Workshop On Wheels For Kids

Sheila Dawson didn't pick up a saw until she was 30. Today, the 50-year-old former secretary is making sure the woodworkers of tomorrow get an earlier start. Dawson teaches woodworking to children ages four to 10, and she docs it in a mobile workshop housed inside a transit bus. The four-wheeled workshop has 10 height-adjustable benches and a wide variety of hand tools.

Dawson's first student was her son, who tinkered by her side from the age of two. She enjoyed teaching him so much, she began to explore it as a career. The idea for a mobile workshop for kids came about after Dawson found that most preschools and elementary schools in her native San Diego did not have fully equipped woodshops.

Dawson's classes emphasize construction, using basic hand tools. Students saw, hammer, drill, glue and sand pine boards into toys and desk accessories.

Some children, Dawson says, are afraid to proceed for fear of goofing up. Others "freeze" when they make a mistake. Sometimes she has to make light of errors in order to get the child's ego back on track. But safety is no joking matter in her shop: Students learn safe techniques from the first lesson.

Over more than 20 years, Dawson has taught an estimated 10,000 children. Most of her students come from kindergarten through fourth grade. Roughly one-third are girls. She doesn't track her students and has no way of knowing if one of her alumni will be the next Sam Maloof. But she doesn't care. Her gift is the joy of wood—and the joy of creation.

—Eliztibeth Tartiove

ABCs of woodworking.

Aboard her woodmobile, Sheila Dawson helps Garrett Martini saw a board.

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ABCs of woodworking.

Aboard her woodmobile, Sheila Dawson helps Garrett Martini saw a board.

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Wood Working 101

Wood Working 101

Have you ever wanted to begin woodworking at home? Woodworking can be a fun, yet dangerous experience if not performed properly. In The Art of Woodworking Beginners Guide, we will show you how to choose everything from saws to hand tools and how to use them properly to avoid ending up in the ER.

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