Teaching Beginning Woodworking to my Kids
I recently began teaching ‘Beginning Woodworking’ to my sons, at least on a more formal basis than I had been. My wife and I have been homeschooling them for quite a few years now. They are 14 and 16 years old now and I decided it was time to add Woodshop to their curriculum.
Woodshop 101, Lesson 1 was an introduction to just a few tools and concepts, as well as beginning their first project. We spent about an hour and ten minutes working in the shop together. At this point, I am planning on each lesson being broken up into three parts; a topical discussion, learning a tool, and then project time.
Lesson 1 – Topical Discussion
We covered the tape measure first and talked about why the end of the tape measure is movable, units, and fractions. Units and fractions have been covered in their studies prior to this, but I wanted to make sure that they understood them in a real world sense.
Not only did we cover measuring, but also Marking. Marking what you measure is, in my opinion, not discussed or covered nearly enough in the online woodworking community. Using a sharp pencil, marking the waste side, knowing where to cut relative to your mark are all very important concepts for ending up with accurate cuts.
Another concept we talked about that you don’t always hear about in a beginning woodworking class is ‘eye dominance‘. Knowing which eye you should be using to line things up on a saw can also make a big difference on cut accuracy. Some people will instinctively know which eye is dominant, but many people won’t.
Here is a simple test to determine eye dominance:
Create a triangle with your hands, the tips of your thumbs touching, and the tips of your index fingers touching. Hold your arms out from your body and with both eyes open, look through the triangle and center on something such as a doorknob in the triangle. Close your left eye. If the object remains in view, you are right eye dominant. If closing your right eye keeps the object in view then you are left eye dominant.
Lesson 1 – Tool Time
We then covered the miter saw/chop saw. Of course, no beginning woodworking class (or any woodworking class) would be complete without safety being the first thing we talked about. I showed them where to place their hands when making a cut, as well as being conscious of the pressure they are placing on the workpiece with their hand as well as the saw handle.
I told them to ask themselves this question before every cut with every tool; “If my hand slips, which direction is it going to slip?” If their answer is “away from the blade,” then they are being safe.
After the safety lecture, I showed them how to line the blade up with the mark on the wood. To be more precise, how to sight down the edge of the blade and line it up on the waste side of the line.
This took a little bit of explaining, but in the end, they understood that both their pencil mark and the blade have thickness, and if they don’t line things up correctly, they could cut their board too short or too long.
We also talked about stop blocks and how they are useful for making repeatable accurate cuts.
I made a couple of cuts to demonstrate, then I let them make some cuts on some scrap wood to get the feel of the saw.
We then moved on to Project Time.
Lesson 1 – Project Time
For our first beginning woodworking project, I decided to have them make a picture frame. I thought it would be simple enough to do and it would be useful for them.
One of the things that I wanted them to learn in this class was how to read two-dimensional (2D) drawings, so prior to our lesson, I drew a picture frame in Fusion 360 and made a fully detailed and dimensioned drawing complete with section views. I’ll teach them to make their own drawings at a later date.
Also, I really only wanted them to practice the miter cuts so I also cut the rabbet in a long piece of 1/2″ x 1-1/4″ White Ash ahead of time.
We started by rough cutting the pieces to length. I told them to cut the pieces about 1/4 inch longer that what they needed. They set up the stop block and cut the two long pieces, then adjusted the block and cut the short pieces.
We had a brief discussion on angles and how two 45 degree angles fit together nicely to form a right angle. We also talked about how if the angle was bigger or smaller than 45 degrees, that the error would compound over the 4 joints and would not fit together nicely.
Next, I had them look at the drawing and then make an angled pencil mark on the workpiece to show the direction of the miters relative to the rabbet. This is to make sure that we don’t cut the miter in the wrong direction.
The next step was to cut the first miter on each of the pieces. I showed them how to adjust the saw. They then cut the miter on each of the pieces. Then we set the stop block up to cut the second miter on each piece.
Glue up time
The glue up is the last thing to do in this lesson. However, before gluing things up, we discussed things like how much glue to use, different types of glue, and clamping.
Now here is where I kind of messed up. I had the boys use some band clamps to hold the frame together while it dried. This would have been fine, except that my band clamps are a bit too big for these picture frames.
What happened was this; we glued the pieces up and laid them front face down into the corners of the clamp and then tightened the clamp. The critical error came when we never turned the frame over and looked at the front of them until after they were dry.
Because the band clamp was so much wider than that of the frame thickness, it sort of pulled the joints open on the front face while looking tight on the back face.
After gluing and clamping we ended the lesson. I went out about an hour later and noticed the problem.
The good thing about this is that I can now teach them how to fix something that didn’t turn out quite right. It will be a good object lesson in lesson 2. Mistakes are gonna happen whether you are just beginning woodworking or have been doing it for 20 years or more.