Advice to the Adult Woodworker

Follow these suggestions about working in a workshop with kids so they will enjoy the fun of woodworking together.

By Gene And Katie Hamilton

The first time you work with young apprentices, choose a project that's fun and appealing to get them hooked. Save complicated things for down the road. You want this joint venture to be the first of many, so choose a project that they want to build. Because kids like to see the fruits of their labor, start with a small project to keep the work time short and sweet. Be realistic about what you are comfortable doing and can accomplish in a short period of time.

From a little kid's perspective, woodworking does a lot to stimulate the senses. The smell of freshly cut wood and the sound of a saw going through wood add up to a pleasant experience.

Don't saddle a budding carpenter with hard work like cutting through hardwood or the drudgery of a time-consuming task like sanding a large surface. Use inexpensive pine scraps or boards that require less muscle to cut through. You want to encourage children to enjoy woodworking so that they'll want to come back for more. Make it easy and enjoyable in the beginning, and as they learn new skills and master techniques, they'll be proud of their progress.

Follow a Plan

Look over the building plan f6r the project, and talk through the steps. Kids like to know what to expect, and breaking the construction process into small, easy-to-complete steps can make a project seem less overwhelming and more fun. A knowledge of what is expected helps kids get an idea of what will be happening next, and this is important when starting a project that may require several hours for glue or finish to dry. Having a framework to follow also helps kids to visualize what the finished project will look like.

Try not to lecture when you're explaining things to a kid. For example, go through the process of sanding, explain why it is necessary to sand and how to do it, but avoid a lecture on the history of sandpaper. You don't want your teammate to lose interest or feel defeated. A fun project can change into a chore for a kid with a short attention span. Keep the project moving, and explain as you work how and why certain pieces go together. Remember, you're working with a kid, not an adult. Don't bore him with details; he'd rather be banging it together than listening to a speech.

When you're working together, you have a unique opportunity to teach children much more than just woodworking skills. You can teach them about life. While you're doing quiet work, like applying glue to joinery or planing off some wood to make a part fit, why not talk about projects you built (or wish you had built) as a kid? Kids love to hear anecdotes from us "old folks" about when we were kids, and this close and quiet time provides the opportunity.