Woodworking in the great white north.

Woodworking with kids

I’ve noticed lately a few discussions about woodworking with kids. Lots of discussions about safety and the concerns about workshops being the least safe place in the home for a child to be. In addition, there were lots of great stories reminiscing about spending time in Dad/Grandpa’s workshop, Grandparents sneaking their grandkids out to the workshop to have some fun. Last friday produced an opportunity test out some of these discussion points and help me find ways to bond with my daughter on woodworking activities.

Summer hours are great, I get friday afternoons off and with my wife and daughter at home we’ve been trying to make good use of the extended weekends. I normally try to spend saturday’s doing some woodworking or home renovations, but with the nice weather we’re also trying to get out of the city and spend time up north, so it was awesome to hear my wife suggest that I go out to the workshop friday afternoon. I opened the invitation to my daughter (just turned 10) to join me and help me out with the Marble Tower project.

Typically my daughter groans at the idea of a trip to the big box hardware store or Lee Valley or much much worse, a lumber mill so I was delighted when she decided to trail out after me.

I thought about the discussions that have been going on online and decided to test them out a bit, starting with safety equipment:
Eyes: Getting eye protection on is easy enough and we even have kid sized safety goggles…but keeping them on is a challenge, they come off quickly and tend to stay off. So, this means I try to avoid any power tools.
Ears: Kids have much better hearing that us oldsters do, and the sensitivity to machine noises is obvious. Hands go to ears quickly at loud noises, so getting the big earmuff hearing protection on was easy and it was something she was willing to keep wearing as long as there was any noise. Even the drill press running was reason enough to throw them back on.
Lungs: Getting a dust mask that fits well and stays on…big challenge. This is a big problem. Even if a kid is willing to wear a paper mask or proper dust mask or respirator, they don’t fit well enough to be really effective. So, anything dusty has to be locked down with really good dust collection at the source and avoided if possible. The ambient dust extractor goes on and stays on in hopes of keeping the fine dust to a minimum.

Based on this, and the obvious fear/caution around using any power tools (though she kind of likes the drill press) I decided to focus on how to introduce hand tools into the equation.

I’m personally fearful of shoving a nice sharp chisel (or worse yet a dull rusty one) into the palm of my hand, and I was equally concerned that a child would do this much more easily. I decided to try out a block plane. I didn’t see too much risk in using this and to my surprise, she picked it up remarkably fast. After a few swipes across an old strip of cedar, she actually reached for my old jack plane and with a gleam in her eye, she set to work making bigger shavings. She attacked the board with gusto making long thin shavings and building up a pile on the workbench.

Here’s what that ended up looking like: video link
After a few minutes of this she had removed close to 3/4″ of material and made a rather large pile of shavings, which of course we have to save to use as tinder for the campfire on camping trips.

I never really expected my daughter to get that into woodworking, but I can see the spark of interest and think I will have to fan the flames a little and see where it gets us.

Epilogue: Since this happened, we’ve had a couple of trips to the workshop where my daughter has helped out with tidying, sorting, cleaning and once the bench was to her satisfaction, back to more planing. We’ve even ventured to try using a carving gouge (two handed approach only to keep things in tact). An added benefit of this is that as I am explaining the safest way of doing something and the ‘correct’ way to hold a tool, I’m realizing that over time I have allowed myself to get sloppy with my own safety, so we’re both learning.

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