Tips for Teaching Woodworking
Last week, Rob asked for your advice about teaching woodworking to children. Many of you have extensive thoughts on the subject! – Editor
“I think the best way to pass it on is to encourage the youngsters to watch Papa Rob working in the shop and occasionally invite them to do something they can safely execute while you supervise. And maybe take them to the occasional Saturday kids event at Home Depot. I’m risking treading across the TL/DR barrier here. Do I recall that you’re a guitarist? Fun story, if so. My son followed my love of guitar and woodworking. My daughter, a successful CPA in Albuquerque, followed Dad’s other career ‘path.’ My son used to come with me to band practice and fell in love with guitar. He is now an accomplished guitarist. He also used to watch me work in my shop. When he was in high school, he took a wood hop class (yes, they were still offering them — this was about 15 to 20 years ago). I thought great, he’ll learn to build a small bookcase. Since he lived in New Mexico and I was in Las Vegas, I didn’t expect to be directly involved in his learning process. A few weeks into the semester, he calls and tells me he wants to build a guitar. Oh, well, that’s a bit more complicated than a bookcase. He wanted to build a ‘Flying V,’ a very popular Gibson guitar that has been copied by several other companies. And he wanted it to be a ‘through-neck’ design, which means a single piece of wood makes up the neck and the center part of the body. Better resonance. I sent him to his local Paxton store to buy some straight-grain mahogany. I told him to make sure the salesperson knew it was for a guitar. A few weeks later, he came to see us for spring break. He brought a rough-cut slab of mahogany with two wings glued on the sides and a long piece sticking out the end. I borrowed a Flying V from a friend and made a template for the body and captured all the key measurements. I had also purchased a pre-cut fretboard and all the required hardware from Stewart MacDonald. Over the next few days, we did final shaping of the body using the template and a follower bit on my router (I think we did rough shaping of the body on my band saw). We rigged up a funky jig to allow us to shave off the front of the neck at the proper angle (Gibson guitars all have necks that lean backward to keep the strings firmly seated in the nut and bridge). We used the same jig to rout the back of the neck for the truss rod. For each operation, I showed him how to set it up and let him do the actual cuts. We came up with an alignment jig to guide us in gluing on the fretboard and mounting the bridge. We used a plastic template from StewMac to rout out the cavities for the pickups. Again, all the actual cuts were done by him with my oversight. I especially made sure each operation was set up safely. The most amazing part was when I gave him a rasp and invited him to shape the back of the neck to his liking. Be careful. Many tiny cuts. I almost couldn’t bear to watch. He did a marvelous job. He has a Krenov feel for the wood. Today he still has that guitar. It’s not his favorite player, but it’s a constant reminder that craftsmanship is forever. Today he has pretty much equaled or eclipsed everything I can do. And hopefully someday he’ll pass it on to his children. So, example, advice, safety, turn ’em loose.” – Steve Dragg
“I thought I would send a quick email pertaining to your last post ‘Passing on the Craft.’ I am new to woodworking and have been learning from a father-type figure. In the beginning, I would sit for hours in his woodworking shop just watching him turn raw pieces of wood into beautiful items and was in awe. Then little by little he started to teach me using the scrap pieces of wood from his projects. The love of woodworking grabbed hold of me and now I am building my own woodworking shop. To honor that process of passing on the craft, I wrote a children’s book called Scraps. You can find it at scrapsadventures.com.” – Jill Schoettes
“Have them make something useful and set them up for success. Above is a photo of a simple stepstool I came up with about 25 years ago. Third graders made these in about an hour as part of a mini-course day. Some parts were precut, but certain skills were taught and performed. Measuring, marking, crosscutting with a handsaw, chopping with a chisel and pounding nails. Each of the kids went home with a stool. Wood was donated by a local lumberyard when they heard what I was up to.” – Jeff Feuerstein
“I am an experimental psychologist who specialized in the development of learning and memory early in my career. However, I also loved doing woodworking. A way I got my children involved in the creative process of building was to begin with them making boats for their bathtubs. I would cut a board with 45-degree angles eventuating in a point on a pine board that could serve as the bow for the boat. I would then give them scraps of wood to nail into the board for whatever they imagined for engine rooms, etc. They took these masterpieces, most often a bit bigger than what common sense dictated, into their baths that evening and played with them. This was great for the two- and three-year-olds. Although their mother complained to me about the size, the kids enjoyed them a great deal. My secret was to have short projects for them to do and allow them to wander off when they had enough. Even better was to hold it up before they were done so that they wanted to go back to the unfinished project, capitalizing on what we termed the ‘Zeigarnik Effect’ in experimental psychology. I did this with their fishing careers, and it worked splendidly there as well. It is always good to remember that their attention span is much shorter than an adult’s. It is also good to have them make something for themselves, and even better yet, do something for a parent. This allows the pride in a job well done element to enter their efforts as well.” – Marc A. Lindberg, PhD
“I have been doing projects with our two grandsons for several years. In addition to getting a project done safely, I have had to deal with completing the projects in just a few days when they come to visit. At first, we used ‘special’ miter boxes and back saws to cut the parts for simple projects like bird houses, butterfly boxes, bat roosts and toolboxes. The miter boxes were tailored to cut the appropriate angles for the projects. Assembly was facilitated by drilling holes to drive the nails. We used an ‘eggbeater’ hand drill for these holes. Nails were easy to drive and went in straight. As their skills progressed, we moved on to using the scroll saw. Another project we did was to make cutting boards. This allowed them to pick the slats to glue up for the boards. I found that they enjoy having a say in the project. For the round boards, we used a pivoting guide on the disk sander, and they used the router table with appropriate guides to round over the edges. One constraint I enforced was, there was only one grandson in the workshop at a time. This allowed me to stay focused on safe procedures. (Grandma did arts-and-crafts projects with the other grandson, and we rotated.)” – James Dries
“In the last issue, you touched a very interesting and emotional subject in my opinion. So, I decided to write you in my humble English – I’m living in Germany. I’m a mother of five daughters and a passionate woodworker for some years. In a big family, there is need for many beds, shelves, desks and other things I have built in my spare time as a hobby carpenter. My daughters proudly announced: ‘My Mom has built my bed!’ And, of course, I tried to pass on my passion, so one daughter is in her second year of apprenticeship as a carpenter now, but building houses and roofs, not furniture — it’s a first step to become an architect later on. Children like to be involved; they want to do things the grown-ups do. My experience is, they want to create things, useful things not just hammer nails for fun. But children have a short attention span, so it needs a good feeling about what to do. Sawing a board for 10 minutes by hand will kill every enthusiasm. You start, the kid continues and you probably will finish the cut. Don’t expect too much, otherwise you will scare your grandchildren away. While the kid is sanding a bit, you can cut the other part; your grandchild will still say proudly: ‘Look what I have built.’ The project always depends on the age and on the interest and the skillfulness of the child. No child is like the other. When my daughters were small, I tried to find simple projects I could realize with the girls. So, we built a simple toolbox, a birdhouse, a pen holder (just holes in a thick board), later a box on wheels for stuff and to sit on, a small shelf and some carved things. We started with hand tools and we never used ‘toy’ tools. They learned that tools have to be sharp and you should have respect. When I was a little girl, my neighbor, an old professional carver, said to me: ‘With a dull knife you will cut yourself, always use a sharp knife!’ Children will be frustrated with toy tools. My daughters loved their sharp tools and learned to use them well – the one more the other less…. Yes, sometimes the fingers were bleeding, that’s no big drama and gives respect for the tools. One thing I remember is my daughter’s fifth or sixth birthday, she wanted only tools as presents. So, every guest child had a tool as a gift: a screwdriver, a folding ruler, a hand drill, a hammer and so on. I bought a small Japanese folding handsaw, a very good decision. When my daughters were a bit older, we also used most of my power tools together: the router, the band saw, the circular saw, the drilling machine and different sanders. We always started with safety instructions and I was always next to them. At the end they were proud of their work and lost their fear but never the respect. By the way, a cajon is a nice project for older children. Do you know the children’s book Harvey the Carpenter by Lars Klinting, a Swedish author? Harvey is a beaver who has a lot of tools but a mess in his workshop, therefore he decides to build himself a toolbox. Every step from drawing, choosing the right materials and tools and sawing, boring holes, sanding and so on is shown in a funny and lovely way. At the end of the book is a nice instruction about how to built Harvey’s toolbox. My daughter Leona loved the busy little beaver and his friend, and she was very eager to build such a toolbox, too. She is 20 years old now and still keeps some of her tools in this box. Meanwhile, I restored an old children’s workbench and wait for my little granddaughter to grow up… (I’m called ‘holzoma’ which means ‘wood granny’). I wish you a pleasant time and a lot of fun with your grandchildren doing woodworking together.” – Annette Vorbrüggen
“For me, how I got my daughter started was, as you suggested, with prefabbed ‘kits’ that she could assemble and decorate. I have been able to bolster that over the past three years with a monthly trip to Home Depot for their kid’s workshop. She and her best friend have been going since they were about 3. From there, I have had her ‘design’ projects that she then helps me build. One recent opportunity came up when she started doing chores and earning money … she needed a piggy bank. So I told her we could make one together, but it had to be something cool. Since her room is all dinosaur-themed, we decided to make a dinosaur piggy bank (see above). She helped me make the shape of the dino, helped with the glue-up, sanding, picked and applied the bulk of the paint and attached the hamster windows to the belly with a powered screwdriver. I handled all the power tool stuff. She helped design the eyes that I then 3D printed and attached with some CA glue to the finished dino. In the end, she now has a one-of-a-kind piggy bank that she can use and be proud of for years. She shows it off to anyone who comes to the house. Now we do a project together every few weeks and she is spending more time out in the shop with me.” – Tom Hanley
“You haven’t mentioned their ages, but in my experience with Scouts, while my son was a Cub Scout they needed to learn how to use a pocket knife. So sharp edge safety (no power tools), respect for the knife, sharpening the edge, etc. I had each Scout in his group whittle a pair of chopsticks with parent participation. They are very simple. No joinery. No glue. And they can use them afterwards. And if they lose them or break them, they’ll know how to make more. Just thought I’d offer that up.” – John Drakey
“You asked for thoughts on woodworking with kids. Here are a few.
1) You probably have less than two hours start to finish before they get bored. Have things ready. You don’t want them waiting while you stir the paint/finish. Try to minimize sanding needs. Have a plan for how the project goes home if there’s still wet glue/finish.
2) You want to end with a tangible item they want to own. This means something like a toy, a game or a box they can lock their stuff up in.
3) Depending on how young they are, their strength and small-motor coordination may make hand tools and most power tools frustrating if not difficult to use. Pre-drilled screws are likely easier for them than nails. I’ve had good luck with young kids using a scroll saw (BSA Pinewood Derby cars).
4) Try to incorporate tool use, technique and safety organically rather than as a lecture. This is fun, not school.
When I was young, I liked to play with toy guns. My uncles took some scrap 1×6 pine and took me to their ‘gunsmith shop’ in my grandfather’s basement. We discussed types of rifles, sizes (long vs. short shoulder piece, full or partial fore stock, etc.) then they drew it out on the board for us to cut out and shape together (hand saws, drills, rasp, sander, maybe a power jigsaw). I remember it to this day. It wasn’t fancy but it was fun and I kept it for years. If they are game-oriented, they could make a cornhole set. If they like cars, you could cut one out of a block or assemble one from pieces. Find a project that matches their personality and interests and then figure out how to size it for them. I hope this helps.” – Dave Bermingham
“My son started woodworking with a Pinewood Derby car when he was in Cub Scouts, age 5. I would do something on a spare kit and he would watch. Then he would repeat it on his car. We spent a lot of time talking about what the cars would look like. The first year, I worked him towards a simple design. We had a drawing. When we got ready to head to the shop, he decided he wanted a car ‘like the one in my game.’ After several minutes, my wife and I figured out he meant a car that was in his Hot Wheels video game. So much for a simple design for his first car. I think you let each grandkid decide what they want to work on. Maybe come up with a handful of ideas/projects for them to think about. And let them add their own touches, if they have them. What you need to do is figure out the easiest way for them to do each step. Don’t overthink it. Just get started. Things will figure themselves out as you go.” – Ed Coliainni< "I'm not sure if you were asking the question, but here's my answer...I hire high-school-age teenagers to work in my shop. I teach them how to properly use all of the machines and operate them safely. I remind them that blades don't care if they are cutting wood or skin and bones. (I did upgrade to a SawStop when I hired my first teen.) I show them how I do every step in the process, from raw lumber to finished product. I encourage them to try new things and find ways to improve the process. I allow them to be creative and run with new ideas and only offer advice when they get stuck or are unsure of what to do. This gives them the satisfaction of completing the project themselves. Most importantly, I thank them for their work and help every day they come in. I also make toy trains and love to do train-building clinics or free events where kids can build their own train engine. For the free events, I pre-glue some pieces that require sanding after assembly. I place the glue (super glue) on the pieces and help them place the pieces. I make sure they get to use the hammer to put some of the pieces together (which they love). For the paid clinics and the kits I sell, all the pieces are cut to size and all holes are drilled. No machines, cutting or tools (besides a hammer) are needed to completely assemble each train car. I walk them through, step by step, on how to put each piece together. For the younger ones (6 and under) I ask parents to stay and help." – Jeff Blecher
“I have three grown children, and at some point each of them showed an interest in my crafting and handyman projects around the house. I am proud to say my eldest and only son is now a recent graduate in the field of architectural engineering. His first project was actually a birthday party activity. I had cut out and pre drilled all the parts to birdhouses for him and all his friends. And to make them their own, I provided lots of paint and random ‘trinkets’ they could glue or nail onto them after assembly. I kept the design simple but provided printouts of very complex and unique birdhouses I had seen on the Internet. All these years later, that birdhouse is still hanging in the same spot we put it that day, and I believe it has been home to a family of wrens every year. As a bonus on occasion, one of those now-adult friends from the party make a point of reminding me of that party and share a story about their birdhouse over the years. It amazes me that any of them still exist, much less are still something they remember. At the time, I was just trying to figure out how to keep a dozen boys entertained for an hour or so. As luck has it, I may have inspired my son to continue with his creative talents and make a career out of it.” – Steve Mitchell
“I look forward to hearing what you learn. My grands are just approaching the age where I’d like to share the enjoyment of woodworking.” – Dave Youngers
“I guess how you teach depends on the student. We all learn differently. Some will be satisfied with simply assembling a pre-cut project. Others will want to create from the ground up and still want more. Getting the learners into the shop is the biggest challenge. I suggest aromatic cedar.” – Rino Cattro
“I was tasked with helping several classes of elementary-school students build a large outdoor planter last winter, during a hands-on half day at school. My approach was to come up with a simple clear plan, divide it into six steps (there were six classes) and have a clear set of tasks for each group to accomplish. I pre-cut everything, so each class mostly did assembly, although there was a good bit of measuring, marking and screwdriving. The approach worked really well. The kids felt like they really accomplished something (because they did!), but none of it was overwhelming. I was able to provide direction and instruction but mostly just enjoy the time with the kids. My Goal #1 was to instill a love of carpentry, so I tried my best to make it fun and approachable. Anything I could teach beyond that was gravy. But as I think about my own journey as a woodworker, learning a little bit and then falling in love with it enough to keep at it over the years — and learning every step of the way — has been most important.” – Brian Sigmon
“I would find out what the grandkids want to build. Then with that information, move on to assess their skills and abilities, then go from there. If you arbitrarily start them too advanced or too rudimentary, their interest might wane. My thoughts would tend to have a project that 1) They are interested in, and 2) Build on that interest, and 3) Is hands on. Hope you get them started on a path that has been so rewarding to you.” – John Matthews
“I started teaching my daughter after she got out of college. Since she was much older, I taught her to use the machines. She still is a bit put off by the table saw but will do most cuts. Unfortunately, I’m 70 and my granddaughter is 7 months, so I probably won’t get to teach her much. Good luck.” – Thomas Hinaman< "When my kids were little, they wanted very much to be involved in whatever I was working on. Since they were too young to be around my machines, I salvaged a 4x8 pine cutoff from my scrap bin and a piece of scrap plywood. I nailed a butter cup to the cutoff and filled it with small nails. I nailed the plywood piece behind the cutoff and covered it with larger machine bolts, nuts and washers. I gave each a hammer and a couple wrenches and they both got to work. Eventually (after months) there wasn't enough room for another nail in the cutoff, and the bolts were all secure and as tight as they could turn them. That was 40 years ago, and I would give anything to still have that cutoff they worked so diligently on. That little start gave them beginner skills to become good DIYers." – Tony Newman
“Go to Home Depot any Saturday morning and talk to the folks that put together the kids projects. My Home Depot is a buzz of kids building birdhouses or something else every Saturday.” – James Brunk< "My son-in-law and grandson came over for 'Pinewood Derby car creation help.' After 30 seconds on the band saw, I provided some tools for finishing. My grandson loved the rasp, and he did some shaping to the lines he drew on the blank. Also gave him some sandpaper to help finish. I gave his dad (my son-in-law) an old drill press to help with drilling holes for aesthetics and weights if needed. At our place in the north Georgia mountains, we usually have craft day when the kids show up building birdhouses (log cabin style) from kits I pre-do. They nail the logs together with a hammer (older boys get to use a brad nailer with my hand or their dad's hand to assist). Then we turn them loose with miscellaneous spray cans and other paint. No power tools like table saws, bandsaws, jointers or planets yet. The oldest is 8, so they do have a ways to go." – Gene Guertin
“Each year, the vacation bible school (VBS) at my church includes daily woodworking opportunities for the week. This effort is supported by a team of woodworkers who prepare kits for the kids to assemble. Each day a different kit is available, with 150 kits prepared by two woodworkers. As each of my grandkids reached about ages 8 to 10, they were invited to help Papa build my 75 kits. The projects have included birdhouses, step stools, a manger and a lap tray. Most of the effort is on the table saw or miter saw with simple fence or stop setups. But because the VBS assembly needs to occur very promptly, assisting 150 kids to succeed in a two-hour time frame, the designs usually include a fair amount of detail to be self-fixturing for easy assembly. Hence, introduction to making rabbets and dadoes. The kits also include all the necessary nail holes predrilled. This provides opportunities to explore fixturing on the drill press for speed and repeatability. Then when my grandkids attend VBS and ‘their’ project comes up on the schedule, they show up at my assembly station with kit in hand and a big smile, ready to complete assembly with their friends. Obviously, this is a unique opportunity I have, but I can imagine possibilities to find an organization that can use some quantity of wooden toys for gifts to younger kids that could benefit from your output (my imagination immediately goes to toy trains or cars). The results of these introductions are still a work in process. However, something must have clicked with the oldest who is now a junior in high school. He already has accumulated his own tool inventory matching most of my shop capabilities.” – Walter Going
“How to go about getting kids or grandkids into woodworking depends a lot on the child’s age, knowledge of tools and their desire. For my grandkids, the younger ones got to watch me lay out and cut parts. They were then allowed to glue, assemble and paint. For the older ones who were more adept with tools, they were shown how and then allowed to lay out, cut, assemble and finish their projects. It all boils down to your instincts and insight into each child’s skill level. Play it by ear.” – Sgt. T. L. Thomason, retired
“Pre-cutting parts that build a project is a great way to start. Scroll-sawing at least a part or two for the project really helps as well — the chances of major damage to the little ones is small (with proper supervision) and they get the experience of cutting out a few of the parts for the finished project. They get some of the ‘I cut that part that made the project work’ feeling, rather than ‘I built a model from only pre-cut parts.’ I like to use the scroll saw for the little ones to let them individualize the project, like having them cut their name/initials/favorite animal or object into a piece of the project. It gives them ownership of the finished project.” – Matthew Jungblut
“When I was a Cub Scout den leader in the mid 80s, I had boys that were 8 years old. For them I bought birdhouse kits and had them assemble them with hammer and nails with a parent’s help. When they were 10 years old, I had them build folding camp stools. I had rough-cut the boards oversized. The boys with their fathers had to hand-saw the boards to size, brace drill the holes with a template, hand-sand the parts and assemble them. I had the boys draw something on the seat that they liked. I took a wood-burning hand iron and burned the image into the seat. Then they varnished the camp stool. It took them and their dads about six weeks, 1-1/2 hours per week. The boys and dads couldn’t wait till the night we met. I had to teach the boys and some dads how to saw and drill. I have two granddaughters, ages 5 and 8. They have their own tool pouch, toolbox with small hammer, tape rule, level, small saw and screwdriver. My son and I let them help us when we work around their house when they are interested. When my son’s were just 5 years and older, I had scrap wood, nails and a small wood stool, hammer and saws for them to build whatever they wanted. If they needed my help, they would ask. My youngest son built a wood cabinet with a front door and top door by himself. It is crude-looking but my prized possession. I still have it. Be patient, show them how to use the tools, show how to draw a sketch of what they want build. You will be amazed at how fast they learn. You will be the papa they want to spend time with, and you will enjoy every minute of it.” – Papa Terry (Antosh)
“I had the pleasure of doing this with both my kids who are now 40 (daughter) and 42 (son). Also with two of my grandsons, ages 7 and 8. With my kids, they had their own kid-size workbench in my workshop, and as they got older we expanded the variety of tools they could use. It started with me cutting out shapes for them and then they would put things together. My scroll saw was the first power tool they got to use, and the same for my grandsons. I have a dead-man switch on it so I can control the On/Off, and all the kids have to do is guide the wood through. My son is now a home inspector here in Nashville and also does home remodeling. My daughter’s ‘hobby’ is making jewelry for her Etsy site. My grandsons have cut out and painted ‘I Love You’ messages for their mom and have also helped me make simple wooden cars and trucks, which they then paint. For Christmas I compound-cut an ornament for each child, and they painted them and took them home to hang on their tree. Take it slow and the kids will guide you in what they want to make. You will have an amazing amount of fun.” – John Picklesimer
“I’m still a novice woodworker. I started carving during the early part of the pandemic, a spoon here or there, a spatula-sort of, and a couple of rough and ugly small bowls we use to give the cat treats. I wish I’d had someone to teach me woodworking skills as a kid. I always loved building things but I just didn’t know how or have decent materials. Let the kids and some common sense and shop safety guide you. For the under-8 crowd, pre-cut parts, do the sanding because they won’t care generally and help them glue or otherwise join small things together. For the 8-and-up crowd, give them a small saw and a piece of wood that has been started by you. Teach them about why straight cuts matter, then teach how to do them. Teach by showing with examples and they will engage. Be a little silly when you can, because that means when you get serious about shop safety ,they will focus on it. As they seem able, and with some safety gear, let them find the glee in running a hand plane and getting those curls and perfect finish. Help them turn that piece into something meaningful for themselves that they can carry with them and always have as a keepsake of their times with you. Encourage them, never deride them. Be a safe harbor and they will swarm to you and your fun projects. Have them build things for themselves, parents, siblings or friends. As they get older and can safely use power tools like a table saw, let them make cutting boards for teacher gifts. Teach them the engineering behind the construction of furniture so it can have curves and sweeping lines but yet never be sharp and hurt a person or fail to hold the weight it was meant to carry. You will be gently teaching them math, physics, geometry and engineering as you help them design and build the things they think of making. You can also teach them about being humble, giving and empathetic by having them create things to be gifted to people in shelters, people left homeless by natural or manmade disasters. Anything from plates or cups to cutlery and toys. Useful things like a folding stool can mean so much to a person without a permanent shelter. You have the ability as a woodworking grandfather to not only bond with them and keep them busy but also to guide them into being really great and handy humans. Woodworkers follow traditions and principles, but we design, embellish, subtract and improvise. You can teach them to be amazing, resilient, educated humans with empathy and care built in. You get to do all of that while pursuing the thing you already love to do — helping others love woodworking as much as you do. Your articles have helped guide me and teach me as I continue to progress my skills and expand my interests. You can absolutely do the same for those grandkids.” -J.J. Hoffman
“My grandkids are 14, 12 and 9. They started out hanging out with me while I worked, learning by just being exposed to what I do. The next step was having them come up with projects they wanted to do. From there we designed and made a cut list. They had to master reading a tape measure and fractions. (I used to be a math teacher.) Then I started having them learn how a table saw works and the safe practices needed. They really liked the bandsaw and cut all kinds of shapes for practice. Once they (and I) were comfortable with the saws, it was just a matter of getting more experience. Above is a photo of one of their projects — a playhouse for our dog.” – Tom Smith
“Rather than a roadmap, I think it’s probably more useful to give you some questions to answer for yourself and them, and then use that as a guide. The first thing that comes up, of course, is the age of the children involved. There’s a big difference between what you can have a 10-year-old help with compared with, say, a 15- or 16-year-old. The younger kids may, at best, be able to do some rudimentary nailing on a rough project, whereas the older ones might well be ready to tackle some basic power tool projects. The second thing that comes to mind is what sort of interest the kids have. For me as a youngster, my key interest was birds, so many of my early projects with my dad were birdfeeders and birdhouses. We went from a simple platform feeder to one with a roof to wren and chickadee houses to a martin house, over the course of several years as my abilities progressed. With kids, I think it’s important that they have an interest in the final product, not just in the process, because in my experience that goal is what causes them to put in the work and learn the techniques, rather than learning them for their own sake (which is something I think adults do more readily). In any event, the younger the child, the more you’ll have to do for them and the less they can actually do themselves. The natural progression, if they enjoy it, will be ‘I helped grandpa build X’ to ‘Grandpa and I built Y’ and on to ‘Grandpa helped me build Z’ – with the children taking on more and more of the work as their abilities and skills progress. And of course, safety is a major concern! Likewise, I think there’s a natural progression in terms of what you build with them. Start with something very simple, like a plant stand that’s just four legs and a top. If they’re too young to actually assemble the pieces, let them help hold things in place while you nail. They can also help with painting the piece. If they’re old enough, let them do some of the assembly (with you helping), and if they’re older still, let them do some of the cutting, after you go over the safety rules. Things like birdhouses are great projects because they’re fairly small, they don’t have to be perfect while they’re learning, and it gives them something to actually point to as a finished project and say ‘I made that’ or ‘I helped make that.’ For the ones that take to it, you’ll figure out as things go along what they’re capable of doing on their own. And of course, don’t take it too personally if not all the grandkids are equally interested. I’m glad you’re making this effort. While there’s nothing wrong with sports, etc., for kids, I think we’ve lost something where parents don’t teach their kids useful skills like woodworking or sewing anymore.” – Kevin Morgan
“I build canoes and paddles for fun. I have one granddaughter who wants to learn. While building my last canoe, I made short videos of each step including a demonstration of how I made the tools and templates I used. I then compiled these on a thumb drive for her to watch. I also sent her each one as I made them so she could ask questions. Then I made a video of me answering each question with demonstrations. These I added to my thumb drive directly after the corresponding video in question. I have also made a written document with photos and references to each corresponding video. After she watches the videos on the thumb drive and reads the written narrative, we will build a canoe and paddles with her doing the work and my supervision.” – Bill G.
“As a professor of over 31 years but also a woodworker and CNC designer and builder, I’d start with something like a small box with box joints or something like a small candle holder. They could then be introduced to just a few machines (saw, router table, drill press and sander), along with the proper safety rules used with each machine. You could have them cut the parts, do the box joints, glue up, sanding and finishing for a small box. Or for can candles, cut the wood, use the drill press with Forstner bit, sand and finish the project. These could all be finished in an afternoon.” – J.R. Griffith
“My 6-year-old grandson at the time wanted to make a sword. I did the following with him. He drew out the design of the sword on paper on the workshop clip board. Dimensions were based on a tape measure. The drawing was very rough and the dimensions not real good. The next time he came over, we went into the shop to make the sword. I went through basic rules: Do not turn on any tools. Do not touch sharp tools. Wear safety glasses while in the shop. Do not take any wood without my ‘OK.’ As with all children, about an hour in, getting the drawing and wood selected, he grabbed a chisel. I immediately said let’s go. You grabbed a chisel and you know that broke a rule. He was very unhappy, but he came back the next day and he followed the rules. He cut the parts that required 2″-wide wood to be cut across grain. I asked him if he want to cut the wood 20″ long (knew he would not want to, who does?) or should I use the table saw. I explained what it does and how. He stood way over from the saw area and I cut the wood narrower. He nailed the handle onto the sword blade and realized he forgot to cut the tip. We drew it on the plans to remember in the future, and he cut the point. Since that first time, he has made many swords, a birdhouse, toolbox, ramps and iPad holder. Each time he wants to build something, we go through the same process. He is 11 now and uses the band saw, disk sander, spindle sander and power miter box with me. A cousin came over when they were 7 to build a bike ramp, and I heard my grandson tell his cousin to follow the rules or you will be kicked out of the shop. Overall Rob, I have had four children learn and build in my shop. The cool thing is, this past summer my 11-year-old and I put in a 160-foot split rail fence. He worked with the saws, level and post-hole digger. He worked hard! I did not want to spend a lot of time going over everything for safety, just the rules above and each tool I cover individually. Have fun.” – Mark Erickson
“I overcame this problem by first asking if they had a project in mind. You can go from there. If not, maybe they could build a small tool tote box in order to have some small tools for themselves.” – Kevin Roberts
“I think the key is to start small so as to not discourage. I have introduced young kids to the lathe. Make a pen; it can be done in a short amount of time and they get exposure to quite a few tools at the same time.” – Nick Baker
“I recommend that you work backwards. Start with something they can assemble and finish. Next time, go back and have them do the sawing, drilling, etc. Then start the next project with the design and wood selection and work forward. I have found that this way they will not be overwhelmed and get discouraged. Also, you get to spend even more time with them because you are doing multiple projects — can’t go wrong with that.” – Jim Langell
“Having done a few things with the Scouts, I would suggest this: Have them 1) Cut four boards and make a simple but indestructible step stool. 2) Cut three boards, a dowel and a sheet of tin to make a wide dustpan. During this, you can assess skill, interest and stick-to-it-iveness and then have them brainstorm other projects.” – RileyG
“I was just faced with this same question before Christmas. My kids and the grandkids (who live in Michigan — I live in Florida) came down in November for a visit. The grandkids were fascinated by my growing line up of power tools. All three wanted to build something. We finally opted to just pound some nails into wood. The older kiddos did better (bent less nails); the youngest didn’t get the idea so well. For Christmas, I decided to see how this might roll. I went to the Internet and found three different wooden toys that the box said fit their age groups and interests. They opened the gifts and seemed to like them. Then came reality. I am not in Michigan to help them with nail and screws. We haven’t coordinated video calls to try to get them on the right track. They are all struggling. So I need to do something. I just haven’t figured out what yet. I will keep you posted.” – Greg Della-Croce
“More than 60 years ago, I introduced myself to woodworking. I would hang out with Dad, and he was helpful, but I never pushed the issue. I got my start by robbing the burn pile the local lumber company would drop off to fire the clam bake kettles at the local Elk’s Club. It was all the small cut-off pieces. I didn’t view it as stealing … I was going to make better use of it than burning it. So, take your grandkids to the local lumberyard for ‘free’ cut offs. Let their imaginations work. That supplied me with material. Finally, about five years later, I made my mother a stool, 12″ high to sit on. It resided in a place of honor in the garage. It was not pretty, but it was tough. I used that stool to sit on when I worked on my car, up to the time I left home. I also made a mailbox to catch the overflow mail at Christmas time. That was made with more attention to detail, painted red and green and presented to Mom and Dad. No idea what became of that. In high school, I took the college prep track but still found time in my freshman schedule for woodshop. I was the only college prep guy in that class. They would not let me sign up for machine shop. Their shop was right beside the woodshop. I liked those guys, and we shared a common washroom. College and ultimately a job did not leave much time for woodworking, but that has changed over the years. That kid who made things out of scraps became a successful engineer. Introduce your grandkids to the scrap pile and let them run from that point. If they are interested, it will happen. Dad was always there to answer and guide. I still think back to that stool I made when I was 10 or so years old. It was a product of, ‘turn them loose and they will evolve.’ Don’t do pre-cut parts; that will interfere with their imaginations. They will make mistakes; I made plenty of them. But they will learn by watching and talking/asking. I have no grandchildren but I do have a daughter. She can handle tools better than her farmer husband. That’s always interesting. She never did much of project work with me, but she is very intuitive. As an engineer I would say, ‘I don’t remember never knowing that.’ Maybe one day, one or more of your grandchildren will say the same thing. Good luck and enjoy the ride.” – Jim Sherbundy
“I have done some projects with my grandkids. I think it depends on their age. Mine were young so it was mostly gluing up siding boards or assembling birdhouses and picture frames. They were too young to use power tools like a table saw or miter saw. Now they are getting older, 10 and 12. I have them asking to build things, and unfortunately my shop is still in storage from moving. When I get a place for a shop, I will be swapping out my old table saw for a SawStop. Then I can begin teaching them about power tools and power tool safety. I have to make sure they do not get hurt.” – Ron Grover
“The ‘right’ answer, of course, depends on age and attention level. I’ve had the pleasure of completing four projects with one of my grandsons. He was very active in FFA ,and in addition to farming, they had various craft competitions including woodworking. He asked me to help him with projects starting in eighth grade. That first project, I did most of the table saw work, but he did almost everything else including the less risky power tools — planer, drill press and band saw, plus sanding and finish, of course. When the project included multiple similar parts like legs, I’d do one operation and then he’d duplicate it on the other parts. The next year, he did table saw cuts that used a crosscut sled — easier to control safely. I still did the rip cuts. The last two years we continued the ‘I show one, he does the rest’ for virtually all the work. Here’s a photo of one of his projects (above). Clearly, it’s more than the birdhouse or napkin holder that would be appropriate for younger grandkids.” – Henry Burks
“I have done a number of projects with my kids when they were younger and with their kids (my grandkids), now that I am older! I have usually chosen fairly simple projects (birdhouse, note holder, pencil holder) that they can give to their parents for gifts. I usually pre-cut the pieces, label them with numbers and pre-drill pilot holes for nails or screws. I usually have them use nails, since they seem to negotiate using a small hammer better than screwdrivers. I pre-drill the nail holes to make it more foolproof for getting the nails driven home. They usually use some glue as well, sand the projects and then go to town with painting and decorating to their own aesthetics. I used the same approach when my kids (three daughters) were in Girl Scouts or Indian Princesses, and they had to make a project for their meetings. Preparing a package of parts with assembly supplies was always successful, although some of the other less handy dads were pissed that the bar was set too high! Finally, my experiences with my kids and now my grandkids have shown me that some kids have more interest and patience than others, and letting them do what they want and not sweating a lack of interest by others is what I found worked best.” – Eliot Rosenkranz
“My very first woodworking project was a birdhouse I made in preschool at about age 5. We had kits with pre-cut wooden parts to nail and glue together and then paint. I had great fun building it, and although no self-respecting bird would nest in it, I was very proud of my results. By the time I was a teenager, I was building high rise birdhouses in my backyard. I have been an avid woodworker for almost 70 years now. For little kids, I think a kit is the best way to start, then gradually introduce cutting, prepping and sanding wood.” – Phil Gilstrap
“Great time to pass along essential skills at whatever level and project. I taught woodworking, metalworking and drafting to junior and high school students for 27 years. I found that most junior high students could use most power tools with close monitoring the table saw was my cut off. Take each of the kids and give them a hand saw, a length of wood and just have them cut a specific length. I did this with each student. There are a lot of rewards but also a lot of frustration, and this should give you a clue to determination and inherent abilities. Make it fun, tell them it’s okay to do it wrong and that they can do it, don’t be afraid to fail. Show them good techniques and what to look for in a good outcome. The project should be simple and easily finished; birdhouses have a lot of success and can be specific to the type of local birds, can be seen after and can be individualized by woodburning/painting. Sanding is a great tool to allow an overachiever to slow down as the less-successful kid catch up. Mostly, have fun! Good luck, and share pictures afterwards.” – J. Englers< "I would recommend Doug Stowe's book, The Guide to Woodworking with Kids: Craft Projects to Develop the Lifelong Skills of Young Makers. It is well written, comes from years of experience helping kids learn woodworking and has some great starter projects for kids.” – Norm Carpenter
“Depending upon their age, you might try starting them off with some of those wooden kits that come in sheets of a thin plywood. If you know what I am talking about, they come with the parts already cut in the thin plywood and all you have to do is punch, or rather, push them out of the sheet. Each part is numbered. It is sort of like paint by the numbers, but a wooden version, maybe you could call assemble by the numbers.
Another trick I learned with those kits is to lightly sand the connecting edges of those parts with a hand held piece of sand paper, medium grit. Then they slide together easier. Then if you are really daring. You can super glue each pair or group of pieces together as you go. You just have to be sure of the orientation of each pair or group of pieces so that everything will fit together properly in the end. Otherwise, once it is glued, you are stuck with that result. I would connect the parts first, then lightly dab a tiny bit of the super glue along the connecting edges after you have verified that it is connected properly. Be sure to use a very small tip with the super glue applicator tip. You don’t want that glue getting all over the place.
But you may want to start off with just mechanical connection of the parts at first for the first few projects. Then when you get into the projects that have moving parts, then you can graduate into the super glue to hold it together better.
The next phase could be to cut the parts for them and then help them assemble a project with regular wood glue. As they get older and more safety conscious, it could be hand tools to make the parts. Then someday you will have to show them the art of power tools, starting with an electric drill, and so forth as they are able to keep from injuring themselves.
So that is where I am myself. I have a 12 year old and a 6 year old pair of grandsons in my area of location. So that is the direction I am going too.” – Stephen W. Page
“I believe that you can judge their ability and age to determine what level to start them on.” – Frank Romero
“One of the easiest and most satisfying for children, I believe, is to get them making and turning their own pens. They can walk away after an hour or two with something useful and can show to all their friends and relations.” – Alan Morrison
“It depends on their age. If they’re under 12 I’d do all of the cutting and help them with assembly and then turn them loose with paint. If 12 to maybe 15 (here it depends on their maturity level) I’d instruct them on using a bandsaw, 16 and up I’d have them shadow me on the table saw for a while and then stand next to them when I felt like they had a good understanding of how to use it safely.” – Tom
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