Senni Makes a Spear
Experiencing the Joy of Woodworking at the Heritage Woodcraft Centre, October 2017
The Heritage Woodcraft Centre in Canning Vale is the home of The Joy of Wood, where I, a skilled Cabinetmaker/Joiner, offer workshops and tuition for people of all ages in traditional woodworking hand skills and techniques. This includes many programs and workshops for children. I have been conducting woodworking activities in schools, festivals, public workshops and private workshops for nine years. The private tuition is also used to provide occupational therapy for people with cognitive and physical disabilities.
The value of hand tool woodworking for kids.
When kids learn to use traditional hand tools, there are many benefits beyond the production of the project which they are justifiably proud of. Creating with the hands is a tactile, sensual process involving both macro and micro muscle movements. The activity helps build body awareness, hand-to-eye coordination, balance, problem solving skills, spatial awareness, practical numeracy skills, and much more. There is an important connection between the hands and the eyes, with mental and physical health benefits flowing from the active muscular use of the hands and body in the creative process.
Working wood with traditional tools will also touch on lessons in and awareness of history and biology, as wood is such a wonderful natural material made up of a variety of fibres and cells. Many of the tools the children use are over 100 years old, and can interact effectively with the wood when in the hands of a child who is provided with positive instruction and encouragement.
From Making a Sword and Shield to Making a Spear.
Senni, nearly six years old, had previously come to Private Tuition at the Heritage Woodcraft Centre, on two occasions. On his first visit, he had made a wooden spoon in a two hour session.
The next occasion, in another 2 hour session he had made himself a Sword and Shield.
Senni took his Sword and Shield home where it was painted.
For a return visit, Senni had said he was keen to make a Spear.
The Process for Making the Spear
A nice straight grained piece of 24mm square Oak about 1500mm long was prepared beforehand, ready for him to create a shaft, along with a few other pieces ready for various Head/Blade options.
The process began with a discussion about spears, their types and shapes, seeking to find what design/type of spear Senni would like to make. We arrived at an agreed design.
The spear would have a tapered shaft, with the head at the heavy end to aid its flight, and Senni was keen to have a sharpened end on the shaft rather than an added wooden blade or head. With the path ahead determined, we commenced the making process.
I explained to Senni how to plane a taper in the long stick, so we started out by hammering some supports into the bench top to aid the planning. He would need two hands to do the planning.
A variety of planes, of different types, weights and sizes were offered, in order to find the one which best suited Senni’s small hands and developing co-ordination and strength. While perfect for a spear shaft, Oak is tough, so the right kind of very sharp plane would make it more achievable for Senni. He and I took turns as we planed each side, with me providing Senni with on-going coaching and encouragement.
Using a hand plane correctly is a complex process involving subtlety of touch, pressure, and movement – a shifting of weight from the front hand to the back hand while pushing the tool forward along the piece of timber. It involves maintaining balance in the body through the feet and in this case movement of the feet as Senni walked the length of the spear shaft while applying pressure to the tool before him. Planing a taper is particularly complex conceptually, as it involves doing a series of overlapping planning actions, starting from what will be the small end of the shaft with each action going right to the end. In this way a taper is effectively created over the length of the piece of wood. This process was to be repeated on each of the 4 sides
With the shaft planed into a tapering square section, it was time to round the taper. This was done by Senni using a Spokeshave. He had used these before in both the spoon carving and in making his sword and shield.
The Spokeshave is such a fantastic tool for kids to use. It involves both macro and micro muscle movements in the hand and arms, balance in the feet and legs, and attention with the mind to create the desired form.
Senni worked away with the spokeshave taking the taper from a square to the round.
The sharpening of the head end was a three stage process – first sawing off the waste, then planning it into a square section which rapidly tapered to a point, then the rounding of the head to a tapering round section.
The correct hand position and grip on the tools greatly aids their effectiveness. At the Heritage Woodcraft Centre, we teach kids how to use real tools to make real things. This information on how to hold and use these tools is centuries old, and in the past the correct methods were always stressed to the students. In a world where most things were made by hand, the process had to be effective, efficient, and physically right for the body. These days we call it ergonomics. In the past it was just common sense and the Wisdom of the Ages.
Senni was rightfully pleased with his accomplishment.
It is a very positive thing for a child to learn by experience that making things takes effort. In this case the effort was both physical and mental. It was 2 hours of physical effort which Senni had to invest in for the making of his spear. Along the way he used and experienced a number of different hand tools, and was challenged with several mathematical concepts. Senni did a great job.
The final finishing of his spear, the sanding and oiling, would be done at home.
Note: Some might ask why a nearly 6-year-old boy should be allowed to make and have a sharp pointed spear. This project was both sanctioned and witnessed by his Mother, who took many of the lovely photos. While learning that making things takes effort, and learning how to use some traditional tools to shape a piece of wood into a desired shape, Senni will also be learning how to safely handle his spear. Learning to responsibly handle and safely play with potentially dangerous things is the kind of learning we have removed from our children in the modern digitised world.
This young man is fortunate in being provided a broader education of greater depth than most other kids his age. I count it a privilege to have been included in this process.
Yes, I love offering private tuition to people of all ages and all walks of life…
Greg Miller, T/as The Joy of Wood.