Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Paw-Track BackScratcher

This carving project began several weeks ago and was intended to be a Christmas present but somewhere during the hustle and bustle of the season, a full-time job, and the biggest snow storm of the decade it just didn't quite get finished on schedule. Now that things are settled down I decided to pick it up again today for a little finish sanding and that is where the progress now stands.Like most of my carved backscratchers and spoons I make them from the dried, fallen limbs of the many tulip poplar trees here on my side of the mountain. The limb wood works so good for these type of practical carving projects providing such a strong  handle  that sands down to a fine finish.

As you can see in the first picture I started with a limb that had a slight arc already in place and this one is at just the right angle to reach that really hard to scratch spot on your back. I've found that when carving a backscratcher it seems to work best when there is just a slight arc. Another new addition is the paw scratcher head, sort of like a little footprint. I suppose that it'd pass for a hillbilly backscratcher althought I think those look best when they resemble more of a human foot.

Now that I've finished the sanding I'm thinking about what I'd like to carve in the handle. I'm just not sure right now but I'll post some more pictures when I do decide. Have a great 2010!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jingle Bell Penguins And One More Christmas Critter

Just when I thought that I was done with carving "Simple Simon" the penguin as presents for this years Christmas season I came up with a new addition that I thought made a big improvement on an already nice project. As you can see in the picture to the left I simply added three small bells to the rear side of the penguins neck by using some thin red holiday ribbon. All of these supplies are readily available in the craft department of your favorite store. After securing the ribbons I then tied a final knot in the front leaving about an inch of ribbon on each side. I then rubbed the ribbon between my finger and the dull side of my knife blade for nice "swirls".

One more Christmas critter that was added to my collection yesterday was "Bessy The Red-Nosed Milking Cow". As mentioned in several previous postings this project started out as making miniature reindeer but the kids in my classes always come up with several new ideas each year thus adding to my showcase display for future classes. "Bessy" was the final creative brain explosion for this years class and it's already a favorite with everyone who gazes upon her hilarious construction.

Bessy was made just as all the other critters but if you look closely at her rear-right leg you'll see that it's slightly raised for "milking". There was also a slight knot on the underside of her belly where 6 tiny dowels were drilled into place in a circle to imitate her milking utters which were painted a light pink color. The rest of the deer was painted as a jersey milking cow with big black & white spots and a red fuzz nose added for Christmas. This one was just too much fun to make and perhaps she will inspire some new ideas for you too!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Blizzard of 2009 & The Birth Of A Snowman

If you live on the east coast of the United States then chances are you experienced some part of the blizzard of 2009. The mountains of North Carolina got hit pretty hard late Friday and early Saturday morning where our immediate area got between 12" and 14" of the white stuff. It's not very often that we get hit with a storm of this magnitude but occasionally those fronts that originate south of us in the Gulf of Mexico bring the biggest snowfalls.

With so much snow on the ground I knew right away that this past weekend wasn't going to be a very productive time for woodcarving. Looking outside the window Saturday morning I did know that it was going to be all about "snow" and that any attempt to suppress it would be nothing but a futile attempt at the impossible. Therefore I proceeded to make a plan.

Of course I couldn't get in my 4 mile run today, nor was I going to peddle my bicycle on my 13 mile route so I decided to spend some time getting my workout by building a classic snowman in the yard and that's the result in the picture to the right.

The first things needed to build a good snowman are to first have some warm clothing and wool insulated snow boots & neoprene gloves are what works for me. Next I retrieved a flat head shovel for maneuvering the snow into place. Back when we were kids the thrill of building a snowman was rolling a small ball of snow into a huge ball of snow but these days the shovel will suffice the order just fine, then the final sculpting can be shaped with my hands.

This was a great workout and kept me busy for the better part of two hours. I completed the sculpture by using various sized tree limbs for the eyes, nose, mouth, arms, and buttons. Of course I also used the same materials to make a pipe but it wasn't a corncob pipe. Although you can't see it in the pictures the limbs are 4" to 6" long and are set "into" the snowman with the idea that as the snow melts they will stay attached longer but either way Frosty's life is definitely limited.

I was quite pleased with the final result and felt that my time was well used and my body most certainly got a complete workout. On Sunday the sun worked hard on Frosty and he lost a lot of "bulk" so late in the day I spent another hour packing another several hundred pounds of snow onto his body in a futile effort to extend his life.

Snowmen have been part of my life since I was a kid living in Alabama so I'm glad that I got one built last weekend because no telling how long it will be until we get another heavy snowfall. The first snowman that I can remember was the one that my brother Mike and I built along with a LOT of help from our dad back in 1964 so I was just 8 years old and my brother was 12. That's us in the picture to the right with Frosty and two smaller snowmen.

Snow ice cream was also anther treat that always came with a big snow and I recall my mother mixing snow, vanilla extract, and sugar for a great winter time treat. That was great stuff for a kid to experience and I've never forgotten it and never will. Building a snowman is a must-have experience for any child and is a great opportunity to broaden their hands-on experiences.

Building a snowman will foster a rich imagination while at the same time bring to life real-time results for their effort. Even today I still get a very gratifying sense of satisfaction after building a snowman that in all ways is equal to the satisfaction after completing a nice project in the workshop. Unfortunately the snowman will melt and die within days unless your dad had the foresight to take some pictures of it like he did of our grand snowman way back in 1964.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Woodshop Christmas Project #2- Reindeer & Christmas Critter's (part 3)

As you can see the annual Christmas critter's project has continued into it's last week and the last classes for this project was on Friday. Outside the woodshop the snow blizzard moving up the east coast from the Gulf of Mexico had already dumped 4 or 5 inches of snow on the ground outside the woodshop but since I have a 4-wheel drive Tacoma I stayed until the very last minute of the very last class because those kids would have been sorely disappointed if I'd left them with unfinished deer.

When you can look outside the woodshop windows and see snow falling in blizzard proportions it creates an ultimate Christmas time atmosphere. When the atmosphere is so conducive to the human spirit such as when the snow is falling, I'd swear that creativity in working with the hands is increased ten-fold. Maybe I'm wrong but perhaps I'm right because Friday's class sure did seem above average in spirit and creativity.

Although it's not exactly a "Christmas" deer the picture at the top/left shows the creation of Robert's bull. Robert was steadfast on the idea of putting together a bull so I allowed him complete creative freedom and we both ended up being thrilled with the end result of three classes. After he painted his bull black, added the eyes, and a red cape Robert thought that he was done but that is when I challenged him to extend it even further. With some thought I sketched him out some bull horns on a small piece of pine then after cutting and some carving Robert had the defining symbol of a bull. That addition inspired him to add some yellow pipe cleaners for even more accent, then it was completed with a tail made from a brown pipe cleaner with some twisted inner bark of a poplar tree hot glued on for the tail. I thought that his bull turned out just great and I know that he can't wait to show it off to his family in a few days. He even named him "Paco"!

Hands were busy today and it's also great to see the adults get involved with the kids crafting too as Chief Rachael is so adamantly focused on in the picture to the right. When the kids are having trouble focusing on the task at hand our counselors are usually quick to notice the need and their attention is focused on working directly with the kids to help ensure success. However when the group is running well it is a joy to have the counselors working on their projects too and that also can go a long way in building group cohesion.
Sometimes the kids just get completely crazy ("crazy" in a good way) when their creative juices get the best of them. The Mother Goose bird to the left is one such example of how hilarious this project can be for a group of youngsters. A small piece of red maple was used for this critter and the two lower legs were first roughed out on the bandsaw, then shaped up more with a pocket knife. At this point the legs could be mounted and glued into 1/4" holes drilled into the wooden stand.  Jack had a great time doing this bird but it wasn't too complicated since he desperately wanted some extra time for finishing up a nice kitchen cutting board that he's been working on for a month prior to the Christmas classes. I agreed to grant him this extra time but first I expected him to come up with a nice Christmas critter so we made a deal. Jack is one of my most ardent woodcarving students and most of his projects must have some kind of carving involved and this bird was no exception as he continued to fashion the head and beak. Jack completed his Christmas bird with a set of over sized googly eyes that looked more like sunglasses than eyes thus adding to the humor factor, then a spread of white tail feathers completed the project. Nice work Jack!

 As you can see from the picture to the right I have made several Christmas critters that I always display on the work table each year to give my students an idea of what they can do with just 7 or 8 simple sticks from a tree limb. Actually the Christmas moose that you see came from the mind of Seth, a student from last years class. Seth was determined to make "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Moose" so I helped him come up with a way to cut out the awkward shaped antlers with some fancy bandsaw maneuvering into a piece of 2 X 4. At the time I made a template for cutting out the moose antlers so that the kids can now easily understand how to go about fashioning their own. Another version of the Christmas bird in the picture to the far right is similar to Jack's bird however a nest was made for this one with two white fuzz balls added to imitate eggs. As you can see we have taken deer making to a whole new level that has certainly proven to intrigue the minds of both students and adults.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Will America Lose A Generation Of Boys?

While recently reading an article on the purpose of boys in the November/December issue of Scouting magazine by author Sean Mitchell one paragraph caught my attention. Now several weeks later I have continued a struggle to not only understand it's underlying meaning but even more I have become increasingly concerned about the consequences of a future that is clearly neglecting the unique needs of boys. Mr. Mitchell stated, “Obama has started a President’s council on girls and women,” Gurian points out. “So did Bush and so did Clinton. There’s no President’s council on boys and men. We’re still fighting the fight to get people to talk about boys. It’s not an either-or.”

While I don't intend for this blog to become political at first I was surprised to learn that presidents in both major political parties seem to be letting down a generation of boys. After a couple of weeks of thought I realized that this neglect has perhaps been due to an over-reaction from politicians to appear politically correct while innocently attempting to correct generations of injustice. Whatever the reason I would have to stand by the late Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said, "that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

With that said it seems apparent to me that both boys and girls should be receiving equal attention to their own unique needs. As for boys, yes they are different and yes they have different needs than those of girls. From a total of 28 years of working with at-risk kids it is clearly apparent to me that boys are first and foremost "action" oriented. It is a fact that boys process what troubles them best when they are busy doing something with their hands or engaged in an action based activity. Whether it's in a school woodshop class building a birdhouse, paddling a canoe, or casting his rod & reel on the lake... boys brains are at their best whenever they are engaged in movement or activity.

Mitchell goes on to say that, "The urgency for boys is that they don’t ruminate and reflect as much as girls do. They don’t set up coherent bonding systems as much as girls do." Although both boys and girls equally need to open up and reflect their experiences with a trusted adult, from my experiences a boy opens up best when they are first engaged in some form of action activity as I mentioned in the last paragraph. While a girl can perhaps reflect best in a quiet, settled environment, a boys mind is at its best when they are busy doing something with their hands.

During this age of information our educational system seems to be much more focused on the maths & sciences when presenting their curriculum for both boys and girls with little or no offerings to the unique needs of boys. In the article Mitchell also mentioned that Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys, which examines why boys are not doing as well as girls in school and how to change that.Without even reading the book I can tell you that what boys need in our current school curriculum is more hands-on learning and school woodshop programs can meet those needs. We're now asking our boys to sit still and listen in a classroom all day long then wonder why they are falling behind. Fortunately there are a few great leaders in a few great schools that clearly understand the action based needs of boys and those administrators are going the extra mile to ensure that students are receiving a well-rounded curriculum but these days that is the exception, not the rule.

At one point in the history of this country a much greater importance was placed upon a hands-on education. If we are going to save the next generation of boys then it is time for the leaders in both political parties to once again understand that both girls and boys have different ways of learning, reflecting, and processing information. Hopefully too there will be more school principals who are willing to make the sacrifices to provide our children with a more "complete" education because only then will no child be left behind.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Woodshop Christmas Project #2- Reindeer & Christmas Critter's (part 2)

The Christmas critters classes have continued and as usual the kids have come up with even more original and creative ideas. It amazes me every year with how many new ideas can be visualized and created by my students and 2009 has seen the addition of several new Christmas "critters".

The deer that I'm showcasing in the picture to the right was made by Arturo and he finished it just this morning. In every class there's always one or two students who are so caught up in such laser beam concentration upon their project that it's fun for me to just look over their shoulders as the gears in their minds direct their hands into some great creations. Arturo was that student who didn't utter a word in todays class as he was so caught up in his deer. As you can see the white feathers that he hot glued in place really set off the antlers making it the dominant focal point when you look at his deer. Nice work Arturo!

Hands were busy again all week long on getting the miniature deer finished before Christmas break and so far it looks like we will stay right on schedule. The holiday woodshop classes alternated between working on the birdhouses and the Christmas critters so things are busy around our parts right now. It also amazes me to see how such a simple project can stimulate the minds of all age groups. Several of the counselors were also able to attend some of the woodshop classes this holiday session and it was hard to separate their enjoyment with making this project from that of the kids.
Another new creation that came out of this years holiday classes was "Rudolph the red-nosed horse" as the picture to the right explains. This critter came out of the mind of Anthony who had a hard time during his first several months in our program and his anger even prevented him from participating in his first woodshop class. As the days and months have passed by Anthony has become one of my best and most confident students and that is something that I'd never have predicted four or five months ago. It was a joy to work with Anthony on his idea to make a Christmas horse. As he progressed from one idea to another on turning his plan into a reality Anthony would usually ask my advice on how to solve a certain problem. We had such a great time, mostly laughing as such a hilariously new critter was created right before our eyes. It was such a great experience that I decided to make a small colt as you can see as the smaller critter in the picture to the right. Once again it's amazing how such a simple project can have such enormous power to foster positive relationships, muster up new-found confidence, and the capacity to help change lives for the better. Great job Anthony!

Quienten was another student who chose to exceed expectations in my woodshop class with his chillin' Christmas chicken as seen in the picture to the left. This was a top secret creation and I watched his progress through two classes before I completely understood what he was doing. I knew that he wanted to make some kind of bird but I wasn't so sure about Quienten's methods. Regardless, I kept the faith that he was on the right track and continued to allow him the creative freedom to continue as he always appeared so confident with his hands although I knew that his brain was occasionally straining to it's limits. In the end I must admit that I was both amazed and pleased at what he'd come up with and Quienten was so proud.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Woodshop Safety Sign Tells All

If there were ever a time that a picture is worth a thousand words then this safety reminder that's posted in our woodshop tells it all. Need I say more?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Profile: Alex Is Making Pens For College

It's not very often that you come across a kid that's really into working wood and I mean REALLY into the hobby... so much into it that at only 12 years old he's started his own business selling extraordinary homemade pens to raise money for his own college fund. First, I'm most impressed that in the popular culture of today's America when it seems like more and more people are looking for a handout, here we have Alex who has taken steps to secure his own future and on his own terms. Now that's impressive!

Just click on the video above where Alex tells his story in his own words and the video below shows him in his dads workshop as he actually makes one of his unique pens step by step. After watching the video below it is obvious that this boy has achieved a masterful level of competence in using some heavy-duty woodworking machinery. His hands are steady and he knows exactly what he's doing. Alex has a plan to one day attend Duke University and study to be a heart surgeon and I can only hope that he will be available as "Dr. Alex" if  the time ever comes for my own heart surgery one day. You can also learn more about what he's doing by visiting his website, Pens For College. It's kids like this that renew and inspire my faith in the next generation. Nice work Alex!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Woodshop Christmas Project #2- Reindeer & Christmas Critter's (part 1)

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".

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Woodshop Christmas Project #1- Birdhouses (part 3)

I received several questions about how we build the bird boxes in my woodshop class so I decided to give a brief description here. It is only very rarely that I come across a kid who doesn't want to learn about building a good birdhouse and this must be the all-time classic woodshop project. I would also highly recommend this project as an excellent project for homeschoolers to study earth science and/or the biology of animals where the potential for hands-on extension projects are as big as the sky. Although I use rough cut boards from the lumber yard you could also use standard 3/4" boards from the local home improvement store. As (FIGURE- 1) shows I start out with six pieces of wood which consists of two sides, a backboard, a door, a top, and a bottom.

 1. Attaching Sides To The Backboard

 As seen in (FIGURE-2) the two sides are attached to the backboard. To get these two sides in place perfectly I first instruct the kids to make a mark on the backboard 3" down, then use a square to make a perfectly straight line across it. I stress that this line must be squared right-on or the door will not open correctly later on so don't let your square slip off the boards edge while marking.

The next step is placing the top of each side exactly on that line while making sure that the side is also flush with the outer edge of the backboard. My students then use a pencil to trace the outline of the two sides on the backboard. This way they can then make two perfectly centered marks so that they can then drill small pilot holes into the backboard that will make screwing on their sides easy and a no-miss task. Be sure that you hold your drill at 90 degrees straight so that your pilot holes are straight.

2. Attaching Door And Hinge Screws

In (FIGURES 3 & 4) I show how we insert the hinge screws into the door. I use dry wall screw of varying lengths depending on the woods thickness. First I custom cut the door to fit inside the space of the two sides, then measure 1" down from the top of each side and make a mark as shown in (FIGURE-2). Extend this mark around to the outer side as shown in (FIGURE-3).  With your door now loosly snug between the sides make a mark from the doors center around to the outer part of the side and where your two lines intersect, that is where you then drill a pilot hole for your "hinge" screws. (SEE FIGURE-3) With your hinges now in place your door should open and close. I would suggest adjusting the two hinge screws so that the door is very "snug" but not tight. It only has to be opened once a year to clean out the old nest so "snug" is good.

Now all you have to do is attach the top and bottoms to complete the box. By the way I cut a 15 degree angle on one side of my tops using the table saw so that they will fit nicely to the backboard. If you don't have a table saw then you can still just attach the top "as-is" and it will still work just fine as far as the birds are concerned. I also teach my students to drill pilot holes for all their screw holes to prevent the wood from crackings. It's also a good idea to drill a bunch of 1/4" holes in the bottom for good drainage and extra ventilation. Another good practice is to have the kids use a chisel or screwdriver to scratch up the inside of the door so that the young birds have a rough surface to attach their claws for climbing out of the birdhouse. This is especially important if using smoothly planed wood.

Good luck and I hope that you have as much fun building shelters for our feathered friends as I have had.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Woodshop Christmas Project #1- Birdhouses (part 2)

Since the cold season has arrived I walked around to all of my birdhouses yesterday to clean out the nests built last spring. It's always interesting to see all the stuff that birds shuttle into those boxes and I've seen everything from plastic, cardboard, fish line, twine, and you name it. Most of the nesting materials from this year were surprisingly "clean" and they consisted of fairly uniform straws and grasses so that was a good sign.

I've already placed a selection of the nests in plastic shopping bags since I like to share them with the kids in my birdhouse building classes. The nests usually inspire even more questions and when there's some kind of foreign man-made objects woven into the straw that opens up another opportunity to explore the effects of mans encroachment on natural habitats.

The Oklahoma Department of Conservation offers some good information on building birdhouses that has been part of my research materials for several years. Some of their advise is as follows:

Do not set out a birdhouse if...

·         It has a perch -  Perches make it easy for predators to raid the nest and attract non native cavity nesters. 
       In my opinion this isn't a big deal and I let the kids put on a perch if they desire. Personally I've never had a problem with predators messing with my birdhouses and if I did then I could just remove the perch. It is a fact that birds could care less if there's a perch there or not and not having one doesn't impede there entrance at all. 

  ·        The wood is less than 3/4 inch thick -  Thinner wood causes the birds to suffer or die in heat during sunny periods and chill on cool nights. 
      Normally the wood that we use in building our birdhouses is about 3/4" thick but we have used wood that was much thicker so I guess that I'm not breaking this guideline.

  ·         The wood at the entrance hole is less than one and a half inches thick-  A deep hole helps prevent raccoons, crows, starlings and other predators from reaching into the nest to take the young, adult, and/or eggs. 
      The door wood to our birdhouses has always been the thickest of the whole house but my intent was in helping to keep the door soundly shut from high winds, weather, or predators prying about. I never really considered that a deeper hole would discourage predators so I'm glad that we've been doing that correctly.

·         It is made of cedar -  The odor you smell contains plicatic acid which is one of the leading causes of occupational asthma in people and pollutes every breath of the young birds  especially on hot sunny days. Chests are made of cedar to create an undesirable  environment for, or kill small creatures and should not be used for bird homes.
                        This is interesting information to consider but cedar is a lot more expensive than pine in our area 
                        of the country so we're good here too. I wonder if using pressure treated lumber would matter?

  ·         The distance from the center of the hole to the bottom of the front is less than 7 inches- Shallow boxes become feeders for Blue Jays, squirrels, raccoons and other predators.
      I just barely meet this guideline.

   ·     It doesn't have adequate ventilation  The young birds will die on hot sunny days as the mother bird sits in the entrance hole gasping for air.
 Good ventilation is very important and I stress this during our classes. Sometimes the kids literally want to caulk every crack tightly so I have to intervene with their good intentions. Imagine a fully feathered bird roosting in a tiny space with no windows and only one tiny hole opening to the air. That space needs good ventilation to help the birds cope. The birdhouse also needs to have good drainage so we sometimes drill a lot of small holes in the bottom.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Woodshop Christmas Project #1- Birdhouses (part 1)

Fridays are one of my busiest woodshop and scouting days of the week where up to 36 kids pass through my classes through out the day. Scouting classes normally center around various hands-on outdoor skills such as knots, fire building, or map & compass but during the holiday season scouting is all about crafts & gifts for the holiday season.

This time of the year is always exciting as the kids are anxious to make gifts for their family & friends so it's sometimes a challenge for me to also make their experience in crafting something that will benefit and compliment their individual educational goals. Our education theme this session is "Winter Holidays Around The World" so I like to find projects that center around sharing, giving, and spreading goodwill among family & friends and one popular project that always meets these objectives has been the construction of shelters for our feathered friends... the birdhouse.

Fortunately in North Carolina we have tons of sawmills since this is the No. 1 furniture producing state in the nation. One of our local sawmills always gives us a good deal on pine lumber that has enabled our tradition of building birdhouses to continue for more than a decade now where hundreds of kids have had a quality woodshop experience. The picture to the right shows the birdhouse that I designed which consists of 7 pieces of wood- the backboard, 2 sides, top, bottom, door, and door handle. All of the pine wood is locally cut, which is good, however the downside is that it isn't kiln dried so we have to be prepared to get them together quickly after processing the wood since it still contains quite a bit of moisture and will "cup" on you if it's left to sit around in the very dry & warm woodshop for any length of time. Some years are better than others but this years birdhouse wood probably still had about 30 percent moisture still inside. Of course the upside of using such lumber is that it's cheap to buy AND nails & screws penetrate the wood with ease so it's more kid friendly.

Year after year "the birdhouse" has proved itself worthy as truly being the classic woodshop project of all time. I always begin each class with an upbeat lecture/questions session that covers everything from why the birdhouse has a door that opens to how to get all your measurements right on the money during constructing. (By the way the door opens so that you can clean out the old nest during the winter months so that the bird can build a new nest each spring. It's amazing how many kids always say, "It's so that you can put food in the house", or "So I can watch the birds hatch from the eggs.")

Today's afternoon class went exceedingly well and the kids really got into getting their birdhouses put together correctly. Everyone was patient, even  when their board cracked when placing a screw but this provided the perfect opportunity to teach those students how to drill a pilot hole before screwing their boards together and thus prevent the wood from expanding and splitting.

Yeah, some wood still split beyond repair a few times but the main thing is that they learned to find solutions for these problems thus gaining a little more confidence in their ability to successfully construct a project. Learning how to patiently find workable solutions to woodshop construction problems is also a very powerful lesson that will also teach them how to handle other more intense situations with their families, teachers, and friends in everyday life. Their brains were really working on overdrive to soak up and better understand what I was showing them and it's moments like this that the contentment of a woodshop teacher comes together full-circle.

As the birdhouses started to be completed I then set new expectations for each student to find a way to extend their project to make it uniquely theirs. Teaching the kids how to extend their woodshop project has always been one of my most powerful teaching methods which challenges the students to take their completed project to the next level. They could add a woodburning, come up with a fancy paint job, add some kind of extension to their house such as a chimney, do a woodcarving, or whatever their creative side can  muster up. Expecting kids to extend their projects also teaches them to do their best work and it slows them down as they focus more on the creative side of their minds. Anyone can learn to make a basic birdhouse but once it's built how can the student make their project stick out from the crowd? When you ask that question you're taking education to a new level.

A male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinali...Image via Wikipedia

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The March Of The Penguins Is On!

If you scroll back to my post on November 21st about how to carve "Simple Simon" the penguin, this is an update upon my own progress to carve a small army of penguins. Of course Christmas presents are heavy on my mind and this little fellow is going to be the star of this years celebration.

So far I'm up to 10 little penguins with two completely painted and finished. I have found that this carving project is just perfect for making some great little presents if you haven't yet started on your own present list for this year.  If you haven't started then may I suggest Simple Simon.

By observing the picture to the left then you can see how convenient this penguin is to produce. I cut several 1" X 1" pieces of basswood at approximately 6" long so that I could carve two birds  from one piece of wood. This way I had a good "handle" to grip while I carved one penguin at a time, then when both were finished I cut them in half with the bandsaw leaving a thin stand for each.

I carried several of the basswood blocks around with me in the cargo pockets of my pants so along with my handy Carvin' Jack knife I could work on them whenever I had a few free minutes. Now that I'm to the painting process I'm thinking about starting a another smaller flock of "baby" penguins that can be following Simon around on the ice. Now wouldn't that make the cutest gift!?!