Last year I had the privilege of being able to present at the Illinois Technology Education Conference in October. At the time I was working for a mid size manufacturing company developing their training program for newly hired machinists. I was at the conference to present on some of the "skills gaps" that are widely talked about in industry. I wanted to let the Industrial Technology educators in Illinois know what problems I was experiencing and what I was having to spend time training employees on in order to get them to be able to set-up and operate the companies CNC machines.
My purpose here in writing this is not to go into the perceived "skills gaps" that are out there but rather to discuss a very good question that one of these teachers asked me. Here is the question.
"I have several students in my industrial tech program but I only have woodworking equipment. I know that there is much more demand right now for metalworkers and a definite employment need so how can I best prepare my students for a possible career in a machine shop or metalworking trade?"
Here was my response.
There are a lot of similarities between woodworking and metalworking that can be used to prepare students. As an educator we have to work with the tools in our shops and try to build experiences for students that will help them make the connections between the relationships of the trades. Help students make those connections.
Make sure your student's have a firm grasp in dimensional measurements of both fractions and decimal equivalents. Woodworking may not require measuring with a micrometer or caliper, but if a student understands that the fractional 1/16" notch on a tape measure has the decimal equivalent of .0625 inches than that student will be a step ahead and be able to learn how to read a micrometer and the physical relationships between size and numbers on the measuring tool a lot easier. If you really want them to be outstanding than teach them that there is a correlation as well with the size of a 1/16" radius or 1/16" chamfer that they put on a board using the router table. Force the students to hold that size on their workpiece to practice and get a feel for precision.
Teach them the names of and how to properly use hand tools. What's the difference and when to use a claw hammer, ball pein hammer, mallet or dead blow hammer? A file is not a saw, don't use it like one. Basic knowledge on the rake angles, number of teeth and pitch of saw blades will later translate into and help make it easier to understand rake angles, number of teeth and pitch of cutting tools like drills, end mills and insert cutters.
Teach them a little bit about different types of materials. Materials are different, wood is more forgiving than metal. Plastics cut easy but melt if your cutting tool gets to hot. Machines are similar and used in much the same way for material removal. If your finished part or project measures 10"x6"x4", than you need to start out with material that is larger than 10"x6"x4". Allow enough material on each dimension for clean up but not too much because that would waste material and take more time to remove the material.
Teach them how to use a Drill and Tap chart and the basics of a screw for achieving mechanical movement and fastening. Let students know that their are fractional drills, letter drills and number drills in addition to the tap sizes. Again those fractional sizes are related here. Very few people know that screws come in standard sizes with a course pitch and fine pitch let alone all the metric sizes.
Teach them how to read a blueprint and the difference between front side, top side and right side views, even if its a simple drawing. Have students make the part shown in the blueprint out of a wooden block so they can start to visualize and see the part "inside" the rough material. If they remove one piece of material which causes them to not be able to hold the part for a future cut than have them cut another one because it material removal and the sequence one follows to remove that material is important.
These are just a few of the suggestions that I was able to think about at the time. There are many others as well if I had more time. Most importantly for any industrial technology teacher is to just tell students about these career choices. Many students might be interested in this type of hands on job but just have never been introduced to it.
What other ways can you think of for a teacher to use a high school woodworking program to prepare students for a possible career in the machine tool trades?