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.
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.
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.
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.
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.