After some research and careful planning, I decided on some simple beginner projects. I purchased a few coping saws, some 8-ounce hammers, as well as some old hand drills, and plunged headlong into the unknown. Much to my surprise, after that initial woodworking session I found that all of my students, both the boys and the girls, loved it! Later, as a class, we came up with a list of projects we wanted to build over the course of the school year, and I simply replaced the subject of art with woodworking in my syllabus.

I have refined my woodworking program over the past nine years; the sequence of projects gradually introduces the students to more and more challenging projects, each one building on the skills learned during previous projects. I've also put a lot of thought and planning into deciding how much or how little preparation of the wood pieces is needed in order to maximize the learning opportunities. The goal isn’t to have them work on projects where everything is already pre-cut and ready for assembly, in which case all of the thinking has been done for them. My objectives are to force my students to think about the project to gain an overall idea of the steps involved, to develop hand-tool skills, to learn resiliency in a safe environment and to further develop their problem-solving skills, all while having fun doing real, hands-on work. From my perspective, and that of my students’ parents, the program does this in spades, and so much more.

Interestingly, I find that every week on ‘woodworking day’, I have a full complement of students in attendance, as they are eager to work on their projects. Other teachers at my school are now doing woodworking with their students and, more recently, teachers from other schools are looking to start their own woodworking programs at the elementary level. The future is in good hands.

If you are looking for a fun project to make with your youngster, consider making a catapult. While this is not the first project I start with in the classroom, building this catapult will teach your child how to measure, saw, hammer and drill using a hand drill or drill press. Making this project is a great way to spend an afternoon with your budding woodworker.

Completed catapult

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Materials:


  • Approximately 5′ of 1″ x 2″ wood
  • 16 x 1 1/4″ nails
  • 2 washers (I used 5/16″)
  • 2′ of paracord
  • 1 wooden spoon


Tools:


  • Miter saw
  • Miter box
  • Hammer
  • Safety glasses
  • C-clamp
  • Hand drill (or drill press)
  • 3/8″ drill bit
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Masking tape
  • Scissors
  • Lighter or candle
  • Lots of marshmallows to launch!!
Pieces cut to length

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How To:


Being an elementary school teacher in Canada, it seems odd to teach my students how to measure using our wonderful metric system – with no fractions – only to abandon it completely whenever we start doing real work. Truth is, many tradespeople in Canada use the Imperial system when measuring. So, for this project, all measurements are in inches.

With your length of 1″ x 2″ on a flat surface and with a measuring tape in hand, mark and cut to length the following pieces:


  • 2 pieces at 14"
  • 2 pieces at 6"
  • 2 pieces at 4"
  • 1 piece at approximately 7 1/4"
Image left: Pieces secured in place with tape. Measured and marked at 6" from one end. Image right: Drilled 3/8" hole at marking.

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Take the two 14″ pieces, lay them flat, faces together, and make sure the ends are flush. If the pieces are not the same length, trim one to match the other. Next, secure the 14″ pieces together with tape at each end; this will hold the two pieces in place while you drill.


From one end, measure and mark at 6″. Extend the 6″ mark across the full width of the 1″ x 2″ and mark the midpoint of that line. Drill a 3/8” hole at this midpoint intersection. When done, remove the masking tape from both ends.


Image left: Pieces with 3/8” holes drilled at midpoint intersection. Image right: Assembling 6" piece perpendicular to 14" piece.

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Take one of the 6″ pieces and start two nails slightly staggered near one of its ends. With a 14” piece on its side, take the 6″ piece and place it perpendicular to the 14” piece at approximately 1/2″ away from the hole to form a T. Ensure the end of the 6″ piece is flush with the bottom edge of the base and drive the nails in. Repeat these steps to assemble the other 6” and 14” pieces. It doesn’t matter which side of the hole you place the 6″ pieces, just as long as both 6″ pieces line up like goal posts.


Image left: 6” pieces nailed on outside of 14” pieces. Image right: Mark thickness of 4" piece onto 14" board.

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Ensure that both 6” pieces are on the same side of the hole and that they line up. The two 6” pieces should be nailed on the outside of their respective 14” pieces.


Lay one T assembly on its side, ensuring the 14” piece lies flat on the surface you are working on. Stand one 4” piece at each end of the 14” board. Mark the thickness of the 4” piece onto the 14” board, as seen in the photo below. This will tell you where to start your nails. Repeat this step on the second assembly.


Image left: Start two nails at each end of 14" pieces. Image right: Driving nails into 4" pieces.

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Remove the 4” pieces and start two nails at each end of the 14” pieces.


Stand the two 4” pieces up on their ends and place a T assembly on top of them, ensuring that the end that is being nailed is flush with the 4” piece it is resting on. Drive nails and repeat at the other end.


Assembling opposite side of catapult.

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Flip the assembly over. Locate the second T assembly and lay it atop of the upright 4” pieces, ensuring that the 3/8” hole in this T assembly lines up with the one underneath. You will note that it does not sit flat on your work surface due to the 6” piece. To help stabilize the assembly when nailing, slide the remaining piece of wood, 7 1/4" long, under the end of the 14” piece to be nailed and drive the nails.


Assembling 7 1/4" crossbar.

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Stand the almost completed assembly right side up. You may have to gently adjust the 6″ upright pieces slightly to ensure their tops align. Once they are both lined up, place the 7 1/4″ cross bar piece atop the two uprights and drive two nails at each end.


Installing 2' length of paracord.

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After you cut a 2′ length of rope, be sure to melt both ends with a lighter or candle so they won’t fray. Insert one end of the rope through one hole, then push it through the second hole and pull on the rope leaving about 4” sticking out the other end. Take the longer end and thread a washer on to the rope. The washer will keep the rope from pulling through the hole when tightened.


Finishing installation of 2' length of paracord.

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Insert the same end of rope back through both holes, but in the reverse direction. Make the necessary adjustments to the rope to ensure that the ends match. Thread the second washer onto one of the ends, and tie one overhand knot (the same knot used to tie shoe laces). Make sure the rope is taut and tie a second overhand knot to lock the first one in place.


Image left: Inserting wooden spoon. Image right: Winding spoon in paracord.

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Finally, insert the wooden spoon in between the ropes and slide the spoon down so the rope is in the middle of its shaft. Wind the spoon away from the cross bar until the desired tension is achieved.


Image left: Wood spoon and paracord wound to desired tension. Image right: Adjusting the wooden spoon.

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Slide the spoon up so the cup sits above the crossbar. This operation is a bit tricky to do because the rope is wound so tightly onto the spoon’s shaft. I find it easiest to hold the catapult with both hands along the 14” pieces, as though I was going to gently place it onto a table. Place your thumbs on the rope on either side of the spoon’s shaft. Push the rope down the shaft until the catapult sits securely on its base on the surface of the table.


Completed catapult.

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Over time, the strain put on the rope from the torsion will cause it to stretch. To prolong the rope's life and prevent unauthorized or unsupervised use of the catapult, pull the spoon out when not in use. You may have to undo and retie the knots to take up slack in rope over time.

Congratulations, you have just finished making a catapult. Now go get those marshmallows and fire away!

Safety precaution: Never fire rocks or other sharp objects toward people or animals. Always be aware of your surroundings and know who or what is down range of your intended target.

Text and photos by Jason Proulx

Jason is the voice behind Make, fix and create, a blog that aims to make woodworking accessible for beginners. When he’s not making, fixing or creating in his home workshop, he can be found in his elementary school classroom turned makerspace sharing his love for hands-on learning.

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