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.