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  • Doug Stowe

Wisdom of Hands: Box-Making with Friends

Yesterday morning we finished my box-making with friends class at the Clear Spring School, and my students left with boxes they had made. Chuck noted that he could not have made his box without my guidance and support, and that's true. I provided the wood, the tools, the techniques and guided the process throughout, and was very happy to do so. The class was held as a fundraiser for Clear Spring Schoo, so they provided the shop space. My involvement did not diminish the pride they had for their boxes, which had become symbolic of friendship and their own learning.

There are two kinds of educational scaffolding. One is where the teacher sets up all the stuff in the environment, including step-by-step instruction and observation to eliminate possible mistakes. That kind of scaffolding ends when the student steps out of class, finished lesson in hand. You walk into a shop with all provided for your success and then when you leave class the scaffolding is no longer in place.

The other kind of scaffolding is within. It consists of knowledge gained through experience and is transferable from one environment to the next. It's built in the following manner. Start with the interests of the child, proceed from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. If you've caught me repeating myself again and again, it's because what I've said is worth knowing.

The way that the two forms of scaffolding intersect is through forming of "islands of competence." The feelings of "I did this!" and "I can do that!" can carry forward from external scaffolding to the next learning opportunity.

My friend Kim Brand is putting maker spaces in Indiana schools and recently worked with Maplewood Shop to train 36 teachers from one school. Kim was amazed watching teachers learning as he noted that very few actually followed instructions but all the teachers loved it as their own distinct personalities emerged.

My daughter Lucy sent me a photo of herself in her new chemistry laboratory in Worcester, MA where she's teaching high school. It's a lovely classroom with a window and a view of the forest, quite unlike her previous school in Manhattan.

The purpose of a chemistry laboratory is not different from the purpose of a school wood shop. In either, you can do things that you are not able to do outside the laboratory environment. A shop or laboratory are forms of external scaffolding. Formation of the internal scaffolding is aided by the attention of the teacher who's job is to watch over the points I mentioned before, starting with the interests of the child.


One of my students from Marc Adams School of Woodworking sent this photo of a box he made in class and finished when he got home. The interesting iron pull was salvaged from a set of horse hames that had belonged to his grandfather, thus preserving a bit of family heritage in this box. This was one of at least 5 boxes Terry Tinnin made in class. It is gratifying to see what I've shared about box-making passed through other hands.

I have been preparing for this year's classes at the Clear Spring School by tuning equipment and sharpening knives. Sharpening plane irons needs to come next. Today I'll pick up material for building bat houses with one group of students.


In making bat houses the most tedious task involves cutting grooves that allow the bats to get a good grip inside. This is most easily done on the table saw, by cutting regularly spaced grooves 1/16 in. deep. They can be spaced between a quarter inch and one half inch apart. Each of the four chamber bat houses require three interior panels grooved as shown and the back, also grooved in the same manner. So for making 4 bat houses, a total of 16 panels grooved in this manner are required.

This is part of what a wood shop teacher does: prepare materials for student learning. In fact, it's what all teachers do.

Clear Spring School is starting classes on Monday and I'll begin having students in woodshop on Tuesday. I'll be preparing materials over the weekend and on Monday morning.


Yesterday I began preparing materials for my students to make bat houses. While we could spend days with students designing their own bat houses, in this case it's important that we adhere to science and make use of designs that have already been proven in use. The four chamber bat house offers the opportunity for bats to seek warmth by congregating together and to move around inside to the spot they find most comfortable.

We have a large colony of bats nesting in vents under the eves in one of our school buildings and while it can be a challenge to lure a colony of bats to a new location, luxurious new bat houses carefully engineered for their safety and happiness may help. Experimental designs my not.

A good source of information about bats is the Bat House Builder's Handbook, by Merlin D. Tuttle:

One of the tedious jobs in preparing the materials for making bat houses is that of grooving the parts that must be textured for the bats to get a good grip on the insides of the box and that allow them to climb around inside. I've been doing the grooving using the table saw in the school wood shop. We have been enjoying relatively bug free evenings on our deck this summer, and for that, I thank our bats.

The drawing shows the design of the bat houses we're making and detailed plans are available in the book.


Doug Stowe


"Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise."

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