And Along Came Hunter
By Joe Johns
Twisted Knot Woodshop, "There's never been a classier joint"
I have a certain affection for people who are interested in learning and it doesn't matter to me what it is they want to learn but if it's woodworking then I'm especially interested. Sure, I could teach appliance repair with equal enthusiasm but there aren't any cool tools involved with that. Then you have the school systems across the land dropping their woodshop and industrial arts programs like they were crawling with lice, which leaves someone like me with a pretty dim view of kids missing out on some real good fun.
On this particular day, however, my outlook on the plight our current younger generation is facing was brightened dramatically the very second Hunter stepped into the Twisted Knot Woodshop. He not only impressed me with his attentiveness, but his zeal and insatiable desire to learn something was like a breath of fresh air.
Hunter is eleven-years-old and he's the son of a gal who is a testament to the feeding of character given to this young man.
Raelynne stopped by the shop some time ago along with Hunter and his sister, Madison, whom they call Maddie, in tow. She stopped by to loan me her five-bazzilion dollar Nikon Camera so I could take some decent pictures because my stupid digital camera decided to go on a strike.
After visiting for awhile I looked down and told Hunter, "Hey, you know what? I was about your age when I first started woodworking, if you ever wanna hang out here in the shop or maybe come make some project then you get your mother to drop you off, Ok?"
Well…this past Thursday my marker got called in.
Riiinnnnngggg! "Good morning, This is the World famous and spectacularly divine Twisted Knot Woodshop, how may I direct your call?"
"Still only World famous? I thought you'd be spread across the Milky Way Galaxy by now?"
"Yeah, I'm working on it but the inept jerks at our ISP can't get it together – the other day I found their dish was pointing at the Betelgeuse region instead of the Andromeda sector! They're a buncha dummies over there. What's up with you?"
"Ohh, Hunter has a project he wants to do and school just let out for the summer, so do you think he can come over tomorrow?"
"You bet he can! I'm finishing up a project and should be done with that around 1100 is that good?" Turns out Hunter had so much excitement bottled up that if I had said 0230 then that time would have been just as dandy for him.
After Raelynne dropped him off our first order of business was to hold a little safety meeting and, unlike most kids his age who are completely ignoring what you're saying, Hunter was looking directly at me and if my words were water he was absorbing them like he was a sponge. I opened a cabinet door and showed him the box that is clearly labeled "Safety Nazi Stuff"…it contains safety glasses and ear plugs.
He got quite a good giggle outta that.
"Nazi?" He said with raised eyebrows.
"Yeah," I said, looking around, "There's all kinds of 'em running around here – there's the cleaning Nazi, the tool maintenance Nazi, the turn-off-the-lights Nazi, the close-the-door-it's-cold-outside Nazi and a whole lot more – I got me a Gestapo here."
"Who are they?"
"Well, son…they look a lot like me…I had them cloned."
Now, before I get much further I have to back up a bit to the phone call I had with Raelynne, "He wants to make a baseball display shelf."
"Swell, sounds like a great starter project to me, see y'all tomorrow morning." Then, since I'm a Boy Scout and our motto is "Be Prepared", and since I didn't have the slightest clue how big an official baseball is, I went to the Internet to find out and wrote down the ball's minimum and maximum diameters, the latter being 2.94", which was close enough to 3" for me to be able to assist Hunter in his design.
You can't imagine how amazed I was when Hunter arrived at the shop being fully prepared to take on his project – he was carrying a tiny baseball bat and an official baseball. My first thought was, "Man, I'm outta my league here…this little guy is already a step ahead of me!"
"Alright, Hunter…" I said while leading him over to the workbench, "…the first stage of any project is to have a plan" and went on to explain how important it is to have a drawing complete with dimensions so I showed him how to make an isometric drawing of a board. Before my very eyes he quickly drew the bottom shelf to hold the baseballs and the upper shelf, complete with drawn slots, to hold the bat handles and with a little help he worked out the spacing dimensions all on his own.
It was his design, his plan and the decision to paint rather than stain and the selection of wood to use was all left for him to choose. At several points during the process I would show or explain something or ask him questions. For instance, when he was done laying out the hole locations for the balls I asked him to point out the tools on the bench and tell me what they were. Or, when a moment presented itself, I would describe the definition of a woodworking term; cross grain, waste side and quite a few others.
"Hunter? I asked off the cuff, "What's the most important thing in a shop?"
He looked up at me with bright eyes and said, "Safety!" And every single time he was about to use a power or air tool he would reach for his glasses and put them on – no prodding necessary.
I swear, that boy is a ham in front of a camera. I'd fetch it, aim it at him and he'd stop what he was doing, look up and smile or profile like he was in a photo shoot. "Don't look at me you goof, I'm taking pictures for your mom not Gentlemen's Quarterly magazine, do what you're doing."
Later, when we got to the finish room, I threw him a trick question, "Hunter, besides your eyes, ears and fingers, what's the next important thing to protect?" And, as I helped him put on the "OSHA approved, I-look-like-a-locust" respirator he said, "Aww…mom's GOTTA have a picture of this!" Then I told him, "Now's yer chance to sound like Darth Vader!"
I do not believe in coddling a kid nor do I believe they should be treated like one when operating dangerous things. But we had a special problem to overcome and I handled that problem like I do any other by adapting, improvising and overcoming it.
See, he has a slight vertical dimension issue so to bring him up in the world I found him a stump – a milk crate – that was previously being used to hold some woodworking magazines. I emptied it, turned it upsidedown and presto…it was as if him and me was playing an xBox video game and we, as a team, got an instant height achievement award! His eyes lit up like a Christmas tree when I brought it over to him.
The first time we moved to another machine I said, "Go get your stump." I didn't have to say it again.
Before each machine or hand or power tool was used we took a moment to discuss it and I pointed out the dangerous parts. At the same time I told him about all the good things and he came to terms with both.
While looking at the following pictures I want you to know that none of them are staged – each machine you see Hunter at and each nail gun or power tool you see in his hands is turned on and he is using it.
Click on any of the images to view a larger version
You can almost palpate the concentration here. Notice the pencil in his ear? I told him a pencil is a lot cheaper to lose than a finger and to use that to clear the blade away.
Here he is on his stump. It doesn't bother him none.
The jigsaw was a moment where I got pangs of fear and I initially had the speed turned way down. After I watched him hold the saw the way you see here, I gave him full speed ahead and turned it to the highest setting.
Even if you can't see his face, you can clearly see the intent he is focusing on this cut.
We had a couple of coordination issues with the rasps but I showed him how his upper body can move separately from his hips downward.
Now he's got it!
The planer didn't scare him at all. Notice the ear plugs.
Nail guns? Shucks…it ain't nothing but a thing! Any chance of nailing my fingers? Nope, I got both my hands up here.
More rasping…he almost forgot the corners. If that look on his face doesn't say 'I'm serious here!' then I don't know what does.
"Silver is good for me!" He said, "I can paint like baseballs and stuff on the sides!" He barely missed a spot…overflowed a couple but no big deal, it was wiped off and he carried on.
You can't beat a smile like this…no way, no how.
After the cleaning Nazi left and every tool was put away, we sat down on the bench and had a little talk.
"So, what do you think, was it fun?"
And with that, I'll let you ponder on his response.
Until next time,