Saturday, April 26, 2014

Shop Class

Dale Matson

I Put Keepsakes In This Chest My Dad Made In Wood Shop Almost 90 Years Ago

My first introduction to what schools called industrial arts was in junior high school. All male students took wood shop and metal shop. The girls took home economics. I suspect that the division of skills that put males on one course and females on another today would appall feminists.

We had a series of projects that familiarized us with the basic use of hand tools both in wood shop and metal shop. In metal shop we also used a metal saw and lathe to make a ring out of bar stock. We made a dustpan and learned to shape and rivet sheet metal. We learned how to repair a broken window, fix a faucet, and patch a hole in sheet metal using solder. We also learned how to cut and thread galvanized pipe and drill a hole and thread it using a hand tap. We also learned how to sharpen a kitchen knife. Can you imagine bringing one of mom’s kitchen knives to school today! In wood shop, we built stools and gun racks using hand tools. We learned how to cut with a jigsaw, file and sand wood plus finish with stain.

In high school, these courses were electives and I took two years of metal shop and two years of wood shop. Others took print shop or auto shop. We used lots of power tools in wood shop including band saws, table saws, planers and joiners, drill presses and lathes. I made various pieces of furniture, some of which I still have including a walnut coffee table. In metal shop we used a furnace to harden metal, shaping and milling machines, drill presses, lathes. I made tools.

When I graduated from high school, I got a job in a precision tool repair shop. I didn't need much training since I was already familiar with the shop tools. I later became a journeyman plumber and once again, the skills I learned in school helped me take on the profession.

The skills I learned in shop class have served me well throughout the years. Knowing when to use a pipe wrench and monkey wrench and which way to face them depending on the direction of the turn is second nature to me. As a homeowner, having a basic set of tools, knowing what they are used for and how to use them has saved a great deal of money over the years.

There is certain condescension toward the trades and ‘redneck’ blue-collar workers by those with advanced degrees. Many look down their noses at those men with a lunch bucket who used to listen to Paul Harvey during lunch break. How do I know? I later got my doctorate and taught in the university setting for 17 years. The cable man is now the plumber of the Internet and just as necessary.

I think of all those young men today who are out of work or working in entry-level jobs. Many of them have a college degree. Yet skilled trades jobs go unfilled because of lack of trained individuals. Americans need plumbers, carpenters, and tool and die makers, Electricians and auto mechanics yet the industrial arts courses are no longer a part of the curriculum. In our local high schools, adult education classes use the shops no longer in use by young students.

Not everyone who can go to university should go to university. Many have left white-collar jobs for the trades or crafts. It was really where their hearts were all along. They were just a little late realizing it. Maybe if they too had taken that shop class in junior high school, they would have realized the rewarding feeling of working with their hands. Every carpenter knows the smell of mahogany being cut on a table saw. Every plumber knows the smell of cutting oil on a freshly threaded pipe. If only. If only young people today spent time in a shop using their hands to create things. Self-esteem comes from personal accomplishment as much as praise.


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