What Are Some Good, Kid-Friendly Woodworking Projects?

I got an e-mail the other day from a guy who, like me, regularly has kids in his shop, and he asked for some ideas for simple projects that kids could help build.  He mentioned making some wooden swords with the neighborhood boys, and while I haven’t made any swords yet (well, not since I was a kid myself, anyway), I’ve made a few other things with my kids.

  • Tool chest with a lift-out tool tote.  It’s assembled with nailed rabbets, so joinery is simple and assembly is quick.  (On the version I built, the lift-out tote is assembled with dovetails, but nailed rabbets would have worked fine, too.)  It gives the kids a place to stow their growing collection of tools.  I’m about to make one of my daughters a Dutch tool chest like the one featured in Popular Woodworking Magazine not long ago.
  • Doll furniture.  Yeah, I have girls.  Small tables and stools are very popular with the kids. But don’t get an image of fancy-schmancy furniture with miniature cabriole legs and delicate moldings. All I do is bore angled holes in a piece of wood and glue/wedge dowels in for the legs.  Then the girls get out their craft paint and paint it.  If it’s a big piece, it’s a doll table; if it’s a small piece, it’s a doll chair.
  • Regular-sized stools are easy, especially three-legged stools for sitting on.  My kids like turning the brace to drill and ream the holes, and my six-year-old can handle the matching tapered tenon cutter.  If you cut out the circular  seat ahead of time, this is a near-perfect kid project.
  • Nailed boxes, in the style of the “Bible box”, are also pretty easy.  The nailed rabbets hold together well, and you can usually make them with offcuts.  Cut nails require a pilot hole, which is fun because the kids get to use both an eggbeater drill and a hammer.

If you can, try to dimension the pieces of the project ahead of time.  That way, you and the child can focus on the fun parts: joinery and assembly.  There will come a time when you want to take an older child through the whole process of stock selection, dimensioning, joinery, assembly, and finishing, and some small children will surprise you with their patience and perseverance.  Have realistic expectations about a child’s attention span, but don’t underestimate the attention span of a determined child.

Whatever the children build alongside you in your shop, encourage the children to stick with the project to the end, and don’t forget to smile and laugh along the way.  In the end, it doesn’t matter much what you build, so long as you spend quality time together.

What about you?  Have you build anything alongside your child/children?  What was it, and how did the project go?  Leave a comment and tell me about it.


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7 Responses to What Are Some Good, Kid-Friendly Woodworking Projects?

  1. Brian Loucks says:

    I built the usual selection of “boy projects” with our young son many years ago. One day I came home from work and he showed me a small Adirondack style chair he had built that day. It wasn’t perfect, but he did it all by himself. That chair sat in our garden for years. In fact it is still there in spirit having collapsed and turned to compost. I could never get myself to move it even after it had fell apart.

  2. bloksav says:

    I have made some small dovetailed boxes, (one tail and two half pins on each corner). My boys had seen me make all the drawers for our kitchen so they insisted on making a similar joint. They called it a jig saw puzzle joint by the way.
    Apart form that, we have made various things, a hanging shaker cabinet is one of my favorites.
    A fish style trivet inspired from Popular Woodworking was also a hit.

    I agree with you on having the stock made more or less ready. that helps a lot.

    My father has made igniters for the wood stove with the children as well. Small blocks of soft particle board (soft masonite) were sawed out using an electrical scroll saw. Then they were impaled one by on with an awl, and dipped in melted bees wax. They work just as well as the ones you can buy, and the pride in the children’s eyes when you use their igniters is really fantastic to see.

  3. samdesocio says:

    My four and a half year old and I are going to have a go at making some bird houses for Christmas this year…

  4. Bob Jones says:

    I let mine color on wood scraps. They prefer art to construction.

  5. Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. Those are great!

  6. meeteyorites says:

    The birdhouses you and your brothers made are still standing and being used. The birds thank you–unlike those ungrateful angry birds in the movie (Hitchcock).

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