An engineered arm and lots of fancy wooden boxes

Engineers Arm

I recently bought my nine-year old son a book titled Excellent Engineering: 35 Amazing Constructions You Can Build at Home. With schools closed, and kids mostly at home, I thought it would be good to give him a few other things to do, other than schoolwork. It’s a good book, and includes some fun and challenging projects for kids his age. One of them was called “Engineer’s Arm,” and the first one he wanted to try.

Engineers Arm
Engineer’s Arm – This is the project my son gravitated towards after looking through his new book, Excellent Engineering: 35 Amazing Constructions You Can Build at Home.

Although I should have had him help mill up the wood lengths that were needed, I just happened to be alone in the shop an hour after he told me he wanted to make this project, so I whipped up the pieces by myself, and cut them all to the same length. The moment I did this, I regretted that step. He has a nice little Japanese saw, and I also made him a simple jig to assist with hand sawing pieces of wood to length. I immediately cut about 1/2″ off the length of one piece, which brought a smile to my face. Now he’d have to cut the other pieces to match. That’s the true definition of a make-work project.

Once I brought the wood and a few basic tools home, he got to work. Wooden kitchen skewers 1/8″ in diameter inserted through mating holes in all of the pieces would be the hinges. Laying out the hole locations, drilling the holes and assembling the arm came next. To his surprise, the arm worked great…for the first three seconds. The skewers were ever so slightly smaller than the holes and fell out pretty quickly. Papa to the rescue. He could just drill out one of each of the mating pairs of holes, insert a 1-1/4″ long x #8 screw through the hole and lightly tighten it with a screwdriver. This approach worked well. Finally, a pair of small arms were glued to the two ends of the arm so he could grasp things.

easy crosscuts
Easy Crosscuts – I did my son a favour and cut the six long pieces and two short pieces to size, then realized my mistake. A quick trim of one of the long pieces meant he had to shorten the other five long pieces to match it, while honing his crosscutting skills. This little cutting jig, coupled with a small Japanese hand saw, is perfect for learning.

Once dry, the arm worked great, and it has picked up just about every small object in the house. Even his 11-year old sister has had her hair messed, nose pinched and leg squeezed with this arm. It’s amazing how attaching a few pieces of wood together to make a relatively simple (yet admittedly mesmerizing) wood arm gives him so much enjoyment. I think half of it is just how it works, but the other half is the fact that he made this moving, working arm himself.

simple joinery
Simple Joinery – Only a good ol’ edge joint will beat this joint for its simplicity. An oversized hole in the upper member allows the screw to pass through it, while a 1/8″ diameter hole in the lower member keeps the screw in place. What will I call this joint? A single screw pivot joint? Fancy name for a simple joint.

Have your kids made any simple and fun woodworking projects? Let me know what they were. I’d be happy to post a few in future columns. To get kids through this pandemic, teaching them how much fun woodworking can be might make things a bit easier for everyone. We might also get them hooked on this great hobby for the rest of their lives.

“How Does It Work?” – He’s not sure of the scientific details, but my son, Jonas, knows how to operate his new arm. He has picked up half of the items in our house, discussed how it can be improved with me and bugged his sister with this arm.

Wood Symphony box exhibition

In my mid-March column I mentioned an online exhibition of wooden objects put on by Wood Symphony. They now have a slightly smaller exhibition, called Inside the Box 2021, showcasing wooden boxes. When I’m checking out exhibitions like this, I get a lot of inspiration for future projects. It could be the type of texture, a general shape or a colourful finish that catches my eye. I often save a photo or two in a folder on my computer so I can easily refer to it down the road.

Have a look at WoodSymphony.com/inside-the-box-2021, and let me know what tickles your fancy.

Elementary
“Elementary” – This 8″ tall maple box by Holland van Gores has a nice form, but it’s the approach to texturing and especially the finishing I enjoyed the most. Layers of milk paint, with each layer being affected by the texture, provide a strong visual.
floral box
“Floreal Box’” – Lugi D’Amato made this 4.7″ tall mahogany box. I don’t know the details on how it was made, but I’m guessing it took some serious planning, a steady hand and heaps of patience.

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