Woodworking father, thoughts on kids in the shop

June 11, 20140 Comments

I’ve been a hobbyist woodworker pretty much my kids’ entire lives. This summer my oldest will be 17, my youngest 13, and neither have KNOWN a time when dad didn’t say something like “I’m heading down to the shop if you need me…” or “WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN’T BUILD THAT FOR YOU???”

Even though I’ve always offered them the opportunity to hang out with me in the shop it’s been very clear since they were young that it just wasn’t something they were interested in…ever!

kids in the woodshop

Happy campers hanging with dad in the shop…

It might have something to do with my having told them repeatedly “never enter the shop when you hear a machine running…you could scare me and I could lose a hand when I jump and it gets cut off by a spinning blade.”

Or maybe it’s because of the few times when I had a close call and MAY or MAY NOT have exaggerated…just a little…about how close I was to losing a limb or even my life (the whole router accident may have cemented this fear permanently.)

Regardless of the reason, the truth is that my kids simply have ZERO interest in woodworking, and it’s obvious they’ve learned from their mom to humor me whenever I talk about something that gets my woodworking juices flowing. 

Am I sad about it? Not really! I’m just excited they enjoy the things I build for them, especially when they use them once in a while.

As Father’s day 2014 gets closer a lot of dads are probably looking forward to getting in the shop, and I’m sure many of them will be joined by their kids where they’ll have fun building something together.  If it happens to be that you’re kids are like mine, you’ll simply enjoy the time in the shop alone, knowing they love you just as equally and are looking forward to doing something else with you.

This reminds me that one of the most common questions I’ve been asked over the years is “how do I introduce my kids to woodworking?” I wish I had a good answer, but I don’t. Why? It’s simple, because every child is different.

Kids seem to be attracted to our shops like moths to a flame. Why? I don’t know. I have some theories though:

  1. Some are attracted to the tools because they’ve seen you with them, so they might associate using the tools with being an adult, and want to show you they’re not as little as you may think they are.
  2. Other kids are just naturally creative, and your tools are just another version of paste and scissors or whatever else they’ve created with.  They have a natural urge to express themselves and want to learn other ways to do it (just like their dad?)
  3. Perhaps it’s that you talk so much about woodworking, they’ve never known a world where it didn’t exist so not being in the shop would be some form of apocalypse?

I’m sure I’m over analyzing this since I have zero child psychology background, or obviously any experience with kids in the shop, but regardless of the reason the one answer I can pass on is very straightforward:  “How ever it is that you introduce your child to woodworking remember…as your child’s parent you have to establish safe boundaries from day one.”

What are they are?  Well there are some obvious ones (you know…the ones you probably ignore from time to time) safety gear, loose clothes, how you hold and handle a tool, etc.  And then there are some not so obvious ones. Ones we either set for ourselves due to our comfort levels around specific tools or due to our level of understanding of a process such as finishing.

Regardless of what the boundaries are, an understanding of what’s an acceptable use of a tool and why that is are of the utmost importance. Not just for their own safety, but also for your peace of mind.  After all, if you’re really not comfortable with your kids doing a certain task, they’ll pick up on it right away and eventually all the fun of coming into the shop will disappear, and so will they.

I can’t emphasize this enough…you know your kids better than anyone. Some may enjoy being given a box of nails, a hammer and a chunk of wood to pound the nails into and love every minute of it. Others may want to be more involved and ask to help at every step along the way.

If you’re kid is one of the latter, and you’re comfortable with them helping at certain steps, embrace the time together and let it happen at a pace you’re both okay with. If you’re not, explain to them why and remind them they’ll have a chance to do it when they’re older and that there’s plenty of other steps along the way that they can help you with.

And lastly, as much as we want to design and build our own unique projects, sometimes the perfect one for a young beginner is either a pre-cut store bought kit or a super-simple project like a bat box. In most cases, the fun for them isn’t in the complexity of the build, it’s simply in being with someone they love and look up to.

Have fun with whatever you do for Father’s day, and have fun with your kids in the shop, if that’s one of the places they enjoy spending time with you in.

kids sneaking out of woodshop

It’s okay if they want to be elsewhere…

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