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
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
- 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
“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
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
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
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.