Selwyn House is reviving the lost art of woodworking.
At a time when most schools–Selwyn House included–are busy setting up “maker spaces” where students can build things using 3-D printers and computer-aided design software, SHS has come full circle and is also reviving the lost art of woodworking.
This year the school opened its brand-new state-of-the-art woodshop and launched its first woodworking classes as an Arts Option for Grade 9.
All great building projects start as a plan in someone’s mind; in this case it was hatched in the brains of science teacher Tom Downey and math teacher Kirk Brydges.
Mr. Brydges has been doing woodworking for 13 years. He has his own wood shop at home that occupies his garage and the basement room beneath it. There he makes mostly household furniture, such as beds, dressers and tables. He even has his own woodlot in Ontario to supply lumber for his projects.
Two years ago, Mr. Brydges and Mr. Downey put their heads together and began scouting around for a free space in the school to set up a shop. In the basement of the Lucas Building was a Grade 8 locker room that was no longer being used. “I jumped on the opportunity and started talking to people,” Mr. Brydges recalls.
They appealed to the Old Boys Association for funding and received a $25,000 donation, which paid for renovating the space to make it suitable for a shop.
Power tools, purchased through the Science Department, include: a scroll-saw station with three saws, a band saw, a downdraft sanding table, a drill press, a sliding compound mitre saw, a router table and various hand tools.
The room was built in the summer of 2014. Throughout the 2014-2015 school year the tools were being acquired and set up. In September of this year the school offered its first woodshop option course in Grade 9.
Students are currently making outdoor lights for Halloween; later they will build passive (non-electric) speakers for mobile phones.
The first one and a half months of the course are spent teaching safety. “A lot of these guys have never touched a major power tool,” Mr. Brydges explains. In the shop, the boys are required to wear steel-toed shoes, facemasks or safety goggles and hearing protectors.
The machines all have collectors for trapping the shavings and sawdust they generate, says Mr. Brydges. Any ambient dust is filtered out of the room air. “We’re trying to make the shop as dust-free as possible.”
Mr. Brydges stresses that manual work should be a part of any well-rounded school curriculum. Working with one’s hands is “a dying art” that foster’s a person’s sense of independence, he says.
Historically, this is not the first woodshop at Selwyn House. “Manual training” classes were offered in the past, and a 1959 photo shows a woodshop in the school’s previous home on Redpath Street, though there are no power tools evident in the photo.
“Woodworking left the school; now it has started to come back,” Mr. Brydges points out.