Thursday, August 8, 2013

Lohr Woodworking hosts VFES Summer L.I.F.E. Camp!

This week we are excited and happy to welcome a stellar group of students from the VFES Summer L.I.F.E. Camp!

In honor of the quickly passing summer, we have been busy in the shop making folding red oak lawn chairs. The chairs will be finished with linseed oil and assembled with hardware that won't rust from outside use. Each of the four students is working hard to make their own chair to take home as they work together through the new woodworking techniques and processes; And what a fantastic job they've done!
 Each day begins with a demonstration of the tasks to be carried out that day. Jeff, Rob, and I worked for the past few weeks to prepare jigs and organize lessons with the most efficient techniques to finish the four chairs in just five days. For the first time, I tried my hand at making jigs and, so far [knock on wood], they have been successful!

Josh, Waimond, Tim, and Marybeth have been 
 quick to learn and seemingly excited to see their work coming along so well in just a couple of short days!

Early this week, the students started with red oak boards milled-to-thickness. They were responsible for tracing the leg shape templates and taking to the band and jig saws to cut out those shapes. From there, we used the router, files, and sanding blocks to fine tune the shape and break the edges.
On Day 2, students were given 16 milled slats. They had to choose 7 to serve as the chair seat and 9 to create the back. When they had their seats and backs labeled as such, they took to the drill press jigs to drill four clearance holes in each slat. In the meantime, they were beveling the ends of the slats, countersinking drilled holes with a brace and bit, and sanding all their parts to perfection.

By Wednesday, the students were ahead of the curve. They honed their sanding skills and moved on to the first stage of assembly. They attached a strut between the set of back legs and a shorter strut between the seat legs. This required some careful center-marking and clamp work but, they didn't miss a beat! After their U-shaped bases were screwed together, they moved on to counter-sinking the four pilot holes in each slat as well as using the scroll saw to cut a hand-hold curve into their top chair slat.

With a few moments to spare before the rain began on Wednesday afternoon, Jeff and Rob took us outside to learn about the physics that we use in woodworking!

Starting with a demonstration about levers, Jeff stood on one end of a board balanced like a seesaw and had students try and lift his weight from the opposite end. Each time, he shifted the placement of the board to differing points along the fulcrum to show how the weight distribution changes how difficult it is to lift the load.

The second lesson addressed pulleys.  Jeff started by having the three boys of the class lift his weight using the rope attached to a single pulley hung from the beam of the sawmill.  The boys got him up off the ground but it was a challenge that took every ounce of their strength.  Next, he had the one girl in the class lift his weight using the rope passing through a four sheave block and tackle which enabled her to lift Jeff high off the ground with ease. He explained how a single pulley set up simply does the work of one man but when four pulleys are employed in conjunction with one another, it allows a single man to do the work of four men. It was a great way for students to see how we use these physics methods to move big logs and boards around the saw mill regularly.

On Thursday, we finished up any last minute sanding before we starting in on finishing! The campers got a hands-on (or, more accurately, a hands-off) chemistry lesson. At Lohr Woodworking, we aim to keep all our furniture as natural as possible so we avoid the use of stains or paints. Instead, we enhance the natural grain colors and patterns of the wood with boiled linseed oil. It is easy to apply and works wonderfully so we decided it would be best for the campers to use on their chairs. One major concern when it comes to this type of oil is how to handle the dampened rags when the finishing process is done. The rags can spontaneously combust because "when linseed oil is exposed to air, it combines with the oxygen molecules. This chemical reaction creates heat. If the linseed oil is on a rag in a pile or ball, the heat can't escape and, as you can see from the photo of our experiment, can reach extreme heat within just a couple of hours. Instead of balling them up, we hang them to dry over the rungs of a ladder so that the heat being created can cool on all sides of the rag as it dries. After a few days, the reaction is complete and the rag becomes stiff- then they are safe to throw away with the normal garbage.

After the chemistry lesson, students took to finishing their chairs with the linseed oil! With the table tops covered in plastic and some sticks to elevate the pieces for drying, they did a great job wiping on the oil to cover every inch of surface. The colors and grain of the red oak popped just as beautifully as we had hoped!

On Friday, everything came together! With all the chair pieces linseed oiled and started to dry over night, on Friday morning, we were ready for assembly. Last week, the Lohr Woodworking staff made a few assembly jigs that needed a bit of explaining. The backs and seats had separate jigs for attaching the slats. As the legs sit in a bed-like jig, there are stops and guides for each slat to sit while the pilot holes are drilled. We drilled pilot holes because red oak is a hardwood so, nailing straight into it greatly increases the risk of bending nails. From there, the students used good ol' fashion hammer and nails to attach the 16 slats. The slats were held on with stainless steel trim nails so that when the chairs are inevitably left outside, the nails won't rust! The jigs held the u-shapes up off the table so that they don't rock or bounce as they were hammering the nails. I heard from more than one camper that "it was time for the fun part -- hammer and nails!"

After the nails were set and the slats fully attached, we had
students go back to set the nails below the surface of the wood. We wanted to make sure to avoid any future clothing snags on a nail sticking up above the surface.

To do this, each student used a drift. The tip of the drift was carefully held on top of the nail head and hit once or twice with a good hammer swing. Although frustrating at times, drifts do a good job of setting those nails properly.

Overall, assembly went quickly and smoothly. The chairs quickly turned from a pile of parts into foldable, usable lawn chairs! We are always excited for the final stages of assembly, not matter the project. You can't help but feel proud and fulfilled when all your hard work comes together into one functional, beautiful furniture piece. The campers were no exception to this feeling. They exceeded our expectations this week and hope that they are as proud as we are!

We were able to snap a goofy photo of the campers lounging in their chairs before they left. All the teachers and staff were such a wonderful part of the camp as well. We are grateful to parents, teachers, and campers alike for the chance to spend the week with such passionate and excited kids. We tackled a lot of tools, machines, techniques, and problem-solving together. Thanks to VFES Summer L.I.F.E. Camp for allowing us to create this course and thanks to EVERYONE else for such a fun week!


  1. This looks so amazing - what a great program. Josh has come home tired but happy every day. I like the way you worked the pulleys/physics lesson in too - very creative. Thank you for running this program!
    Marlene - Josh's Mom

  2. Dear Jeff, Rob and Larissa,
    This was an amazing experience for the adults as well as the kids that attended. Thank you again for your patience, skill and understanding of our kids.
    Ms. Adrienne

  3. Is that girl as upset as she looks?

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