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Posted: Saturday, December 22, 2018 11:04:37 AM
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Just in time for Christmas!

Usually it takes a little more prompting than just seeing a simple project high up on the project shelf... to get kids excited and want to make stuff. Hadassah is no ordinary kid. She is unusually excited about every project and shows her extraordinary craftsmanship in everything she makes. Take the simple thumb piano and add F-holes like an expensive instrument, burn a rose with the laser engraver and you have the making of a fine instrument.

After assembly the clamps are removed and the edges sanded down, the alternating red and black lawn rake tines are placed into the sound bar. I think this is one of the most unique thumb pianos that has been made in our shop.

Hadassah has pride without being prideful and I will miss having her in class as the 9 week schedule switches in January.

What a priceless moment capturing Hadassah's look of contentment in a job well executed showing craftsmanship beyond her years. Her project spurs new excitement around the shop as several other students see it and also choose to do this project.

NOTE- I thought the old laser engraver was a goner last week as I'm expecting that to be the case anytime now. We already saved it from going into a dumpster once, but can we keep stringing it along? How much life should I expect to get out of an old salvaged machine?

When we kept getting errors... shifting images and text... I knew like an old jalopy, this was going to be another expense that I hoped wouldn't nickle and dime us to death. We don't have enough to bring in a technician, so just like before, it's up to me to figure it out and get any needed parts to fix it.

I've already had to replace a manual focus, the auto focus assembly (you tube instructions), the Coral Draw software, and also purchase a cleaning kit... but now... this seemed much more serious and hard to pinpoint. At least I think I know where to start because of the laser burning into different materials, it can get filled with a gritty dust. It's worth investigating.

So I begin my troubleshooting by taking off the X cover and cleaning the optical strip and everything else I can think of under that cover. Normally a dirty optical strip is what would shift an image. The optical strip tells the laser when to fire. I've seen shifting images once before and this was the fix for that issue, but surprisingly a cleaning didn't do it this time. I did find out that I shouldn't be using the lens cleaner for this and it also shouldn't be tap water either. Instead, it should just be distilled water. Nothing else.

Now I'm beginning to worry that maybe I scratched the optical strip because cleaning it seemed to make it worse. Then it mysteriously got better, but after a while, it ended up shifting again. That tells me it probably isn't a scratched optical strip. A quick check on you tube, I'm thinking I have the answer. Take the optical reader apart and clean it out. There is a sensor to look for.

I carefully take it apart and make sure it looks clean inside and then carefully reassembly it. That still doesn't do it.

What about belt tension? Is it slipping? Nope, that doesn't seem to be it either. This isn't only annoying, it's also consuming a lot of my time and is stretching into several days. No wonder it was headed to the dumpster. Is this going to be an expensive service call? It has to be something I'm missing, but what is it and is it a simple and inexpensive fix?

Out of desperation I finally resort to e-mailing the closest service provider expecting them to want to send an expensive repair tech. Can I get them to give me clues on what to look for? He ends up telling me that I should try reversing the flex cable. OK, advise is free and believe it or not, that did the trick! They warned me this is only a temporary fix. It might last days or even months, but it is going to start shifting again if you don't replace them soon.

As it turns out, he takes the time to tell me that as the cable keeps flexing, it develops micro-cracks and thankfully, that a new cable is not too expensive. I'm sure they know this about the flex cable because of how old the machine actually is. They have had so many machines with this same issue. They immediately knew what to do. So last week we called Colorado and ordered both the X & Y flex cables and installed them. More nickles and dimes I guess.

It looks like this crisis is averted. It appears as if it is going to keep working for now and hopefully hang in there a little while longer. It is going to be a sad day when it finally does conk out and you know it will. You can already see the image doesn't look as good as it should. It appears weak.

The expense of a new or recharged CO2 laser tube may just be too much for this little school to handle, even if I provide the labor. With how popular the machine has become, it will be a huge loss if it ends up in this situation.

To jump back to Hadassah's last post click here.
Posted: Wednesday, December 26, 2018 2:26:10 PM
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After Christmas sales... bah-humbug!

I am up early as usual and I'm trying to warm up something in the microwave. After setting the timer, I hit start and everything dies. It's the day after Christmas and most people want to get out for the all the after Christmas sales. Not me! I don't want to be out buying useless garbage... but it looks like I have a problem solving activity that could take a while. Can I fix this, or will I have to go out and get a new one.

Eleven years ago my wife wanted to replace a Sharp brand microwave we acquired in 1976. It did have that Harvest Gold look about it, but why do we want to get rid of a perfectly good appliance that was built like a tank and might never die. Oh yeah, I remember, "we" wanted the stainless look and that Harvest Gold was cramping our style.

By now you are thinking, why is he talking about microwaves in a woodworking forum? It's not like microwaves can't be useful to woodworkers. There are several woodworking activities where I have previously used a microwave. But that's not where this story is going. Believe me, it is going in a direction you may not expect.

Microwaves are dangerous to open so always use complete caution when opening one up. I take it apart so I can get to the fuse. Why do they make it so hard to get to it? It's because of the capacitor which can have enough stored energy to really knock you down and possibly forever. I have to remember that I now have a pacemaker and although now they are safe around microwaves, it doesn't always play nice with electrical discharges.

OK, I've seen enough of the warnings to not just plow in and touch everything inside... but I can see the fuse is ceramic and if you have seen one of these, you know it's hard to tell if it has blown just by looking at it. Not wanting to end up on my butt, or in the hospital, or even the morgue, I pick out a piece of scrap wood about the thickness of the space below the fuse, and I carefully lift the fuse out so I can check it.

Not being an electrical genius, the best way I have (in my current situation) is to check it by connecting it in series to a small light bulb. When energized, it doesn't light up. I had better run over to my friend and former student whose family runs Andy's Appliance.

Once there, Leland and his son are the only ones in the store which just opened at 9 am. I show them the fuse... and he quickly finds one in the back storeroom. I figure it's going to cost a couple of bucks, maybe more and he simply says, keep it... no charge. Hmmm, I must have been a great teacher to not want at least $5. How else am I going to find one of these fuses and know I have the exact one needed. He also told me that a simple door slam could have been what blew the fuse... which is something my wife confesses to later.

I'm thanking Leland and we are catching up on old times when a customer walks in looking for a dryer heater core. I see all the coils and think... "look at all that free woodburner wire". I instinctively ask Leland if he has some old heater cores like that, that he's already tossed into recycle. "Well, lets check since I just sent a bunch out already," he says. I told him I had been buying old space heaters at the Goodwill. Wish I had thought of him sooner.

I follow him out the door and it doesn't take long to find a good one. The perfect wire for the woodburner... and it's free. Not only does he give me that coil, but walks me into the back storeroom and shows me some of the new coils that he doesn't even know what they are for... and he gives me one with a tighter coil. He told me they buy a lot of competitors stock as they are leaving town or retiring from the business.

I finish catching up and I'm heading out the door at the same time as the other customer. We strike up a conversation about what I'm going to use this wire for, when Leland sends his son out to give me that customers old heater core too. JACKPOT!

When I get home, my first order of business was to put the microwave back together of course. Then I start disassembling the heater cores. It isn't hard and it doesn't take long. Look at all the woodburner wire I have now. It is going to last well beyond my retirement.

When you do what I've been doing for as long as I have been doing it, you have to find stuff wherever and whenever you can get it. It becomes a way of life. Maybe millennial's think I'm an old eccentric. Maybe so, but you can't argue with the successful career I am soon to leave. Well, maybe not that soon... but not too much longer either. Five years or less is what I'm thinking right now and that can always change one way or the other.

Besides... I don't think I'm all that eccentric. Maybe I do live a little too much for my students and not enough for me, but I like it that way. I have always liked helping others and I like getting things done. I like reinventing myself each time I see change coming and I like what I do for a living.

I also like to stay up to date... except I figured something out on the way to getting older. New isn't always better and we throw away way too much in this country. Too bad we are an economy that relies way so much on planned obsolescence and as a whole, we seem more than happy to keep doing that. It also doesn't seem to matter what technology we embrace, they all have their dark side when it comes to saving the planet. All of them!

Jump back for a closer look at woodburning... on pane 69.

12-28-18 I went back to let Leland know that my microwave works great. And after watching a few you tube videos about how you can use old microwave transformers, I asked Leland to be on the lookout for one he would normally recycle. The high voltage transformer is perfect for building your own spot welder. It seems like something I could use around the shop.
Posted: Tuesday, January 08, 2019 8:32:24 AM
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3rd Quarter begins!

New 7th grade students learn measuring skills to practice as time permits... and also get a start on their take home quiz.

If they come back tomorrow with all their required parental permissions, and their take home quizzes, there are chances for a cool reward.
Posted: Friday, January 18, 2019 5:51:13 PM
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It's after school. The lights are on and everyone is here!

You can't be sure of what overhead LED lights will do until you actually get to try them. I have to be the first to say... it's great! No warm up time. They put out more light and cost less to run.

I tried looking up at them and they are almost too bright to view without sunglasses. OK, maybe a little exaggeration, but they are hard to look straight at them.

Now we can see better than ever in the wood shop, even on a cloudy day, even in the corners, and everyone is here and working hard. We have a few stand out goblet makers to acknowledge from this after school class.

This is Lucy's first year in wood shop and she is in the 4th grade. I can't say enough good things about her and her entire family for that matter. I've had many of her brothers. Issac was the one who appears on the March 2016 cover of our local newspaper.

Lucy can really get into the shop experience and does marvelous work. I plan to show the completed goblet soon, but for now, take a look at how she gets right into what needs to be done.

Another first timer and 4th grader, August.... is a quiet young man that really tries hard to do a good job all the time. These results say it all.

Not only did he do most of the work, but he also spent a lot of time sanding and finishing this project. He also participated in the spelling bee and got past most of the competition too. Good job!

I wish I had a better camera that could take decent close up photos.

Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2019 10:23:52 AM
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Eye Wash Station

We took this from the old science room which is now the art room, and moved it to the wood shop.

I'm hoping to have it hooked up and running soon. For those who have never seen one of these, the handle on the right turns on the water (once it is hooked up that is) and the cap pops open as water comes out like a fountain.

Image from

There is an article entitled "5 Safety Eyewash Station Myths Debunked" that is posted on the Grainger website

***UPDATE*** 4-12-19 Our eyewash station is finally hooked up.

This is the final addition to our safety upgrades made possible by the grant.
Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2019 10:29:28 AM
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One little piggy...

This almost finished piggy is from one of our sixth graders who is in a once a week class. The time actually works out to be about the same as the quarter classes, but the big disadvantage is in how much time goes by before working on projects again the following week.
Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2019 10:53:17 AM
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Location: Claremont, CA
Just a heads up for any woodshop teachers. We have a bunch of cool odds and ends around the yard - some exotic, some domestic.

Let me know if you're interested in any donations. Our yard is in Fontana, California. You'd be responsible for pickup or arranging pickup but we'd provide the wood at no charge.

If you'd like more info on what's available, please shoot me a message here.


Where the Good Mahogany?
Posted: Friday, February 01, 2019 11:26:18 AM
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I simply have to laugh...

With the 8th graders gone to the Capitol, I had a chuckle about this student's photo display she decided to make when there is only two 7th graders left in class today.

It is not only a cool project, but when you get close up, the burn looks like black and brown beads. I wish my crummy camera could catch that.

It really looks amazing and it didn't take as long as you might think. Over the top, she mounted fishing line so she could easily change the photos.

And about the post from, I've looked through their stuff, and it is amazing. I wish I lived close enough to drive over and get some scraps donated. So if you haven't already, take heed Fontana locals. You have a great opportunity there.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2019 11:46:15 AM
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Taking flight...

Two 8th graders who are new to this school... and never been in wood shop before are in the clouds over their new experience. They can't get over how fun this is? Are we really still in school?

It is unusual to have more than one student choose the same project at the same time. This is causing me to have double vision. Normally every student chooses to do something different.

They both did an amazing job on these airplanes, especially since it was only their 2nd project ever.
Posted: Friday, February 08, 2019 8:44:01 AM
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Compressed Air

When a larger air compressor was donated last year, I wanted to address air safety... since it is in the shop now. I felt that this retro image would be the best way to remind students to be careful around compressed air.

I love retro images and so do my students. I use them as reminders all around the shop. I don't often have to prompt them anymore about safety glasses or hair ties, etc...

Too bad the cheap replacement camera doesn't focus as well. I may have to bring this home to scan so I can post a better image for those who print these off and use them in their shop too. That is, if I can remember to do it.

I also found this political cartoon from USA Today...

If true... common core is finally on it's way out. At least that is the talk in Florida.
Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2019 11:12:11 PM
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Happy Valentine's Day

8th Grader Devin shows appreciation to his mother on Valentine's Day by making a nearly perfect heart box. This (first time ever in wood shop) student (only completing his third project) shows his exceptional talent as a novice woodworker. Each layer of the box fits so precisely together that there was little need for sanding. In fact, it fit together better than the prototype that I made.

A quick hand in getting the hinge (not shown) in place, and it was ready to go home, but not before a quick trip to see the Principal. WHAT! I have to go to the Principal's office? I simply had to prove to Devin how much everyone between here and there appreciates seeing good craftsmanship. The look on his face from all the attention it was receiving was also my reward. And yes, the Principal loved it!

While there were plenty of other very worthy projects, this next one also turned out exceptionally well done.

Caleb's mom wanted a tray. This is what he found on google. After showing him how to make the corners, Caleb went to work to get it done.

It is made from tongue & groove aspen & pine left over from a construction site. The ends with handles are pine. The long sides are aspen. Both were resawn on the bandsaw to get more from it. The bottom is from pre-finished cabinet shop scraps left from 1/4" drawer bottom material.

I think Caleb turned it into a Valentine gift. I'm not sure it was suppose to be finished this quickly. With time running out today, he had to come back to the wood shop 8th period so he could apply finish and take it home. I hope his mom loved it.

I love this job! It's too bad age... or rather age related issues... are slowing me down. Whenever I tell the students that I'm coming near the end of my career, they beg me not to go until they graduate on to high school. I take that as the highest compliment... next to praises sung by the many former student who visit (today I had two of them in here), and many of them who now have their kids or even their grandkids in our school.

I'm going to try and keep going for a few more years. Maybe until I hear,"You taught my great grandpa". Here's hoping that I can reach that milestone. Retirement doesn't sound as special to me as to other people. I don't know. Maybe I'll change my mind when that day comes.
Posted: Friday, March 01, 2019 10:00:49 AM
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It was 41 years ago...

...on new years day when I helped my wife's then 6 years old niece make this out in my future mother-in-laws garage. Fashioned with tools left behind by my wife's father whom I never got to meet, I was still in the middle of getting my teaching degree and happened to have some aromatic cedar. The corner is not missing, but only cut off by the photo.

A keepsake tempered by time. I think the aged look is fabulous.

I never forgot about one of my first teaching experiences and neither has she. We used a variety of hand tools, mostly the coping saw. It was fun and everyone in the family thought it was great.

The other day she sent this picture and although she has moved from place to place (now in Alaska) it meant so much to her that she keeps it on display and had to tell me about it.

I think this is something my students would still like to make, so I may reintroduce it to my class by showing them the photo.

Speaking of Alaska, we had more cold and snow last week than they were having. In fact, it was our largest snow in the last 30 years and caused school to be cancelled for two days. That's my buried Datsun pickup. It ended up being about 20" deep. A week later there is still some on the ground which is unusual around here where snow is mostly gone in a day or two.

I left my emergency brake on and it of course froze as did my door locks, making it difficult to get out that week end. Can anyone say cabin fever?

***UPDATE*** 3-13-19 The spotlight is on John Morgan and Steve Kuhn who appear in the Orange County Register this spring break week (at least it's spring break here). The fact is, publicity like this helps all of us. Good job guys!
Posted: Friday, April 05, 2019 9:08:39 AM
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Time to fix the old clock...

If you have my curriculum, the clock you see at the beginning of the General Safety Powerpoint died the other day. It is a plug in clock and when the power went out recently, it froze and wouldn't restart.

I'm not sure of the exact age of this clock, but I love the old look of it and since the original movement had already been replaced, I just needed to find another like it.

The replacement I found came out of another smaller and older clock I have in a back room, but the original hands (or at least the ones I never liked in the above photo) wouldn't fit the other movement, so I had to come up with new hands.

If you know anything about working on clocks, finding hands to fit an older movement like this is nearly impossible. Especially in a small town. At least for me it has been a learning experience.

First, the styles have all completely changed and finding one that fits this size and style clock just isn't easy. I spent hours looking and just wasn't finding what I wanted.

Second, the way the hands stay attached to the movement is different depending on brands. Third, ordering blind from the Internet means that returning them cost as much or more than what they originally cost, so a misfit can get really expensive.

Sometimes situations like this can be the most fun... for me anyway. Here's a chance to see if I can make my own clock hands from scratch. I'm sure I can come up with a better style too.

Using a piece of scavenged aluminum roof flashing, I drew out a paper template and traced it onto the metal.

It's cut and filed...

Bent, drilled and painted...

With a little adjusting, both new hands are installed...

This movement also came with a really nice old school sweep second hand which I painted red. I love the new look and it keeps perfect time.

I took apart the old movement and I wasn't sure it would ever work again, but after removing the back of the motor, it seems to be alright. Maybe it needed a drop of oil or maybe the back was binding on the motor... but since it seems to run now, I put it back into the other smaller clock, which of course also needed a set of custom made hands.

Posted: Friday, April 05, 2019 10:31:55 AM
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4th quarter begins...

We just have enough time to get through shop safety, and get classes started again before testing begins.

Zoe prepares to send a cutting board through the planer.

Lexis cuts out a penny board.

Posted: Saturday, April 06, 2019 10:35:23 AM
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State mandated testing interruption...

I decided to spin this off from the last post since I'm not finished with the prototype yet and that means I will be adding more to this post as I get more photos.

It is easy to see that some of the 8th graders need more cool and challenging project choices. I'm thinking about the ones who regularly compete in Science Olympiad.

But two weeks into 4th quarter usually means testing time and a break from regular shop time.

Between proctoring sessions I get chances to sneak back into the shop and work on some new project ideas. This year I'm working on Mathias Wandel's air engine and it has consumed a lot of extra time since I decided to also manufacture a set of templates as I go.

The one without paper is a remake or re-drill for 1/2" so I can use a 1/2" dowel already in stock.

This project will hopefully add engineering experiences they will need for future Science Olympiad projects. It's no "rolling marble" or "protect an egg" project, but the air engine will certainly be very cool and somewhat challenging, but I think I can simplify the project by layering the air passages using a set of templates which should make it a little easier for them to cut out and construct.

When I complete making a full set of parts and get it assembled... as well as working, then I'll have a better understanding of how well this will work for them.

However... it wouldn't be for every 8th grader and if it turns out to be too hard, it also wouldn't be the first time I over-estimate what a smart 8th grader can actually do.

Still, I think it is worth the effort to teach everyone to think big and challenge them to reach higher. Unfortunately, as with other projects, 4th graders will automatically want to start here and that would definitely be over-reaching.

More later...

It's kind of funny that this thread started as a way to share project ideas only to end up being a running log of activity on building a school wood shop at a school that doesn't really have the money to do what we are doing. I hope you are enjoying seeing what we have been working towards, even as I begin to think it's almost time for me to retire again. Physical things as you get older can really bog you down and that's what is happening to me.

If you haven't taken the time to look back at some of the updates I have been making to each post, then you are missing out on some really great stuff. I figured out how to make links within this site, that will go directly to each post. Slow connections or Internet speeds might require a little patience to load, but using the back browser arrow brings you directly back to where you left off reading. For example.... here is a direct link to the crankyman automata post and the back arrow brings you back here.

These links help clarify or point out ideas without a lot of fumbling around on your part. Now this makes me wish I would have made the posts smaller, concentrating on a single concept/issue/project, but doing that creates more pages. However, I could further direct teachers to these concepts in greater detail... so maybe some day I will be able to break it up into smaller sections. Doing this as an after thought would not keep them in chronological order. That order is part of what I think makes it more fascinating.... to watch a budding program thrive from day to day, week to week, etc... and work within the constraints of the times.

It's also too bad that DivShare has messed up their site. If any of you have been trying to get material on the broken links, let me know. I found my stash of material on one of my external hard drives, so I should be able to send them over e-mail. As I have time in the future, I would have uploaded this material to photobucket and remake the links, however, photobucket changed the free user agreement and I'm unsure as to what will work and what won't. Contact me so I can send material directly over e-mail.

Here are some general page short cuts for you...

Go to page 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... 5... 6 ... 7... 8... 9...10... 11...12

A message to new wood shop teachers who may have stumbled onto this site!

Because of spam... this site has been closed for quite some time now, but if you would like to join, we could use some new blood. The older guys have been retiring and thinning out the ranks. I didn't ask permission to post this, but I found out from a new member that he did this to gain access.... Send an e-mail to I have noticed that this is helping new members get into the site while keeping the spammers out.

I've seen at least twelve new members have signed up since making this notice.
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