Sowing the Seeds of Woodworking

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My first time teaching woodworking to a group of children was almost two years ago. This opportunity to introduce wood crafts to what is by far the youngest crowd I’ve ever taught was in my son’s preschool class. If you are the parent of a child who passes through the American school system you may be familiar with this tradition. Your child’s teacher asks parents if anyone would be willing to come in and talk to the class about their profession. The consenting parent then delivers a passionate speech to a group of doe-eyed children, trying to excite them about his calling.

Since most parents these days work behind a computer screen, hardly any child is exposed to a parent or other close family member who is a craftsman. Fortunately for Asher’s class, the relationship between regular work and artist / craftsman broke the curve because there was not just one of us, but two of us – Layla’s father and me. Among the parents in Asher’s class, one was our UPS delivery boy, one mom (who was a neighbor and friend) was the director of our family’s dental clinic, one or two parents were engaged / senior executives while another dad was a tech doctor. As a visual artist, Layla’s father was the only other parent who created pieces with his own hands. In light of the fact that most children today grew up in an environment deprived of the sensational and tactile joy of doing things from scratch, I felt that my talk had a very special mission.

I intended to give the children a taste of the world of makers and perhaps stimulate a future carpenter in them. Sure, at some point they might be working with a parent on a home improvement project, or with their grandmother, spinning a bowl on her lathe, but the chance to meet a parent during the show-and-tell that legitimizes a profession that involving physical labor is not something they will often encounter in their childhood academic career. So when Asher’s teacher Ms. Megan asked me if I was interested, I felt that I was embarking on a very special mission that involved planning and an investment of time and resources – after all we were sowing the seeds for the future here. And even if none of the guys ended up joining our ranks as amateur or professional producers, at least we could get a future appreciator or ally of our cause.

My plan was this: I would talk a little about trees and wood, then I would show the children some simple projects I was making in my shop, and finally I would give each of them a nice little recognizable object to finish during our meeting. Eventually, the kids would take home this little souvenir from Asher’s dad’s presentation that would be used for years to come, and constantly remind them of this miraculous medium: wood and the vast potential it holds.

After sketching out some project ideas, I decided to give each child a small hardwood butter or cheese knife. A handy small kitchen utensil, I thought, was a perfect little project that would be put to good use by both children and parents.

Meeting the children was a real pleasure. They all listened intently, offered their intuition enthusiastically, and were eager to smooth the knife and apply a coat of linseed oil on it. Asher was also very proud of his father. After the meeting ended and the children brought home their butter knife of joy and pride, I heard the parents tell me how impressed they and the children were.

As I was blogging this article today, I decided to ask Asher if he remembers my special visit to his class two years ago. The now six-year-old kindergarten looked up from an intense solar system painting project, thought about it for a second, and replied with an emphatic “no!” Oh well, at least he was honest. However, I am quite confident that on that special day a seed was planted under the snow.

Next time I will talk about how I designed and made a set of 16 knives in a short time in the hope that my technique will be of help to all those who are considering making multiple items for sale or for free.

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