During the Christmas holiday season I decided to make all of our scouting classes an additional "bonus" woodshop session where the kids made miniature reindeer as presents for their family and friends. Since the early 1990's we have always made the larger "log" type reindeer as a camp-wide Christmas project using the flaky barked river birch as the bodies and dowel rods for legs, but last year I came up with the miniature reindeer which has proven to be an even better (or at least more practical) project in my opinion.
The larger reindeer which had an average log body of about 4" diameter and a foot long was definitely a wonderful project however it required a small army of people to cut the logs, then we would make an average of 75 reindeer every Christmas. As you can imagine the logistics for making this particular project a success required a lot of staff time in gathering, preparation, then loading them onto a trailer for transportation to the Christmas bus stop. A seemingly simple Christmas craft had become quite an extensive operation and this is where the development of the miniature reindeer came to our rescue.
After some experimentation I developed the perfect solution by just scaling down our reindeer production to a more realistic size for a student body of approximately 60 kids and more than a dozen counselor staff. If there were ever a case for the saying that sometimes, "less is more" or that, "dynamite comes in small packages" then it would most certainly apply to this great little project. In my opinion I would now much rather have the smaller deer and it seems that you can get much more creative in making them too with the more compact sizing of the deer and the materials used to decorate them.
As the picture to the right shows I have a box with the small deer bodies, necks, and heads pre-cut before the class arrives and I also have a nice selection of smaller limbs that they can cut for legs. Since class time is limited I like to have these items prepped for the kids before class begins which also goes a long way to ensuring success. I begin the class with everyone around the center woodshop table with a short talk about expectations and a brief lesson on the mortise & tenon joinery method. I show them a poster of about ten different joinery methods used in woodwork then let them guess which one that we will be using on joining the deer together. It's a great introduction and sets the stage for better understanding the project at hand.
It's also very important to have an undecorated deer on the table that they can take apart for examination on learning how to assemble their deer. If you're going to lead this project with a group of kids then I can't express enough the importance of having a model deer available for them to touch, feel, and examine with their own hands. It will make a difference in a child's ability to build confidence for this project. Also have 3 or 4 completed deer sitting on the table which have been finished in different ways as this will spawn a lot of good original ideals in the child's mind before he starts.
During the lecture I also show the kids an example of a mortise and tenon joint made by a local furniture company used in producing chairs then explain that we're using a version of this same joining method but with our Christmas reindeer we'll be utilizing a more "rustic" version of this joint. This is a great introduction to one of the strongest joints used in woodworking and probably only the dove-tail joint is stronger.
After this I have the class gather around the drill press where I demonstrate how to line up their mortise holes in a no-fail method for their legs. The deer body is placed firmly in a "V" shaped slot that I cut out of a 2 X 4 so that the wood won't roll on the table while drilling thus making this procedure much safer. After drilling the first hole I then show them how to put my "dummy" leg stick in that hole so that they can then line up the other legs and easily determine exactly how much they wish to make the spread of the legs. Not only is this a good exercise and lesson in teaching sequential thinking as a way to solving a woodworking problem it is also a lesson that will benefit the child in learning ways to find positive resolutions to real life problems. When presented correctly, woodworking can be an enormously powerful tool for not only producing wonderful wooden projects but it will also lay a solid foundation for producing kids that have more confidence, a stronger character, and increased self esteem. Learning to work wood should be required curriculum in every elementary and middle school but sadly for the kids this isn't the standard by which a child's education is measured in today's world.
After a short demonstration on making good mortise holes with the drill press the class gathers at the belt/disc sander where I show them how to make their rustic joinery tenons. Most of this demonstration is centered around safety since skinning up a knuckle or fingernail isn't much fun. The points to remember and practice are to always rest the wood on the cast iron table while sanding, then turning the stick slowly while gradually sanding down a nice tenon. I also emphasize that the wood needs to always be held firmly with both hands and always be thinking about where your hand would go if it were to slip. We have amazingly few accidents in our woodshop program considering that approximately 60 kids pass through my woodshop classes each week. Creating an atmosphere of safety is absolutely essential and the most important aspect of any successful woodshop program.
So there you have it... the story about how the birth of our new miniature reindeer came about. This is a wonderful project for kids and I hope that you will share it with the children in your life. In the next posting I will begin to share all of the creative ideas that my students came up with and you will also learn a lot of new ideas that go a lot further than just reindeer. Kids can be amazingly creative... so much so that I now refer to this class as not making reindeer but the making of "Christmas Critters".
Living in the mountains of North Carolina I have spent almost 30 very
rewarding years working with at-risk kids in a wilderness camping program as a counselor, outdoor educator, and woodshop teacher. To learn more about what my blog is all about, just scroll down this sidebar to "About my blog..."
1. Woodcarving/Woodwork: Working wood has been a lifetime obsession for me and I enjoy sharing what I know. It is my belief that hands-on and experiential learning has a direct and profound effect on the development of a child's intellect, confidence, and character. Projects of mine (and my students) will be posted as they progress and I will occasionally include a video tutorial. All of my videos can be found here .
2. Bushcraft/Primitive Living Skills: Finding ways to live closer to the land has always fascinated me. Whether it's building a shelter, fire starting, animal tracking, or just making rustic furniture... you'll eventually see some of it here.
3. Long Distance backpacking, canoeing, & bicycling: Some of my long distance adventures include thru-hiking the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail, Mexico to Canada and I solo paddled the 1,800 mile Yukon river across northwest Canada and Alaska to the Bering sea. More detailed accounts of these and many other adventures can be found here
4. Sustainable Living: I'm always looking for better ways to do more by using less. It's not so much an "environmental" thing to me as it is a quest for personal independence from material things and finding a path to more substantive living .
5. Scouting Activity: As a scoutmaster of 6 years (and currently assistant scoutmaster) I'm actively involved with the troop and "Order of the Arrow" where it is a joy to volunteer hundreds of hours each year because investing in the next generation insures a better tomorrow for everyone. In an era when most schools don't value hands-on learning, outdoor education, and the arts... scouting soars in meeting these critical experiences for boys.
6. Profiles: Behind everyone's success you can usually find a trail of some very significant mentors and teachers along the way. And sometimes you don't completely understand how someone affected your life for the better until many years later. You'll find some of those stories here.