Sunday 22 December 2013

A very proud parenting moment

(one of the 2010 cheese boards)

A few years ago, Riley, Lucas and I made some small cheese cutting boards. I think it was early November, and we were looking to make Christmas gifts instead of buy them. We went through my scrap pile(s) and pulled out some soft maple, sugar maple, pear, cherry and birch - all food safe woods (the kids really wanted to make at least one out of Rosewood). We squared up all the strips and the kids arranged them however they wanted. Some were in patterns, some were random. We used waterproof glue, rounded the edges, and they stamped “SAUER 2010” into the end grain. We made half a dozen or so and they turned out quite well. We gave them to aunts and uncles and grandparents (we kept one for ourselves too:) and everyone continues to comment on how much they use and enjoy them still.

The following year, they were commissioned to make 4 more for a good friend of ours. This was a paying job for them and they were quite excited about it. They turned out even nicer and their ‘customer’ was very happy with them.

A few months ago, Riley was lamenting the fact that his interests were starting to get expensive (oh boy, was he preachin’ to the choir!) and he was looking for a way to earn some extra money (beyond allowance and babysitting). He asked if I thought he could make a much larger batch of cutting boards and sell them. The question came right out of the blue, but very quickly I realized he was very serious about it and I recognized this as a wonderful opportunity. Riley has a pretty solid grasp of how business works and how sales and marketing work and this project would integrate the idea of using ones own hands to make something, and if done well - earn some money from it. I have to confess - I had a hard time containing my excitement and not let my own approach drive (and derail) the entire thing.

There were a few guiding principles to the project. Riley would be involved in every aspect of the project, from helping me pull down and sort through the ‘scrap’ lumber, to making dimensioned drawings of the various cutting boards to being in the shop and doing the work - I would not do anything on the project without him. He agreed and it was all I could do to not beam from ear to ear when we entered the shop and he asked me to remind him where the main breaker was... just in case he needed to kill the power to the whole shop. That was part of the safety lesson from several years ago and the fact that he recognized the importance of it made me feel very proud.

Over the next few days we sorted lumber and talked about process - from how to four-square lumber to how the various machines worked and how to work efficiently.

There was a great math lesson at one point where we took some of the drawings and I asked Riley to figure out how many pieces we would need for each cutting board given the material we had. It was fairly simple - just adding up a bunch of fractions, but it was a real world application of math and I think math suddenly had a level of relevance that was missing before.

We squared up all the strips using both powered jointers and hand planes for the narrower strips and made them parallel in the thickness planer. I did not let Riley use the powered jointer, but did explain how it worked and why the jointer, thickness planer and bandsaw are all lined up in the center of the shop. He recognized workflow very quickly and the value of not having to walk all over the shop from one machine to the other. He did all the ‘catching’ when we used the thickness planer and did some of the ‘feeding’ towards the end as his comfort level increased. My Y30 really scared him, but after a few hours of watching me he asked if he could give it a try. He asked all the right questions - where could he put his hands, how close could he get to the blade and if something went wrong, what would happen. By the end, he was comfortably cross cutting on the bandsaw.

Once all the strips were dimensioned and ready to go, the fun began. Riley did all the arrangements - some in patterns and some were random. We had 15 cutting boards worth, from a very large 14" x 18" down to 7" square.

We set up the glue up station and I did the glue application for the first few and Riley placed them in clamps and then we switched part way though.

Once everything was glued up, it was time to get rid of the squeeze-out. I tried to explain to Riley that too much glue was not only a waste of glue, but was a pain in the butt when you have to clean it up after it is dry. He developed a keen understanding of this as he was scraping off the glue (on a side note, Jameel at Benchcrafted has these amazing carbide scrapers - they are perfect for lots of things- glue squeeze out is one of them).

Once the glue was removed, we ran them through the jointer and thickness planer again - just to level them and bring them into parallel. At this point I told Riley there were 2 ways to finish the surfaces - sanding or hand planing. He asked which was faster - not which was easier. I explained the pros and cons of each and offered that if he wanted to hand plane them, he should use 2 planes and I would sharpen as required.

A good morning’s worth of work.

And a good pile of cuttingboards.

 I was particularly interested to see how the flame Birch would come out once handplaned. 

There turned out to be another great math and technical lesson in an unlikely place. Riley wanted to stamp these cutting boards as well - ‘RS and a maple leaf’ The trouble was the punch for the maple leaf was larger than for the R and S. He wanted the stamp to be centered on the edge so we needed to make a simple jig to keep things centered and evenly and consistently spaced. It was a very simple task, but it was a great exercise in planning and math. The image above shows the diagrams to figure it out and the wooden jig. The dado in the jig is to hold the maple leaf punch and the small piece is used in that same dado as a place holder to stamp the R and the S. 

Here is a quick sequence to show the process.

After all that work I think Riley had a new appreciation for the work that goes into a simple jig and the importance of not accidentally throwing it away.

We used the jaw of my tail vise to hold everything securely.

The finished stamps.

The flame Birch came out wonderfully. We left the cutting boards unfinished and Riley made up a small ‘care and use tag’ to go along with them.

This project was perfectly timed - he sold all of them over 3 days and made some pretty serious money - at least for a 14 year old. I had better start making some more ‘scrap’ wood!


Blogger Jonas Jensen said...

Thumbs up for this project.
Not taking control over the entire project can be really hard.
Merry Christmas

22 December 2013 at 15:52  
Blogger Richard Wile said...

Nice story pal!

22 December 2013 at 16:25  
Anonymous Doug Boor said...

Outstanding, nicely done Riley.

All the best to the Sauer family this holiday season.


22 December 2013 at 23:52  
Blogger Chris Bame said...

AWESOME!! well done …both of you.

24 December 2013 at 03:42  
Blogger pmelchman said...

Congrats to Riley. The stamp makes it official and gives a sense of accomplishment and gratification. "hand made" is rewarding...(who am I These cutting boards could be the spark needed.

Holding back is hard, but it allows you to see how he thinks problems through and when guidance is needed.

Merry Christmas to you and your family.

patrick melchior
dragonfly woodworking

25 December 2013 at 08:31  
Blogger Ken M said...

Good choice as these will become real heirlooms -- my mom is still using the cutting board I made her in high school shop more than 30 years ago.

1 January 2014 at 19:00  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks everyone - glad you enjoyed it. It was a great project and I hope to do something similar with Lucas in the not too distant future. Riley is going to be taking “shop” next term and I look forward to help keep the spark alive. At the end of the day, all I want is for him to know that he can make things using his hands and his mind. Plumber, mechanic, woodworker, it does not really matter - as long as he knows he can do it.

Happy New Year!

2 January 2014 at 08:51  

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