Little Hands In The Shop
I was working in the shop last Sunday, pulling the last of the nails from one of the reclaimed heart pine beams, when I heard a noise behind me. I turned around and saw Finley, my three year old son, standing in the doorway of the workshop, eyes not yet fully opened from his afternoon nap.
“Dadda,” he said in a scratchy I-just-woke-up voice, “Can you teach me how to saw?”
Apparently I’d left a can of finish open somewhere in the shop, because my eyes suddenly started watering. I put down my tools, wiped my eyes, and told him we might not be able to do a proper lesson at that moment, since the shop is a complete wreck, but I would certainly show him how and we could set up a space for him to do some fun things in the shop in the near future.
We went over to my small assortment of saws and I tried to figure out which one might work best. I didn’t even give my good Tyzack dovetail saw a second thought, though it is the smallest backsaw I own. It will eventually need a new plate, but I’d rather it get through a few more sharpenings first. I have a mostly-unused Adria dovetail saw, as well, but I’m going to be selling it shortly, so I’d rather not bugger it up just before I do that. In the end, I decided on one of my smaller panel saws I really haven’t cleaned up yet. It is still sharp, though, so I took it back to the shop and helped him make a few pieces of scrap wood into smaller scrap wood.
After he got tired of that, he said, “Dadda, now can you show me how to plane something?”
Again, I had to dry my eyes before responding (I seriously need to figure out where I left that can of finish…). This was a little harder to let him do, mostly because he just doesn’t have the muscle mass and hand strength yet to hold a plane solidly enough. But I showed him a few planes and told him what they’re for and showed him how they work. I retracted the blade on a Stanley #5 and let him hold it for a minute to see how heavy it was.
At that point, his momma called him up to help her with supper. I put the planes and saws away and followed him upstairs. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do to encourage his interest in woodworking. I want to provide him a space and some tools to play around and develop better hand/eye coordination and the hand and arm strength he needs to use saws and planes.
Earlier this week, I grabbed some cash from my woodworking stash (none of this money comes from our family budget – it comes from selling boxes, payment for articles I write, tools I sell, etc. – so my wife doesn’t care what I do with it) and deposited it into my checking account. Then I invested it by putting in an order with Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works for an American Kid saw. (Hoping for some good dividends there…)
The American Kid saw is something Mark came up with a few years ago to help encourage woodworking in youngins (and, I guess, adults with very tiny hands?). I think Finley was about one year old when the model came out and I honestly never expected to be buying one so quickly. Like all other Bad Axe saws, they are very customizable, depending on how much money you want to spend. I figured we’d just go with all of the standard features on Finley’s first saw, which includes an 8″ plate, a black-oxidized back, and a CherryShock shock-resistant tote.
I ordered it with the smallest tote Mark offers (XX-Small), since Finley’s hand only measures 2.5” across the palm. When he needs to upgrade to a bigger tote, all I need to do is send the saw back to Bad Axe Tool Works. Mark will put a new tote on and sharpen the saw for a paltry $25. So this saw should work for him for quite a few years. I’ll make a bench hook for him and post an update after the saw arrives (looks to be a 6-8 week wait at this point) and we’ve had a few sessions with it.
Then I started going through some of my other tools to see what else he might safely use. (The nice thing about having a basement workshop with only a bandsaw in it is that I don’t really have to worry about power tool safety with him – there is little to even be concerned with at this point.) I have one or two small eggbeater drills that will be perfect and plenty of smaller hammers he can chose from, so hole-drilling and nail-hammering is covered.
Unless someone out there has an extra Stanley #1 (or a Superior Works #601) they’d be willing to donate, I’ll have to ponder the plane challenge to see what I can come up with there. I do have a Lee Valley low angle block plane with the tote and knob accessories on it… maybe that will work, though I’m hesitant to put that not-inexpensive plane in the hands of a not-yet-four-year-old.
For a bench, I was thinking a good starting point might be a saw bench with splayed legs; something he can put a bench hook on and clamp wood to for drilling. He is just too little yet for even a higher raised platform to make working at a normal bench safe. It would have to be a very tall, wide, and stable platform and that would take up a lot of room.
If anyone out there has any additional ideas or suggestions – whether it is about tools or books I should be looking for or workshop ideas – add a comment below or e-mail me! I’d love to hear them.