Sunday, November 19, 2017

the case for hand tools.

Power tools are intended to make things easy and fast. They can also make cuts more accurate, thus requiring less skill. They can plough through tough grain that would trouble a hand plane or hand saw. They can saw things that a teacher would not intend, and they exert enough force that parts can be thrown into the face or across the room at others. Some are noisy and dusty and can frighten sensitive kids

Hand tools on the other hand are slow and can wander. They demand continuous attention to the material as it is transformed. I can have a room full of hand tools at work, and can hear their effects, and know from what I hear that they are being safely used. A room full of power tools would frighten me for the safety of my students.

If the purpose of learning is to impart the skills of attention and mindfulness, a room full of hand tools will do that job better than a room full of power tools and at far less risk.

The book shelves hanging from my vise are ones I pulled from my closet to show an example of my 7th grade work. My mother had kept them in the basement of her house in Omaha, Nebraska, and had asked me when I had been there for a visit, "Do you want those shelves you made in wood shop?" I could not imagine she had kept them for so long. But with these as evidence to remind me, I am carried back to the days in which I made them. I remember sawing their shape with a coping saw. The teacher had marked the shapes of the parts on wood. I had felt troubled as my coping saw wandered off the line but was consoled when I looked over and saw how much  worse my neighbor had done on his. On the last day of school, I was using a nail to assemble the shelves and one nail went astray and split the wood. I showed the error to my teacher and he said only these words, "you have done well."

If the purpose of woodworking in schools is to prepare students for the use of power tools then perhaps there's justification for them be used to teach children in school. On the other hand, if woodworking in school is practiced to impart an understanding of materials, and processes and  to develop character, intelligence, mindfulness, and skill, hand tools more safely fit the bill.

This said, I do allow the use some power tools at various ages. First grade students are allowed to use the drill press, operating the switch and handle if I hold the stock. Third grade students (with instruction) can safely operate a scroll saw on thin stock, provided they use safety glasses and properly adjust blade guards. My students begin work on the lathe in 4th grade using a face shield and with proper attention to hair being pulled back and loose clothing secured. At each use, I check to see that the work piece is properly installed and the right tool is being used. In high school, and under close supervision I allow the use of the band saw, and saber saw.  I regard the use of hand tool processes to be the precursor for all else.

Another simple point is that hand tools slow the pace, making the experience more about learning than about getting work done. With the pace being slower I have more time to attend to safety and individual learning needs. Students are working instead of waiting for the teacher's assistance. With the pace being slower and more educational, I need, also, to prepare less stock.

Make, fix and create...

No comments:

Post a Comment