In a neighborhood of working single parents and working couples, there’s often not enough “time” for the kids during the week and often even on week ends. So, when school assignments which require making something come along, and given kids predisposition for putting off stuff they don’t think they want to do, last minute science projects can get a bit hectic.
But if the neighborhood has one or more people who don’t HAVE to be anywhere, or do anything - me - even last minute projects can still be fun - for the “adult” and the kid(s).
Case in point - six graders’, two girls specifically - assignment for “voc ed”: - take a piece of cardboard and cut it into an 11” x 11” square - in the upper right corner, one inch in from the top and right side, make a 3/4” diameter hole - in the lower left corner, one inch in from the bottom and the left side, make a 3/4” diameter hole - connect the two holes with something(s) that will cause a marble to get from the upper right hole to the lower left hole, in 5 or more seconds. - the “somthing” should be self supporting once constructed.
Now kids are great scroungers. If you turn them loose in your shop they’ll find your best stuff and want you to cut what they want out of the middle of a 4x8 sheet of birdseye maple ply or a piece of rosewood - girls especially. In this case I was able to limit the damage to the tops of two cardboard filing boxes.
Having been forewarned weeks ago of this upcoming project, two days before the due date I picked out some 1/2” baltic birch ply pieces - 12x12 or a bit bigger, ripped a bunch of doug fir and redwood 2x4 cutoffs to 3/4 x 3/4” lengths and, using a round end box bit, routed a U-shaped groove down each piece and chop sawed them to 11” lengths.
Being as how they still had another day to work on the project before it was due, the first day was just cutting cardboard and ply to size, drilling the two holes where they were suppose to go and wood glueing the back to a base, also about 11x11. That required some reinforcement so they found some cutoffs from mitered corners and glued them where they thought they’d hold things best. They then had the excuse of “we can’t do anymore ‘til the glue dries. Bye - and thank you.” - and they were gone. But they’d learned to use a sliding miter saw (weating ear protection, a face shield and with me with my hand on the saw motor and the other ready to move a kid out of harms way), what a marking gauge was and how to use it, what a dial caliper was, how to use it and how to read it and why knowing how to convert a fraction to decimal was handy stuff to know - 3/4 = 0.75. They also knew what a forstner bit looks like and how to use a drill press. Not bad for an hour of “work”.
The second day, the day before the project was due, I spent some time cleaning off the work bench, covering the top with construction paper and setting out - a bench hook, a dozuki saw, the hot glue gun - with extra sticks of glue - and a piece of scrap ply for the hot glue gun to sit - and drip -on.
The girls got out of school at 3:30 and around 4 o’clock they came through the gate on their bicycles - in the rain. (I’m sure they’ll tell their kid(s) “Back when I was a kid, sometimes we had to ride I bikes ALL THE WAY from school to home - IN THE RAIN!”) Note that this is California and THE RAIN in this case was more like a drizzle than real honest to god rain.
I was ready to work - but they weren’t - yet. “We need an after school snack!” That meant finding some bell peppers, a knife, cutting board and a paper plate, along with the ranch dressing and some napkins, with a cup of coca-cola for some caffiene and sugar. The single serving pinaple in syrup made for an adequate dessert.
Only then were they ready to “work”. Showed them the stuff on the bench, warned them that if they got glue on my bench top or cut into it “on accident” that they’d never leave the shop alive. I plugged in the hot glue gun, warned them that hot glue sticks to skin really well - and burns enough to blister - then asked “Where’s your marbles?”
“DUH! WE need marbles!” - and off they went in search of marbles. It’s a good thing one of them has a little brother who happens to have marbles, two less marbles now.
In “only” a half an hour, they were back. WE confirmed that the marble would stay in the track I’d made and that the steeper the slope of the track, the faster the marble rolled. They figured out the longer the track was the more time it’d take for the marble to roll from “A” to “B”. We talked about ways to lengthen the track and how to get the marble to change directions. When they got to the “We know what we’re doing - now go away!” I went back to the chop stick I was turning - all of 8 feet from where they were “working”. I was expecting a lot of “would you . . .?” requests and “I need help” interruptions. I was wrong.
“I need a piece of wood to hold this up. Can we use stuff out of this scrap box?” Confirming that the scrap box in question was in fact a scrap box I said “Sure - but just stuff out of THIS box. Stay away from my box of exotics stuff!” I showed them how to use the bench hook and the dozuki saw, again warning that if they cut into my bench I was going to kill one or both of them. Also noted that aby blood that got on my bench was to be wiped off BEFORE any crying or screaming could begin. And I returned to my turning.
A half an hour went by with a lot of talking and singing and laughing before the next interruption.
“Can you cut this piece of plastic piple in half down its length on THAT machine (the bandsaw)?” Did that, and found two 1/2” copper elbows and some 3/4” vinyl tubing for them to consider using. Went back to turning.
Over the next hour I heard a lot of “One Mississippi, Two Mississipi, ...”, “If I put this piece here and glue that there . . .” , “why don’t you ...” and “would you hold this here so I can ...”. It was hard not to peek or get into “you should . . .” but I stayed at the lathe.
An hour and a half into the “work” I heard “... nine Mississippi! I’m DONE! Where’s the paint?”
Off to the metal, fireproof cabinet full of “finishing stuff”. Coincidentally, it contained spray cans - Day-Glo green, Day-Glo Pink, Robin’s Egg Blue and a can of just plane purple - purchased months earlier for a Cat Condominium Project that had stalled out. Amanda, the fashion diva, naturally went for the Day-Glo Pink.
“While I set up a place to paint, you shake that can ‘til the marble inside rattles - for a minute or two.”
“There’s a marble inside? Is it Day-Glo Pink? I wanna use the marble inside for MY marble coaster! How do we cut this can open to get MY marble?”
After explaining that the marble would be covered in paint and would have to dry - and even then would have a flat spot were it touched whatever it would sit on while drying - that idea was dropped. “YOU could make US marbles out of wood right? That’d be really cool!” Rather than get into “wood expands and contracts with changes in humidity so it wouldn’t stay round for long” I went with a simple “No!”, and showed her how to spray paint without a lot of runs and drips then turned her loose with the spray can. When she was done I had her “clear the tip” and explained why that was required BEFORE putting the cap back on.
“This will have to dry right?” - and she took off - for home - to get “stuff for my marble coaster”. The “stuff” was a Sharpe pen - black for the “spots”, a jar of gold glitter, three small plastic leapords (sp?) and a leapord print scraf - the THEME for her coaster. The glitter was carefully sprinkled in the bottom of the “track”, none where the marble would roll, and it stuck nicely in the wet paint. A few dots of hot glue for each animal held them in place, a bit of creative wrapping of the scarf around the piece and she was done - and it worked - Nine Mississipis.
Don’t know about them, but I learned a lot. Not sure about the glitter now scattered on the floor around the bench though.
If you have a kid or two, or there are kids in the neighborhood, consider becoming a teacher/helper. It can be quite rewarding - and a lot of fun. Then they turn into teenagers and all bets are off.