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Straw Bale Construction: The Ultra-Ecological House

Every few years, discussions about using straw bales as a building material come up again. As our environmental challenges mount—from wildfires to hurricanes—straw bales seem to offer a sustainable answer. And as we in the American West seem to find ourselves in “fire season” earlier with each passing year, it’s time to ask: Has the humble straw bale’s moment finally come?

By MEA MCNEIL

The Vegetable Detective

A molecular biologist is finding what could be dangerous levels of heavy metals in plants like kale, often called the “queen” of the vegetable kingdom. And they’ve shown up the most in organic varieties.

Story by TODD OPPENHEIMER
Photography by CLAIRE BLOOMBERG

Italy’s Book Doctor

In the city of Bologna, home to the world’s oldest university (as well as some of Italy’s finest cuisine), Pietro Livi has developed an unusual machine shop. Part artisanal and part high-tech, his operation is a kind of Renaissance workshop, built to restore damaged ancient texts to their former glory. And then came Venice’s historic floods of 2019.

By LUISA GROSSO

The Soul of French Invention

Woodworker and author Gary Rogowski makes the case for the Musée des Arts et Métiers as Paris’ best museum, and offers a guide to its extensive holdings.

By GARY ROGOWSKI

The Apprenticeship Ambivalence

Amidst political discussion about expanding apprenticeships in the U.S., two contradictory realities persist. One is a changing landscape, in both school and work, that increasingly needs a sound apprenticeship system; the other is the refusal by many parents to understand why a formal apprenticeship might make more sense for their children—and their finances—than four years of college.

By TODD OPPENHEIMER

Is Digital Craftsmanship an Oxymoron?

Almost hidden on a funky old pier along San Francisco’s waterfront, Autodesk, a world leader in digital tools for makers, is running a prototype shop that seems more like a high-tech playground for grown-ups. In between contracts to make, say, a steel ship propeller with a massive 3-D printer, the company takes in sculptors, engineers, and architects who are pushing the boundaries of their own work. The effect of all this energy is a level of innovation that is expanding—and perhaps redefining—the meaning of craftsmanship.

By TODD OPPENHEIMER

The Value of Time

When an American made, battery powered, quartz watch costs $1,500, and its counterparts from other countries, including Switzerland, range from $50 to more than $50,000, what’s the difference between them all? A quick dive into the eternal appeal of wrist sculptures.

By TODD OPPENHEIMER

Let Tinkerbell Tinker

As the economy’s reliance on innovation grows, the commercial offerings of toys for girls remains, well, somewhat less than innovative. Fortunately, a few women who are educators, engineers, and entrepreneurs are starting to figure this problem out by reviving the time-honored principles of tinkering. But how could we have gotten so off track? One writer goes searching for the answer.

By DAVID MUNRO

Real Shaving: a Gift Guide

If you’re curious about the offerings beyond (or before) today’s over-priced, plasticized, landfill clogging shaving gear, we’ve got you covered. A collector of traditional shaving tools, and a prolific writer on the topic, offers a primer—and some very wise buying tips. Male readers in particular, beware: It is very easy to get hooked on this stuff.

By MICHAEL HAM

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