Your First Project

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.

14 Responses to “Your First Project”

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  1. Jeremy says:

    My first woodworking ‘projects’ were wooden swords. I had a very active imagination, and the farm I grew up on had plenty of opportunities to kick things up a notch in the work room. Fast forward thirty(?) years to two days ago, when I finished a prototype practice sword for my friend’s Kung-Fu school. I was happy to see my skills had improved some. Same feeling of pride too!

  2. TylerW says:

    Thank you for this Shannon. There has been a nearly constant stream of negative stories on the internet recently and I was starting to get worn down.
    This was just what I needed.

  3. Tom Iovino says:

    This is awesome, Shannon! That kid will treasure that board and remember that moment his entire life…

  4. Miles eaton says:

    Hmmm i remember my father handing me a drill and teaching me how to use a jig saw to make a small stool…. I was way too young to handle power tools haha. Kinda set the trend for the rest of my childhood

  5. Greg says:

    I remember rummaging through my Dad’s scrap bin and finding a chunk of walnut which I then took to the bandsaw and made a phaser from Star Trek TOS.

    I’m tempted to start a museum just so I can volunteer at it and do demos like you do.

  6. Stan P. says:

    My father wasn’t a “woodworker”, but he worked with wood when he needed to. He also did plumbing, electrical work, painting, and roofing when he had to. That said I did learn a lot from him about woodworking. He encouraged me to take wood shop in 7th grade and I did. My first project was in wood shop and it was a coat rack. And I still have and use that coat rack that I made back in about 1961. Even though I have not met you in person I can certainly picture you shadowing him as he was drilling that hole and encouraging him and giving him pointers on how to do it. Really enjoyed reading this.

  7. Jose Santiago says:

    What a great story (experience) for both of you. My first project was a neckerchief slide carved at Boy Scout summer camp. It was a Texas long horn head from a kit. I also carved a hiking stick. I was eleven then and didn’t do any woodworking until thirty years later when I helped my son with the same kit. Now I’m 90% done with my Roubo bench and feel I have some catching up to do.

  8. Lamar Bailey says:

    Great Story! I don’t remember mine but my oldest Daughter build a shaker meeting house bench for the bus stop when she was 5. We used handtools for everything. She is still proud of it to this day.
    http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4126/5006721610_730bcb2c4a_b.jpg

    • Robert W says:

      My first project was a teapot stand for my mother, I made it in woodwork class aged 11. It was a simple crossed lap joint construction, with a 1/4″ octagonal plywood top for the teapot to sit on. I covered the plywood with fablon sticky backed plastic, and I just remembered now that the pattern was red with white stars. My father used to leave the teapot simmering on the gas ring for hours, and needless to say, the fablon didn’t last long. I just peeled it off and sanded and varnished the plywood. I can still remember it being in use when I married and left home aged 23.

  9. Jeremy says:

    A wooden paddle boat when I was 8… My most recent blog post http://jmawworks.blogspot.com/2013/06/when-does-it-become-woodworking.html was about this. I really like your story here, and agree that being creators is in the human blueprint.

  10. Jeffrey says:

    My first project was a bookshelf I made when I was a teenager. I remember my Dad laughing about it probably since I had no training or experience whatsoever and he was the son of a real woodworker/carpenter (cabinets, barns, furniture, et al.). I didn’t do the best job but something about it just ignited something in me that has stayed lit in the 20+ years since. I still have it, my wife actually likes it and it is jammed with books. Hardly a show piece but it was a start. Thinking about it makes me wish I had been able to spend more time with my grandfather to learn from him. If that had happened I may not be stuck behind this desk all day. Thanks for what you do.

  11. Don Roberto says:

    My first ever project, was a teapot stand that I made for my mother in woodwork class aged 11. It was a simple crossed half lap base with a 1/4″ octagonal plywood top. It has just come to mind that I covered it with fablon sticky backed plastic and the pattern was a red background with white stars. Needless to say, the plastic didn’t last long, with scalding hot teapots sitting on it. I just peeled the plastic off , sanded the top and slapped on a coat of varnish. I can remember the stand still being in use when I married and left home at 23.

  12. Parker Tindell says:

    Love the storie. My son is three and he jumps for joy any time I let him hold a tool when I’m working on something.

  13. Jeremy Dearman says:

    Trying hard to remember my first project, but I do recall my first pinewood derby car. I didn’t ask for help and remember nailing the wheels into the side of the block of wood. I put them in too high on the chassis and the car wouldn’t run down the track. I did get a prize for appearance (probably out of pity). I have a five year old daughter who likes to work in the shop with me. She uses the eggbeater, nails, and colored sharpies to turn my cut offs into gifts for mama and me.

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