At barely nine years of age our oldest son announced that he wanted to “build things.” Both of his grandfathers and all of his uncles are proficient in woodworking skills. But Daddio is a computer guy.
His response was, “Okay, David. Woodworking is a great skill. I don't know much about it, but let's see what we can do.”
Daddio had a few basic tools and picked up a few more at a pawn shop. He looked on the Internet for simple furniture patterns and found a website that offers simple plans for do-it-yourself-ers. He chose one for Adirondack chairs and then modified it for cheap seconds 2x4 wood. Daddio is good at following and modifying directions!
On a sunny day Daddio put his own work aside and set up a couple of sawhorses outside. He went over each tool with David, showing him how to use it carefully. Most of the time was spent on learning how to read a tape measure.
“I need several pieces marked for 2 feet and 3 inches long,” said Daddio.
“Is that 27 inches?” asked David.
“Okay.” David's whole body seemed flexed with excited tension. He measured the piece of wood on the sawhorse carefully, and marked it with the pencil. Daddio cut the wood. The first few pieces turned out just right.
Then Daddio saw David begin to relax and pay less attention. Soon he made an error in measuring. Daddio started to speak, but then held his peace, letting David mark it wrong. Silently he cut the wood where David had marked it and then took it to the project to screw it in place.
“Oh, look. It's too short. You must have marked it wrong. It was supposed to be 27 inches.”
“No. No, I measured it exactly like you said. You must have told me wrong,” David insisted confidently. Daddio silently took the piece back to the sawhorse and measured it again. The tape stretched to 27 inches. The board stopped at 25. David turned a little pale.
“Oh, no. I messed up. What do we do?” He sounded a little panicked, worried that he had permanently messed up the whole project. The younger kids gathered around, everyone was quiet and listening.
“Well,” said Daddio, “it turns out that we need some smaller pieces anyway, so we'll just use this board to cut out those smaller pieces in a while. Even if you cut a board too short, sometimes you can use it another way. And if you can't, you can always just play with it.”
“YEAH!” roared Seric from the sidelines before JudyLucy shushed him. David breathed a sigh of relief and nodded. He had just learned something of enormous value; how to make the most of your mistakes.
“But,” added Daddio, “here's what I recommend: when you measure something, mark it. Then, before you cut it, measure it again. If you get the same measurement twice in a row you're less likely to make mistakes.”
“Okay,” said David, a little humbler and wiser. He double-measured the rest of the boards and soon the first kid-size chair was done. I went out to admire it. All the other kids were jumping up and down for joy, taking turns sitting in the chair, and repeating over and over that “David made it.”
David hadn't actually made that first chair, but by the time David and Daddio finished the fifth chair David was doing most of the work. He wasn't quite strong enough to drive in the long screws, but pre-drilling the holes helped him get them most of the way into the boards.
In two afternoons David learned to use the tools and the tape measure. A few months later he built a treehouse on his own. He persisted in wanting to do woodwork and often asked for wood or a tool when he was due a gift or reward.
The thing that struck me as funny was that a few months after David began building things, he asked if he could learn to use a computer. In a very short period of time he mastered Apple Pages and iPhoto, soon becoming astonishingly proficient at page layout. He decided if Daddio could help him learn to build then maybe he wanted to learn how to use computers as well.