Sunday, March 9, 2014

Happy Skis

"All these techniques have been invented long before your time, honed to perfection over the centuries."  These are the words of Genadi (spelling), a trapper in Russia's far North, recorded in Werner Herzog's film, "Happy People, A Year in the Taiga" (available on Netflix streaming).  Genadi reflects on his trade while engaging in one of the most magnificent woodworking project I've ever seen: the fabrication of a pair of skis.

Using a small hand axe, a plane, a jig for bending the ski tips and not a whole lot else, Genandi produces a new pair of the skis that enable him to cross vast distances of the frozen Taiga and ply his trade.

Genandi's skis takes the concept that an object's form should be an expression of its function-- and elevates it.  The skis also express the natural environment from which and in which they are made. They embody the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next.  They help define the relationship of Genandi's remote village to modernity. They inform Genandi's understanding of himself. And most importantly, the skis are absolutely necessary.  Just as the skis would not exist without Genandi their maker, Genandi would not exist --in the way that we see him in the film-- without these skis.

He starts by driving his exceedingly sharp hand axe into a living tree, parallel to the trunk, testing the grain for straightness.  Everywhere are trees.  They define the Taiga, a vast wilderness one and a half times the size of the United States.  Genandi's task is to find the one tree that will serve him best, with grain perfectly straight, so that the skis will flex but not break.  He fells the tree with a chain saw, cuts a section of trunk the length of the skis, then in short order fashions wooden wedges with his axe then drives these into the stem to split it along its length into boards.  The wedges amplify Genandi's strength, so that he can talk at ease about his work as it progresses.

"Naturally you pick up things from others as you go along.  A little bit here, a little bit there.  You add your own improvements... You can't reinvent the bicycle."  Just as Genandi was taught to make skis, he passes on his knowledge to his son, showing him how to steam-bend the tips.  This is where I expected the whole narrative to break down.  The son, surely, would find a way to purchase modern cross-country equipment then ski circles around his father, still trudging along on the crude, heavy, wooden slabs of yesteryear.

As it turns out, this is not the story of an old guy sticking stubbornly to old ways while the world changes around him.  Genandi, by necessity, is an intensely practical man.  He owns a snowmobile and a chainsaw, because these help him work.  But when it comes to skis, the purchased item is inferior.  "You may have those factory-made ones.  You and I go into a wood, you'll drop dead from fatigue after 15 kilometers.  You won't be able to move a leg.  Me, I just keep on skiing without a care in the world."

Genandi the trapper has a wife and family who live in town.  He sees them at Christmas and occasionally throughout the year.  But most days he's out traversing his vast territory, preparing traps, building and stocking shelters.  Aside from being learned in his craft, hardworking and innovative, he's a reflective man.  It's beautiful to see him understand, not romanticize, the role he and the skis play in the perpetuation of a way of living.

"You can take away anything from a man.  His wealth and health and such-like.  But you can't take away his craftsman skills.  Once you learn a trade, you'll always know your trade for the rest of your life.  Do you agree?"

The aesthetic of the skis does not exist apart from Genandi the trapper.  You or I might hope to replicate the skis, but we would only be replicating the object.  The higher levels of relationship would all be lost.  The afficionado could have a pair made for him, or even learn to make a pair himself, but would get only skis.  When one watches Genandi, a man who works incredibly hard and at great peril to meet the basic survival requirements of his family, one can't help but think, "he doesn't have what I have."  But the skis make clear that we also cannot have what he has --not just the skis but the life they embody, of relying on one's wit and skills while traversing vast expanses of the Taiga alone.

This brings us to woodworking for those of us outside the Taiga and to how it is taught.  I take away two things from Genandi.  The first is that we do not need to "reinvent the bicycle."  We should teach the "techniques (that) have been invented long before (our) time, honed to perfection over the centuries."  The second is that we should find practical projects that meet our needs.  It would be fun, but silly, for most of us to make skis.  Emily Pilloton of Project H gets it right when she has her students build a farmer's market for their community.  Let's employ the techniques of old, but get past the romance of skis, or period furniture and find projects part and parcel with who we are.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

If You Build It Screenings in Bay Area February 28-March 2nd

There will be If You Build It screenings in San Francisco and Berkeley this Friday, February 28th through Sunday, March 2nd and in San Rafael on March first.  The filmmakers, Project H director, Emily Pilloton, represerntatives from Realm Charter School and Tim Brown of IDEO will attend many of the screenings.

My apologies that I got the screening date wrong in an earlier blog post about Project H and If you Build It.

Woodworking Classes At the Randall Museum or Is It Safe For Teenagers Not To Operate Machinery?

San Francisco's Randall Museum offers woodworking classes for kids (with caregiver) starting at age 3. Classes continue into adulthood.

When you look at the photo (from the Winter Family Classes page of the Randall Museum's website) of that very young person concentrating as he holds a real hammer, to drive a real nail into a block of wood, it's reasonable to ask what is going on here? Is it safe? Is it age-appropriate? What is being taught and why?

Let's put these questions to the side for a moment and take a closer look at this remarkable photo. The young woodworker is fully focused and determined. Compared to the size of him, the hammer and nails are enormous, but you can tell that he will manage, with the full concentration and coordination of body and mind, (and the appropriate help of some pre-drilled holes to guide the nails), to drive the nails home. He's not at play. That is, he's in a very structured environment in which the only appropriate use of the hammer is to drive the nail. His purpose is clear. He will almost definitely experience frustration, for what he's being asked to do is far from easy. And he probably will experience pain. That unwieldy hammer will deflect. Instead of driving the nail home, it will slip off to the side. The hammer will come down on the nail but not hard enough and the nail will remain where it was. He will miss the nail altogether and hit his fingers. He will cry. He will quit. If he tries again and he ultimately succeeds, it will be irrelevant whether an adult does or does not tell him what a great job he did. He will know. The evidence will be there before him. And assuming that the block of wood being nailed is a component of a project he is building, he will take it home with him.

"The earlier the better," Jill Cunninghis, woodworking instructor at Randall told me when I asked her at what age kids should start woodworking. "Woodworking teaches important life lessons that the kids don't get elsewhere. What do you do when a project doesn't turn out the way you wanted? Do you try to go back and fix it? Do you learn from the failure and make a fresh start?"

The Randall museum, part of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and supported by the nonprofit organization Randall Museum Friends, has a wonderful offering of woodworking classes for kids. In addition to classes for the youngest woodworkers there are classes for kids aged 7-12. Young woodworkers who take these classes repeatedly can come away with a very comprehensive skill set. There are also classes for teens and adults, starting at age 16.

I asked Jill Cunninghis about the gap between the 7-12 class and the 16 and up class. "In all the years I've taught at Randall, I've only had one teenager participate in the adult class," says Cunninghis. "We have never had enough demand from the age range we're not covering, but if we got enough people interested to put together a class, we would certainly do so." Jill would love to see interest in that age range and says that if a group of six teens can be gotten together, Randall will find a way to offer a class.

So far, however, demand has been disappearing right at the age when many kids of my generation took shop --middle school and high school. If nothing changes, that young woodworker driving the nail will have moved on to other interests by the time he turns a teenager. We have a good idea of what he might be doing. It will likely involve, in school, heavy use of one small part of his brain and, out of school, a lot of screen time.

Now it's time to ask again the questions we asked, but never answered, at the beginning: What is going on here? Is it safe? Is it age-appropriate? What is being taught and why?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Superfluous Necessity

The oldest stone-tipped weapons date back more than 250,000 years.  Current understanding is that modern humans emerged around 200,000 years ago.  That is, we made tools before we were modern humans.  We've likely been making them ever since.

The above photo is from this National Geographic article.

As we step into the era of digital printers --where instead of making a wrench you can print a wrench-- it's reasonable to ask, will we ever need to use our hands to make anything again?  And if we won't need to, should we?  We can accomplish so much more collectively, with incredible efficiency, than we ever could individually.  Not only do most of us no longer need to know how to make and use tools, we don't have to cultivate crops, or sing, or tell great stories.  There are others who can do that for us, and far better than we could possibly hope to do ourselves. 

As modern individuals, we need only to acquire (work), consume and propagate.  This is a tremendous accomplishment but it invites the other parts of our nature to atrophy.  To stay human we need to use those parts of ourselves that necessity no longer requires, but that our nature requires.  We do have to sing and dance and draw, make music, tell stories, garden, play sports.  We need to be clever. And we need to make and use tools, with our hands.

When we think about the coming resurgence of woodworking education, it needs to include this perspective.  Yes, for some students, learning woodworking will be practical and may lead to a career.  But for the other 99 %, it will be like playing a musical instrument --superfluous, but a necessity.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Against a sea of troubles

At Lincoln High School in San Francisco, Thursday night, in an intimate overheated auditorium, Mr. Kim's honors English seniors enacted scenes from Hamlet, strung together in approximate succession, so that together they took the form of the play.  Each scene had its own director, cast, costumes, stageing and theme.  One group dressed in surgical scrubs, interpreting the play through the lens of Grey's anatomy.  Another performed the final duel using nerf guns.  Most of the students memorized their lines and surprisingly many delivered the distant text as if they were speaking it, so that their character and meaning came through clearly.  At the end, a student presented a gift to Mr. Kim with the (approximate) words, "You have set such high expectations for us and because we love you, we strive to meet them."

What does this have to do with woodworking education?

The students in Mr. Kim's class will never forget Hamlet.  The lines they memorized they will carry with them.  Meanings which they don't understand today might become clear to them decades from now.  Whenever they see a play or a movie they will understand to what extent it is but one interpretation among many, that it could have been done differently and meant something else.  Few of these students will likely go into theater, but they've all learned something of intrinsic value.  This kind of learning --learning for its own sake, learning for personal enrichment, has gone so out of style that's it looked on at best as a luxury and at worst, with disdain.

I've gotten into the habit of asking people if they took shop class when they were young.  Those who did invariably remember not only what they made, but the tools and techniques they used.  It sticks with them.  (Except for me and a few others) it hasn't furthered their career.  But they learned something that lasted, that's always there.  Think of the immense volume we learn in school that we manage to forget, as if our body had a secondary lymphatic system just for that purpose.  There must be some worth in what little remains.

The kind of learning I witnessed Thursday night is not the standard fare at Lincoln High School.  There is a rising tide in secondary education --of trying to quantify all learning, of valuing only that knowledge which will lead to employment, of preparing students for our busy, stressed lives by instilling early the habits of busy-ness and stress.  Mr. Kim's class, some woodworking education, all forms of authentic learning are islands in a rising ocean.  They're still there. Yet soon, they may all be underwater.  Or soon, the flood may begin to recede.

My high school has the motto, "That each generation may introduce its successor to a higher plane of life."  Too many schools today operate on the principle that each generation should introduce its successor to a higher standard of living.  Hamlet doesn't improve one's bottom line.  Woodworking does little for most balance sheets.  Music is a poor trade for most who ply it, yet clings to its position in many schools because its advocates cleverly make the case that music makes us better at math and is prerequisite for anyone who hopes to become CEO of a major corporation.

I humbly predict that as woodworking education makes its resurgence, we who understand the intrinsic value in woodworking will learn to sell it to our skeptical peers by finding that the kind of thinking that one learns woodworking will be essential to our country's future economic well being.  That those who learn to express a thought with their hands will have an enormous advantage over those who can only think through the interface of a screen.  That the best engineers, architects, builders, inventors and innovators of all kinds will come from those who learn at a young age to manipulate the physical world, not just the virtual approximation.

There might be some truth in this line of thought.  That woodworking prepares one for great but other endeavors.  Yet the opposite case also has merit.  Think of president Carter, the highest-profile contemporary American woodworker.  Perhaps his years in public service inform his craft.

We live in a society whose uniqueness lies in the way in which it assigns value. Very little has value in and of itself.  Each thing has value because it can lead to some other thing.  Education has value because it can lead to prosperity.  Wealth has value because it can lead to more wealth.  Sacred honor, so dear to our country's founding fathers, seems naive and foolish to us today for the simple reason that its value is intrinsic.  Music's value is intrinsic.  Art's value is intrinsic.  As is love's.

This brings us back to Mr. Kim.  The sweltering, tiny theater.  The raucous, enthusiastic audience, the proud, accomplished students.  The gift presented as an afterthought, the few words of presentation ad-lib: You have set such high expectations for us and because we love you, we strive to meet them.

That's something to keep in mind as we think about the reestablishment of woodworking education.  Where will be the accomplishment without high expectations and where the learning without love?

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Thomas Friedman's column in today's New York Times,  Obama's Homework Assignment, cites a 7th grade teacher frustrated by students and parents' low standards.  Friedman uses the teacher's experience to make his point that we Americans are going to lose the global competition against those in other countries --he gives the example of Korea-- who expect and demand so much more of their schools and teachers.  Friedman writes:
After complaining about the “superficial curriculum that encouraged mindless conformity,” she wrote: “I decided that if I was going to teach this nonsense, I was at least going to teach it well. I set my expectations high, I kept my classroom structured, I tutored students, I provided extra practice and I tried to make class fun. ... I quickly rose through the ranks of ‘favorite teacher,’ kept open communication channels with parents and had many students with solid A’s. It was about this time that I was called down to the principal’s office. ... She handed me a list of about 10 students, all of whom had D’s or F’s. At the time, I only had about 120 students, so I was relatively on par with a standard bell curve. As she brought up each one, I walked her through my grade sheets that showed not low scores but a failure to turn in work — a lack of responsibility. I showed her my tutoring logs, my letters to parents, only to be interrogated further. 
“Eventually, the meeting came down to two quotes that I will forever remember as the defining slogans for public education: ‘They are not allowed to fail.’ ‘If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.’ What am I not doing for them? I suppose I was not giving them the answers. I was not physically picking up their hands to write for them. I was not following them home each night to make sure they did their work on time. I was not excusing their lack of discipline. ... Teachers are held to impossible standards, and students are accountable for hardly any part of their own education and are incapable of failing.”

Friedman is using this teacher's account to illustrate the lowering of standards.  Yet he passes over the most important point.   The teacher describes what she was teaching as a "superficial curriculum that encouraged mindless conformity." It's a wonder, then, that more students didn't refuse to participate.  The solution is not, as Friedman suggests, to get our students to do more.  We must give them meaningful work.

We have thrown the industrial arts out of most public education, we (in California) have insisted that all students take the courses required by the University of California for admissions, we have narrowed the teaching of those courses so that they conform to the national standards, we have allowed the college-prep classes to push out the rest of the curriculum, we have raised the cost of higher education so that it is increasingly difficult for those without the means to obtain a college degree and we have ensured that those who won't get a college degree have no useful training.

It's as if education were an already-used lemon and we've been squeezing and squeezing it to get out a few more drops --more kids in college-- and now policy makers will find the answer to this education crisis is in asking us to squeeze even harder.  Longer school days.  Less vacation.  Higher test scores.

If you ask students and teachers, of any age, in any subject, what are the moments that make them love learning and teaching, they will speak of "aha" moments, when they grasped or conveyed an idea, learned or taught something they would be able to use for the rest of their lives, or broke through a mental barrier and understood, implicitly, that there were then others out there that could also be broken.

Recently at my shop I reminisced with Nacho, who has been an employee for well over a decade.  He came to my shop speaking Spanish, not English, had no discernible skills and very limited prior education.  We were in the process of moving to a new shop.  I told him to run copper pipe around the perimeter of the shop, for compressed air lines.  He said that he didn't know how to sweat copper.  Rather than tell him how, I told him, "Learn."  This, he told me, these many years later, inspired him.  He didn't just learn to sweat copper.  He learned that he could learn to sweat copper.  He has been learning ever since and has collected such a vast collection of skills that he's one of the most important people in my shop.

Nacho came to the United States after age 18, so he missed our education system.  Had he come a few years earlier and found himself at the back of the track, trying to fullfill the Califonria A-G requirements, he would likely today be in a monotonous low-level job.  This is something to consider.  He may have done better by escaping our education system than he would have done from within it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Project H

January 28th, I will go to the screening of If You Build It in San Francisco.  More on that once I've seen the film.  The back story is told pretty clearly here by Project H founder, Emily Pilloton.

Project H (Design initiatives for Humanity, Habitats, Health and Happiness) uses design as a tool to empower and inspire middle and high school students.  This isn't just about designing cool stuff, it's about shifting the education paradigm from students as passive knowledge recipients to students as active agents and building real projects to meet their community's needs.  The most famous project, that which the film describes, is Pilloton and her partner and co-founder Mathew Miller's sojourn from Berkeley to Bertie County, North Carolina, where they taught High School for a year.  The course: design and fabrication.  The final exam: cutting the ribbon on a farmer's market for the struggling rural community.

If the film is true to the trailer, the story goes something like this:  Young, idealistic and talented designers decide to use design as an education tool.  To prove their concept they choose a place of rural poverty, hard swept by the winds that have scoured our country in recent decades.  They take a small group of high school students and with them design and build a large-scale community project: a farmer's market.  Against all odds, their moment of inevitable defeat passes.  By reaching within themselves and outside the classroom to the community they're trying to impact, they succeed.

The idea of making students active agents rather than passive recipients, of having them engage in real-world projects rather than endless assignments that are practice for a day so remote it seems it will never come, of taking learning outside the classroom, of using the creativity and energy of students to address our communities' unmet needs  --these are not new.  But they are in decline.  We've gone from the idealism of the sixties and seventies, where there were lots of Emilys and Matts out there, trying novel approaches to education, building communes, envisioning a better world and then giving it a go, to today, where we test students, teachers and administrators into submission.  The drill inside most schools that I've seen lately, is first cover all the stuff that you have to so that the students will test well, then do some real teaching/learning --kind of like the party-- at the end.

Emily begins her TED talk by saying that she and Matt have moved to Bertie, North Carolina.  And throughout the talk she makes clear that she does not want to be an outsider who comes through with big ideas, erects a farmers market, makes a film and then leaves.  The question of what happens now in Bertie and with Emily, Matt and Project H, is worth asking.

I'm not questioning the value of project H's contribution.  I find project H inspiring.  It's the kind of project I could get excited about getting involved in.  I'm asking because I'm trying to figure out where to put my energy.  And if you're also interested in bringing back some form of hands-on learning, of where we should put our energy.

Could project H or something like it be a model for the resurgence of shop class?
I think the answer is a very qualified YES.  This is definitely the hard way to go.

Think of it like this.  To bring back shop class or the modern equivalent of what used to be shop class, we would need a consensus that we made a huge collective mistake in under-appreciating and eliminating the manual arts --wood shop, autoshop, home-ec and the rest.  We would need to recognize that both for our students and our society we need to bring them back.  We would need the political will and funding to bring the manual arts into the schools again.  We would need a new vision of what the appropriate early 21st century content of these programs should be.  We would need to articulate the context of these programs, that is how they would relate to jobs, careers, self-sufficiency and future learning.  We would need teacher training, community buy-in, partnership with industry.  In other words, it would comparatively easy.

It would be easy because in essence the solution would be a re-establishment.  It would happen within our existing structures: government taxing and spending, policy and implementation.  North Salem High School's woods manufacturing program is an excellent example of what such a program might look like.

Project H would be very hard to replicate on a large scale.  I have only seen the trailer, not yet the movie, but from the trailer it seems that the very thing that makes the movie good will make replication of a project H type program hard: it almost failed.  Two extremely bright and talented individuals worked with ten students for a year and still almost didn't realize their project.  That's a student-teacher ration of 5 to 1.  The teachers are young, very bright, energetic and fully in.  I imagine that they lived and breathed this project for the year they were engaged in it.  It's hard to replicate that kind of excitement, enthusiasm, dedication, perseverance and talent.  Yet sometimes, the hard way is the only way.

The promise of project H is that it goes deep.  It doesn't try to serve all students.  It doesn't pretend to be a grand solution.  My sense thus far is that what it does,  it does well.  This appeals to a cabinet maker.

Monday, January 6, 2014

North Salem High School Woods Manufacturing Program

Evan Anderson, a friend, past employee and owner of Near West, an east bay cabinetry company, sent This Article about a great woodworking education program in Salem, Oregon.  The North Salem High School Woods Manufacturing Program serves 400 students annually.  The program does a number of things worth emulating:
* It has a clear focus.  The purpose is to train students to make them ready for the woodworking industry to hire.  This is not a program where students make a step stool to give to their grandmother (like my middle school shop class).  Students participate in real-world cabinetry projects that generate income for the program.  Upon graduation (4 years), if they're qualified, they have the opportunity to work for a local manufacturer that pays them $12-15 per hour to start and as much as $50,000 annually including benefits after 5 years.  This is a real-world skills/jobs program providing students a school to work path.
* It partners with industry.  The program has received $600,000 in donations from what reads like a who's who of the woodworking industry, from major equipment suppliers like Stiles to Besse, a manufacturer of very nice clamps.  That Dean Mattson, the current program head has been so incredibly successful at garnering industry support makes me think that what I suspect might actually be true: that the very human beings within the woodworking industry are eager to participate in education in the way they know best, by giving their products and expertise.  There may be an element of promotion and self interest in their partnering with schools, but there's also, I imagine, tremendous pride that they can be an important part of the resurgence of woodworking education, coupled with altruism.
* It integrates woodworking with other disciplines.  Students are enrolled in a four year program that includes other subjects.  In math, they learn the kinds of math they need for woodworking.  That would be geometry, some algebra and (when they get their cnc machine), I imagine a good deal of math related to programming.
* It gives students a path they can believe in.  Instructor Dean Mattson talks about his student-centric approach to woodworking education.  It's all about getting the students to buy in, to believe that what the program offers is of real value, and then following through with training that leads to employment.
* It stays focused on the big picture and the small picture.  As a teacher, Mattson is focused on the student.  From reading the article one gets the sense that he sees the program through his students' eyes.  He's down at their level and that's likely why he's successful.  But he also keeps his eye on the big picture --getting to know the companies that donate equipment, thinking about who will replace him when he retires, serving on AWFS (Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers) education committee.

A few thoughts:
The program is definitely taking the old-school heavy-equipment approach to shop class.  Back before most of them were torn out, school shop classes had serious heavy-duty equipment.  I question whether the new shop classes (assuming there is the resurgence I anticipate) will need or want such heavy equipment.  Portable hand tools have gotten very good.  At great loss of efficiency and at much lower cost, I could produce most of what we make at my shop without the major equipment, but using just small power tools.  This might be a good way to go for future shop classes.  After all, it's not so imporant that students have high productivity while in class as it is that they learn to think as woodworkers.  A woodworker's skill is knowledge, creative problem solving backed by lots of experience.  The start down the road toward knowledge could occur with simple tools as well as with the very best of what the industry partners can provide.  This might prove a practical approach as woodshop catches on again and there are many, many programs.  The industry will not be able to donate $600,000 to each of them.  At that point, other sources of funding will have to be found, or equipment will have to be simpler, or both.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

SF3D leads

I posted my interest in woodworking education on, which is an excellent group serving the Bay Area design community.  It includes architects and designers as well as lots of fabricators of all kinds.

I've gotten lots of leads thus far from SF3D.  It will take some time to follow up on them, but here they are:

This from Tom Powers at
Hi Ken, everybody,
I helped to start an early childhood art education project in Santa Barbara. I put tools in the hand of six to ten year old children in order to teach hand woodwork. No one bled, probably just good luck, and the program is still going strong today. We began as a volunteer staffed nonprofit with funding from the community and eventually a grant from the National Education Fund. We drew teachers from the professional arts and crafts community; people who made a living with their work and were willing to teach their skills part time. It has now been incorporated into the County School system. Kathy Koury, an early teacher, now works as the director.

We worked with very young kids but the same direct contact would easily adapt to older people. It is very rewarding work. One learns to talk to a student in terms adapted to their level of understanding without the pressure of having a completion deadline.

Good luck,

This from Bill Callahan at

Hello Ken, I believe all will agree we've lost something special and important over the last few decades closing high school wood and metal shops. I attended a vocational school when I was in high school in the 60's where all trades was taught, including brick laying to type setting to name a few. For me, like others academics was not necessarily my strength but important, especially math. In addition to my pursuit today of design and construction of sustainable furniture I've recently launched a non-profit called OHIAS (Our Health Is At Stake) who's mission is to end waste as we know it today by putting it to work, putting people and community to work for the benefit of all people, community and planet. Our first project will be the creation of a (Marin) community benefit cooperative were people of all ages (especially those with the least opportunity - homeless and disabled) will be provided work transforming so called waste into high value materials and products. One example will be our urban forest yard where fallen trees from streets and yards will be transformed into certified lumber for woodworkers and builders. In addition to transformation, the center will provide all types of repair services like rebuilding small motors and appliances. Education will play a major roll, teaching people of all ages safe and proper tool use so they can do more independently. I figure there's upward of $82 million dollars of (circular) economic opportunity annually here in Marin alone, with most coming from construction waste (new and old). This project may not exactly fit what you're thinking about but I thought I would share it. 

Bill Callahan

Interim Director
OHIAS "Our Health Is At Stake"
1115 Third Street
San Rafael, CA 94901

This from Brian Schmitt at


Studio H is an in-school design/build class for 8th-11th grade students. First launched in Bertie County, NC and now based at Realm Charter School in Berkeley, CA, Studio H students apply their core subject learning to design and build audacious and socially transformative projects. 

Brian Schmitt

This from Patrick Hayes at

Ken and Community:  I am not sure how to plug into this project, though I will make myself available when boots in the shop are needed.

Great to see this discussion and to learn of Tom’s efforts.  Seems we are coming full circle are we not?  Wood and metal shops were available in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s in most public schools along with drafting.  Then seems to have left the education system.

Here is one regressive policy that I strongly support!  Trade training for all!

Patrick Michael Hayes, LEED® A.P. , DFD
Recycling Specialist, Environmental Services Division
City of Oakland  |  Public Works Agency  |  APWA Accredited Agency
250 Frank H Ogawa Plaza, Ste. 5301 |  Oakland, CA  94612

This from Ron Goldman at
Ken --
Let me know what develops.
I'd like to publicize it in Woodworker West.

Ron Goldman
Woodworker West magazine
Now available in digital form.

This from Christian Dauer at
Randall Museum as a long established shop class for all ages
scroll down on link for teen and adult course description.
We just toured the SF Waldorf and they do have great offerings in handtools based wood work

This from Gregory Johnson at
The high school i attended in Stockton has now set up a construction technology academy. They prep students for a wide variety of careers in the trades.

This from Patrick Hayes at
Ken:  I think there is some value in looking at the curriculum of Waldorf Schools.  Woodworking, hand tools, is part of the upper elementary school programs.  It is part of a progression of motor skills training that starts with knitting and crochet.  I am going to inquire with Seth Melchert, my mentor, and parent of 3 Waldorf grads, now college age people.

Will keep you posted.