I recently attended the Kansas City Woodworkers' Show. There were all the usual trappings of the show like the many vendors, various clubs with their booths basically doing a large scale show-and-tell, and a bunch of classes going on all day.
My favorite was the fellow from Wales who demonstrated the use of hand tools.
He had no products that he was selling other than he mentioned his woodworking schools in New York and Wales. His main reason for being there seemed to be to remind people that there is great value in working with your hands. I attended two of his classes on Friday and while they were both different, he emphasized the importance of working with hand tools and especially engaging youths to work with you.
I guess that you could say that he was an evangelist for working with your hands.
This reminded me of the 4-H programs that we have and of woodworking in particular. For several years, I served as the superintendent of woodworking at the Leavenworth County Fair. I would not say that it was always peaceful as some parents seem to get way too involved with their kids on projects, but overall, I really enjoyed the opportunity.
Before I was a fair superintendent, I also did at least one or two woodworking classes for 4-H'ers. We brought a bunch of cottonwood lumber to the 4-H building in Lansing and we sawed the lumber into smaller boards to make stools. I believe that we had close to 30 youths participating and I remember that some parents were concerned that there would be 30 exact replicas of stools at the county fair.
No way! The kids managed to take that lumber and put their own ideas into it and we had nearly 20 stools that were quite different from each other at the fair. I considered that to have been a very successful activity for those kids and their parents.
You have to know something about 4-H and the county fair to understand why it would not have mattered if every one of those stools were exactly alike anyway. The kids are judged on their projects based on their probable level of experience which is at least partially dependent on their age and how many years they have been doing woodworking. The judge may also ask about what kind of tools were available and how much adult assistance was given.
The kids are judged only against themselves and not against anyone else. Each 4-H'er could get a blue ribbon based on their experience in doing the project. I really like the Dutch system, which is how the judging is done at the fair.
I highly recommend that you consider introducing your kids to the 4-H program and that you might want to consider woodworking as a project area. Personally, I think that woodworking and clothing construction are two project areas that offer youths from the very young to young adults an opportunity to be challenged to think, to solve problems, and to overcome failures. I always encourage kids to make the same project over again several times and to put the best one in the Fair. Do not wait until the month before the Fair to take just one shot at a project and then enter that one.
Page 2 of 2 - Ideally, in woodworking and clothing construction, youths will develop a love of working with their hands using their minds to follow examples, someday create projects from their own creativity, and learn from adversity when they overcome mistakes. It may be highly unlikely that any of them would make a career out of these interest areas, but working with your hands in your spare time as an avocation is something worth doing.
I was really glad to run into the guy from Wales at the Woodworking Show this year to be reminded of the value in working with your hands. If you are interested in his philosophy, you can visit the Paul Sellers website to learn more.
In the meantime, don't wait until June to start a 4-H project. Start working on projects now and do them over and over until you get it right and then keep on working on them for many years after.
Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.