How To: Teach Sawing to a Young Student
I have a perfect record in the woodshop. No fatalities.
I have had two injuries though this year (I average about one a quarter or semester). Both happened due to good sawing habits gone bad.
This picture shows my basic hand-saw set up when I cut a board to size. I’m right-handed and for south-pawed students, I mirror the set up.
I would saw about an inch from the edge of the table. Notice I use a bench hook to keep slips/movement to a minimum and pinch my thumb in so I don’t catch it on a saw (though I’m lazy with that index finger!). I have the kids put their weight into their left hand to steady the workpiece. I generally build the workbenches 30″-32″ high to accommodate younger statures. I’ve never had a student cut themselves after setting themselves up like this, righty or lefty.
Trouble is, sometimes that’s not the most accessible way to hand-saw a board. Small pieces for example, or a face-vise set-up in the left side of a bench like this necessitate a different technique:
Now pretend you’re a student. You go to make this cut (a rip down the pencil mark) and the board naturally wiggles. Remember how I teach to use the left hand to steady the work? Well, my student’s see my “good” habits and this is their solution:
Both finger injuries have happened in this manner – a cut at the end of wood when the lumber is chucked/clamped down on the student’s strong-hand side. I researched a bit and I’ve seen two ways to avoid this from happening. One hand behind the back,
The one-handed technique is great for students to gain a “feel” for cutting the wood correctly. A saw should glide through the wood with minimal downward pressure for the user – the saw does the work. Long strokes produce cleaner and faster cuts than short strokes. Move your body so your arm swings in a straight line in the direction of the cut (similar to a proper stroke of a pool cue actually). I will (once I re-teach the safe way to saw during this cut!) ask the kids to try a one-handed approach to reinforce proper technique. Then the students will switch to a two-handed approach to gain speed. Also, remember to teach how to re-adjust the placing of wood in the vise to minimize board movement, the original reason the second hand got involved in the first place.
So, a few things to remember when teaching woodworking to young students:
- Different cuts, different set-ups must be taught as separate units. Young people don’t gain adult-like abstraction skills until fifteen or so. Young people’s brains haven’t developed those brain cells yet. If you change the pattern, you must re-teach the technique.
- Watch yourself first because monkey see, monkey do. In this case, my habits in one environment (and the habits I ingrained in my students) did not translate to a successful skill when the situation changed. Look at your habits and think about how those habits might affect the students’ thought patterns.
- Re-evaluate and research your own skills – this is why I blog here, why I’m working on a Master’s in Ed, why I play in the woodshop on the weekends. I can’t expect my students to be satisfied with the projects and level of production I see now. I must plan for the future and improve my teaching toolkit.