Coping: Regaining America’s “Hands On” Edge

People say a lot of things about Oregon…and not all of it is good.  For example, there are some local issues related to people collecting rainwater – that falls on their own land or property.  And, since people in Oregon are fiercely independent in their thinking, Oregon is pictured (variously) as a land of heathens, stoners, and revolutionaries.

But please take note, even Oregon scores big in one category around here:  They are in the process of preserving industrial arts in schools.

A long time reader will know this as a familiar harangue: As long as people have access to industrial areas, or even a few used tools off Craigslist (or cheap new ones from Harbor Freight)  you can play “bend me, shape me, any way you want me” to your heart’s content.

Reader Michael’s observation:

George, The State of Oregon has awarded grants to Oregon high schools to initiate a number of acronymious programs. See link and doc for details on where the state is going–they think and/or hope, I guess. You likely will recognize the programs, though I have not been able to, for the most part.  Collectively, it is probably an indication of where the nation is headed. 

This may be a kind of “old story” since the state school folks out there put out a press release on topic in January of this year, but check this out:

In a major expansion of career readiness investment, 140 Oregon middle schools and high schools – serving more than 90,000 students – will receive Career and Technical Education (CTE) Revitalization Grants totaling $8.87 million, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton announced today.
The CTE Revitalization Grant funds will benefit students, schools and local employers around the state in fields such as health care, advanced manufacturing, construction, engineering, agriculture, renewable energy technology and more.

As a former vocational college director, I can assume you that one of the reasons people “fail” in school is that the content in a lot of programs just plain sucks.  In order for a school to really be a remarkable life-changing place, the number one focus of the entire staff has to be delivery of truly superior course content.

Oh,; sure, kids will drop out (8-12 and postsec) for all kinds of reasons, including home financial issues, drugs, peer pressure, and all the rest.  But a first-rate product that really grips kids and makes education relevant?  Kids (and adults) will line up for that kind of education.

‘If schools across America were more in the business of empowering the young – and showing them the tools to “make their own futures” I have absolutely no doubt that dropout rates could be cut in half – or more.

Can you imagine a teacher sending you home with a shoebox and telling a student “I want ya’ll to bring us something from home that will fit inside this shoebox – with the lid closed – and we’re going to teach you how to scan it with a laser modeling platform.  They we’re going to modify it in some way using surface modeling software (like SolidWorks) and then we’re going to print whatever this new thing is.

It might be something as simple as a customized (hand fitting) remote for the television, or something as arcane as an all-plastic clock.  But who wouldn’t find that kind of content engaging?

It’s onlyh one example, but the Joseph Carter School (in awards announced in April) is scheduled to receive $72,329 in award money and perhaps $10,150 in matching fees for a program called “Greenhouse: GHrowing Minds, Skills, and Community;””

Three CTE programs will benefit from the new learning laboratory: the CTE Agricultural Sciences students will have year-round experiences working with a greater diversity of plant-life and will be expanded with new course offerings, the CTE Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) students will use campus-grown herbs and vegetables for food preservation education, and the CTE Business/IT students will gain experiences in marketing, 3-D design, and sales.  Partners will provide grassroots support for greenhouse development, CTE expansion, and meaningful work-based educational experiences.

So while the number of Americans wallowing in constant political whining about this and that continues to grow,  there are some people in public schools around the country who are handing out the kind of skills which will eventually empower people and given then the hands-on experience that is so necessary for the tactile learners and the mixed input learner.

I think in time we’ll look back on the experiment over emphasis on “head schooling” instead of a mixed approach with hands-on, will be seen as a serious mistake in education overall.

The good news is that at least in some places, the term hands-on get reclaiming some of the status and respect it deserves.

HandyBastards Friday:  See? Saw

Speaking of vocational education…I promised a while back that I would do a review of a radial arm saw “deal” that Harbor Freight had a while back.  When I checked this morning, the saw was still going for $229.99 but with tax and shipping it was closer to $259, but that’s a nit.


My visiting friend and I got it set up this week, and once mounted to a spare tool stand, it now occupies a corner of the shop where it will get a lot of use.

As it came from HF, the packing was OK, but one of the small wood screws for the table had come out of pre-drilled holes and had wandered off.  So the first product improvement I would make would be a bag for the screws and all the other small parts.

The second item would be a tougher table.  Not that the MDF table doesn’t work…it certainly does.  But down here in East Texas, we have a lot of humidity in the air (the shop is unheated and not cooled, other than fans and a while Seal Coast roof).

imageThe second thing I would do is put a prominent notice in the manual about the “safety switch.”  I must have missed it, but there’s a hole in the saw’s safety switch where a “key” is supposed to be inserted so the green power switch can be pressed to the “ON” position.

I didn’t see it explained in the manual (although I am loathe to even look in manuals, it’s a sign of weakness, after all) but there was no explanation to be easily found on the net.

What do do?  Why, disassemble the saw, of course! 

And, since “How to disassemble” is not in the manual, I pulled off the switch cover and that in turn pulled three crimped wires out that were supposed to be in place leveling me with wires that verged on too short to reconnect.

That led to getting out the crimping and soldering gear and redoing things around the switch which now functions as it should.  And since I have now seen that the “key” slides to the right to unlock the green button, I can jigger that just so with a screwdriver.

And then it was going through the adjustment process, which will take some more fiddling to get dialed in just right.

The reason is that the overhead saw track has to be perfectly perpendicular to the table.,  Otherwise, when you’re doing a cut, the back of the table might have the saw teeth properly just “kidding” the table top, while the front of the table (as you pull the saw forward) leaves something like the Grand Canyon in the table top.  So some additional guidance in the manual would be nice there, too.

And the third issue – which I’m still looking into – is whether I can get a dado set-up working on the saw, since this was the main reason for getting the saw in the first place.  It didn’t look promising at first blush, but more research is required to get this sorted out.

A fourth point – in passing – is that this thing seems to blow about 90% of its sawdust out the back of the saw making that shop vac pick-up semi-useless, but that is another area which may be user error; maybe I didn’t pass the minimum IQ required to use this saw correctly.  That’s a possibility.


Ah…well, I’m primarily interested in dado work with this saw and so far it has been (putting it mildly) a challenge.  If you are just looking for “whack it off” cuts, like 90, 45, and in-between kinds of cuts, you would likely get the same value for about half the price with the HF 10-inch sliding compound miter saw for $90

But if you do this, be sure at checkout to make sure coupon 68758593 has been applied.  They also have a 12” sliding compound miter saw for $199 down from $299, which might be worth considering, too.  Just remember, this kind of saw won’t do dado (nice groove cuts) for insetting shelving or cabinetmaking.

Another option is to go down to the closest Lowes and look at sliding/compound saws and try them how for how they “slide.”  I like the feel of what TaskForce has, but I don’t want to start a chop saw collection and they kind of saw is mostly useless for actual dada work.

For this arcane art (Secret order of Dados), you COULD use a router, but I get much better control using the table saw and (possibly)  if I figure out the saw arbor on the new one, on the radial arm saw. 

Forensic Woodworking:

Dados can be done with a router, sure.  But they tend to have more “entry and exit wounds” on the wood, even if you’re very careful, tape the edge of the wood first, and use well-attached guides that are clamped on tight as hell.

Sears makes a really first-rate radial arm saw but that one runs $799.99 (*why they don’t call it $800 astounds me).  The problem here is the additional $550 more money over the HF unit price. 

To an extent, a good rule of thumb in tools is “You get what you pay for.”  If I can get the dado setup on the HF saw, then life will be glorious.  If not, another column perhaps down the road.  Or, I will just go back to doing “regular” dado work on the table saw and call it good.  In which case, you might find a “like new” radial arm saw for sale in the East Texas edition of Craigslist.

Thus concludes this morning’s note from The Idiot’s Workshop and now we’ll part with the secret sign.

(The secret sign consists of holding up your hands, fingers spread widely apart, while another member of the Club counts digits before the weekend.  Then at Monday’s club meeting, the SIGN will be given again.  Anyone who doesn’t have the same digit count at both meetings, is summarily kicked out of the club, but is given a combat ribbon and a job application for two large “big box” hardware stores.)

Meeting adjourned, then.  Until Monday.

Meantime, send in them WoWW reports, let me know if war breaks out this weekend and write when you break-even.