We are finally seeing real signs of SPRING and I can’t be happier about that! Its been a gorgeous week here in Swarthmore. Over the last six weeks, I have had the pleasure of participating in a project with my dear husband Rob at his beloved School in Rose Valley. Rob is an alum of the school and, truth be told, that school is the reason we came to live in Swarthmore way back in 1996. Attendance at this wonderful little oasis of an elementary school changed his life. He credits it with giving him the foundation of caring for others that he lives so deeply, and for that I am grateful.
The Background: Every year in the spring, the school hosts 2 of their main events. The first is called Arts for All and is an fundraising evening of music, fun, a delicious catered dinner and community, with both a silent and live auction. The community gathers to enjoy each others company and to bid on a wide range of wonderful auction items that have been donated by, and often made by, the parents, teachers and staff. Classes, art work, theater tickets, toys, and other crafts are just a few of the treasures one might take home if one offers the highest bid. I was happy that the painting I offered for the auction did well for the school. Enjoy Joel and Helen!
The second event that takes place is May Fair, the first Saturday in May. This event involves the entire school community for a day of games and activities, food and fun and… the dances. “What dances?” you may be wondering… Well, these are THE May Fair DANCES at the School in Rose Valley. Each spring for the past 80+ years, during the week prior to May Fair, every classroom at SRV has prepared and practiced a dance to be performed at May Fair. These dances are the highlight of the Fair every year. While the younger groups have chosen or created a variety of dance moves and music over the years, the 2 oldest group dances have stayed the same since the school’s inception; they are the Sword Dance, for the Middle Circle (3rd & 4th grade) and the Maypole Dance for the Oldest Group (5th & 6th grade).
This year, some new swords needed to be made, Rob volunteered to make them…and I volunteered to help him–yes, you see where this is going now? This is where the power tools come in.
The whole process took several weeks, and the first six swords needed to be ready for the Arts for All event, which takes place several weeks before May Fair. These first six swords were to be auctioned off as mementos of this special time in the life of all children and parents at the school. As a final touch, the children in the Middle Circle decorated the swords for the auction.
I am happy to report that the swords at Arts for All were a smashing success!
Now to show you the process of making the swords. It was my first foray into power tool use of this kind…and I wouldn’t have guessed how much I would enjoy it! OK – here we go!
The shop at the School in Rose Valley is a magical place…
Rob calls this “The Great Wall.”
The sign below has graced the walls of this shop since before my husband went to school there 40+ years ago!
This one is a bit more recent
For the past 25+ years, the amazing Mike Nowell has been the shop teacher (that is his pic on the chalkboard). Mike is a a very humble but masterful teacher. In his understated style, he works with the children in a calm, caring, and respectful manner that inspires awe. I sometimes wonder how my life would be different if I’d had that kind of care and encouragement in my education growing up; how the world would be different if we all did–
…but I digress–back to our project.
After Rob acquired the beautiful Red Oak that was used for the swords he cut it into long, thin wedge strips using a table saw…
Next, we traced the shape of the handle using one of the existing swords as a template:
Then I got my first taste of power tool use with the Scroll Saw! I got to cut out the handles and then pass them on to Rob to create the tip of each sword. He used a marking tool called a French Curve to mark the tip, and then gave them to me to cut.
I really enjoyed this. No, I REALLY enjoyed this.
The saw is very powerful and fast and you must stay VERY focused and present while using it–if you wish to retain all 10 digits. I found it was quite meditative. Each piece of wood has its own pattern, each its own unique grain.
Oh and I had to chuckle when I noticed the brand of the saw–appropriate right?
The French Curve used to create the tips.
In the end, they were all similar, but none were identical…
And all were beautiful! (I am sure there is a metaphor here…)
Next, it was time to round the edges of each sword. We started by doing a little light shaping & filing with these…
Rob tells me this one is a Japanese file.
Next, Rob set up the table router to shape and round the edges. But, before that, I used a sanding disk mounted in the drill press to remove bumps from the handles. Below, you see Rob showing me how to use this beauty…
And here we see Rob operating the finicky router!
And, yes, below we see Todd, esteemed Head of School, who came to check on our progress.
We did some test runs with the router and found some minor problems. The router can be tricky to adjust and we had a bit of trouble getting it right. One sword’s edge was slightly malformed but we were able to sand away our initial mishap and no one was the wiser.
And now those bad boys are almost ready to be sanded, but first…
…Branding. We burned the iconic SRV apple tree into each sword by mounting the branding iron in the drill press.
How beautiful is that?!
And now for the final phase of production–adding the finishing coats of polyurethane to seal the deal.
Mike offered one of his brilliant suggestion that we attach screw eyes to the end of each sword so we could hang them to dry. Thanks Mike!
I did another light sanding by hand and then passed them over to Rob to apply the finish…(how cute is his little green apron?)
The Sword Dance requires groups of 6 to perform. Each year, depending on the size of the class, an extra person may be needed to fill in. This was a very special year for Rob as he was asked to be one of the extras. Traditions that have survived the test of time hold a power and a beauty within them. Rob was beside himself to have this opportunity to dance again after 41 years! It was 1972 when he performed with his own class at SRV. So, not only did we make these beautiful swords, but he got to be IN the Sword Dance for May Fair!
So, there you have it. But, wait, this post would not be complete without giving you a chance to see these little beauties fulfilling their purpose.
I leave you with the last minute or so of the
MAY FAIR 2013 SWORD DANCE