In the woodworking shop at Rockbrook Camp our goal is to get tools into the hands of campers and empower them to transform a block of wood into something beautiful and useful. At times we come up with a project for them to complete and at others they give us the ideas. One junior camper came up with an idea for a secret box that we ended up using as one of our project ideas. We had sections of branches from a tree that were cut in about 5 inch sections. I had no idea what I was going to use them for. A toothbrush holder, a pencil holder? These ideas will not take three hours to complete. So, I asked a junior camper. Immediately she says we need to cut off the top to make a lid and to hollow it out to make a secret box to put little things in. Perfect. I’m terrible at coming up with ideas, but decent on improving on existing ones. I thought if we attach the lid with a dowel so it swivels to the side to expose the hollowed out section that would prevent the lid from being lost. She approved and now we have Mallie’s Box! Campers learned to use both manual egg beater drills as well as electric drills and improved their sanding skills.
Cutting boards are a big favorite. I believe this was one of the first projects when woodworking began at Rockbrook Camp and the expectation has been set. “What are we doing?! Cutting boards?!” Most of the time we get to say yes. For this project students select either a piece of maple or cherry for their board. They get a pencil and are instructed to draw the shape they’d like their cutting board to take. We encourage them to be creative and to look at the wood to give them ideas. Does it have a knot in it that could be made into a focal point? Is the grain making an interesting pattern? We try to encourage campers to use what the wood gives them instead of imposing their will on the wood. It’s an organic material and every piece is unique. If you try to fight the wood, it almost always wins. The campers have truly embraced this. One board had a knot in a corner that one woodworker turned into an eye. Knots are surrounded by circular swirls of grain that created in the mind of this camper the body of a fish. She shaped her board in the shape of a fish around those swirls and the eye gave the board what is certainly the image of a fish. Beautiful. Students cut out their boards using an assortment of tools including hand planes, rasps, files and the bandsaw. The finishing touch is sanding before we apply a coat of oil that helps protect the board from cracking but also brings out the colors in the wood. A phenomenon began where campers would take their boards in between sessions with them so they could sand them wherever they are. I’ve been told they find it relaxing. I do not find sanding relaxing, but to each their own. Campers were spotted playing tetherball while sanding, waiting for the shower sanding. I even spotted one camper in line waiting for food while sanding away at her board.
These projects provide us with the opportunity to understand how to shape wood using different tools. They help us understand that wood, at times, has a mind of its own and sometimes you just have to go with what it gives you. Patience, creativity and understanding go a long way in the wood shop! We’ve been using a variety of hand tools to achieve our designs including Ryoba, coping and flush cut saws, hand planes and spokeshaves as well as rasps and files. Students also have the opportunity to use egg beater-style hand drills along with electric drills. The shop is equipped with a bandsaw and drill press that some older campers get the chance to try, as well. Campers’ skills have come a long way and they’ve made beautiful things. We hope they’re inspired and continue to explore the wonderful world of craft!
—Laura Shay, Woodworking Instructor