‘Wisdom of the Hands’
August 14, 2011 | 9:34 pm CDT

Fine woodworker, author, educator and blogger, Doug Stowe believes that life is experienced best when hands are involved. Click here to browse a web exclusive gallery of Stowe's work.

Douglas Stowe’s father bought him a used Shopsmith for his 14th birthday, setting in motion a love of hands-on woodworking that led the Eureka Springs, AR-based Stowe down numerous paths. He not only became a highly-regarded fine craftsman, an author with his sixth book, Building Rustic Furniture (and video) scheduled for release this fall and a successful and world renowned educator of woodworking, but also a popular blogger on the internet, whose Wisdom of the Hands blog (http://wisdomofhands.blogspot.com/) offers daily musings on woodworking, the environment, education and life.

Stowe says his childhood home in Omaha, NE, was filled with antique furniture that made him wonder how such fine pieces were made. Later, in college, his path to a law degree ended when a friend pointed out, “Doug, your brains are in your hands.” Moving to Eureka Springs, AR, to make pottery, Stowe found that this tourist community already had plenty of potters, but lacked woodworkers.

Teaching himself woodcraft by studying James Krenov’s books and fine woodworking magazines, Stowe began in 1977 building display cases for local shops, before finding the niche that would become what he is primarily known for: building boxes.

“I began making small boxes for a jeweler who needed presentation boxes,” Stowe explains. “People started asking, ‘Can I buy the box without the jewelry?’ I have marketed a line of small presentation-size jewelry boxes for the last 30 years, which has been a saving grace for me because this area is not strong for custom furniture.” Stowe also has produced four books on box making.

Working out of a two-car garage shop, Stowe uses a wide variety of hand and power tools, and he recently retired his 1948 Atlas saw in favor of a new 10-inch Grizzly table saw with a riving knife. An ardent environmentalist, he prefers to use local hardwoods, such as walnut and cherry, and feels that part of his function as an “interpretive” woodworker is to assist the wood in expressing its value in an area where hardwoods were once sprayed with defoliates to make way for more pine trees for the pulp industry.

Stowe says he has no interest in expanding his business, and he only creates a few select works per year. Instead, he holds the view of woodworking as “sawdust therapy,” and he says he likes to “push the limits” in his work, in ways that at times limit his sales potential.

“I’m very eclectic, and I try to draw from a lot of sources, including a wide range of spiritual sources,” he says. “I’m drawn to a diversity of thought and I like encountering things that are beyond my understanding.” As an example of the results of this exploration, Stowe offers what he calls a “tribal table,” which features “symbols of mystery” like swirls and dots on a black ebonized surface.

Since 2001, Stowe has taught woodshop to children at the progressive Clear Springs School. Rediscovering the Sloyd educational system, which stresses woodworking as a central part of the educational structure, Stowe has become an expert on the subject, having published articles and spoken at conferences, including one in Helsinki, Finland.

He cites recent scientific studies showing that people learn best when their hands are used in the process, and also that the depression that occurs from a feeling of a lack of control over a person’s environment is lessened by hormones released when a person is actively involved, particularly through the use of the hands.

Stowe sums up this philosophy as: “I have found that nearly everything in human life is enriched if your hands are engaged in its exploration.”

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