For the past two months I’ve been asking the questions – how do you teach kids woodworking? How do you teach them to work with tools? This hasn’t been quiet contemplative research. It’s been more of an all-consuming, ask everyone who crosses my path, read everything on the Internet and risk bodily harm from toppling stacks of library books, endeavor. I’ve been interviewing construction workers, hobbyists, engineers, Home Depot employees, teachers and makerspace coordinators.
Despite casting such a wide net, I have encountered several common themes. One of which is the idea that you don’t actually need power tools. You can make amazing things and have an incredible program with just hand tools. Moreover, teaching kids exclusively with hand tools gives them a much better understanding of woodworking. This is a relief, as I am secretly afraid of power tools. My first priority in makerspace is safety and when you are using power tools an accident can very quickly turn into an emergency. But beyond safety considerations, using hand tools when woodworking gives kids more input. With hand tools, you can’t force things the way you can with power tools. You have to think about the hardness and grain of the wood. You have to take your time.
A second pattern that emerged was a path for teaching woodworking in such a way that you can start working with kids as early as pre-school or kindergarten and build from there. With these little kids, you could have them make a project by teaching them how to assemble and affix pieces of wood that are pre-cut to size. This could mean using wood glue and clamps, or nails or screws with pre-drilled holes. You can create a project for them or you can buy pre-made kits, for example the classic Tool Box Kit. If you are more interested in skill building, you can teach really little kids how to, for example, use a hammer by starting the nails for them and having them hammer those nails all the way into a piece of scrap lumber. You can even buy them a lighter, kid-sized hammer, if a regular hammer is too big for them to use.
The next step up is to have kids pre-drill their own holes, start their own nails and begin figuring out for themselves the ways in which to put pieces of lumber together in order to make something. You can even cut wood partway through and have them finish the cut using a hand saw. This is where you might consider purchasing a lightweight (easier for kids to handle) cordless drill. However, if you wanted to stick with hand tools, you can also have them use a hand drill.
Once kids are a bit bigger, around age 10 and older, and they’re comfortable with using hand tools for woodworking, you can consider bringing in more power tools and machinery. All you really need for kids to create original projects is a drill and something that they can cut wood with. All of my sources agreed that the table saw is dangerous, and you may not want to have kids using that until high school, even if you invest in a SawStop (which I would STRONGLY recommend). At this point you can also still stick with hand drills and hand saws and still have a strong woodworking program.
The main consideration when deciding what tools to introduce is the age of your makers, since this correlates to their motor skills, coordination and strength, all important factors in being able to use a tool safely and effectively. If you wanted to engage students across a school district you could create projects by having high school students design and cut wood, middle grade students assemble and affix the pieces and elementary students paint and decorate them. The finished project could be sold as a fundraiser at a craft fair, farmer’s market or table at a school event.