Sometimes we give a little, and get a lot in return.
Our daughter is the Leader in a 4-H group. Somehow, I got on her short list of woodworking instructors to teach a small group of 4-H boys some fundamentals of woodworking. Total on the short list: One. She left it up to me to develop the curriculum for about 6 to 8 hours of total in-shop learning experience.
In the end, four boys signed up for the classes, but one went on vacation with his family; a total of three boys, then, was perfect for the few hours we have been together. None of the boys had ever done any woodworking, although one of them had spent many hours running a pneumatic log splitter to get firewood ready for the family fireplace.
Knocking about several ideas, I finally locked in on making a wren birdhouse. To teach the boys some of the skills required to successfully complete the project, I bought some 6-inch wide, 4-foot long poplar boards, one for each boy. This worked out great, as each board produces one wren house, with about 8 inches to spare.
The curriculum developed as follows:
- Shop safety procedures: Eye protection, tool control, proper stance,
- Learning the basic layout tools: Square, ruler, pencil (sharp and crisp layout lines)
- Preparing a cut list from the wren house drawings
- Transferring the cut list to the boards, with minimum waste
- The use of clamps and holdfasts to hold larger and smaller parts; the boys much prefer using a holdfast!
- Cutting accurately with a hand saw; in the interest of time, we finished cutting with a jig saw
- Cutting to the line with the jig saw
- Repairing parts cut a little off, to improve their fit
- We will likely finish the bird houses by nailing them together, with a sliding bottom (next week), and
- Paint them!
In the next photos you will see “Larry”, “Jay”, and “Al” busy cutting parts of the wren house. Workholding has been a large part of the short course. Last week we used clamps, in two styles: Bar Clamps, and K-body clamps. This week I introduced the boys to holdfasts, and how to use them. They are now hooked on the holdfast, and prefer it over the clamps:
The boys learned quickly, and enjoyed the hands-on experience. They also learned that it is possible to learn by watching, and paying attention to what others are doing. If one of the boys made a correction in mid-cut, the two watching caught it, and explained that a slower forward speed will allow better control, to stay closer to the line.
And what did I learn?
Working with Larry, Jay, and Al proved to me that using a mix of power tools and hand tools is a great way to introduce young people to woodworking. The reason it worked as well as it did, I believe, is that it avoided frustration that can creep in if we cannot control a hand saw properly, for example. Or, if progress is not sufficiently fast, boredom has a tendency to find its way into the shop. But, by keeping up the pace, and suggesting alternatives, I kept the boys involved, even Larry. And spending time with the boys reminded me that we all learn at different rates, and in different ways. For example, Al preferred to watch, and was the last to cut his wren house; this way he was more certain about what to do with the jigsaw; and yet he did the entire cutting layout on the project board without any assistance from me.
For anyone interested in learning about the 4-H woodworking curriculum, I invite you to read the Woodworking Wonders page at the 4-H home page.
This has been a wonderful experience, one that I will gladly repeat if given the opportunity. I feel I learned much from my time with the three boys!