How much wood could a Boy Scout work?
October 15, 2012 5:45 AM   Subscribe

I've been asked to lead a Boy Scout troop of about 20 boys towards earning their Woodworking Merit Badge. The troop does not allow the use of power tools so can you help me to come up with a suitable project?

The merit badge requirements can be found here but the point of interest is the following:

Do any TWO of the following:
a. Make working drawings of a project needing - (1) Beveled or rounded edges OR curved or incised cuttings, OR (2) Miter, dowel, or mortise and tenon joints. Build this project.
b. Make something for which you have to turn duplicate parts on a lathe.
c. Make a cabinet, box or something else with a door or lid fastened with inset hinges.
d. Help make and repair wooden toys for underprivileged children; OR help carry out a carpentry service project approved by your counselor for a charitable organization.

If I have to pre-cut and prepare a project then I feel I'm reducing this to a "kit" project and would rather not do that. I also realize there are links all over the Internet but they primarily consist of boxes or other larger-scale troop projects.
I've considered just getting the boys started and letting them work on it at home with parents supervision (or perhaps in smaller groups in a woodshop) which would allow for more detailed work but I still need to come up with a simple enough project that is challenging yet can be completed in 2-3 sessions.
posted by mcarthey to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you a woodworker yourself? Do you own hand tools? (Also: NO power tools at all, or just no "scary" power tools like table saws?)

If a drill is acceptable, I'd take this project as a chance to pick up a good backsaw, dado planer, and sharpen my chisels. With that, I'd set the troop on making a table, assuming we could then use that table for future meetings and projects. A traditional farm table would be a great start: something where they could cut down dimensional lumber, learn to glue, peg, and assemble the table legs, hand-cut the rabbet joints and use the dado plane and chisels to clean them up, and then hand-cut mortise-and-tenon joints to attach the table top boards to the apron.

It's a decent sized project, and the M&T joints might be tricky for the kids, but it's well within reach of 20 junior woodworkers, since you can split the group into crews, working on different aspects of the project (cutting/building legs, cutting/building the table top, preparing dowels and countersinking the holes for them, etc.).
posted by ellF at 6:05 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do all 20 boys really need to earn the same merit badge, by working on the same (single or multiple) project? The requirements suggest something more advanced than I would ever hope to do under such constraints in such a short time.
posted by jon1270 at 6:16 AM on October 15, 2012

1. (individual) make a box, with a lid, for putting cool stuff in. Maybe even show them how to compartmentalize the box.

2. (group) Carpentry service project: table and chairs for outside a library, OR small gazebo for a retirement home, OR ask around at other public service style locations and see if they have any requests!

These are the sorts of things we did back in the day. Hope it helps!
posted by Poppa Bear at 6:20 AM on October 15, 2012

What's the basis of the power tool rule? How does your troop do any eagle scout projects without power tools. Can you restrict power tool usage to those who have their whittlin chits
posted by MangyCarface at 6:37 AM on October 15, 2012

How about bird or bat boxes? Small, and they can be put to good use.
posted by TrinsicWS at 6:38 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Re: the power tool rule, I've just been informed that small hand power tools are acceptable but larger tools like a table saw are not. I will have to clarify whether something like a circular saw or compound miter are acceptable.

I hadn't really considered a large group project since those are typically the sorts of things that occur under Eagle projects. Generally those have adults available for performing the tasks that require the use of power tools. That said, I like the idea and will run it past the Troop Leader. I'm still concerned that we're moving into "carpentry" rather than "woodworking" but it's a nit-picky distinction that I'm not sure is worth making for the audience.

I also like the idea of requiring the Whittlin Chip since they will receive the Totin Chip as part of this project. I'll consider it a prerequisite.

I was originally considering only the smallish projects like the bird and bat boxes so I'll keep those in mind, as well.

Thanks for all the discussion so far.
posted by mcarthey at 7:01 AM on October 15, 2012

For hand-tool cutting, I have two suggestions: First, set up a mitre box-like thing for cutting square ends. A length of 1x6 or 1x8 clamped horizontally to a saw horse, take another piece of 1x6 or so, cut it in half, do a stopped rip in each (Bonus points if you do . Screw these vertically on either side of the 1x8, you can now slide a piece of 1-by down in that slot and the saw will be contained, you'll get a square cut.

Clamp a stop on the 1x8 and you can make fairly precise repeatable cuts for length. This lets you build a toolbox, and you can put a closing lid on that.

If you've got advanced students, teach 'em how to use a plane and make a chuting/shooting board to square up the edges better. You can use these with planes or sanding blocks (hello, spray adhesive and spare blocks of wood!). Also, suggest to advanced students that they use a pull saw rather than a western-style push saw. I use the Bakuma 300 from Woodcraft, with a little practice an advanced kid can split a pencil line and it leaves a fairly clean edge, certainly relative to a big toothed carpentry push saw.

Depending on how much you want to grow as a woodworker, you can also make your own planes, which means you can make router and plow planes to cut grooves and dadoes and rounded edges and such. Of if you're lucky you an sometimes pick these up for a song at garage sales (more likely, the tool collectors will grab 'em, inflate the prices, and try to sell 'em back to you).

We do building stuff and managed to get a "battery powered drill" around the "no power tools" rule of the venue, which means that pocket screws (and regular screws) are fair game. And we've gone with battery powered drills because the kids kept breaking my bits with the eggbeater drills, and many of our kids are too small to use a brace and bit on their own.

But, really, if you have the above mentioned vertical miter box thing and battery powered drills and a pocket screw jig you can do chests, shelves, Poppa Bear's suggested Adirondack Chairs. If you add some router or rabbet plane capabilities, your shelves can start to look pretty darned cool!

And to go totally ridiculous: We've done our (non-Scouting) build night projects with cheap fir. One day I sat down in the shop to say "what can I do with the tools we bring", am I really asking too much of the families we work with? A coping saw, a rasp, and a little chisel work and a lot less time than I expected later and I got this semi-claw-foot thing out of 2x2. Using the aforementioned pull saw I was also able to cut rough through tenons (mortices using the hand drill and the coping saw) and even some dovetail-ish joinery.

We don't have a whole lot of pictures of our Family Build Night projects because we have confidentiality agreements with the organization that serves the families that come to it, but in digging around looking I was reminded: this boat was built using hand tools and battery powered drills by high school kids (admittedly, with a lot of guidance and a few bits of help) in about 4 hours. We were trying to teach them enough to compete in the Bodega Bay Wooden Boat Challenge, alas they didn't end up building one this cool in competition, but they did get around the course. With a good construction adhesive and paint that hull will last at least a season of regular use.
posted by straw at 7:02 AM on October 15, 2012

A tool tote with lid could use either dowels or miters for assembly (though with hand tools the dowels will be easier unless you have a 45 degree shooting board) and the top handle mount edges can be rounded over getting both 1a and 1b. The lid would get you your hinge requirement without having to buy a latch.

For extra special fancy something like this stool/saw horse/tote would be perfect. Just exchange the piano hinge for inset hinges.
posted by Mitheral at 7:08 AM on October 15, 2012

I do not recall exactly what I made for my Woodworking MB back in the day, but I do remember that it was done almost entirely with chisels. I think it was a small box of some sort. I did it at summer camp, but it was done in an afternoon -- so probably not more than 4 hours, start to finish.

Assuming the requirements have not changed too significantly, I suspect it was probably Option C ("Make a cabinet, box or something else with a door or lid fastened with inset hinges"), though I don't remember any hinges.

Pretty sure it was constructed out of 1x stock lumber of various widths (1x6 for the top and 1x2s for the sides maybe? It was a short box). Cutting them to length wouldn't totally turn the project into a kit build but would make it easier.

Honestly, woodworking without power tools is a bit ... meh. I mean it's nice to know how to use a chisel (since there are things, like hinge installation, that are better done with a chisel than with power tools anyway), but most modern woodworking is power-tool-centric. Someone who doesn't know how to safely use a table saw probably shouldn't claim any sort of woodworking knowledge, IMHO, even if it's just in the form of a merit badge; I think your troop's requirements, while well-intended, are nerfing the whole point of the merit badge process, which is to learn new life skills. It's a bit like saying you have to get your Auto Repair merit badge while only working on go-karts.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:42 AM on October 15, 2012

Just an addition, especially based on Kadin2048's "woodworking without power tools is a bit ... meh", but seems to be echoed a bunch in other comments.

I'm evolving from a power tool woodworker to a hand tool when that's the right tool for the job woodworker, and it's shocking me. Unless I've got specific reason to, I'll use a pull saw to cut sheet goods thinner than ½", because it's faster to draw a line and cut to it than to set up the power tools. For repeatability, precision, I turn to power tools, but if I need to sneak up on a mark, cut with accuracy rather than with precision, I turn to hand tools.

And I find this happening more and more as I become a better woodworker.

Some of this is about developing skills that transcend another "check one off the list" merit badge, but a box with hand-cut joinery is something people do all the time, and if you choose your joinery right you'll end up with something that cannot be made with power tools. If you do it well, people will notice. Spend a couple of hours learning how to sharpen a chisel, get a marking gauge and the aforementioned tools, do some hand-cut dovetails or 3-way miter joints, and you've got a start on a professional portfolio.

Two weeks ago, I went to a demo of a guy who makes a living in Northern California building chairs with hand tools, and he started with a log. Split the log with wedges and a sledge, trim the wood with a draw knife, he does cheat using a hand-held drill, but at the end, amazingly quickly, he gets a several hundred dollar chair that will last for generations even if you let those generations rock back on the chair.

With the Home Despotization of the world we've come to conflate carpentry with woodworking, and carpentry with slapping 2x4s up on 16" centers and spraying the wallboard with texture to cover the fact that nothing's flat or square, but if you start talking about high quality furniture, about detailed joinery and trim work, about boxes that make you sit up and say "wow", there's a hell of a lot that hand tools do better.

Pick the right tool for the job, and, yes, I know that "kids these days" don't have the patience, bla bla bla, but don't discount hand tools: Those are where you get to really show off.
posted by straw at 8:41 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Okay, yet another comment: If "small hand power tools are acceptable" and your tool budget is up to the task, you might want to consider a track saw. I use the Festool TS 55 EQ track saw (there are now competing saws from Makita and DeWalt), and with standard thickness materials there are very very few cuts that you could do on a table saw that you can't do with the track saw.

Kids sometimes have trouble getting the coordination to push the release trigger, pull the motor trigger, and push the saw down and then move it along the track, but with just a little bit of help (and some creative use of short saw horses so kids can reach) I've had an 8 or 9 year old girl build a dollhouse in my shop, a developmentally disabled 30-something who's locked at somewhere between 2 and 8 developmentally build a birdhouse, and so forth.

My dad has a few short fingers because of a table saw accident, and various other incidents in my life, including the concern of my partner, mean I won't have a table saw in my shop unless it's a Saw Stop or a euro-slider, and I don't have room for the latter, but I really don't miss the table saw.

With a fence and alignment tools (ie: The Festool MFT table) I've built mitered frame and panel cabinet doors and all sorts of other tricky things.

But the sponsoring organization for Family Build Night won't let us use that saw, so this is something I do one-on-one with kids in my shop, usually with another adult so we've actually got a 2 to 1 adult to kid ratio. We often have trouble getting parental involvement, I'm guessing that's less an issue with Scouts, but may still be a concern.
posted by straw at 9:36 AM on October 15, 2012

Rounding off one more point from straw's post: some of the best woodworkers in the world have educations that emphasize hand tool skills in addition to power tool use.
posted by ellF at 12:19 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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