Getting familiar with tools
Tools for tykes
Real tools teach real responsibility. You can buy reasonably priced kid-size tools at home centers and online retailers, including amazon.com, red-toolbox.com and forsmallhands.com. Buy at least medium-quality tools. Cheap tools bend or break. The “Grip” nine-piece Children’s Tool Kit shown here costs $35 and is available through our affiliation with amazon.com.
Though made for adults, the Skil iXO and Black & Decker L13100 cordless drivers are perfect for little hands. Prices start at about $30 at home centers and online.
A low-temp hot-glue gun is safer than higher-temp versions. The mini size is often called a “craft” glue gun and is perfect for smaller hands. Available at hobby shops, home centers and online retailers (about $7).
An eggbeater type of hand drill works easily without pinching little fingers. It works best when kids can drill into a piece of wood held in a vise. The Fiskars Craft Drill shown comes with four bits and costs $19 at amazon.com and forsmallhands.com.
A keyhole saw strengthens young kids’ hands and is sized for better control. The Handy Saw Set shown comes with fine- and coarse-tooth blades and costs $7 at forsmallhands.com.
“There’s a lost generation of children who have no practical hands-on skills. They may know how to operate an iPad at five but wouldn’t know the first thing to do with pliers or a screwdriver.”
Timothy Dahl, founder of builtbykids.com
Whack on bubble wrap
Learning to hammer
To a kid who’s not quite ready to drive nails, nothing feels better than whap, crackle and pop. Supply a kid-size hammer or a rubber mallet. (Hearing protection is a good idea here. This gets LOUD.)
Screw into drywall first
Start some screws in a scrap of drywall and let the kids screw them in with a screwdriver or a kid-size cordless screwdriver. Drywall is a lot easier to screw into than wood.
Build a bolt board
Using a wrench
Wrenches are great for beginning tool users. We sink different-size bolts into boards and then let children use wrenches to attach color-coordinated nuts.
Cut up foam core
Clamp some foam core to a workbench and let kids saw it into strips. Foam core is easier to saw through than wood, and a keyhole saw is perfect for small hands. You can buy foam core at craft, art and office supply stores.
Perfection is not the goal
My 10-year-old son and husband were building a backyard fort together. I walked outside and I heard my son complain, “But Dad, if you don’t let me do the hammering my way, nobody will know that a kid helped build it.”
Elisa Bernick, Associate Editor
Introduce tools one or two at a time
Start a bunch of roofing nails in a stump and let your young DIYers go to town. The kids will keep hammering until every last nail is flush. With their big heads and short shanks (the roofing nails, not the kids), they’re easy to hit and hard to bend. And the end grain of a stump is easy to penetrate.
Kids are easily frustrated. Be careful not to go too fast. Let kids handle a tool, see how it works and feel a sense of accomplishment with it before moving on to another one.
Books and Programs
Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem by Chris Monroe.
Chico Bon Bon the monkey uses special tools from his handy-dandy tool belt to fix a very large problem in the pipes. We LOVE this book!
Shop class used to be where many kids were introduced to DIY, but no more. There are some great regional programs and courses, however.
- Construction Kids in Brooklyn. constructionkids.com
- Eliot School in Boston. eliotschool.org
- Randall Museum in San Francisco: woodworking for kids. randallmuseum.org/YouthClasses.aspx
- Makeville in Brooklyn. makevillekids.com
- Kids’ Carpentry in California and Minnesota. kidscarpentry.net
- Tinkering School in California and other locations. tinkeringschool.com
Don’t do it for them
The biggest challenges for experienced DIYers are time and patience. That’s why pro carpenters have their children take my classes. It’s very easy for an adult to take over and just do things for the child, but you have to let kids do everything they can do.
Joe Lichty, Kids’ Carpentry instructor
Work at their height
Workbenches for kids
You don’t like a work surface that’s too high, low or wobbly, and neither do kids. You can buy child-size workbenches from school supply catalogs, but they’re expensive. You can also cut down an existing workbench, or you can easily make one yourself.
The workbench top should be at least 2 x 4 ft. and stand 24 in. high for preschoolers and 27 in. high for elementary-age kids. An easy way to stabilize it is to add a lower shelf and pile on some bricks.
Play by the (safety) rules
1. Always wear safety glasses.
2. Tie up long hair.
3. Wear closed-toe shoes.
4. Clean up after each work period.
5. When using a saw, clamp the wood or secure it in a vise and have kids hold the saw with both hands or put one hand behind their back to prevent accidents.
Don’t toss that trash
Dissassemble and reassemble
“Put a screwdriver in your kid’s hand and have them pull apart a broken gadget. If you want to make it more difficult, ask them to put it all back together just like it was.”
Taking apart a broken gadget like a fan or toaster is great for young minds and fingers. Kids get to unscrew things, learn how something is put together and have fun (cut off the cord for safety). If you don’t happen to have anything broken lying around, you can buy small appliances cheaply at yard sales or thrift stores. Look for older versions. The newer appliances are mostly snap-together plastic.
Skip electronic devices, which might have potentially dangerous parts. Capacitors, for example, can hold voltage long after they’re disconnected from a power source.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- Cordless driver
- Hand drill
- Hearing protection
- Keyhole saw
- Safety glasses
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- Broken gadgets and appliances
- Drywall screws
- Foam core
- Roofing nails
- Scrap wood