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Little Hands In The Shop

February 28, 2014

The new shop assistant

The new shop assistant

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.

The saw he ISN'T using...

The saw he ISN’T using…

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.

The American Kid Saw (photo courtesy of Bad Axe Tool Works)

The American Kid Saw (photo courtesy of Bad Axe Tool Works)

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.

Shock-resistant totes come standard (Photo courtesy of Bad Axe Tool Works)

Shock-resistant totes come standard (Photo courtesy of Bad Axe Tool Works)

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.


19 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2014 2:34 pm

    I bought my daughter one of those $10 razor saws. She is four, and it works well for her. She has a little tool tote with an eggbeater drill, the razor saw, a ruler, a pencil, and some wood scraps. Usually she is happy to use the ruler and pencil to draw straight lines on the wood. Other times, she makes little Xs all over the wood and then drills a hole through each one. Next up, I thought we might make a small mallet for her.


    • February 28, 2014 2:47 pm


      Great suggestions! I do have the razor saw, as well, and was eyeing it as a possibility, but I really do use mine quite often for precision cutting in a tiny little miter box and wasn’t sure if the two would work well together afterwards. Of course, just picking up a new razor saw might have been a good idea… Ah, well. We would have moved up to the American Kid saw eventually!

      I need to start making a list of things to get together. I have a few old Stanley squares in my “sell” pile; I’ll pull one of those out for him. Same with the mallet (I below to a very small club called “Lignum Vitae Mallet Rescuers Anonymous”).


  2. February 28, 2014 4:42 pm

    I think there must be some finish open over here in Jersey too… I don’t even HAVE finish. Great story. Awesome!


  3. Mom permalink
    February 28, 2014 6:54 pm

    Hi Ethan.

    I have another idea if you are interested. How about me giving Finley the table/workbench my dad made of rock maple already with a mounted vise–kid size.


    • March 4, 2014 2:50 pm

      Pondering this, mom.

      Might not be a bad idea. Honestly, my BIGGEST concern is the idea of having another flat-shaped object in the workshop where errant tools can gather! But, yeah, it might be a good starting point for him. Well, for everything but hand planing. That bench would rack quite easily with planing forces applied to anything clamped to it.

      Still pondering…


  4. March 1, 2014 6:30 am

    The hammer and egg-beater drill are #1 and #2 on the list. The razor saw is good. I think a old stanley or record block plane would work if you are willing to let him use the Veritas. They don’t have to be perfect, just good enough to make shavings. My kids just love using my old record. Or what about a small wooden plane. You could even make it yourself.


  5. March 1, 2014 6:18 pm

    I’ve been thinking about the same thing as I have a three year old grandson who follows me like my shadow. I suggest a spokeshave, especially the wood bodied variety. The tool is safe to handle, and allows a youngster to quickly get a feel for the blade engaging the material. Plenty of things a boy can make like a magic wand or a space ship.

    George Walker


    • jonathanszczepanski permalink
      March 1, 2014 8:28 pm

      Spokeshave… That’s a great idea!


      • March 2, 2014 6:52 am

        I agree. Might also have an older block plane in the Sell Box I might pull back out and see if he can use for now…


    • March 4, 2014 2:40 pm

      Great suggestion, George. Funny enough, I don’t even have a spokeshave in my own inventory yet! But that’s something I’m remedying soon…

      I DO have a Stanley 220, the first plane I ever picked up and started successfully using, myself, though… more on that later. 😉


  6. March 2, 2014 8:22 am

    Milkman bench w/legs


    • March 2, 2014 8:50 am

      Hmmm… I’ve pondered making one of these, but for me to use in the spring, summer, and fall at work (can’t expand on that just yet, but look for the topic in print in the hopefully-near future…).

      Biggest holdup for me on that whole idea is the wooden screws…


    • March 7, 2014 2:21 pm

      Been thinking about this over the last few days. Might have an idea for getting around not wanting to make wooden screws (or pay a lot of money to have some made).

      More on this later…


  7. Mom permalink
    March 2, 2014 2:28 pm

    I may have a plane or more from my dad. Have to ck when it’s warmer


    • March 2, 2014 3:40 pm

      ??? What? Why would this be the first I’ve heard of it?

      Also, if you’re talking about the two (?) wooden coffin planes (shape, not purpose) in the garage, then… They might be cool to have per they were grandpa’s, but I’m pretty sure they are not at all usable.


  8. March 2, 2014 5:45 pm

    Nice, should be having something similar. When my son gets to the reward chart complete he want to come to Daddies workshop.


    • March 4, 2014 2:42 pm

      Hmmm… mine still isn’t at a point where the reward chart means something to him. He’s just as likely to say, “Mmmm… I don’t really NEED a sticker right now, Dadda” if he isn’t in the mood to do the thing that gets him the reward.

      But I’ll do whatever I can to encourage (supervised) activity in the workshop. Like I told George, more on that later…


  9. March 3, 2014 6:55 am

    It’s amazing how a tiny bit of interest from a kid will reduce your productivity to zero, while sending the quality shop time meter through the roof.
    Coping saw was the first saw my daughter “got” and enjoyed cutting out her name in profile or making jigsaw puzzles..
    My son took to a $5 Stanley shark saw which made me less concerned about him hitting anything with a better saw. He’s a hammer and nails type.
    My daughter and I made a laminated plane together, ours didn’t work out perfectly, but conceptually it’s more likely to bounce off concrete than the LV block plane with small knob and tote. I’ll second the Spokeshave as a tinkering tools for little hands.


    • March 4, 2014 2:47 pm

      Great ideas, Jeremy.

      I wasn’t even thinking about my son when I installed cork flooring in the workshop; I was thinking about my own tool-dropping indiscretions… But the plus side is that I really don’t have to worry too much about ANY tools dropping onto concrete when they’re in the shop. yeah!

      I’m not worried about him handling something with a sharp blade; he goes to a Montessori school and they use a real knife in class to cut up carrots and celery for the rabbit all the time. He knows to be respectful of the sharpness.

      I agree, the spokeshave might be a good option. Stay tuned! 🙂


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