Monday, December 31, 2001

After John passed away, we took several weeks to collect our thoughts and plan for the future, without breaking our stride or failing to meet the expectations of the Artisans. Before he passed away, John had ordered many hand tools and pieces of equipment, and quite a bit of 1" x 4" cedar to construct decorative panels, designed by the Artisans, which would ultimately become part of a series of pergolas at Lydia's House , a faith-based out-of-school time community based organization located off of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. in Ward 8. With that project on hold, we decided to start with a basic project that each of the Artisans could immediately grasp and run with - a box. Over the course of November and December we spent many afternoons learning about boxes. I created a rapid-fire series of exercises that would reveal some of the significant challenges our students faced - workshop math, following verbal or written direction, keeping track of an order of operations - these were not tasks any school instructor had been able to share with our students - and it showed. Their confidence was fragile, and their patience short. Having never approached making a "thing" before, the process of laying out, marking and cutting stock became a series of hands-on lessons in basic geometry. "How many sides does a box have?" may seem to be a basic question - and if you answered four, you're wrong, too. Six sides if it has a lid, and each side has three dimensions that you ahve to take into consideration. We were able to get past the abstract, pencil on paper thinking so often found in school, and cut up a bunch of leftover foam core to make our own box parts.

In order to teach about joints and thicknesses, we laminated two sheets of foam core - each ply being 1/4" - and made our own 1/2" thick material. Each student created their own parts, with dadoed bottoms and rabbeted ends of the sides. Lids slid in dadoes as well. This was a very challenging project, but was a great first step. We cut with exacto knives, straight edges, and squares. A great way to learn how to measure, mark and cut!

We made a second run at the boxes, which by this point had become CD cases. The Artisans set up shop on the loading dock, and proceeded to plunge right into using the sliding compound miter saw. Over the course of several days, we hauled out a band saw, built a router table, and ran some RO sanders. No dust collection, mind you. It was November in D.C., and our only open space was the loading dock outside the back hallway door. Cold as it got, the Artisans stuck with it. It was a good time, and we were gaining momentum again.

As a team, we decided to spend December preparing a gift for each CHW staffer, to be delivered at the January general staff meeting, using the tools and materials on hand. The Artisans set out to make a series of 100 4" x 5" x 5" cedar finger jointed boxes with hinged lids. This was the first time we produced something as a team, and with the December winds blowing, had to set up shop in a storage closet and narrow hallway, connecting the loading dock to the interior of the building. Our workshop was eight feet wide and twenty feet long, and we had to sneak a power cord up through the ceiling panels into another room in order to access electricity. Using sawhorses and plywood, we created portable work surfaces, and prepped hundreds of feet of stock using a band saw, portable planer, router table, miter saw, portable table saw, drill press, and disc sander. Yes, we had dust collection from a big shop-vac - but only when the electrical panel didn't pop a circuit.


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