Spaghetti, Q-Tip or Toothpick?

first wooden workbenchLast week I wrote about our baby boy’s first workbench, which is more of an amusement park than a real bench. Today I am going to show you his next bench.

Soon after baby Asher got his Fisher Price bench, coincidence brought about his first semi-true workbench – a wooden one we found on the street in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was part of a group of items left available for the taking by a nice family who was moving out.

This bench has almost all the features of a proper bench, specifically a surface to work on and a vise. The vise is equipped with a wooden screw and two guide dowels to align and support the moving jaw. Also included are pegs, bolts and nuts, wrenches, a hammer and, as I discovered later after identifying the new version on a fancy toy-store site, a screwdriver that was missing from our street find. All parts are either made of beech or birch plywood. The bench’s main parts come together with notch-to-notch construction, and since they are not intended to be glued together (for easy disassembly) the bench is wobbly. This is not a big deal now because infant Asher can’t even crawl, but once he begins recognizing his faculties and starts pounding on the bench’s surface, I will have to find a way to stabilize it.

first wooden workbench first wooden workbench

The only noticeable damage I had to fix was to reconnect the vise’s screw back into the hub. The two most likely got separated by a delinquent toddler who evidently over-tightened the vice’s screw. Now, I could have just glued it back again but … who can promise me that Asher will not walk the same criminal path and either cause the hub to separate from the screw again or, worse: strip the wooden threads from the tapped hole in the bench or on the screw itself.

So, I had to come up with a better solution; enter the torque limiter. A torque limiter is a component in a dynamic devise that is intended to disengage or fail first in order to protect the mechanism from damage as a result of overload. Torque limiters should be part of all reputable engineering. Take a “C” clamp for example. Good quality “C” clamps will have a tension bar that will bend under excessive torque (if you over tension the screw) to protect the cast iron frame from damage. It is better to have a deformation in the tension bar (which you can straighten back on an anvil) than to have a catastrophic crack in the clamp’s body.

first wooden workbench

In the case of the Asher’s bench vise, I decided to place the torque limiter in the hub. The plan was to drill a hole through both the hub and the screw and insert a thin pin through them. The day that Asher over tightens the vise, the extra torque on the mechanism will cause the pin to shear which will protect the mechanism. When this happens, I will simply be able to replace the pin. My hope is that at some point Asher will learn what over tightening is, and save his dad the chore of replacing the torque limiter. Yes I know this might be too much to ask from a curious kid…. Oh well – at least I enjoyed devising something useful that I have never done before.

My candidates for the pin material were: 2mm pencil lead, which is hard and brittle, and when the limited torque is exceeded, will snap with a bang!

A wooden toothpick, a stick of spaghetti and Q-Tip shaft.

I evaluated the risks of each option vis-a-vis: what if baby tinkers with the mechanism and swallows the broken pin.  I concluded that, for this reason, spaghetti should be candidate #1 followed by the paper Q-Tip shaft.

I began my experiment with the spaghetti, but even though I tried three different brands, (by now you may think I’ve gone insane) they all were too weak and snapped under light torque. After this, I moved on to the paper shaft of the Q-Tip. I gave it a try and oh boy this was an amazing success. The paper rod held up exactly to the forces I anticipate Asher will apply and, only with excess leverage on the handle, the pin sheared.

first wooden workbench first wooden workbench first wooden workbench first wooden workbench first wooden workbench first wooden workbench

first wooden workbench first wooden workbench
first wooden workbench
first wooden workbench

Before introducing the bench to him, I will probably cut the paper pins to the same length as the hub diameter and put masking tape around the holes, just in case. Now that the bench is fixed, I just to wait for my little guy to reach the right age to make good use of it.

And one more thing. As Chris Schwarz and Popular Woodworking are preparing the revised edition of Workbenches: from Design & Theory to Construction & Use, Asher wanted to suggest a new chapter: Tot Benches. He will be happy to model for this and wants to remind all that babies are fantastic generators of sales.

first wooden workbench

PWM Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs
Yoav Liberman

About Yoav Liberman

Yoav S. Liberman is a woodworker and a teacher. His pieces have been featured in several woodworking books, most recently in Robin Wood’s CORES Recycled. Yoav teaches woodworking at the Rudolf Steiner School in Manhattan, and also frequently guest teaches in craft schools across the country.  Between 2003 and 2011 Yoav  headed the woodworking program at Harvard University's Eliot House. Yoav’s articles have appeared in American Woodworker and Woodwork Magazine. He frequently contributes woodworking web content to a number of digital publications   Yoav has a degree in architecture and later held two competitive residency programs: at The Worcester Center for Crafts in Massachusetts, and the Windgate Foundation Fellowship at Purchase College, New York. He lives in Chestnut Ridge NY.

9 thoughts on “Spaghetti, Q-Tip or Toothpick?

  1. Peter_McLaughlin

    Yoav; After your previous post I was itching to lecture you about the evils of blown plastic rainbow colored toys, blah, blah, blah. My hidden agenda was the pedagogy I picked up as a parent of a Waldorf (aka Steiner) School child (now 36 years old) here in Chicago. I was figuring how to sneak in information about their handwork ethos, and how they actually teach chisel sharpening and use, (add more blah, blahs here). In the end I didn’t post it…..nobody likes a true believer lecturing, ESPECIALLY when it concerns their child.

    I just got over laughing my head off, (at myself), when I took the time to read your thumbnail bio….and see that you teach woodworking at a Steiner School!

    1. Yoav LibermanYoav Liberman Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Like you, the whole woodworking community, and of course the Waldorf clan, I too prefer wood over plastic. The Fisher Price bench was a hand-me-down gift from our dear relatives in Cincinnati. And since it is, after all, a workbench, I thought that Asher would enjoy it at least until he is old enough to use the toddlers’ wooden bench. There are no better allies to the arts and crafts community than the folks who were nurtured in the Steiner educational system. Our goal is to successfully cultivate strong hand and mind growth in the bodies and spirits of our students, and I intend to show in my blog how my students, my colleagues, and I are doing exactly this at the first Waldorf School in North America. While more and more of us learn about the values of Waldorf education, not many are aware of the singular contribution of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophic philosophy to the birth of the Studio Furniture Movement in the world. Furniture design historians coin Wharton Esherick as the pioneer of the movement, but not many know that he was profoundly influenced by Steiner’s ideas and aesthetics. There is a great article on the subject that you might find interesting:
      “Early Expressions of Anthroposophical Design in America: The influences of Rudolf Steiner and Fritz Westhoff on Wharton Esherick” by Roberta A. Mayer and Mark Sfirri, in The Journal of Modern Crafts volume 2, issue 3, 2009.

      1. Peter_McLaughlin

        Thanks so much for your reply. I will definitely look for the article.
        For the 10 or so years we were involved in “the life” of the Waldorf School here in Chicago, we learned a bit about the anthroposophical movement. (We even had an anthroposophical family M.D.). My wife, son and I are practicing buddhists. In spite of the strength and fervency of the Waldorf folks beliefs, we never once felt a bit of dogma or evangelism coming from them or the system, (which, as you know, is a Christian based philosopy). We continue to recommend it to new parents to this day.
        Yours, Peter

  2. MysticValleyWoodworking

    Great article! My 2 year-old is quickly outgrowing the Fisher-Price tool box and wanting some beefier. I never would have thought of a torque-limiter issue. Thanks for the insight and amusing-yet-useful article!

    1. Yoav LibermanYoav Liberman Post author

      You are very welcome! Try searching Amazon (for instance) for a toddlers, or kids, workbench and you will find a few nice options to choose from. Or, if you’re so inclined, you can even make one yourself. If you end up building it for your 2 year-old please, please, document the process and share it with us.

  3. Milford

    A clever approach to minimizing the damage by an overenthusiastic kid, but I think your dictionary should show that the process that takes place is not sheer, but shear.

    1. Megan FitzpatrickMegan Fitzpatrick

      My fault. That’s what happens when editors edit on a Sunday w/an adult beverage in hand.

  4. Ziggarelli

    What a great find, and great analysis and repair technique. Very entertaining article!

Comments are closed.