Friday, August 22, 2008

Most of our woodworking projects at Clear Spring School are designed as an extension of a particular area of study, and this sometimes leads to similar projects being done at different grade levels. By slightly changing the tools used in a project it is very easy for it to be engaging for students at a variety of age and skill levels.

The 3rd and 4th grade students made boats as an activity related to their study of the oceans and the 9th and 10th grade students were studying meteorology.

At all grade levels we use some basic design tools that reinforce spatial sense. Folded paper and scissors are a great way to create designs for symmetrical objects. By folding paper in half, then cutting it to shape, when the paper is unfolded, both sides are designed at once. This technique is closely related to the use of half models in the design of real boats.

First take a piece of paper, cut it to the size of the board you will use to cut your boat hull. Then fold it in half and use scissors to cut it to the desired shape. Lay the paper on the stock and trace around it to transfer the design onto wood, or use spray craft adhesive to affix the template to the wood. It can be peeled off after the cuts are made.

With the youngest children, we use Japanese style pull saws to make simple cuts bringing the bow of the sailboat to a V shape. In order to help in accuracy of cut, we put the wood in the vise so that the cut line is straight up and down. This helps the child develop a greater sense of their posture, and arm motions during the cut, and also provides better results. As a step up in difficulty and skill, we add the coping saw which offers the possibility of a curved hull shape, but greater difficulty and risk of messing up.

In high school the cuts forming the hull are made with a scroll saw with the table tilted so that the hull develops a more boat hull shape that can be further shaped with coarse sanding blocks.

We have a slightly different approach for making the keel. With the youngest students, cutting the keel from galvanized sheet metal is too tough for young hands, so I make a few keels before class starts and then demonstrate making more as needed. In the upper grades, students can design and cut their own. It can be somewhat frustrating cutting metal for the first time. But what is the value of success if it isn’t preceded by effort? We use the same paper folding technique to develop the shape for the double keel. Prop the bow of the boat on a book or block of wood and the double keel serves as a stand when the boat is not in the water.

Sails are fun! We make the sails in the same manner used in small olympic class Lasers; a sleeve at the leading edge that slides in place over the mast. This involves use of the sewing machine, and while sewing was once a common household activity, for most children, even as old as 9th and 10th grades, sewing a sail is their first exposure to the process. I make extra sails for any student too uncomfortable with the process. But even children in 3rd and 4th grades can operate a sewing machine with careful supervision.

After the sail is made, we cut the 1/4 in. dowel masts to length, and use the drill press to drill a hole in the deck for it to fit. We use a fencing staple at the stern of the boat as a place to tie the loose corner of the sail (clue line). After the sail is made, we use fabric pens to decorate the sails. This is an intense activity that engages the students while the teacher can help those lagging behind or having difficulties requiring special help. And then of course, the students can paint their boats!

The 9th and 10th graders held boat races on a local pond, testing their design variations.

Much greater effort and refinement can go into making working model sail boats, but still, this is a fun project that kids of any age will enjoy.

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