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  • Doug Stowe

Wisdom of the Hands: Making our own mark on things

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Making our own mark on things

Yesterday I finished a new bathroom vanity for our home to replace a mass produced oak cabinet of an unpleasing style. Next in the room will be the installation of a new counter-top and replacement of floor tile that had to be pulled up from an earlier renovation. There's pleasure to be derived from making our own mark on things. And that applies to all things in human life.

A reader asked what tools he would need to begin box making, and there are a few basics, table saw, planer, jointer, band saw, router table, that I use very regularly in my work. But caution is advised.

Not only are tools potentially dangerous, each requires a steadily growing familiarity and appreciation, and beginners can be quickly overwhelmed. Each offers a huge potentiality and it's useful to acquire them in a cautious one-at-a-time manner. For instance, buy a tool, learn what it can do, and the full range of what it can do and then buy another when you've pushed the first to its limits and your circumstances insist that you buy another. This may seem wrong headed to someone wanting to do what he or she sees me doing, but to establish a creative relationship with one's tools is a lifelong journey.

The wood in the new vanity is ash. Ash is available on the market at a good price these days due to it being harvested in advance of the advancing emerald green borer that's been killing ash trees across the upper midwest. The borer that kills it arrived in the US through international trade, just as did so many of the diseases that have had a devastating impact on our forests. It is a beautiful, strongly grained wood (as you can see). It will age to a darker honey tone in time and with exposure to light. Just as tools are best learned gradually through use and through time, the trees and woods are likewise.

And so, a word to those who might be the young among us: it's good to choose a path with lots of deep learning ahead.


Thursday, April 22, 2021


Yesterday I introduced my Kindergarten students to making tops. Each made one and then of course wanted to make more to share with their families. I have a small drill press set up for making wheels and it's safe enough that my lower elementary school students can use it without supervision. With the Kindergarten students, I supervised closely, making certain that each wheel blank was secure before the student turned on the drill and turned the handle to lower the drill into the stock.

With hand crank drills mounted in vises, the students can decorate the tops with colored pencils and markers.

To mount the drills in the vise, I cut v shaped grooves in pieces of 2 x 4 lumber and then used u-bolts to secure the handles of the drills in the blocks.

The students left with pockets full of tops, some decorated and other to be taken back to class for further embellishment. And now with the students knowing how to drill the centers of wheel blanks, they're ready to make cars and trucks in next week's class.

Make, fix, create and assist others in learning likewise.


Doug Stowe


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

*This blog is dedicated to sharing the concept that our hands are essential to learning- that we engage the world and it's wonders, sensing and creating primarily through the agency of our hands.

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