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Children in the Shop

Children have a unique and optimistic perspective of the world that most of us with more years under our belt have lost. Anyone who has watched a child with a cardboard box knows that their imagination can run wild with possibilities as they pretend it to be flying a spaceship or transmogrifying themselves into fierce dinosaurs. Even their line of questioning which consists of a single word, “Why,” indicates the purity of curiosity which most adults have lost. Children build space stations in their mind, forts from furniture, and swords from branches. Their unbridled creativity allows them to see the most amazing scenes which an experience laden mind cannot see.

Zen Buddhism has a concept called shoshin, beginners mind. Children naturally excel at this because they are not saddled with experience. In their inexperience they will not discard and idea out of hand because it may not work or is too inefficient that an experienced person would toss aside. In Mark 10:13-16 Jesus teaches that we must receive the Kingdom as like a child. The Lord knows that we become cynical as we age and that our perspective becomes one which becomes less imaginative and limited by our experience. The wisdom of the world is that no one in power would give up everything for those that hate them. But a child knows no reason that that such reasoning is not believable. A child trusts and looks to their father for all of their needs.

While children have the advantage of inexperience when it comes to imagination, adults we have the capability to transforming imagination into reality. Where a child might imagine a stick as a sword an adult with experience can actually make something that looks like a sword. Or in the case of my daughter, a wand.

As someone with more scars on his hands and fingers than would indicate a strong grasp of safety, it is crucial to consider safety before bringing your children into the shop. It is one thing to add to your own battle scars in the shop, but quite another for your child. If you want your child to have fun and want to come back they need to avoid getting hurt.

When you introduce a child to the shop you will want to make sure you have all of the safety equipment appropriately sized for the child. For the wand project with my daughter we needed a face shield. When none of the face shields we have fit her we had to head to the local hardware and pick up a new one and then modify it with some parts from a child’s hard hat since I was not able to find one which would fit her. Depending on the project you will want to find PPE (personal protective equipment) sized for children.

  • Safety glasses
  • Ear Muffs
  • Work gloves
  • Respirator

Beyond PPE, you will want to be familiar with the tools and methods you will be teaching the child. In specific you will want to focus on safety aspects of the tools so you are able to notice unsafe practices the child might start using and be able to stop them quickly. Your experience with the tools will also help pick safe spots for the child to stand to avoid debris or off cuts. Avoid using tools you are unfamiliar with yourself when trying to teach a child.

A few considerations when choosing a project for a child are their interests, attention span, and capability. Select projects which a child can look forward the completed project. A child who dislikes birds is not going to be interested in bird houses. A child who enjoys fantasy books would probably appreciate making a wand. Even though a child might enjoy a doll house (or castle) they are unlikely to have the stamina to hang out in the shop the several days it might take the make. The duration of the project can be adjusted by pre-working parts and bringing the child in for assembly. Children can be fearless to try new things when a parent encourages them, but you need to consider their capabilities. In general children are not going to be able to attain the level of precision required for many projects. Avoid projects which are going to fail if the joinery is not precise or interlocking pieces do not interlock.

Presumably you are encouraging your child to come into they shop with you to enjoy a pastime that you enjoy. When safety is not an issue you will want to allow leeway if the child is having a good time. Keep your expectations of productivity reasonable. It is probably best not to work on a project in which you are heavily invested. Especially when they child may need direction it is best to give your complete attention to the child, not your own project. Work on your own projects on your own time.

Since you are instructing a child you will want to keep an eye on their progress. Some parts of the project can be simple and require little more than a starting instruction. Sometimes you will be required to step in and assist or perform a demonstration. As the adult you will need to discern whether a child is struggling because it is challenging or they are just not ready for a particular task.

Another reason a child might seem to be struggling is boredom or exhaustion. Avoid the boring parts of the project (like sanding or finish) especially for early projects. If you feel it really must be done come back after the session in the shop has ended. Exhaustion for a kid does not necessarily mean out of energy, but mentally they are incapable of concentrating on the same task and need a break. Avoid drawing out the sessions in the shop with children too long and err on the side of shorter sessions.

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Piggy Banks

A little while back while visiting the in-laws my daughter found a penny or nickel while exploring the house. Grandma, ever so kind, told her she could keep the coin. The next day around dinner time I offered her a nickel to clear the dining room table before dinner which she sort of figured out how to do. When she was done I offered, “Great, now you can go put this nickel with the coin grandma gave you yesterday.” And she sadly replied, “I lost that one.” “Well, we’re going to have to do something about that then.”

I remembered back a while on another visit to the in-laws we came across my wife’s old piggy bank. It was a teddy bear shape with the body section hollowed out and a piece of plexiglass screwed onto each side. Over all it would be a simple project which had some distinct aspects which would allow me to bring the kids into the shop. I figured it was time to invite them into the shop and introduce them to one of daddy’s hobbies. Especially after the excitement the half lap poster frame project recently.

The first step of the project was to have the kids help me find the pictures they wanted to use for the shape for their respective piggy banks. Ethan loves two things: the letter Q and trains. Figuring there wasn’t going to be a way to get the Q to stand up on it’s own I figured it best to go with trains. And Seraphina loves, well, all things girly. And butterflies happened to be on my mind when looking for things girly so she helped pick the one we used.

The next step brought me into the shop by myself to find some wood which would support the size of the pictures I had printed out. I still had some 1 1/2″ material reclaimed from a remodel my folks did on their place by Hubbard Lake. An many of the pieces were quite wide. What I didn’t know until later was that the piece I chose had some severe checking which required some glueing and clamping to put back together. A quick bit of spray adhesive and the templates were on the chunks of wood selected. I then took the blanks over to the drill press and put some interior holes which I would cut between when cutting out the bulk of the material.

This was the first project I extensively used the new scroll saw from my folks for Christmas. It is probably not the ideal use since I was going through 1 1/2″ material, but it was better than a previous attempt with a bandsaw since it didn’t leave a cut the width of the kerf that had to be clamped and glued shut. Seraphina seemed to enjoy watching the work at first from a stool, but after a while the noise got too much and I had to finish it up all by my lonesome. Unfortunately due to battery issues the segment with Ethan was lost. Much of the sanding video was also lost due to the same battery issues (but no one wants to watch that anyway).

Some glue was used here to reattach a piece which had split due to checking. I used grain filler to plug up some of the holes in the grain and checking. This also works nice for any flaws and in general just makes the final result much smoother. Hand sanding smoothes things out enough and since there will be several coats of paint over the whole project.

Piggy banks need coin slots so I took each bank over to the drill press. On the train I drilled out the smoke stack wide enough for the coins to slide down, just like if I were to create a mortise. Then using a hand drill, chisel, file, and sand paper the throat of the slot was cleaned up and smoothed out. The butterfly was much easier since the slot was only as thick as the wall of the bank. The same technique was used as before, but much more quickly.

The next step was to trace out the shapes on the plexiglass I was going to use for the sides. On the butterfly I did the inside and outside. On the train it was just the inside. In retrospect using a sharpie was a bad plan, as later the lines wound up showing through the paint and finish. I used the scroll saw to cut out the shapes which was less effective as you would expect. I only had very fine tooth scroll saw blades which seemed to warm up the plexiglass as I was cutting and weld it back together after the cut. When I was careful I could break off the cuts, but I still needed to run the edges over the sander or bandsaw to clean them up.

I put a couple coats of black paint on the train (trains are black, right?) and a couple coats of white on the butterfly. I brought in the expert painters. Seraphina did a great job. She started making everything symmetrical across the butterfly. Though right at the end she took some artistic license and broke the symmetry. Ethan, well, he probably made the red door the Mick Jagger wanted painted black. So he ever so carefully globbed the red paint ever so artistically all over the train. I suppose I should have anticipated that, but if I had painted it red he’d have had nothing to do. We also had a small disagreement of the proper use for gloves which I lost. Later I put a couple coats of lacquer on each of the bank. Though that caused the sharpie line to show through, I suppose something in the thinner in the lacquer did that.

The final step for the project was the align the plexiglass on the sides of the banks. I taped them down and pre-drilled the plexiglass with a bit wide enough so that even the screw threads would pass through, otherwise the plexiglass would shatter when putting the screws in. Then I followed up with a narrower bit where the threads would engage in the wood. On the train bank I used a countersink bit to open up for the wood screw heads. And then the sides were screwed on and a couple coins put into each of the banks for the kids.

One of the issues I’ve been running into for each of the videos is the limited battery life of the camera I was using, a Coolpix 6300. The issue comes from the use of the battery, which is specific to the camera and I couldn’t find a charger other than the camera itself. Towards the end I was getting less than 45 minutes on one battery and 2 minutes on the other battery. So there was a ton of down time or missed video. The quality of the video was great, but the lack of battery life just made it unusable. The Fuji Film S8200 just arrived this weekend which uses AA batteries. The video quality seems a little less in the lower light shots, but it has a couple advantages. The primary being availability of batteries and chargers. It also can record in stereo, which I am not sure is a big feature. The second is the 40x zoom, which probably won’t come into play too often in project videos. A drawback is the failure of the engineers to allow the removal of the batteries and memory card while the mount is screwed into the bottom of the camera.

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Through Half Lap Poster Frames

But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” – Mark 10:14

This story starts an embarrassingly long time ago. Back in the summer of 2013 my folks were watching the kids up by their place by Lake Hubbard. My wife and I scooted over to Traverse City for a couple days and we stopped at the model train store downtown and found a poster with a number of steam engines on it. I had the intention of building a poster frame for my son at the earliest possible point in time. Thankfully this Christmas our daughter also got a Frozen poster from my folks. And the earliest possible time suddenly appeared.

The video above goes through the build processes in a fair bit of depth describing the build process for each of the poster frames, so much of this is going to be recap of the video.

Frozen Poster Frame
Frozen Poster Frame
The Frozen poster frame was fairly fluid in the build process. At the start I wasn’t quite sure how things would work out and each step was mostly experimental, though in the end it came out to be a decent enough project to hang in my daughter’s room (which is to say not museum quality). Though she still seems to enjoy the poster a lot.

All I knew at the beginning of the project is that I wanted to use through half lap joints for the frame. I had seen some recently, though I don’t recall where exactly, and really liked the idea. I also figured for something like a poster frame it might be stressing the strength of miter joints. I wanted to keep the design for a Frozen poster to seem something of a crystalline inspired shape which meant avoiding curves and keeping with a cooler palette. In the selection process for the wood I looked for some of the lightest red oak I had on hand and with less of the characteristic crowns usually found in oak species.

I came up with a simple design for the joints to appear as if a half diamond from the horizontal pieces were occluding the vertical pieces. This was done by removing that shape from the vertical pieces first, smoothing out the cuts, and removing the material for the top piece of the half lap joint. Then the actual upper piece was used to scribe the lines on the horizontal pieces so I would have something very close to match. In the end my skills with a handsaw, chisel, and file were not up to the task of making this joint as tight as I would have liked to have seen. But rather than call it a loss, I deepened the chamfer along the joint to add shadow in the joint so that the less than stellar joinery became less obvious. Additionally it seemed at that point that going for a less perfect frame might also mean leaving the random lengths of the pieces and just adding their own angled cuts on each. Almost snowflake like in appearance, as each one is unique.

Train Poster Frame
Train Poster Frame
My son’s train poster frame was the second of the poster frames to be completed. I wanted the same basic idea of through half laps for the joints, but to do a different shape. Since strains have wheels and the giant barrels on the engine it seemed something circular would be a nice option.

Originally I thought this was going to be a tougher, but in the end it was much easier and the joints themselves were much tighter. I’m not sure if that is mostly do to some process changes (from experience with the first poster) which made it easier to do better joints or if it was easier due to a slightly different set of tools being used. I had originally planned on using a forstner bit to hog out the curves, but found it it was going to be tough to make it repeatable. Once I thought of using the spindle sander for the drill press I had decided to use the bandsaw to hog out the material. The working of the joining pieces went a little better by hogging out extra material with the dado stack and then using a chisel and file. Since most of the work was done by the table saw it was just detail work on the joint instead of doing all of the work. That allowed for finer adjustment of the joint compared to the more aggressive work that I had done on the Frozen poster frame.

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of this build came after completing the poster frames. I found I had 45Gb of video sitting on the fileserver and enormous chunks of missing video (such as the completion of the Frozen poster frame). In the end I figure I spent about the same amount of time on the video as I spend on the project. This was the first video I actually explained what I was working on with a voice over rather than just stringing clips together and adding music. The whole process of sorting the video, recording audio, and finally pacing the video clips took a considerable amount of time. I am impressed with the rate at which some other content producers are able to put videos out. I suppose some of that comes with experience.

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Lycra Hammock

My son goes to an occupational therapist regularly and one of the tools we use is a lycra hammock. It is an activity he enjoys, so it is an effective tool to encourage eye contact and interaction. He is rewarded with whatever activity on the hammock immediately when he asks while engaging in good eye contact or interaction. Then we will pause and look for more interaction.

Building a lycra hammock posed a couple challenges in a home. At the center the hammock is attached to the ceiling with eye bolts which are fastened through steel beams. Without that sort of hardware in our house, I chose the basement living area and figured on using the 2×10 floor joists as anchor points. The mounts are made of 3/4″ birch plywood with 3/4″ trailer hitch pins and attached to the basement floor joists. The cotter pins keep the hitch pins from slipping out of the mounts.

The lycra is 4-way stretch 122″ by 5 yards and folded into three layers. Each corner is tied into a knot. The knots serve to keep the lycra layers all aligned and as a connection point to the mounting hardware. 2′ of 1/2″ cotton rope is tied and looped around the knots in the lycra. This is a simple and effective way to allow disassembly for cleaning or repair. The knots are then slid through the small end of the carabiners, similar to how a jump rope is tied into a knot on the outer side of the handle. The carabiners hooked to the trailer hitch pins, though the one I used it is easier to undo the hitch pin and slide it through the carabiner.

The size of this hammock is quite a bit bigger than the ones at my son’s therapy. The fabric used there is 60″, rather than 122″. I compensated for that “oopsie” by folding the fabric 3 times and making the 122″ edge the long edge. I would certainly suggest using 60″ lycra instead of the 122″ lycra since the cost per yard is considerably less. You will probably want a couple more yards to get three layers of cloth, though two is probably sufficient, I think the three layers will leave room to grow (weight wise).

Concept Link

Lycra Link
4 Way Stretch Lycra

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