An alternative to chairs … stools!

At some point during the summer break, I find myself thinking about the possibility of starting off the school year with no desks or chairs in my classroom and have the students build their own desk and chair.  Then my logical brain kicks in and tells me that even if I wanted the students to make their own desks and chairs, their woodworking skill set wouldn’t be advanced enough in September to successfully complete the challenge.  So then, I mentally repopulate my classroom with all my desks and … wait!  What if the kids made stools instead of chairs?  Hmm…  A stool would need to be sturdy enough to withstand the rigours of classroom life, it would need to be simple in design for kids with little to no woodworking experience to assemble and the materials required would need to be relatively inexpensive.

I came up with the design for the square based stools towards the end of the school year a few years back.  That year, I had numerous students who found it difficult to remain seated in regular classroom chairs for any length of time and they were constantly balancing on one or two legs of their chairs.  I made the blue, yellow and red stools as test models to see if they would work.  To my surprise, they have stood the test of 3 years of daily use with little sign of wear.   The two stools on the left in the background, orange top and the wood coloured stool which is partially obscured by the table top, have round and slightly convex bases.  This type of stool requires a wood lathe to make.  These stools are more recent prototypes of wobbly stools that allow students to fully gyrate in any direction while forcing them to use their core muscles to stay upright; perfect for the active learner.  These two wobbly stools are very popular with my students and are the first to go each morning when my students pick their seat for the day.  Stools at rainbow tableThe square base stool is one of the early woodworking projects that I have my students make in September / October.  This project is one of, if not the only project that I have the students do that only requires assembly.  To make stools with round seats, as seen in the photo above, requires quite a considerable amount of preparatory work by an experienced woodworker with access to a table saw, a band saw, a miter saw, a drill and a brad nailer.  Alternatively, you could make these stools with a square seat which would only require a table saw and a miter saw to prepare the materials.

Materials and tools for a round seat stool:

  • 2 pieces of 2X4 cut exactly to 14″ in length for the post
  • 1 piece of 3/4″ plywood cut to 8″x8″ for the base
  • 2 pieces of 3/4″ plywood cut to 12″X12″ for the seat blank
  • 1 1/4″ nails to secure the 2 seat pieces together
  • 3″ nails (4) for the seat and (2) for the post and 2 1/2″ screws (4) for the base
  • 1″ long piece of 1/4″ dowel
  • thick plastic drawer liner found at most Dollar Stores
  • masking tape
  • 16 once hammer
  • ruler or a straight edge
  • safety glasses
  • a hand drill with a 1/4″ drill bit
  • 1/4″ impact driver with a No.2 Robertson bit (in Canada)
  • industrial stapler with 3/8″- 1/2″ staples


Planning and preparation:

In order to determine the desired height for your stool, start by measuring the height of a comfortable chair for the person who will be using this stool.  This measurement will give you the finished overall height for the stool.  For my grade 3 students (aged 8 or 9), 16 1/4″ is a good average overall height for a stool that they can grow into over the length of the school year.  I customize the height of each student’s stool and so in my classroom we have stools of varying heights.

To determine the height of the post, keep in mind that the base is made using one piece of 3/4″ thick plywood and the seat is made using 2 pieces of 3/4″ thick plywood.  Their combined thickness is 3/4″ + 1 1/2″ = 2 1/4″.  This means that you will need to subtract 2 1/4″ from the overall desired height of the stool to establish the length of the 2X4s for the post.

For a 16 1/4″ tall stool, you’ll need to cut 2 pieces of 2X4 at exactly  14″ and then tape the two pieces together to secure the matched pair.

For the base, you will will need to cut one piece of 3/4″ plywood to 8″X8″.

To make the seat, you have 2 options:

Option 1: Square seat – Cut two pieces of 3/4″ plywood at 10″X10″or 11″X11″.  Glue and nail them together with the 1 1/4″ nails.  To find the centre, draw diagonal lines from opposing corners.  Where the two lines intersect, drill a 1/4″ hole 1/2″ deep.

Option 2: Round seat – Cut two pieces of 3/4″ plywood to 12″X12″.  Glue and brad nail the 2 pieces together with 1 1/4″ brads making sure to nail closer to the middle of what will be a circle.  To find the centre draw diagonal lines from opposing corners on one piece of 12″X12″.  Where the two lines intersect, drill a 1/4″ hole 1/2″ deep.    Insert a 1/4″ dowel 1″ long into the hole in the 12X12″ seat blank and then insert the other end of the dowel into a circle cutting jig for your band saw or table saw.  Complete the cut on the band saw or series of cuts on the table saw and then remove the seat from the circle cutting jig.

Click on this link for a video on how this is done on the band saw.


Assembly instructions:

Remove the masking tape from the 2X4s and sand both pieces smooth along each edge and end.  Tape the two pieces of 2X4 back together making sure that the ends are perfectly lined up at both ends.  With safety glasses on, use a 16 once hammer to drive 2 nails evenly spaced along the length of the 2X4 to join the 2 pieces together.


Centre the base on one end of the post then secure the base to the post using four 2 1/2″ screws screwed in at an angle using an impact driver.  Make sure to countersink the screw heads into the plywood so that they do not stick up past the surface of the plywood.  Failure to do so will cause the screw head(s) to scratch the floor.  Through experience, I have learned not to use nails to secure the base to the post as the nails eventually become dislodged and will stick up past the plywood causing damage to the floor.  I am eternally grateful to our custodial staff for their patience and understanding as we learned this lesson the hard way.

Stool 2

With the base secured to the post, flip the assembly on to its base.  On the upright end of the post, locate its middle and drill a 1/4″ hole 1/2″ deep.  Cut a 1″ long piece of 1/4″ dowel to length and insert it into the hole into the end of the post.

Stool 3

Place the seat onto the post.  Be sure to insert the dowel into the 1/4″ hole on the bottom of the seat.  Make sure the underside of the seat is properly seated against the top of the post.  Taking the time to drill for and using the dowel will ensure that the seat is centred on the post and will make nailing much easier.  Place the first nail on the seat’s surface and confirm that it will enter the post at one of its corners at a slight angle towards the middle of the post before nailing it in.  In order to achieve a nice square nail pattern on the surface of the seat, align the 3 other nails at each of the other corners of the post.

Stool nailing


To protect the floor, you will want to cut a piece of the plastic drawer liner to match the underside of the base.  Affix it to the base using an industrial stapler.  One staple at each corner should suffice.  The plastic drawer liner also helps to provide more grip to the base so that when a student is sitting on the edge of his seat, from a riveting lesson no less, the stool won’t slip out from under the child as easily.

Now all that is left to do is to decorate the stool with your own custom design.

Stool decorated

Posted in Hammering, Hand drill | Leave a comment

Making catapults

My catapultThis simple catapult is a great project to make with kids.  It combines many different skills into one project, without being too intimidating.  Kids will learn how to measure, to cut to length using a miter saw and box, to nail and to drill.

Materials to make 1 catapult:

  • Approximately 5′ of 1″X2″ wood
  • 1 1/4″ nails (X 16)
  • 2 washers (I used 5/16″)
  • 2′ of paracord rope (I bought mine at the Dollar Store)
  • a wooden spoon


  • miter saw
  • miter box
  • hammer
  • safety glasses
  • hand drill (or drill press)
  • 3/8″ drill bit
  • measuring tape
  • masking tape
  • scissors
  • lighter
  • marshmallows


How to:

Being an elementary school teacher in Canada, it seems odd to teach my students how to measure objects using our wonderful Metric system with no fractions and then to abandon it completely whenever we start doing real work.  Truth is, almost every trade in Canada uses the Imperial system.  So for this project, all measurement are in inches and we have to deal with fractions… tough!

With your lengths of 1″X2″ and measuring tape in hand, mark and cut to length the following pieces:

  • 2 pieces at 14″
  • 2 pieces at 4″
  • 2 pieces at 6″
  • 1 piece at 7 1/8″ ‘ish’



Take the two 14″ pieces, put them flat faces together and be sure to align the ends.  If both pieces are not the same length, trim one to match the other, the exact length is not crucial.  Next, secure both 14″ pieces together with tape at both ends; this will hold them in place while you drill.


From one end, measure and mark at 6″.  Extend the 6″ mark across the full width of the 1″X2″ and mark the midpoint of that line; this is where you will drill the 3/8″ hole.  Clamp the 1″X2″s to a table and with a 3/8″ bit in the hand drill, bore a hole through both pieces.  This may take some effort if you’re using a hand drill.  If this proves to be too difficult, insert a smaller diameter drill bit in the hand drill first and work your way up to the 3/8″ diameter drill bit.  Always remember to put a scrap piece of wood underneath where the drill bit will exit the wood to save the table or desk you’re working on.  When done, remove the tape.




You can see that I’ve traced the thickness of the 4″ pieces onto the face of the 14″ piece.  This tells me where I can place my nails.  Take one of the 14″ pieces and start 2 nails at each end.  Next, stand both 4″ pieces on their ends, about 14″ apart, and lay the 14″ piece on top of them and drive the four nails making sure the ends are aligned.  It may be wobbly at first but once one nail is in, the assembly should be more stable.


Flip the assembly over.


N.B. – Before you nail the second 14″ piece in place, do a test fit and place it on top of 4″ pieces of the flipped assembly.  Make sure the two holes line up and make any necessary adjustments.  This test fit will inform you as to which direction the 1″X2″ should sit onto of the flipped assembly to start your nails in the next step.


Start 2 nails at each end of the second 14″ piece, then place it on top of both 4″ pieces.  Drive all four nails like you did on the other side.




Take a 6″ piece and start 2 nails slightly staggered into one of its ends.  With the rectangular assembly on its side, take the 6″ piece and place it 1/2″ away from the hole to form a ‘T’.  Make sure the end of the 6″ piece is flush with the edge of the 14″ piece and drive the nails in.  Repeat this step with the other side.  It doesn’t matter which side of the hole you place the 6″ pieces, just as long as both 6″ pieces line up like goal posts.

You may have to gently adjust the 6″ ‘goal posts’ slightly so that their tops line up.  When they are both lined lined up, place the 7 1/8″ ‘cross bar’ piece atop of the uprights and drive 2 nails into each end.

Now for the rope.  After you cut a 2′ length of rope, be sure to melt both ends with a lighter so that that the ends won’t fray.  Insert one end the 2′ length of rope through one hole then continue through the second hole.  Take the same end of rope and thread a washer onto the rope.  The washer will keep the rope from pulling through the hole.  Insert the same end of rope back through the same hole it just came through then bring it through the first hole.  Make the necessary adjustments to the rope to ensure that both ends of the rope are the same length.  Thread the second washer onto one of the ends of ropes then tie an overhand knot (the same knot used to tie shoe laces).  Make sure the rope is taut and then tie a second overhand knot to lock the first one in place.

Finally, insert the end of the wooden spoon in between both ropes and slide the spoon down so that the rope is in the middle of the spoon’s shaft.  Wind the spoon away from the ‘cross bar’ until the desired torsion is achieved.  Place the catapult on a table and place both thumbs on the rope on either side of the spoon’s shaft.  Push the rope down the shaft until the catapult sits securely on its base.  When not in use, pull the spoon out to release the stress on the rope as it will stretch over time.  Undo and retie both knots to take up slack in rope as it stretches.

Safety precaution: Never fire rocks or others sharp objects towards people or animals.  Always be aware of your surroundings and know who or what is down range of your intended target.

Congratulations, you have just finished making a catapult.  Now go get some marshmallows for ammunition and fire away!

Posted in Hammering, Hand drill, Sawing | Leave a comment

Making mini hockey sticks with kids

Thinking back to when I was a kid at school, we loved ‘inside days’ at recess on rainy days.  We would pull out our rulers and an eraser and played hockey on the floor in class; mini hockey sticks weren’t available yet in those day.  Fast forward many years, and in my classroom my students get to make their own mini hockey sticks to play with.

Hockey stick

Tools and materials required:

To make this project, you will need:

  • a coping saw
  • 2 C clamps and
  • a clamping block per work station
  • sand paper (coarse, medium and fine grits)
  • hockey tape (I prefer white tape as it does not stain hands)
  • a jigsaw for preparing the mini stick blanks

The wood I use to make the mini hockey sticks is 1/4″ thick Baltic Birch plywood.  You could use regular 1/4″ construction plywood except that it has fewer layers that make up the 1/4″ thickness and it also has voids within the layers.  Any void in a layer means a potential weak spot in the mini hockey stick which will result in it breaking sooner rather than later.  For these reasons, I buy quality 1/4″ Baltic Birch plywood.  You can buy a 5’X5′ sheet of Baltic Birch plywood for much cheaper that a 4’X8′ sheet.  Some places sell 5’X5′ half sheets and will even cut a full sheet in half to make it easier for you to transport it home.


Once I have the plywood, and because I’m preparing for up to 24 kids at a time, I trace my pattern onto a half sheet to maximize my material, leaving about 1″ of space between each stick.  I find that if I alternate my pattern end for end I can make the most efficient use of the plywood.  Once I have traced all the mini hockey sticks onto the plywood, I use a jigsaw to cut them out.  I purposefully cut crooked and avoid the lines to allow my students to do all the work of cutting their mini hockey stick themselves.

Mini Hockey stick and mini goalie stick

How to:

When securing the clamping block to a desk or table you will want to position it at 90 degrees to the front edge of the desk, leaving about half of it overhanging the desk.  Position the mini hockey stick blank on the back face, the face without the 2X2, making sure to keep the line that will be cut about 1/2″ over the side edge of the clamping block and only about 1-2″ sticking up over the top edge of the clamping block.  When using a coping saw, you want to cut vertically whenever possible.  Cutting towards your hand can lead to injury if the blade happens to slip.  As you cut the line, eventually the metal frame of the coping saw will come into contact with the plywood.  At this point you will discover the beauty of the coping saw.  If you take the saw out of the kerf, that’s the gap in the wood that you made with the saw, and you loosen the handle you will find that you will be able to move the two anchor points for the blade.  Position both anchor points at such an angle that it puts the frame to the waste side of the line  Once you have both anchor points positioned at about the same angle, retighten the handle and continue cutting.  One thing that you will notice right away, is that you will no longer be able to use the metal frame to orient your blade in the cut.  You will need to pay close attention to where the blade is in order to stay on the line.  As you make your way down the cut line, you will need to move the hockey stick blank up and re-clamp it in the clamping block several times.  As you approach the curves you will want to go slowly and make a series of small turns rather than one large turn as it could bind the blade and it could snap.  Continue cutting each line positioning the hockey stick blank as necessary to keep your cut line as vertical as possible.

Once the cutting is done, sand smooth progressing from coarse, then medium and finishing with fine grit sandpaper.  Students always rush this part and tell me that they are done sanding when it is clear that they are not.  I tell students to feel every edge and corner for any sharp bits.  If the edges are really jagged, I have that student use a rasp or a block plane to even things out.  When the mini hockey stick is all smooth and I can run my hands over the edges and corners without getting a sliver or noticing any sharp bits, it is time for hockey tape.

I wrap tape around the end 4 or 5 times in the same spot to make a small knob; this makes it more comfortable in the hand.  Next, I wrap 4 or 5 turns down the shaft overlapping the edges of the tape a bit as I go and then I wrap the stick’s blade.  The kids love to decorate and personalize their mini hockey sticks with their names or with the colours of their favourite hockey team using permanent markers.

This project usually takes 1 1/2 – 2 hours for most students to complete if it’s their first project using a coping saw as their hands tire quickly.


Posted in Sawing | Leave a comment

A basic hand tool kit

A colleague contacted me recently and asked me if I could suggest some basic woodworking tools that she could purchase for her 8 year old son.  Always eager to help out a young and aspiring woodworker, I recommended the following tools:

A basic tool kit:

  • a coping saw (for cutting curves)
  • a miter saw
  • a miter box
  • a 12′ measuring tape
  • a 10 once hammer
  • two 4″ C clamps
  • safety glasses
  • a clamping block

Coping sawMiter saw3 Miter boxesTapeHammerC clampSafety glassesClampling block

With these tools, a beginning woodworker will be able to create many of the projects described in this blog.  As with most things, you get what you pay for.  The one tool I would suggest spending a little bit more to get a quality tool, would be the coping saw.  Stanley and Irwin coping saws are okay, but I have found that my students and I struggled to adjust the blade angle and or tension so that the blade doesn’t twist during use.  Now, the ones we use exclusively in class are from Lee Valley Tools.  In the spirit of full disclose, I do not receive any money, kickbacks or discounts from Lee Valley Tools for this endorsement.

I would add one other tool to this list, a hand drill and drill bits.  I find that my students are able to work well with hand drills as they are light and better suited to smaller hands.

Hand drills

Cordless drills are bulkier and heavier due to their battery packs and, as with corded drills, kids can find them difficult to get their hands around the handle grip to press the trigger.  In my own shop, I have found that the torque that these drills can produce can rip the drill right out of my hand and even cause injury to my wrist if I’m not careful.  In the hands of inexperienced woodworkers, I prefer to put a good old ‘egg beater’ type hand drill to drill small to medium sized holes.

After acquiring these basic hand tools, I would suggest that future purchases of tools be dictated by the project(s) you intend to make.

Posted in Hammering, Hand drill, Sawing | Leave a comment

Making a Christmas tree

Making a Christmas tree with a coping saw

One of the first projects I have students make using the coping saw is a Christmas tree.  It is made from 3/4″ Pine  (I rip a SPF (Spruce Pine Fir) 2X4 in half with my bandsaw) about 12″ long.  Students first mark a line on the wood to create a square base then clamp the wood to the clamping block with the line they drew running vertically.  Using the coping saw, they saw down the line with smooth strokes remembering to keep the blade and their arm aligned.

With the remaining piece of wood, at one end of the board they find the centre of the width and make a mark.  Using a ruler they trace lines from their mark to the corners at the opposite end of the board.  They should now have a triangle with a flat base.  Once this is complete, they clamp the wood to the clamping block with one of their lines running vertically.  After sawing the first line of their tree, they repeat the same operation with the other line.

Christmas tree 1

Christmas tree 2

A Dr. Seuss looking tree will challenge even the most experienced sawyer.

To drill the hole for the tree trunk, position the tree so that the flat base sits horizontally and clamp it to the clamping block. Chuck, or insert, a 1/4″ drill bit in a hand drill (alternatively, you can use a drill press, or an electric drill) and drill down about 1/2″ into the tree.

Hand drills

Miller Falls antique hand-drills. These ones are over 50 years old and still work great – available on eBay

When using a hand drill, I tell students to use their non-dominant hand to hold the top of the hand-drill and to lock their elbow against their body for stability.  While turning the crank clockwise with their dominant hand, they’ll want to try to keep the drill as still and upright as possible.  Failure to do so, will cause the hole being drilled to become enlarged and will make for a wobbly tree.  As a way of fixing a wobbly tree, drill deeper into the base of the tree.

Before drilling the hole into the base for the dowel, place a sacrificial piece of wood underneath it to protect the table underneath.  Drill about 3/4 of the way through the base making sure not to drill all the way through.  To make the tree trunk, cut a piece of 1/4″ dowel to the desired length, sand the edges smooth and put it all together.

An alternate project that can be made in a similar fashion is a Mother’s day flower.

Materials needed: 12″ of 3/4 X 4″ pine or similar wood per student, 1/4″ dowel

Tools needed for each work station: 1 Clamping block, 2 C clamps 4″, 1 coping saw, 1 hand drill and a 1/4″ drill bit.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Using coping saws with kids

In the first year when I was not sure if my foray in to woodworking with 7 -9 year old children was going to be successful or unsuccessful, I had to be selective of the tools I purchased.  Among the first tools I purchased were a few coping saws and some 4″ C clamps.  In order not to have the kids cut into my classroom tables while making their projects, I devised this simple clamping block to hold the wood while cutting.

Clampling block

It looks a lot like a castle wall with turrets, but it also solves the problem of how to hold the work vertically at a comfortable height for the students to work at.  The clamping block is made from a 10″ long piece of 2X8 and a piece of 2X2 screwed to the 2X8 to form the base. The “turrets” on the top edge are 2″ wide 1 1/2″ deep and sit 2″ from each end.  They serve the purpose of providing a resting place for the C clamp and allow for clamping the work piece farther down on the face of the clamping block which stabilizes the wood being cut from the vibration caused by sawing.

Clamping block 2

A student using good form with a coping saw.



Each clamping block requires 2 C clamps, one to secure the clamping block to the table or desk and a second one to clamp the project wood to the clamping block.





Coping saw

The coping saw is a unimposing saw that needs to be treated with care. The narrow blade is under considerable tension and as a result is easily snapped.  Unlike hand saws, the coping saw affords you not only the ability to cut straight lines, but curved ones as well.  When I instruct students on its proper use, I stress the importance of keeping the blade in line with their arm while cutting.  One of the common mistakes that children and adults make when first using a coping saw is to cut with the blade at a angle, either left to right or up and down.  Skewing the blade in the wood like this, causes it to bind, or to get pinched, in the wood which makes it more difficult to saw.  Forcing the blade through the wood only increases the chances of breaking the blade.  The trick is to keep the blade parallel to the table and 90 degrees from the face of the clamping block.  The goal is to let the blade do its work by slowing down, paying attention to what the wood and the blade are trying to ‘tell’ you and keeping the blade in line with your arm.  It’s a lot to keep track of at the same time.

Look for future posts on simple projects kids can make using a coping saw.


Posted in Hand drill, Sawing | Leave a comment

The making of a desk caddy

When I first broach the subject of woodworking with my class in September, I make sure to note their project ideas and over time introduce as many of these projects as possible as their skill level develops.  When I consider if a woodworking projects is right for my students, there are a number of things that factor into my decision.  First, I have to figure out if I can prepare the wood pieces in such a way as to allow the students to be successful in building the project with the tools that they have access to; leaving the wood in its purchased or original form as much as possible, second the project needs to provide them with enough of a challenge in order to allow room for independent problem solving, without being too discouraging for them, and third each project should either introduce a new tool or further refine their abilities / skills with a tool they are already familiar with.    The driving ideologies that inform my decisions are: start with the interests of the children to maximize their interest and begin with what is simple and concrete then move towards the more complex and abstract.  As you might have already deduced, the projects that I choose are not simply pre-cut ready to assemble like many kits you can buy.

A desk caddy is a great project to do in September.  When done, it is an organizational tool that they can leave on their desk for use during the entire school year.  It is a project that combines the two skills learned in previous projects, nailing and drilling with a drill press, and adds a third skill – sawing.

3 Desk caddyAs you can see in the picture, the desk caddy is made using a piece of 2X3 to hold pencils, some 1/2″ Baltic birch plywood for the 3 sides and some 1/8″ hardboard or Baltic birch plywood for the bottom.

I prepare the wood for this project as follows: I cut the 2X3 to 8″ lengths, I rip the 1/2″ plywood into 2 1/2″ strips  20″ long and then I cut the 1/8″ plywood to size at 5″ X 9″.

I do not use any electric saws with my grade 3 students.  We use good old muscle power with miter saws and miter boxes.  As you can see below, a miter box is quite easy to make with some scrap 3/4″ plywood and a few screws. Note the lip hanging down the front side to catch the edge of the table when sawing. The plastic miter boxes, seen in the background, do not last long and get cut in two rather quickly as the kids don’t always know when to stop cutting.  3 Miter boxes

For this project, we use 2 types of nails: 1 1/4″ long to nail the sides and 1/2″ long nails for the bottom.  From the 1/2″ plywood each student needs to cut 2 pieces that measure 5″ long for the sides and one piece at 8″for the front.  To do this accurately, they should measure each piece separately, scribe a mark on the wood, then line up that mark in the groove of the miter box and then cut.  After sawing, they should sand all 4 pieces.  After all three pieces are cut and sanded, it’s time for assembly.  In order to know where to place the nails, I demonstrate how to use the 1/2″ plywood and the 2X3 to mark their thicknesses onto the outside faces of the 5″ pieces – one at each end thus ensuring that the nails won’t miss the mark.  Once this is done, I have the students start 2 nails, at each end of the 5″ pieces until the tips of the nails protrude ever so slightly out the other side.  Then we add 2 or 3 drops of wood glue, not white glue commonly used in schools for crafts, to the end of the 2X3.  This is the tricky part, while standing the 2X3 on end and making sure to line up the 5″ piece of plywood flush with what will be the bottom of the box as well as the back side of the desk caddy (the part facing this student’s stomach in the picture) we drive one nail first then check if things have shifted then drive the second nail.  Repeat on the other side.  Students should have something resembling the letter ‘C’.  Then, they insert the 8″ piece between the two 5″ pieces, creating the letter ‘O’, and drive the nails.  It is not necessary to add glue to the ends of the 8″ piece of plywood.  Once this is done, flip the whole assembly over and run a bead of glue around the base and fasten the 1/8″ plywood to the assembly with the smaller nails.  With the desk caddy almost complete and sitting right side up, mark the location of the holes on the 2X3 and drill the holes using a drill press.  In order not to drill all the way through the 2X3, make sure to either set the depth collar on the drill press to limit the depth of the holes or simply set the height of the drill press’ table so that the spade bit’s maximum depth stops at the desired depth.

And, voilà another successful project completed!

Many students chose to put their names on their desk caddies and decorated them with their felts.

Tools needed:

Miter saws and boxes, 10 once hammers, safety glasses, wood glue, drill press and 3/8″ spade bit.

Posted in Drill press, Hammering, Sawing | Leave a comment

Creating a pencil cube

In past school years, the first project I have had students make was a pencil cube.  Basically, its a 4 inch long 4X4 with holes drilled into it to hold the students’ pencils, felts and other writing implements.  The focus for this project is for them to understand how to sand.  Students are introduced to the different grits of sandpaper, starting with coarse; to remove large dents or scratches, then switching to medium grit; to remove the scratches left by the coarse sandpaper, and finishing off with fine grit to leave a smooth, splinter free surface.  Students are encouraged to use their hands to feel every side, corner and edge of the cube to determine for themselves if they are done sanding.

When the students are done sanding, it is time to mark the location of the holes on one of the ends.  Finding the end grain might seem self-evident, but to some kids it is not.  For the larger hole, I use a 5/8″ spade bit and for the smaller holes I use a 3/8″ spade bit.  I use the spade bits because a normal twist drill bit tends to squeal loudly as it expands with the heat caused by friction.

Normally, I suggest the students have a single larger hole in the centre for a highlighter and a number of smaller holes radiating out from the centre to hold pencils and pencil crayons.  To mark the centre for the larger hole, I have students draw an “X” by linking opposite corners.  To mark to locations of the smaller holes, I encourage the students to form 2 or 3 concentric circles around the larger hole spaced about 1/2″ apart.  After that, students put a cross marks on the first circle at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock.  On the second circle, they mark at approximately 1:30, 4:30, 7:30 and 10:30 and then back to 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock for the third circle.

Some students elect to make a grid pattern for the holes with or without a large hole in the middle.  To make the grid pattern, I get students to draw 4 lines evenly spaced about 1/2″ apart and the lay out 4 more lines perpendicular to the first set of lines.  Where they intersect, is where we drill a hole.  One note of caution, do not drill holes too close to the edges of the cube as there is the possibility that the spade bit could blow out the side leaving an ugly gap in one of the cube’s faces.

Alternatively, for those less concerned with form, holes can be drilled in a random pattern.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While most students are busy sanding or laying out the locations for the holes, I work with one student at a time at the drill press.   I use a small 10″ bench top drill press, that I picked up on sale at Canadian Tire for about $100.  I make sure that I clamp the drill press to the table that it sits on just incase.  Anytime we use the drill press, we wear safety glasses to protect our eyes from the flying wood chips.  I always sit in front of the drill press to hold the cubes for the students while they operate the lever that controls the drill chuck.  After going over the safety protocols of the drill press with each student (such as where the on/off button is, tying back any long hair, only drilling when I’m ready and the importance of paying attention to what they’re doing) then I clamp the cube in a wooden handscrew clamp.

wood screw clampThis is due to the very real possibility that if the student drills too fast, the cube could spin out of my hands and cause me harm.  The wooden handscrew clamp provides much better grip as well as a welcomed degree of safety.  A note of caution when working with spade bits, once you’ve drilled a hole in the cube you cannot go back and enlarge the hole with a larger spade bit.  This is because the spade bit’s spur has nothing to dig into and will cause the cube to shake uncontrollably.  So, choose wisely.

Once the students finish sanding, laying out the location for their holes and or drilling the holes, I have the students decorate each side of the cube.  One of the aboriginal presenters in our school district made me some plastic templates of a wolf, an  eagle, a bear paw (10″ wooden handscrew clamp)    and a feather that the students use to decorate their cubes.

This project takes a long time to get through all 22 students.  Two drill presses would be ideal, but having only one drill press means that I do not switch between spade bits for each student.  I get all the students to drill the smaller holes first, then time permitting we switch over to the larger hole.  I have never finished all 22 cubes in a 1 1/2 hour woodworking session.  So I remind the students that those who didn’t finish this time, can always finish next time.

Materials: For this project, I purchase an 8′ long piece of Fir 4X4 which yields 24 cubes that are 4″ long.


Posted in Drill press | Leave a comment

How to start woodworking with kids

I like to classify the basic woodworking projects I do with my students into 3 categories: 1- sawing, 2- hammering and 3 – drilling.  Over the years, I’ve started off my school woodworking program with a class (22) grade 3 students (aged 7 or 8) focusing on different tools to see what works best.  What I’ve found is that the tool you first introduce, becomes their go to tool – the one they are most comfortable with.  So, this year I started off getting my students to hammer nails into a short piece of 2X4 following the letters of their first names in big BOLD letters.

What I found is that at the end of this simple nailing project, students understand the mechanics of driving a nail. They also accept the fact that they will hit the wrong nail and will have to push through the pain to see the project through; building resiliency and perseverance in the process.  We had a “wrong nail club” on the whiteboard that the students could add their name to voluntarily.  This also gave them time to compare ‘war wounds’ with other students and to get a high-5 from me before heading back to work.

Sophie name plate

Teaching points:

Everyone must wear safety glasses when we are all hammering as they or someone else could send a nail flying in their direction at any moment.  My classroom has an exterior door with a concrete sidewalk that we used during this project to save our ears from the echo of the classroom.  We used 1 1/4″ nails so as to not have them protrude out the other side.  I had the students drive their first nails at the beginning, the end and at the intersection of lines of each letter in order to help set the spacing of the nails.  Some students decided to fill in the gaps with more nails so as to make it easier to read the letters; more practice!  We talked about the angle that the head of the hammer hits the nail having everything to do with how the nail will react with each blow.  This project gave students ample opportunity to learn how to use the hammer’s claws to reposition nails, a useful skill.  I kept a pair of needle nose pliers handy to extract those bent nails that get driven deep into the wood as seen in the ‘I’ in Sophie’s name.  Surprisingly, this project took most students an hour and a half; some needed more time during the next session the following week to complete.

Posted in Hammering | 1 Comment

Make, fix and create.

Our hands allow us to demonstrate our thoughts and ideas. They allow us to bring into physical form that which, only moments earlier, lived in our imagination as abstract and malleable ideas. Our hands give us the power to bring into the physical realm and render permanent those thoughts. These physical objects demonstrate what learning has gone on prior to and during that creative process. There is a truth in this process that can not be hidden, it is there for all to see.

Learning at school in a hands on manner affords students the ability to actively live the experience in a way that makes the learning meaningful to them and hence more permanent. This is why I believe that as teachers, we need to slow the pace of our frantic paced digital society down and focus on getting our students to use their hands to direct their attention back to the tangible realm so as to be more grounded.

In my classroom, I use woodworking as a vehicle to afford students the chance to learn through the use of their hands. It gives them the opportunity to be fully engaged in the moment with their body and their mind. They get to experience their body moving, muscle groups working together while doing real honest work. Woodworking lends itself well to teaching one on one a great number of lessons on any given subject when the opportunity presents itself.

The phrase “make, fix and create” is borrowed from Doug Stowe His blog was the source of inspiration for my foray into woodworking with my students on a weekly basis. I encourage you to make, fix and create.

Posted in Hands on | Leave a comment