When shop teacher Paul Steiner walked into a warehouse in Fredericksburg, Virginia, last December with a bunch of paper boxes, the Marines collecting Toys for Tots thought maybe he was looking for the offices next door. Those paper boxes, however, were full of 1,000 wooden toys made by Paul’s students.
His construction carpentry classes — approximately 100 students total, in grades 9 through 12 — began the project the week before Thanksgiving break. It took them about two weeks to make about 100 trucks in walnut and cherry and about 900 more out of pine.
Paul had been teaching manufacturing to his students with some smaller projects, but, “I wanted to do something on a larger scale,” he said. His other criteria included a project that: could impart woodworking skills to students, was quick and safe to make and would build student comfort level with different machines.
“The nice thing about this project is that you can make one thing over the course of several days, and get many students comfortable with one machine,” Paul said.
In this case, those machines included miter saws, used to cut the trucks’ fronts and backs; table saws, used to cut dadoes; and band saws, used for 12° angle cuts to create the truck bed. Students also learned about gluing, general assembly and jigs and fixtures — they fit jigs to a certain tolerance and used them for interchangeable parts. They cut birch dowels flat on one side to support the truck, and they learned about finishing. “It was a really big issue this year with toys with lead in them,” Paul said. “We talked about what they could use that was appropriate for the project and safe.” (The answer was mineral oil.)
The design for the project involved even more students. The “challenge of engineering” class took the ideas of “something with wheels, an action toy …” and came up with toy trucks. “They did the math to figure out how much material we would need to produce so many trucks,” Paul said. “We took 2×4’s and ripped them, and they figured out how many 2×4’s or 2×6’s we would need,” as well as, “If we can do 100 items in 90 minutes, how long will it take us to do 1,000?”
The 2007 project was the first time Paul’s classes had done such a large-scale project, but it likely won’t be the last. Paul’s already thinking about doing it again next year, with a different toy.
“I think I have the greatest job on earth,” he said. “I love to teach students carpentry and construction.
“Students need people who have technical and woodworking skills to set an example,” he said. “They’re starting to pick up on that, and they want to use these skills to help other people.”