools throughout her area in California.

The photo shows how a bus can be fitted out for woodworking with kids, and it makes me wonder why every small town and every small school in Arkansas (and the US) does not use its old buses to launch an adventure.

So here is a simple idea: Buy an old (still working) school bus for $1700, spend an equal amount to equip it with benches and tools, and instead of buying that Harley you always wanted, give something real and meaningful to the lives of children in your community.

Today in the Clear Spring School woodshop, students will be making shaker boxes, trains, and whittlings.

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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

bikes and brews

This has been Bikes, Blues and Barbecue weekend in Northwest Arkansas, and Eureka Springs has been overrun with thousands and thousands of motorcycles. The event is one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the US, and my small town of Eureka Springs is a hot destination for hot bikes, carefully uniformed bikers and their gals and cold beer. Eureka Springs fits the perfect formula for a biker destination: Long winding roads with valleys deep enough and hills steep enough so that the gut rises as you come up over the top––followed by cold beer and hanging out with others in biker dress when you hit town. The steady roar of loud bike pipes is astounding, and interrupted only by the occasional siren whine of the EMTs racing to the latest crash.

I have other things in mind. For about the same money as a new Harley, you can equip a top quality wood shop with new tools. I drove by some bikers this morning who were lovingly wiping the dew from their expensive machines, and its obvious that they take a certain pride in their rides. For the price of a used Harley, you can buy all the used equipment to do woodworking that you would ever need. In the event you don't have the money for an old Harley, you can start out with only a very small collection of tools... whatever your small budget allows. But you would also need to develop some skill and patience in your tool use and use your imagination to know what to make. In any case, it is probably unfair to draw comparisons. There is a difference between motorcycling, and the deliberate effort to create useful beauty.

From another angle, the unnecessary revving of motors just to hear the echo from our hillsides is unfair to those of us who have chosen to live here to avoid all that noise. We like the money they spend here. We also like the fact that they will be gone on Monday. This morning many of the motorcyclists have gotten back into normal garb, have loaded their Harleys in trailers behind SUVs and are headed home wherever that might be. May they all find their way safely and come back again but with quieter pipes.

The box shown above is one from my new book, Making Classic Toys that Teach. I was reviewing photos for one to be used in the 2017 catalog of classes for Marc Adams School of Woodworking, advertising a class on making Froebel's classic gifts.

Make, fix, create, and guide others toward the likelihood of learning likewise.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

the power of something you've made yourself

Little man with big meaning. He made it himself
On Thursday when I was not at school, my student Jack was looking for me. A foot had come loose on his little toy man he had finished on Wednesday, and it had to be fixed. Fortunately, his main teacher had a hammer and was able to come to the rescue. She told me that he plays with it constantly, as I could see for myself.  At the time, Jack was in the volleyball court with it, digging and burying his little man only to pull him up again and again triumphantly from the sand. I was watching a symbolic resurrection drama taking place in his hands and mind.
How can a thing crudely made be so full of meaning? But the loveliness and power of it comes from his having made it himself. If you've not made something yourself, try making something and see if you can discover what I mean.

The following is a brief excerpt from my new book Making Classic Toys that Teach, and may help to explain:
Mademoiselle Albertine Necker de Saussure wrote the following in the early 1800s: “It is a matter of surprise to some, that children are satisfied with the rudest imitations. They are looked down upon for their want of feeling for art, while they should rather be admired for the force of imagination that renders such illusion possible. Mold a lump of wax into a figure or cut one out of paper, and, provided it has something like legs and arms and a rounded piece for a head, it will be a man in the eyes of the child. This man will last for weeks; the loss of a limb or two will make no difference; and he will fill every part you choose to make him play. The child does not see the imperfect copy, but only the model in his own mind. The wax figure is to him only a symbol on which he does not dwell. No matter though the symbol be ill chosen and insignificant; the young spirit penetrates the veil, arrives at the thing itself, and contemplates it in its true aspect. Too exact imitations of things undergo the fate of the things themselves, of which the child soon tires. He admires them, is delighted with them, but his imagination is impeded by the exactness of their forms, which represent one thing only; and how is he to be contented with one amusement? A toy soldier fully equipped is only a soldier; it can not represent his father or any other personage. It would seem as if the young mind felt its originality more strongly when, under the inspiration of the moment, it puts all things in requisition, and sees, in everything around, the instruments of its pleasure. A stool turned over is a boat, a carriage; set on its legs it becomes a horse or a table; a bandbox becomes a house, a cupboard, a wagon—anything. You should enter into his ideas, and, even before the time for useful toys, should provide the child with the means of constructing for himself, rather than with things ready made.”
I had a simple breakthrough during the week with a new high school student who had been unwilling to express himself. He began asking questions in wood shop, and I learned he was taking a more open attitude in his other classes as well. I wood shop, he wanted to know why a shaker box would be made in one way, and not another. I suggested he try his own method, and he did, learning for himself the efficiency of traditional methods.What comes next? We will see. I overheard some of the high schools students telling each other that wood shop is their favorite subject, and I don't think it was because they thought I might hear.

Today I'll work on the text for the Fine Woodworking article on hinges, and power wash the deck in preparation for staining.

Make, fix, create, and demonstrate for others the potential in learning likewise.

Friday, September 23, 2016

forming a socialized disposition...

A secret to safe use. Read below.
I spent nearly the whole day yesterday at my desk, writing a chapter about my box guitar book. I took a break to do some organizational/materials preparation work at Clear Spring School, to take a few more photos in the wood shop and to attend the Thursday open house at ESSA where friends have been engaged welding steel all week. It is truly amazing how much energy people have for learning when they are engaged in learning what they want to learn. They work until they are physically exhausted and then come back the next day for more.

Sadly, that is often not the case when you cram 25-30 kids in a class and propel them forward in directions they would choose not to go if the choice was their own. The old saying is that you can't push a rope, but you can pull one anyplace you want to lead. Children are led in learning best by tapping into their own inclinations.

The following is from this classic paper by Korwin and Jones: Do Hands-On, Technology-Based Activities Enhance Learning by Reinforcing Cognitive Knowledge and Retention?
John Dewey, known for his many innovative educational philosophies and support of industrial arts education, was of the strong opinion that experiences, specifically hands-on activities, were imperative in the educational process. Students could blend theory and practice, success and failure, and school and society into a mental foundation for future thought. Furthermore, activities allowed them to see, raise, and seek out solutions for personal and motivational questions. Dewey believed, however, that teaching skill for skill's sake was "...illiberal and immoral" His ideas concerning skill training in education are summarized as follows:
The educator is to engage pupils in activities in such ways that while manual skill and technical efficiency are gained and immediate satisfaction found in the work, together with preparation for later usefulness, these things shall be subordinated to education -- that is, to intellectual results and the forming of a socialized disposition.
Changing the subject slightly, one of the secrets to safe and accurate use of the compound miter saw is to stop the saw while it is in the down position. This keeps the blade from recutting the stock, prevents it from jamming the wood against the stop block, and prevents the cut off stock from being thrown at the operator. Good work on all three counts, and a lesson I learned by teaching at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

Make, fix, create, and offer others a legacy of learning likewise.