I looked at my 10-year-old daughter Katy over a plate of chili dogs today and realized that this was the chance I had been waiting for all my adult life.
When I teach people woodworking, I spend about 42 percent of my time undoing the junk they have taught themselves, or trying to make them forget the machinist-like rules they learned for taming wood with electrons.
My daughter doesn’t suffer from the problems of my students. Everything she knows is either directly from me or from watching me. She doesn’t fear any hand-tool operation because no one has told her it’s hard. The first blade she sharpened was like a razor. Her first mortise was square. Handplanes are easy and fun.
Today we embarked on a more formal education. This summer I am home with our kids and I have resolved to have Katy help me build an early Charleston side table that will be in Popular Woodworking Magazine.
It’s a simple piece, but it has turning, joinery, moulding, the works.
So as she munched on a chili dog, I talking about wood, and how you needed to learn to read a board the same way you learn to read a book. We talked about the rings of the tree and how they looked when you cut a board free of a tree. We talked about straight grain and cathedrals.
And then we went to the lumberyard to buy cypress.
I “read” a few boards for her and showed her how I evaluate stock – how it looks, how it feels, its defects and how warped it is. We went through six or seven boards before I found one we could use for the legs.
I pulled it.
Then I let her try. She pulled down some 14’ boards (thank goodness cypress is lightweight) and showed me how each was twisted, cupped or bowed. She pointed out shakes that were in bad spots. She was incredibly picky.
As I paid, Katy wandered around the store with my camera to take pictures of what she liked – mostly exotics.
When we got home, we unloaded the wood and stickered it in my rack to let it acclimate to the shop. And that’s when Katy spied my shaving horse, which I recently brought to my home shop.
“Can I try it?”
Sure. I gave her a piece of yellow pine left over from some workbench project and she secured it in the jaws of the horse. Then she went after the stick with a spokeshave.
“I love the smell,” she said, as she dove into a pitchy part of the pine.
After about 20 minutes or messing around I announced I was headed upstairs.
“Can I stay, dad?” she asked. “I want to make this round.”
— Christopher Schwarz
Learn the Basics – Right
I can’t adopt you (what would the neighbors think?). But I can help you get started on the right foot with hand tools. Last year we reprinted a great book called “Exercises in Woodworking” that details all the lessons you need to become a hand-tool woodworker. Then we produced two DVDs that showed these lessons in action. It think it’s a great resources. You can read more about it in our store here.