Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pinewood Derby 2010: The Power Of Simple Tools

Currently everyone is focused on the upcoming April Fool's 500 Pinewood Derby race next month so both woodshop and Scouting classes have been spent working on the winning cars. During Scouting classes we are usually on the trail working with map & compass, fire building, or perhaps a natural science hike but lately we've been working on our cars.

Working on our cars outside the woodshop during Scouting classes presents a wonderful opportunity for the kids to be more resourceful since the saws, drills, and hammers aren't available. What we do have are the most essential tools available which are our hands and our minds.

After more than 15 years in the woodshop, I am still amazed at the power found in a simple piece of sandpaper. Here we have all of these wonderful power tools (and yes they are wonderful!) but in their shadow I so often see equally powerful transformations of the mind and hands occur with just a simple piece of sandpaper.

As you can see from the pictures to the left, I spent almost two hours last Friday with one group working on their derby cars with no more than one piece of sandpaper per person and a few carving tools. The kids really got into the sanding with an intensity that would never be accomplished inside the woodshop. This was all that they had so they adapted to the situation and used their sandpaper like the sculpting tool that it was. They would fold in, re-enforce it, and shape it to reach the odd contours of their wood.
On the car to the right, a very nice hood scoop was first chiseled away with a small carving knife then another 45 minutes was spent carefully shaping it with a simple piece of sandpaper. Also notice the fine hood lines directly in front of the scoop that was the result of correctly folded sandpaper, even hand motions, and a fine connection of hands and mind to wood.

These same connections are also obtained from using power tools but sometimes I believe that an even more powerful connection occurs with just our hands and simple tools. Using just the hands is a more "primitive" connection with the wood and I think that something in our head registers the activity in our brain as being real, basic, and fundamental to our very being.

As seen in the pictures to the right I worked with another group today in our cabin as they had only sandpaper, carving tools, and paint brushes as their main tools. And once again another hour passed by way too fast. Here 12 kids sat around the table using their hands to fashion the  cars in their own way and if I had to sum up the class in one word it would have been "contentment".

They sanded their wood, they painted their tire rims, and they carved shapes to their cars. I moved around the class providing hints but most of all I complimented the creative ideas that had been produced from such very simple tools. Even though we weren't inside the woodshop with all it's expensive power tools, I also didn't hear a single whimper. They only had their minds and a few simple tools to make a meaningful and productive connection with their wood and they did it well.

For hours on end, they are content when using their hands to make something. They are calm, patient, and seem to have a lot more mutual respect for one another during these periods. They are also learning to be resourceful with just a few basic tools. Like the sandpaper they use to shape their cars, I am also convinced that the character of these kids lives are also gradually "shaped" into a better, more successful person. Never underestimate the power of using simple tools.

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