Every craft person remembers where and when in their life they first encountered their passion. Woodworking is an ancient art form that has touched every corner of the earth. Whether it’s learned at home with a family member or at school with a dedicated teacher, woodworking with hand tools is valuable and beneficial to children in so many ways. Not only will woodworking give you the opportunity to connect and bond with your child, but it can also be a valuable tool to help them in school. The lens of woodworking can be used to get children interested in history, geography, science, and art.
So, if you’re a woodworker with a passion for hand tools, consider passing your skills onto the young people in your life. This guide will cover what you need to know if you’re curious about woodworking with children.
Passing It Down
When you teach a skill like woodworking to a child, you are giving them the chance to understand a craft in a personal way. You build an experience for them that they can draw from creatively for the rest of their lives, no matter what they pursue. Teaching woodworking with hand tools to your own children, or to the children in your community gives them the chance to love working with their hands and making things — and that alone is a great gift.
This is so important, and I cannot emphasize safety enough. As a parent or guardian, decide at what age you believe woodworking with hand tools is appropriate for your child. Before they learn about any of the tools in the shop, make sure they learn about safety gear. If it’s taught first, it won’t seem as boring and perhaps they won’t be too anxious to get to the tools.
Make sure they always see you wearing your gear in the shop, lead by example and protect yourself. Make the gear cool. It’s a hard sell, but I even thought metal rulers were the height of cool because my dad used them in his work—so anything is possible.
Give them an introductory tour of the shop and everything in it. Begin teaching what each tool does and where it “lives.” Make sure they are wearing or at least aware of protective gear such as protective eye goggles, hearing protection, dust masks and work gloves, which all come in kid-size these days. There are definitely ways to make this fun. See if the brand of safety gear you use makes the same ones in kid sizes so you can match. Every child wants the chance to be like the grown-ups. It’s a good idea even when you’re only first exploring the shop with them.
Make sure to put the time into assessing your shop and deciding what you need to do to make it as safe as you can. Tools should be properly stored and secured. With all of the proper safety measures in place, the likelihood of an injury is reduced.
Make sure to buy safety gear that is made to fit children. Even if something can be adjusted it is a safety risk if any of the gear is loose fitting. Buy respiratory masks, hearing protection, eye protection, and gloves for your child. Always be attentive while children are in the shop. The best safety precaution is to make sure that safety gear is always worn, and that each tool is always being used correctly.
Make It Fun!
Make a day of decorating the new safety gear, as long as their decorations don’t interfere with the gears ability to perform safely of course. Shop aprons and tool belts are a good start. They’re easy to decorate and having a custom one will make each child feel like they have their own place in the shop. Find some iron-on patches online with letters and different things they may like. Give each child a patch with the first letter of their name, and then let them choose from the other patches and place them on their apron. Make sure to get duplicates to avoid fighting! Once they’ve chosen, iron the patches on for them. This will also be a good exercise in teaching them about tool safety. They have the creative say, but with some tools, they’ll have to ask for your help.
Learning and Growing
Woodworking with hand tools gives children the chance to think creatively and problem solve. Building and fostering these skills will help them innumerably in the future. As they grow older, being able to use the “tools” at hand in creative ways to solve problems and reach goals will be important for them. Children who make art learn about making mistakes and what to do when things don’t go their way.
When I was in kindergarten there was a girl in my class who was crying because she couldn’t copy another child’s drawing. I couldn’t understand at all why she would want to copy someone else’s drawing. Making art at home from such a young age taught me to enjoy the whole process of making things. So I didn’t at all care about what the other kids were making because the fun part was doing your own project. Woodworking teaches children to appreciate their own abilities, and enjoy the process of making mistakes, learning, and moving forward.
In addition to growing emotionally, there are some more tactical benefits to teaching children to work wood with hand tools. Using hand tools builds hand-eye coordination. Hand-eye coordination involves processing visual input combined with proprioceptive processing, which is when the brain receives information about where the body is when one uses their muscles. This is an important step in a child’s development, and strengthening it will improve everyday tasks and activities as well as their ability to play sports and games.
Make It Fun!
Track their progress with them in a woodworking journal. As they grow and become more adept at using different tools, they can look back at where they started and feel accomplished. Every time a new skill is learned, even if it’s as simple as measuring with a rule or using sanding paper, make a new page in the book. Get some kid-friendly art supplies like crayons and stickers for them to decorate their new page. Try not to set goals in advance, and simply let them learn at their own pace. Their journal will increase their self-esteem and make learning fun. Plus, it will make a memorable keepsake for you or their families (if you’re a teacher).
Buying Children’s Tools
Supervised children can be taught to safely use hand tools. There are full woodworking sets for children readily available online. These sets generally seem to include screwdrivers, a hammer, a file, clamps, a saw, measuring tape and rulers, and pliers.
It is important to buy tools that are made for children. Using tools that are made for adults and are too big and heavy to fit little hands can be very unsafe if used by children.
The children’s sets and hand tools on the cheaper side look dinky to me. You wouldn’t want your child using tools made with inexpensive materials and risk pieces breaking off. I would recommend going for a toolset that is more on the legit side and includes professional-grade tools.
Children younger than eight may not be ready for these more serious tools. If your child is not old enough yet for the steel-forged tools, consider stubby children’s screwdrivers, sanding blocks (blocks covered in sandpaper and meant for holding with two hands), and lightweight children’s hammers.
For children eight and up, look to buy professional-grade toolsets. They are real, but smaller and made of sturdy materials. These sets can be a bit on the pricier side. However, any craftsperson knows that it’s worth splurging a bit on tools in the name of safety and durability, especially if it’s for children. Look for kits that have steel forged tools and fully functional tool belts. Amazon has a few really good choices. Make sure to read the reviews.
When they grow out of it, you can donate it to a school or save it for future little family members.
Make It Fun!
A toolset is a big present and one that they’ll be excited to use for years! Save it for a special holiday or a birthday. Little girls and boys will be so excited to see the different tools and accessories.
Children love learning to work wood. It’s fun, but it’s part of the world of grown-ups. It feels more important than just playing a game. They will be excited for the chance to show they’re responsible enough to handle their shiny new tools.
Even if they’re not ready to set out on a complete project of their own yet, completing little tasks will teach them and increase their self-esteem. Even steps as simple as sanding or just sawing a piece of wood in half can be a fulfilling and creative task for a child. We have an entire article dedicated to woodworking projects for kids!
The experience of working supervised in the shop will still be fun and give them a sense of independence. Even if they haven’t completed anything yet, when they feel themselves improving (maybe looking back in their journal!) they will always associate learning to woodwork with a sense of accomplishment.
Make It Fun!
Set up a system of prizes or badges like the Scouts! Look online for relevant patches or stickers to use. Since you’re a craftsperson, maybe even make something yourself! Award them as your child naturally reaches each goal. Perhaps earning up a certain number of skill badges will earn them a woodworking present as a new tool.
The badges will give your child something to look forward to an incentive to continue participating. When they feel frustrated with a task or project in the shop, remind them of the badges they’ve earned. The badge system helps young woodworkers remember that they can overcome something that had once been difficult for them. Everyone loves prizes, and having a literal badge of honor as they progress as hand tool users will encourage them and give them a sense of accomplishment.
Stimulating and Understanding
Woodworking with hand tools is the perfect activity for burgeoning builders, scientists, and engineers. Scientists, engineers, and makers often reflect on their early experiments with tools and building. Building something that is put together proportionally and stands up on its own takes math and engineering skills.
Children may find they have an affinity for this kind of thinking early on. If so, you’ve inspired a little scientist. Maybe they’re more like me and find themselves making art objects that don’t quite stand up on their own or look as proportional as they could be. So you’ve inspired a little conceptual sculptor.
Whether your new junior assistant is a future woodworker, robotics engineer or sculptor, understanding materials and how to manipulate them is vital. By teaching them to work wood with hand tools, you’re really showing them how to understand materials on a visceral level. Show them different types of wood, and teach them to think critically about materials. Is this wood soft or hard? How do different types of wood react to their tools?
Caring about and getting excited about your materials and tools is a part of being a maker. When children’s brains are developing, it’s important for them to experience manipulating and building materials and objects. For a young child of say four or five, seeing the wood change to sawdust when it’s sanded, or turning one block into many, helps their with their neural development.
Woodworking with hand tools will provide them with many types of sensory experiences, and that require the use of different parts of the brain. It encourages their creativity and increases their ability to identify and solve problems on their own. Additionally, teaching them to work wood is setting the foundations for a skill and craft that may become a lifelong career or passion.
Make It Fun!
Many early childhood toys require children to sort by color, shape, and sound. These kinds of “puzzle” activities develop connections in the brain and improve strategic thinking and problem-solving. So before you even get to the building—make it a game!
Gamification has been proven to improve children’s ability to learn and retain information. Plus, it’s fun of course! Even adults love gamification these days. Language apps, weight-loss apps, and even financial apps all utilize forms of games to keep users participating and on track.
Collect an assortment of different wood samples and small pieces that you’ve altered in different ways. One is smoother than the others because it’s been sanded, etc. Have your child sort all of the pieces, and help them to pair which tool did what. Organizing and categorizing the wood by grain, color, hardness, or even smell is a beneficial activity for young children. If you like the badge system from earlier, this could be their first one. And don’t forget to add a page to their woodworking scrapbook!
History and Geography
Working wood with hand tools is one of the most ancient and international human practices on earth. Going back through time, woodworking spans across almost every continent, and even predates the evolution of the Homo sapien. Neanderthals and early humans were working wood using hand tools over one hundred thousand years ago. In ancient Rome, China, and Egypt wood was worked into beautiful and unique architectural elements, furniture, and art pieces.
Perhaps you have a child who may be more interested in shop class than history class. Every child is different and learns in different ways. As a very visual learner myself, I know that I may have never would have learned to tell time had my mother not come up with a creative activity for me. We made, sorted, and decorated paper clock faces at home in her studio. When I got back to school on Monday I had caught up with everyone.
Woodworking is the perfect avenue for inspiring children’s imaginations and making history exciting and tactile.
Maybe the child you’re teaching already loves history but is a little uninterested in woodworking. What kids love about history and science is how much there is to discover, and how big and complex everything is. The earth and humans are ancient and mysterious. I’ll admit the dinosaurs didn’t work wood, but the ancient Egyptians did! And now they’re going to learn to do it.
Go to the library and borrow some books on the ancient Egyptians and Romans. The colorfully printed yet informational National Geographic books were always my favorite. Alternatively, you can go online and print out some images, maps, and articles or lookup relevant YouTube videos. Show them the locations of the different ancient civilizations on a map. Show them images of ancient tools. I was shocked when I first saw a picture of an ancient roman hand plane. It was practically identical to modern hand planes! They will marvel at how similar tools and practices remain today and have fun to learn about history, geography, and woodworking.
Form a guild with your class or child like the ancient Romans! Roman woodworkers were organized into guilds and were very proud of their hand tools. Roman woodworkers sometimes used images of prized tools in their signatures. Form a guild with your child and have fun designing your crest! Have your child draw their favorite tool and use it as a part of their special “guild signature.”
Your guild will bring you closer together, and make woodworking feel like a secret club. Google how to write their names in Latin and make guild name tags. There are so many ways you could expand this and make the guild really fun for your child or class.
Building and Designing
Though it seems counter-intuitive, there has always been a sort of symbiotic relationship between science and art. When children learn to use tools to build things and have an effect on their environment, they are thinking like both a scientist and an artist. The fields of art and science are both populated by people who think differently than others and wish to make and change things.
Children have the ability to build things that work. “Working” can be defined as standing upright, containing something, or simply looking the way they intended.
My friends in college who studied engineering often described taking apart everything in their house as children and attempting to fix or improve it. As an artist, I was the same as a child, but with I’m sure much different results. Luckily my parents were artists and they agreed that missing parts and splattered paint were indeed improvements.
Learning to handle project instructions, whether they are simple or advanced, will give them the chance to make independent decisions. Measuring, placing, hammering, and connecting wood according to instructions (or even against them) will teach them to think from the point of view of a designer. How will what they’re doing now benefit the final piece? What could they change to make it better? Is there anything that they don’t like about the project? How would they change it?
Asking questions and acting on them, breaking the rules (as long as they’re not safety rules) are all valued qualities in science and art. Woodworking with hand tools will give them the chance to flourish and flex their creative and rational minds.
Make It Fun!
Challenge your child or class to alter a project or even build their own set of instructions! Following predetermined steps can be satisfying, but for older children, it can feel stifling. Show them that they’re really independent members of the shop and encourage them to make their own plans. Have them draw up blueprints and decide which tools they will need for each step. The satisfaction of finishing something that they designed themselves will be immeasurably fulfilling to them.
Explore and Learn
Take your child on field trips on the weekend to different places where they can either see woodworking in action or learn about it. Find out if there are stores or shops in your area that sell artisan woodworking or wood sculptures. Teach them about their local woodworking community, and take your class or child to meet local woodworkers. Contact them beforehand and see if they’re up for talking a little bit about their work and showing you around. The kids will be so excited to see advanced woodworking, and field trips are always fun.
Take your children to a natural history museum. There is bound to be some mention of woodworking in the museum and maybe even some artifacts and tools.
Flea markets and antique fairs also make for good field trip destinations for slightly older children. When I was twelve my art teachers at the summer camp brought us to a big flea market to buy bits and bobs to use in our art. There’s sure to be something interesting they can incorporate into what they’re building. Even if you don’t find anything, you’ll have fun exploring and getting inspired by the mix of objects. Hand tool users often frequent markets and fairs in search of used or antique tools. If they’re a little older, this treasure and bargain hunting could be a fun challenge as well.
Make It Fun!
Set up a scavenger hunt! Print out pages with fun images and drawings you find online with an empty square or circle for them to check off. If you’re going to a museum, do a little research before you go and find some objects or dioramas that you think are relevant to woodworking.
Make sure to include some funny ones! It’ll keep your child interested in the museum, and give them a goal. If you’re doing the badge system, this can earn them the museum badge! Any field trips are also good opportunities to fill out pages in their scrapbooks.
If you’re going to a flea market, try making a more ad-hoc scavenger hunt. Think outside of the box. “Something useful made of wood.” “Something fun made of wood.” “Something made of wood that can move.” Children between the ages of about six and ten will have fun getting creative with their answers.
What Are You Waiting For?
You’re never too young or too old to enjoy woodworking. So the gift of learning to work wood with hand tools is literally the gift of a lifetime. My mom’s an artist, and she taught me to love making things at an early age. I was drawing, taping, and making a mess as early as two, and it stuck! I ended up on the sculpture side of things, but I would never have found my way there if I hadn’t been given the gift of art.
Woodworking teaches children essentially, that they can affect change with their own two hands. They are creators, and what they are about to make has never, ever been made before. It’s so exciting to a child, and frankly, I’m pretty partial to the idea myself!
You may be inspiring an engineer or training up your future shop partner, who knows! It’s certainly worth taking the time to share what you’ve learned and what you love, and woodworking “unplugged” with hand tools is the safe and artisanal path.