Cub Scouts, tools and my shop — what could go wrong?

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When I volunteered — or got drafted, depending on how it’s remembered — to lead my son’s Cub Scout den, I didn’t give much thought to future woodworking dilemmas. Then I experienced my first Pinewood Derby, which I wrote about last winter, and began to realize how woodworking and scouting can be intertwined.

Now that we’ve graduated to Wolf Scouts, the second year of Cub Scouts after Tiger Scouts, I’m grappling with a woodworking project. The thought of teaching seven eight-year-olds how to make a birdhouse is beyond terrifying. And allowing them into my shop just seems absurd.

But before I check with my insurance agent and have parents sign waivers, I’ve got to understand what I’m getting into.

The actual project is a bookend and, as near as I can tell from the manual, it’s two pieces of wood nailed together at a right angle. The book says to visit a local hardware or lumberyard and ask to use their facilities. An enticing option, though on my countless visits to these establishments I can’t recall them having suitable facilities. One is near an urgent care center, but I don’t want to approach this with a negative attitude.

As proposed, this project only requires a handsaw, hammer, sandpaper and paintbrush. But when I look at my beautiful son, swinging a hockey stick like a sword, I question his capabilities even with these rudimentary tools. I’ve been keeping implements of destruction out of his hands for the last seven years and it seems downright crazy to suddenly reverse course.

Last year, while making our first Pinewood Derby car, I basically pushed him to the sideline. We started off working together and then I completely took over. This year will be different, I repeat to myself, because he’s older and, according to his mom, wants to spend time with me in the shop. I think that excites me, but patience isn’t always my strong suit.

Invite all seven Cub Scouts into my haven? I’m familiar with how they act as a group. They transform from little angels into wild animals in the blink of an eye. My shop and what’s left of my sanity might never be the same.

My other internal struggle is with the project itself. The bookend is just so basic. I’ve already considered stronger joinery and embellishing the project with a personal touch. I want to give their clients — mom and dad — a worthy keepsake. Exceed their expectations. This thinking obviously misses the point of the project, which is to give the kids an introduction to woodworking, but welcome to my world.

The truth is, I’m not ready for this experience. I can’t imagine it going well. Eight seems like the right age to get in the shop, but I’m not sold. During the Christmas break, I’m going to start with my son. If that goes well, maybe I’ll have the confidence to work with the entire den.

But first I’ll have to place anything sharp or dangerous well out of their reach and hope I never turn my back on the pack. What have I gotten myself into?

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue.

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