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Your First Project

a couple of years ago

Working in the wood shop at the Steppingstone Museum is a real treat. Each weekend I am constantly reminded of the joy that comes from woodworking. Visitors who know nothing about woodworking remind me that the act of creating something with your hands just can’t be beat. No matter what we do to complicate the issue with tools, wood species, joinery, finishes, etc, when you boil it all down to the basics; woodworking fills an instinctual need. It is written in our DNA to make things and woodworking fills that void. Is it any wonder that woodworkers are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met?

Gimlet BitsAll of this ran through my mind this weekend while working at the museum. I had a little guy about 5 years old that was fascinated by the eggbeater drills. His chin came barely level with the workbench yet he was tirelessly trying to bore a 3/8″ hole through White Oak with it. I’m still not sure how he got that 3/8 bit into the eggbeater in the first place, but I replaced it with a 3/16 bit I had on hand, propped him up on a shave horse so he could see what he was doing, and set him to work drilling that hole. The drill kept jamming as he was really leaning into the crank. Somehow I managed to convince him that he needed to turn the crank lightly and it would cut. I showed him a few times then held the drill suspended over the wood so he could feel how easily the crank would turn. I told him that was how it should feel even when the bit was engaged in the wood. Soon enough he got it and was boring away with a huge smile on his face. Every time the bit broke through to they other side, he would laugh and shout, “another one!” and go on to another hole.

Meanwhile his dad started asking me questions about woodworking stuff and hand tools. The little guy just kept at it oblivious to the rest of the world. When his dad roused him from his flow state and said it was time to go, he got very upset at the thought of leaving all his hard work behind.

I asked his dad for a few more minutes and if he would mind if I showed him how to cut off a section of his board that he could take home. Sure I could have just sawn it off and sent him on his way, but something told me it would be better to let him do it. I set a bench hook in front of him and brought a coping saw. I explained that the saw was very sharp and we needed to keep our hands away from the pointy bit. The boy looked very serious and said that he understood. I handed him the saw and told him that a light touch was needed just like with the eggbeater drill or the blade would jam. Nodding he turned his attention to the work and I “shadowed” him by placing my hand over his on the saw just to make sure he stayed safe. After a few attempts where the blade stuck he got the saw going and with a highly focused look on his face, he slowly cut away the 4″ wide piece of Oak with his coping saw. When the wood parted, I think my ear drum burst because he let out an enthusiastic “Yay!!!” directly into my ear.

“There you go” I said. “Now you can take your project with you”.

The little boy ran to his dad and said, “look dad, my first project!” and the two of them left very happy.

Do you remember your first project?

Mine was a proton pack made for a Ghostbusters Halloween costume back in 1984. It was just a bunch of scrap blocks from my dad’s workshop glued onto a board with straps stapled to to. Like the little guy in my shop I was pretty dang proud of it too.

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